Saturday, May 30, 2009

I Feel So Hip

I was on my way to buy something else completely, and was listening to Sound Opinions on my local NPR station. They were reviewing the latest release from the band Grizzly Bear, and I was so intrigued, I tried to find it. CD selling being what it is, however, I only managed to find their first release, Yellow House, and was more than pleasantly surprised to discover a band that is a mix of so many influences as to be greater than the sum of whatever parts to which you want to point.

The gentlemen on Sound Opinions made the point that Yellow House had quite the following in hip blogs, so I feel so "with it", now. So cool. Envy me.

Here they are doing "Lullaby" at a club in Britain. If anyone notices certain, um, resemblances to early Genesis here, I think you would be right. All those hipsters probably missed them.

Anno Mirabilis 20 Years On

While it was noted earlier in the week that the pro-democracy rallies in Beijing began twenty years ago, I think it is important to recall just how astounding events of that year were. June 4 marks the 20th anniversary of the first multi-party elections in Poland. We've already past the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Hungarian border with Austria, which began a flood of East German refugees to the west. We are approaching the 20th anniversary of the Chinese military destroying the pro-democracy movement in Tianenmen Square (which provided one of the greatest photos of all time)

It will be autumn when the anniversaries start to pile up, with November 12 being the most significant, symbolically. That is the day the East Germans stepped back form the Berlin Wall. While in retrospect the crumbling of the rest of the Soviet-imposed regimes seems inevitable, in reality it was far more difficult. Five days after the Berlin Wall became superfluous, riot police suppressed a peaceful demonstration in St. Wenceslaus Square in Prague; this reaction, however, was incongruous with the momentum across Central Europe and within weeks the Communist Party was gone.

It took the Bulgarians until early 1990 to read the writing on the wall. Yet that writing had already been etched in blood in Romania, in December.
On December 16, a protest broke out in Timişoara in response to an attempt by the government to evict a dissident, Hungarian Reformed pastor László Tőkés. Tőkés had recently made critical comments toward the regime in the international media[citation needed], and the government alleged that he was inciting ethnic hatred. At the behest of the government, his bishop removed him from his post, thereby depriving him of the right to use the apartment he was entitled to as a pastor, and sending him to be a pastor in countryside. For some time, his parishioners gathered around his home to protect him from harassment and eviction. Many passers-by, including religious Romanian students, unaware of the details and having been told by the pastor's supporters that this was yet another attempt of the communist regime to restrict religious freedom, spontaneously joined in.

As it became clear that the crowd would not disperse, the mayor, Petre Moţ, made remarks suggesting that he had overturned the decision to evict Tőkés. Meanwhile, the crowd had grown impatient — and since Moţ declined to confirm his statement against the planned eviction in writing, the crowd started to chant anticommunist slogans. Consequently, police and Securitate forces showed up at the scene. By 7:30 p.m., the protest had spread out, and the original cause became largely irrelevant. Some of the protesters attempted to burn down the building that housed the District Committee of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR). The Securitate responded with tear gas and water jets, while the police beat up rioters and arrested many of them. Around 9:00 p.m., the rioters withdrew. They regrouped eventually around the Romanian Orthodox Cathedral and started a protest march around the city, but again they were confronted by the security forces.

Riots and protests resumed the following day, December 17. The rioters broke into the District Committee building and threw Party documents, propaganda brochures, Ceauşescu's writings, and other symbols of communist power out the windows. Again, the protesters attempted to set the building on fire, but this time they were stopped by military units. Since Romania did not have a riot police (Ceauşescu, who believed the Romanian people loved him, never saw the need for the formation of one), the military were sent in to control the riots, since the situation was too large for the Securitate and police to handle. The significance of the army presence in the streets was an ominous one: it meant that they had received their orders from the highest level of the command chain, presumably from Ceauşescu himself. The army failed to establish order and chaos ensued with gunfire, fights, casualties, and burned cars. Transport Auto Blindat (TAB) armored personnel carriers and tanks were called in. After 8:00 p.m., from Piaţa Libertăţii (Liberty Square) to the Opera there was wild shooting, including the area of Decebal bridge, Calea Lipovei (Lipovei Avenue), and Calea Girocului (Girocului Avenue). Tanks, trucks, and TABs blocked the accesses into the city while helicopters hovered overhead. After midnight the protests calmed down. Ion Coman, Ilie Matei, and Ştefan Guşă inspected the city, in which some areas looked like the aftermath of a war: destruction, ash, and blood.

The end result was the execution of Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife on Christmas Day, 1989.

Even as these events were unfolding Central Europe, the United States embarked on one of the oddest, little-remarked-upon military ventures of the time, the invasion of Panama. Counterposed with the remarkable events in Central Europe, this event seems almost anitquarian in its attempt to keep alive the American Empire in Central America.

Two decades later, all I can say about these events and their aftermath is this - I think the US pissed away so many opportunities in the wake of these changes, it is difficult to grasp. We will never - NEVER - have such an opportunity again. How sad that our leaders at the time were so short-sighted, so callow, so unimaginative as to be unable to move forward with these changes.

What's even more astounding, to me, is that there were people who voted in last fall's Presidential election who weren't even born when these events took place. I do believe that's a sign I'm getting really old.

Saturday Summer Rock Show

There are few better albums ever released that seem designed for summer cruising than Live at the Fillmore East by the Allman Brothers Band. Every track on the original - and on the remastered, even better re-release - seems like it was ordered especially for long road trips. Here's the Dicky Betts instrumental "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed", from a 1970 show with Duane still alive and their dual drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimo doing more jazz than blues licks and chops in the background.

We Need A Vacation!

George Will is aghast - astounded - SHOCKED!!! - that a liberal Democratic politician would propose that workers would enjoy paid time off as a legal mandate.

Oddly enough, this is a subject I wanted to tackle, coming off my first of two weeks of paid vacation (my second week will be in September). I typed "paid+vacation+international+comparison" into my search engine box, and the very first item is a handy-dandy chart with the title "Americans have the shortest vacation in the developed world":
Legally mandated

vacation days
Sweden 32 Portugal 25
Denmark 30 Netherlands 25
France 30 Belgium 24
Austria 30 Icelanders aged 19?-29 24
Spain 30 Norway 21
Ireland 28 Switzerland 20
Icelanders aged 30-40 27 Germany 18 [30*]
Japan 25 USA 16†

What's most interesting about this chart is the figure for the States is an average and is not mandated by law. Europe and the rest of the civilized world has made the decision to trade a certain amount of comfort and relaxation for the rat race that kills so many of us. Even Japan, where work is almost a religion, has five weeks off a year.

I'm still trying to figure out why the US doesn't have a policy like this. Along with passing card check and getting retail outlets organized, I think this is an issue where organized labor has a winner on their hands (that and updating FMLA provisions to provide paid time off, which would also put us in line with civilization).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Is Anything Else Happening?

So, a parts supplier to our local Chrysler plant is shuttering on Saturday - over 500 jobs down the toilet.

North Korea, the perpetual two-year-old of the planet, is throwing another tantrum, and while both South Korea and the US seem to know how to handle their problem child, there are tens of thousands of lives at stake if the tantrum goes in to the throwing-themselves-on-the-floor-and-screeching phase.

Yet, what is the internet all abuzz about? The absolutely wonderful real-time self-immolation of Newt Gingrich, doubling down his racist attacks on Sonia Sotomayor. The entire unfolding farce is being aided and abetted, of course, by the truly racist Tom Tancredo, and now even convicted Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy adds stupid misogyny to the mix. As the entire right-wing apparatus crashes and burns, it seems to be clear this was in the cards all along. So, the real story is that, perhaps, we have seen the last of these "Supreme Court nominee battles" for a while, because there won't be anyone left once this one is over.

How Not To Think About Ethics

This feature story at the United Methodist Church's website, discussing the sometimes hidden complexity of moral choice in a sinful world, is so far off the mark to this United Methodist, one wonders how it could possibly be more than a conversation starter on how not to do Christian ethics.

The first example offered, coming from the book Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II, written by Michael Bess, is the political decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II.
“We are presented with an impossible decision among courses of action that are all totally abominable,” . . . . “Either way we choose—kill 200,000, kill 340,000, kill 850,000, kill 1.8 million—we are in effect giving our assent to an abomination in which hundreds of thousands of innocents will suffer and die.

“Either way we choose, we cannot but be morally lessened, spiritually wounded, by the choice.”

Almost immediately, we come up against certain facts, unmentioned but pretty important. First and foremost, there was no real ethical debate over the use of the bomb, except for the insistence of the scientists who had both built and witnessed the test in New Mexico. Because the entire project was secret - even Harry Truman only learned of its existence after the death of Pres. Roosevelt - deliberations centered on the President and his military advisers, with input from the scientists being, for the most part, discounted. There were alternatives considered to actual combat use - a truce with a detonation to be witnessed by Japanese officials who could then decide whether or not to face such destruction was the only serious alternative offered, then discarded as unworkable - but in the end, the rationale for using the atomic bomb spiraled down to one point: we built it as a weapon, we might as well use it. The idea that ethical debate after the fact, whether by secular or sectarian ethicists, has any meaning whatsoever is ludicrous. We are faced with the terrible reality, and burden, that we Americans are the only ones to ever use a nuclear device as a weapon.

In the face of the reality that the circle of those who discussed whether or not to use the bomb was extremely limited, ethical agonizing two generations later is really quite meaningless.

Fast forward, and the article makes some other, equally wrong, observations.
The moral complexities involved in confronting a foe willing to employ mass murder of non-combatants to achieve its ends confront the United States once more as it responds to the threat of terrorism.

The temptation is to stand on the extremes of the left or the right, and escape from the difficult realities on the ground by condemning and judging those who would depart from ideals of human behavior. So, some liberals toss around the word “torture” with little discretion for the interrogation techniques involved or the underlying aims, and some conservatives see nearly all human rights concerns as secondary to national security.


In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, when thousands of civilians were murdered on U.S. soil, Americans know the seriousness of the terrorism threat. Real people have to make decisions in a way that often balances competing principles, such as the mandate to protect innocent life and the right of detainees to humane treatment.


Sometimes those decisions seem impossible. Is it right, for example, to slap or push prisoners or make them stand in uncomfortable positions if it could prevent a suicide bombing? Is simulated drowning, or waterboarding, allowable if there is strong reason to believe it could disrupt a terrorist plot where hundreds of lives would be at stake?

But someone has to make those decisions. And those of us from religious traditions that prize the free will of an informed moral conscience, and have rich resources in Scripture and tradition to guide us along with experience and our capacity for reason, cannot avoid getting in the middle of these questions where the human condition leaves us with no good alternatives.

First of all, the framework within which such choices are to be made already exists - the legal statutes governing interrogation, including treaty obligations, which under the Constitution, are "the law of the land". Moral agonizing can be set aside precisely because it is only the breach of these legal standards that has created the moral questions examined.

Second, the fable of the ticking time-bomb, presented here, is a non-sequitur of the worst sort, a false choice offered that allows us the comfort of believing we are actually "saving lives" in the process of destroying others. Since there is not a single piece of evidence in the public record that torture has saved a single life, the idea that we are actually face with a real choice on whether to use it is nonsense. Furthermore, anyone with even a modicum of understanding and learning and access to information understands that torture, no matter whether it is named "enhanced interrogation techniques" or not, is outside the acceptable bounds of moral choice. Precisely because there is abundant evidence that it is actually counter-productive, producing worse evidence than other interrogation techniques, it should not even be on the moral radar at all. That we have recently shrugged off a political regime in this country morally vicious enough to offer it as a choice is does not mean, as the article suggests, that "real people have to make these difficult choices." Rather, it means that we as a nation have much for which to repent, including the thought that moral choice includes the immoral treatment of other human beings.

I would suggest that any Christian who believes that we have to face squarely the possibility of torture as a serious moral option needs to sit back and look at all the facts of the matter before offering moral cover to monsters.

Ricci v Stefano

Rather than summarize the case, someone has done it for me. Check it out.

Eugene Robinson Muffs It (UPDATE; UPDATE II)

I usually like Eugene Robinson's columns in The Washington Post. Today's, on the Republican screech-a-thon over Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, is quite good right up until the end.
Despite the best efforts of Gingrich, Limbaugh and others, Sotomayor's confirmation process probably won't be about race.

For the right, that is exactly what her confirmation is about. All one has to do is consider Newt Gingrich's twitter (which Robinson helpfully supplies): "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw." All they have is their deep fear and loathing of non-whites; all the other stuff - judicial activism, "empathy", whatever else they toss at her - all comes back to their loathing of the simple fact that she is a puertoriquena. Since Mark Krikorian at National Review is already complaining about the pronunciation of her name being difficult for English speakers, I would like to know what, exactly, is substantive in their complaints.

Racism is all they have left. Since, as most people with a cerebellum seem to understand, Judge Sotomayor's qualifications are excellent, they use the only bit they can fling at her. While I feel very bad that she has to endure the slings and poo of outrageous racists attacking her character, I am beginning to see this as an even more canny appointment by Pres. Obama than before. As their true, hooded and sheeted, lack of color unfolds before the country in their limbic rage at this nomination, the politicians become even more separated from the base of the Republican Party, and opportunities for even more gains by the Democrats become clear.

UPDATE: Given my deepening admiration for the political acumen of Pres. Obama as I contemplate the nomination of Judge Sotomayor, this article at, which quotes Lanny Davis, shows that there are some Democrats who really need to shut up.
“She misspoke,” said Lanny Davis, a White House lawyer and spokesman for President Bill Clinton. “Every day that goes by that they don’t say she misspoke and she used the wrong words ... they just feed it and give it life and give Rush [Limbaugh] and [Sean] Hannity more airtime unnecessarily.”

Now he's afraid of Limbaugh and Hannity, the Leopold and Loeb of talk radio? What a coward.

UPDATE II: If you think I'm kidding, check this out:
On MSNBC yesterday, Pat Buchanan repeatedly attacked Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor as an “affirmative action candidate,” echoing right-wing claims that she has “been the recipient of preferential treatment for most of her life.” On Bill Bennett’s radio show this morning, Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes argued “that she’s one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.” When Bennett noted that she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Princeton, which he called “a pretty big deal,” Barnes dismissed it, saying “I guess it is”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Power Of Faith In The Face Of Evidence To The Contrary

The most revealing line in David Broder's column today leads off his final paragraph.
I have to believe that many Republican senators will seize the opportunity Obama has provided and prove they are not as narrow-minded as their most extreme backers.(emphasis added)

Isn't that sweet? While I believe the bulk of his column is correct - to the extent that sitting Senators aren't suicidal enough to go after Judge Sotomayor the way their most vocal supporters have already done - that single phrase shows the power of Broder's on-going belief in the intelligence and prudence of the Republican Party. There is no evidence the Republicans have acted with either of those virtues in decades; the framework various groups and talking-heads have already created about Judge Sotomayor display a glaring lack of both. One wonders if his faith will be rewarded.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prop 8 Ruling Creates Strange Bedfellows

Whoda thunk it?
Former U.S. solicitor general Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, who argued opposite each other in Bush v. Gore, are now teaming up to “represent two same-sex couples filing suit after being denied marriage licenses because of Proposition 8. Their suit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in California, calls for an injunction against the proposition, allowing immediate reinstatement of marriage rights for same-sex couples.”

I guess it isn't quite over yet.

"[H]urling ourselves off a cliff"

Watching the Republicans beat themselves up over how to go about destroying Judge Sotomayor without, you know, destroying her or themselves or whatever, is kind of fun.

The reality is quite simple. The limbic-brain Republicans will froth at the mouth, spout all sorts of nonsense about identity politics and empathy, threaten double-secret probation on any Republican Senator who votes in favor of her confirmation, and basically act like a two-year-old in a candy shop. Meanwhile, "sensible" Republicans will note the coming catastrophe as follows:
“If Republicans make a big deal of opposing Sotomayor, we will be hurling ourselves off a cliff,” said Mark McKinnon, a senior adviser to Mr. Bush and a long-time advocate of expanding the party’s appeal. “Death will not be assured. But major injury will be.”

Said hurling has already commenced, as noted in a couple prior posts.

"A Difficult Political Equation" UPDATE UPDATEII UPDATE III

I'm so glad we have reporters of the caliber of Shailagh Murray and Michael Shear to give us the following information:
An all-out assault on Sotomayor by Republicans could alienate both Latino and women voters, deepening the GOP's problems after consecutive electoral setbacks. But sidestepping a court battle could be deflating to the party's base and hurt efforts to rally conservatives going forward.

In the same edition the Post has the following, showing the Republicans being delicate.

First up, a discussion moderated by National Review's Ramesh Ponurru:
Here's some of what we know about President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court:

--Judge Sotomayor believes that the courts are "where policy is made."

--She has Democratic colleagues who wonder if she has the intellect to be on the high court.

--She was picked by a president who has announced that he has a pro-abortion litmus test and that he wants judges who will rule with empathy, at least for some groups.

--She has a high reversal rate. In one case, the Supreme Court has voted unanimously to reverse her.

We will doubtless learn more about Sotomayor, both good and bad, in the days to come. But based on the early signs it appears that President Obama has made the crassest of political picks.

What do you think?

Fact-free columnist George Will:
Her ethnicity aside, Sotomayor is a conventional choice. The court will remain composed entirely of former appellate court judges. And like conventional liberals, she embraces identity politics, including the idea of categorical representation: A person is what his or her race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference is, and members of a particular category can be represented -- understood, empathized with -- only by persons of the same identity.

Democrats compounded confusion by thinking of the court as a representative institution. Such personalization of the judicial function subverts the rule of law.

Now that's just the mainstream Washington Post. A short foray in to the fever swamps shows the delicacy of Republican politicians in dealing with Judge Sotomayor's nomination.
LIMBAUGH: Do I want her to fail? Yeah. Do I want her to fail to get on the court? Yes! She’d be a disaster on the court.

Now I know that Obama has some very well-thought-out, or at least elaborate, arguments for his idea of a good justice. But isn't it possible that some of this is really just a rationalization for a more fundamental narcissistic projection? After all, it is hardly news that Obama thinks very highly of himself, and sees all sorts of major issues through the prism of Obama. Everything he says about what would make a great, ideal, Supreme Court justice is stuff he clearly sees in himself. I think that is at least interesting.

Yeah, I can see how tricky this is for Republicans, and how they are handling the pressure.

Of course, one could argue that Sotomayor has already received the kiss of death.
Since President Obama announced Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court this morning, conservatives — such as Karl Rove — have publicly questioned whether she has the qualifications and “intellect” for the job. Today on CNN, however, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said there is “no question” that Sotomayor is qualified

I'd want that endorsement sent back.

UPDATE: Man, I gotta keep reading sometimes. I just found this gem, from Robert Reich:
[N]ever underestimate the Republicans' capacity for taking big political risks that turn out badly.

UPDATE II: The following sentence is making the rounds to the right of Atilla the Hun, including here:
I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

The inimitable Digby provides the bulk of the entire speech within which this single sentence occurs.
In our private conversations, Judge Cedarbaum has pointed out to me that seminal decisions in race and sex discrimination cases have come from Supreme Courts composed exclusively of white males. I agree that this is significant but I also choose to emphasize that the people who argued those cases before the Supreme Court which changed the legal landscape ultimately were largely people of color and women. I recall that Justice Thurgood Marshall, Judge Connie Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench, and others of the NAACP argued Brown v. Board of Education. Similarly, Justice Ginsburg, with other women attorneys, was instrumental in advocating and convincing the Court that equality of work required equality in terms and conditions of employment.

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see.

UPDATE III: From tbogg:
I've spent the evening doing that thing I do, which is exploring the nooks and crannies of , if not the wingnut mind, at least its byproducts. And I just have to say that the nomination of Sonia Sotomayer to the Supreme Court has made these people, as my grandmother would have put it, 'lose their shit".

He uses an Ozzy Osbourne song title for his post. I was going to use Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine.
Among the many many many Republican miscues of the past eight years, I've always believed the one that made the American people sit up and take a long hard look at the Republican party was the Terri Schiavo case, when the elected members of the party became unwitting dupes of their own lunatic base. My sense is that, if they really want to go after and beat up on this Sotomayer, who presented herself very well this morning, they will pay for it at the polls for years to come. Not with Hispanics, who were lost to the party dating back to the Pete Wilson days ( not that the peck-sniffier elements of the right can help themselves), or with women, but with people for whom "empathy" and compassion aren't qualities to be sneered at.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Just This On Sotomayor (UPDATE)

While the attacks on Sonia Sotomayor predate her nomination today by Pres. Obama, it should be noted with all honesty that the political right is so morally corrupt that any nominee would suffer the fate she has, to whit, having her reputation, both personal and professional attacked and sullied by these idiotic grievance-peddlers and shrill bigots. Simply put, the currents of contemporary public discourse run through the sewage of the right before they come out in to the (relatively) placid ocean of the United States Senate. While I grieve for the damage already done to Judge Sotomayor by the likes of Jeffrey Rosen and various right-wingers, I believe that such would have been the case regardless of Obama's choice.

UPDATE: Having John Yoo criticize your legal reasoning should be ignored. The guy's a war criminal. Simple as that.

Bathwater Tossed, Baby Saved

Or, to mix metaphors, cake had and eaten:
In a six-to-one decision, the California Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban on gay marriage, the Proposition 8 referendum voters approved last November. The court ruled that Prop. 8 “constitutes a permissible constitutional amendment (rather than an impermissible constitutional revision).” However, the court declared that the 18,000 same-sex marriages conducted last summer, prior to the passage of the proposition, would remain legal and recognized.

So . . . they can't say they're married, but their marriages are legally recognized. But, any same-sex couples wanting the same privileges they have can't have them, because . . .

That thumping sound you hear is my head hitting a wall as I try to figure out the contradictions here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Music For Your Monday

Some Alternative Patriotic Music for your Memorial Day.

Some Memorial Day Thoughts

Everyone wants to make sure we "thank a vet for our freedom." I would much rather thank the Constitution, to which all who serve swear an oath.

I would much rather we thank a vet, or a currently serving member of the armed forces for their sacrifice, not for our freedom, but for the vanity of our leaders. With the exception of the Civil War and the Second World War, the United States has not been involved in a war in which its very existence has been threatened (well, the War of 1812 probably counts, but I doubt the British would have known what to do with us had they conquered us, or managed to thwart our expansionist tendencies). The various wars against the native peoples, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Great War, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, the various imperial occupations in Central America - tens of thousands of Americans killed and wounded on trumped up excuses, phony-patriotic slogans, outright lies, and fear-mongering.

I would thank a vet's family, or the family of a currently serving member of the military for the sacrifices they make, in lost time, lost love, lost wages, loneliness, single-parenthood.

Finally, I would make sure we remember there are 4500 dead who need not have died, and tens of thousands whose sacrifices have been neglected by the formerly-ruling party. Left to wallow in squalor and filth, their mental and physical anguish forgotten and even denied by a group of politicians not willing to demand any sacrifices for wars of choice. We will live with the damage wrought by shallow, venal politicians for decades. It is a shame that the ones who will pay the most are those most willing to put aside their lives for a country whose leaders aren't brave enough to have us all sacrifice.

If these are uncomfortable thoughts for you, I would apologize, but I cannot.

Acting On Fantasy

I saw this AP article last night, and knew I had to comment on it. Here's the money shot, as it were:
As President Barack Obama prepares to name his pick for the high court, the Senate's No. 2 Republican said the qualifications being discussed — "emotions or feelings or preconceived ideas," Sen. Jon Kyl called them — aren't enough to justify a lifetime appointment. The Arizona Republican on Sunday wouldn't rule out a filibuster to block an Obama pick that falls outside his definition of the mainstream.

How funny is this? First, the Republicans tell the world the President said something he didn't say. They repeat it. Now, Jon Kyl is planning on acting, prepared to keep Barack Obama from doing something he enver said he was going to do in the first place.

Back in the late 1990's, when Newt Gingrich was saying that Columbine and Susan Smith (the insane South Carolina woman who drowned her children after trapping them in a car and pushing it into a pond, then turned around and claimed it was done by a black man before admitting her guilt) were examples of Democratic policy and politicians, or the direct result of liberalism, if Trent Lott (then the #2 guy in the Senate) had been quoted as saying that he would block any Clinton Administration nominees who were willing to kill their children, or who would organize a mass killing, how seriously could he be taken?*

Next thing you know, Mitch McConnell will hold a press conference in which he insists that any bill to transfer our sovereignty to Muslim terrorists will be filibustered. These guys are ridiculous. I'm glad the press keeps quoting them, because the fun never stops.

*Actually, both then and now, such a statement would not only be quoted, but probably discussed in deep, thoughtful, pedantic terms by David Broder, while Chris Matthews wet himself on his program, wondering how the Democrats could survive such a political masterstroke by the brilliant Republicans. Which only shows how stupid our media is.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

He Is Here

Worship began with this, from Amena Brown:

Doing Actual Research

In this rambling attack on the Rev. Chuck Currie (please note how the titular is encased in quotes, as if it weren't real; always classy), Neil baldly states the following:
Univeral health care is an awful idea and is being sold with lies.

The sentence includes a link to this post. Now, we can discuss the merits of various health-care-financing plans; yet the post to which Neil links only concerns the notion that the various Democratic plans will "destroy" private health insurance companies, a "fact" about which they "lie". Perhaps, perhaps not.

My point here is to ask the question - why not do some actual research on the issue of health care, health care financing, health care policy, and link to these research pieces if you are going to insist that universal health care is so awful? For example, there's this piece from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation comparing per capita health care spending between the United States and the OECD. The piece uses a number of metrics to examine the disparities between health care spending in the various countries, all of which clearly show the US spends far more per person on health care than those countries that have nationalized health care (the most important figure, for me, shows that we spend nearly 16% of our income, per person, via private health insurance, than those countries that support their public health care systems through public means, i.e., taxes).

Now, a consideration of cost would be moot if we in the United States were satisfied with health care, or our health care, on the whole, was managed both efficiently and comprehensively. As this 2004 article from shows, however, while there are few majorities that report favorably on health care delivery across the spectrum of industrialized countries, not just greater dissatisfaction in the US is reported, but certain facts are discussed that are pertinent.
"In no country is the majority of adults satisfied," says Cathy Schoen, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit group that conducted surveys of some 7,000 patients in the five countries.

The U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not offer government-sponsored health coverage for all citizens. Proponents of market-driven health care often point to long wait times for services in other countries when warning of the dangers of a government-run system.

Sixty percent of patients in New Zealand told researchers that they were able to get a same-day appointment with a doctor when sick, nearly double the 33% of Americans who got such speedy care. Only Canada scored lower, with 27% saying they could get same-day attention. Americans were also the most likely to have difficulty getting care on nights, weekends, or holidays without going to an emergency room.

Four in 10 U.S. adults told researchers that they had gone without needed care because of the cost, including skipping prescriptions, avoiding going to the doctor, or skipping a recommended test or treatment.

Meanwhile, 26% of Americans surveyed said that they had faced more than $1,000 in out-of-pocket health care costs in the last year, compared with 14% of Australians, and 4% of Britons.

"The U.S. stands out as the patients the most exposed to medical bills," Schoen says.

So, not only is the issue one of cost, it is one of availability. Related to cost is the willingness to undergo treatment due to cost.

While critics of publicly-run national health programs often point to what they call "rationing of health care" in such systems, it is pretty clear that health care in the United States is already rationed on a cost-basis; those who cannot afford it are far less likely to seek early treatment, and overall it is far more difficult to receive treatment at awkward times - nights, weekends, holidays - that is as (relatively speaking) inexpensive as an office visit (ER visits are outrageously expensive).

American dissatisfaction not only with cost, but with the delivery of services, and their general availability, is driving the move toward reforming the entire system.

Comparing actual deliver of services is a thornier issue, more difficult to quantify, yet still there is data available. First, there is this study, whose summary reads:
RESEARCH OBJECTIVE: This presentation is part of a panel with 3 papers on international comparison of primary care delivery. This paper will focus on European countries. Objective was to study health care provision and patient experiences with primary health care, to determine differences between countries, differences between single handed and group practices and differences between practices in rural and urban areas. STUDY DESIGN: Practices in 9 countries were recruited (stratified sampling). Physicians and staff completed questionnaires developed by an international panel (EPA). Per practice a minimum of 30 patients visiting the practice completed validated written questionnaires (e.g. EUROPEP). A trained observer visited the practices to collect additional data. POPULATION STUDIED: 270 practices in 9 countries (U.K., Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and Israel) participated; over 8000 patients contributed. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: On average 87% of the patients were positive about their regular doctor (range 80-93% between countries), while 80% were positive about organisation of services (range 67-91%). There was a wide variation found in most aspects of care delivery between practices in different countries. Patients in single handed practice were more positive about both the physicians and the organisation of services than patients in group practices. CONCLUSIONS: This project was a first large scale test to see if good international, comparative data on practice performance and patient experiences can be collected in a reliable and practical way. It showed that the instruments and methodologies used were feasible and acceptable. Data interesting for European policy making were gathered. The project was the start of a European data base (TOPAS-Europe)with comparative data on different aspects of practice performance and patient experiences in primary health care in a large number of European countries (15-20), launched in the beginning of 2005 in Berlin. IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY, DELIVERY OR PRACTICE: The data collected by the different validated European instruments are valuable for individual practices (feedback, plans for improvement), for policy making at a national level as well as for policy making and comparison at an international level. Data will be linked to OECD data. New instruments (e.g. Commonwealth Fund study) will be added in the future.

What is important to note about the information I gathered for this post was these individual pieces were discovered using Google - it took me about 45 minutes to search, read, and aggregate this information. Not being up on the latest research, it took very little time to discover a whole host of available information.

Now, Neil is perfectly fine believing that universal health care is a bad idea. He is even fine believing that the Democrats secretly wish to destroy private health insurance. It might be nice, however, if he used actual research data, rather than link to a right-wing website, which in turn links to a Heritage Foundation presentation that hardly counts as scholarly research.

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