Monday, November 30, 2009

The Political Compass

Just to complicate things a bit, the latest idea floating around is that the old Left vs. Right political spectrum is too limiting so enter what is called the Political Compass.

You can take a test to see where you fall here My results on are the diagram.

As you can see the Political Compass diagram adds a Libertarian vs. Authoritarian axis which measures social values to the Left vs. Right axis which measures economic values. Someone who champions laissez faire Capitalism, but is rather progressive on social issues, would be a Right Wing Libertarian. Nelson Rockefeller comes to mind as possibly fitting this category.

On the other extreme, we have the Left Wing Authoritarian. Think Stalin. Gandhi, may well have been as leftist as Stalin but didn’t have an authoritarian outlook so he would be in the Left Wing Libertarian quadrant. Hitler, along with most Evangelical Christians and Republicans, fits in the Right Wing Authoritarian quadrant.

Hitler would be barely over the axis on the right but pinned up against the top of the authoritarian axis while our homegrown fascists in training would be further right, or more capitalist, but lower down, or less authoritarian. Hitler had little interest in economics as long as his authoritarian political goals were achieved.

I’m in the Left Wing Libertarian quadrant along with Gandhi. No real surprise there other than I was further left than libertarian and I thought it would be the reverse.

I recognized many of the questions in this quiz from the F Scale quiz which attempts to measure personality susceptibility to Fascism. I scored a 2.3 on that quiz which branded me a “liberal airhead.” Apparently the “normal range” for Americans is between 3 and 4.5 with above 5.5 indicating you goose step when you walk.

No New Minarets in Switzerland

Apparently the Swiss, by a 57%-42% popular vote, have approved a constitutional ban on the construction of Mosque Minarets.

All I can say is wow! The American electorate isn’t the only one that doesn’t understand the concept of equal protection under the law.

This is the most extreme example of the growing concern over the ever increasing Muslim minorities in many European countries. Amnesty International called the vote a direct violation of Religious Freedom and anticipated that it would be overturned by either the Swiss Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights. The vote doesn't affect the four minarets which currently exist in the country.

I don’t know anything about the Swiss Supreme Court but the ECHR doesn’t have a very stellar track record in protecting religious freedom for religions other than Christianity.

I guess we shall see.

Jesus and the Iron

According to the AP some lady in Massachusetts has discovered a picture of Jesus on the bottom of her iron.

And I thought the Jesus picture on the grilled cheese sandwich was bad.

I might point out that the image could just as easily be interpreted as the Sphinx, Mick Jagger or any long haired female. To me it looks like one of those old English judges with the long curly wigs.

Humans are good at pattern recognition. This trait was undoubtedly important when traipsing through the forest in order to avoid predators and locate prey. Someone who couldn’t differentiate well between a deer and a bear probably didn’t get to pass on his genes. That’s Natural Selection at work.

Unfortunately when you combine our instinct to constantly look for patterns with a vivid imagination or wishful thinking, you get Jesus in the residue on the bottom of an iron.

And they probably let her vote. Luckily she can’t do much harm in Massachusetts

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lou Dobbs for President?

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

On his last CNN program Dobbs attacked the current political culture in the United States as defined by “partisanship and ideology rather than by rigorous, empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion."

That should strike a chord in anyone that has been paying attention.

Personally I think this is truer on the Republican side but the Democrats certainly don’t have clean hands either. I’m probably prejudiced because I tend to disagree with most of what the Republican Party appears to stand for these days. I can accept the premise that both parties are sacrificing the good of the country for political capital.

And if that’s the case, we should boot them all out on their butts and elect people that WILL apply “empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion” to the problems facing the country.

If nothing else perhaps we can get the two major parties to re-assess their current behavior.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Republican Roadblocks

The Republicans in congress increasingly appear to be more interested in blocking any Democratic effort at Health Care Reform and less worried about getting the right Health Care Reform passed.

I suspect there are exceptions but it’s hard to pick them out. All I can say is WTF?

I guess you could make the argument that no reform is better than what the Democrats are proposing but I don’t think that’s the issue.

The issue is that I suspect the Republican Party is following part of its base and concluding that it would be better to let the country burn than to give Obama a legislative success.

They need to get things back in perspective.

They’re supposed to be working for the good of the country and not just for the good of the party. I believe that the Republican Party has utterly lost its focus and is rapidly degrading into a philosophy that you make yourself look good by making the other guy look bad rather than outperforming him on merit.

That philosophy doesn’t do the country any good and may well do it a great deal of harm and yet they call themselves Patriots.

Such a philosophy might succeed politically in the short term but would have disastrous consequences for the health of the country in the long run.

By the by, the Democrats aren’t anywhere near squeaky clean in this regard either but the Republicans seem to be abandoning all else at the moment as long as Obama doesn’t succeed.

And they say racism is dead.

I’ve had it with the negative perspectives. Rather than competing on how bad the other guy is how about trying to campaign on how good you are?

Personally I would rather win than have the other guy lose.

Going Rogue yer Ass

Personally I think the following cartoon says it all.

I'm not going to get into the accuracy of Palin's claims. I wasn't there and I can't say one way or the other but it certainly sounds like this lady likes to just make things up.

I find it frightening that there is actually a part of the electorate that thinks she could handle the job of president. Ronald Reagan was an intellectual lightweight as well BUT, and this is the big but, Reagan was a good judge of talent and understood his limitations. He munched jelly beans and let the talent to the real work. Palin isn't that smart.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Things I am almost absolutely certain about

Let’s move on to the things I’m almost absolutely certain about. It’s a slightly longer list and not nearly as maudlin. It contains four items.

I’m almost certain that I am capable of reaching accurate conclusions due to my intelligence and my ability to reason.

This is sort of the fundamental requirement isn’t it? I’m not absolutely certain because I acknowledge that I may in fact be drawing conclusions dictated by what I have been taught or for strictly emotional reasons.

It’s possible, but it’s not very likely. That I’m intelligent is supported by a fairly wide range of evidence. That I’m using that intelligence to reach logical and objective conclusions is more debatable. It’s possible I’m a victim of my education, my environment or my emotions, but I doubt it.

I’m almost certain that the scientific method works.

Is it perfect and are its conclusions always correct? No, of course not, scientists can jump to unwarranted conclusions and misinterpret data just like any one else. But it tends to be self correcting, seems to eventually get around to repairing errors and its track record is impressive. The question I can’t answer is does it have a limit?

I’m almost certain that the Theory of Evolution is correct.

This sort of goes along with my confidence in the scientific method, but stands on its own merit because I’ve acknowledged that science isn’t always right in the short term. The doubt creeps in because I’m having a hard time accepting the mathematics associated with going from a single cell amoeba to the broad spectrum of life on planet earth.

I don’t care how many billions of years we’re talking about; random mutation and natural selection strike me as inadequate. I suspect that we don’t yet fully understand all of the mechanisms involved in evolution.

The doubt associated with the mechanisms of evolution is what leaves the door open for the existence of God.

I’m almost certain that Christianity is nonsense.

The problem with a statement like this is that Christianity covers a very wide spectrum, from Conservative Christianity, to so-called Liberal Christianity, to Mormonism to the weirder fringe sects like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Some parts of that spectrum I’m surer about than others. What one needs to do is ignore the religious dogma and focus on the core doctrines. So what are they? To my mind there are only four. In priority order they are God, Jesus, the Atonement and the Resurrection. Everything else is window dressing.

Allow me to explain.

Does God exist is the single most important question. Either there is a God or there isn’t. If there isn’t, then Christianity is by definition nonsense. The best argument for God is that there exists something. The universe certainly exists. God could have created the universe or he could have come into existence when the universe did. Perhaps he is the life force of the universe and will cease to exist at its heat death.

Christianity’s concept of God’s nature need not be accurate as long as he exists in some form. He need not even necessarily be benevolent and that is a thoroughly frightening thought. The concept of a malevolent God sort of short circuits the so-called problem of evil doesn’t it?

Either Jesus is God, or was sent by God, or he wasn’t. Notice that it’s sort of irrelevant to my mind if Jesus was God or God’s messenger other than the former possibility is far more awe inspiring.

My primary objection to this doctrine is why did God choose to send his message of salvation only to a third rate province of the Roman Empire? Was he operating on a limited budget or what? Why did he ignore the rest of humanity? Why didn’t he chose a more effective approach such as smacking Tiberius in the back of the head and saying “Yo, we have to talk.”

Either Jesus’ death atones for mankind’s sins or it doesn’t. This is the doctrine I have the most trouble with. No one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain to me WHY this was necessary. The whole concept strikes me as an extension of the ancient practice of blood sacrifice to appease the gods.

Either Jesus was resurrected or he wasn’t. This is sort of the money doctrine isn’t it? This is the old “what’s in it for me” answer. Men fear death. The Resurrection of Jesus is supposedly God’s promise that if you follow the rules you will have eternal life.

The problem of course is beyond that “promise” things get a little murky. Does it happen right away or do you have to wait for judgment day to be resurrected? How many will actually be saved? Some branches of Christianity claim almost everyone; others claim very, very few.

What is the nature of heaven? What is the nature of hell? Do these places even exist? If so, WHERE do they exist?

Keep in mind that your body undoubtedly consists of molecules that were once part of the bodies of deceased individuals. The fact of the matter is that our bodies get recycled. Are we going to get our old bodies back or some spiffy new models?

If our old ones then are the fat, the ugly and the dumb still going to be fat, ugly and dumb? If you had a genetic deformity will you still have it? Will you still be able to suffer pain, be tickled, get hungry or get tired?

If new spiffy new models, are we all going to look like Adonis and Venus? If we look so different how will our loved ones recognize us? Will we all be as talented as Bach, Michelangelo and Michael Jordan or are we going to be stuck with the same talents we had on earth? Are these new bodies going to get thirsty, hungry, tired and horny?

Do we get to wear clothes or do we walk around bare ass all day? Who gets to choose what clothes we wear? I’m not all that enthusiastic about schlepping around in those robes people seem to think angels wear.

Is there baseball in heaven? How can there be competition if we all have perfect bodies and equal talents? What are the implications of a heaven where we are unequal?

A spiritual resurrection doesn’t have these kinds of problems but consciousness, our personalities and our memories, all of the things that make us who we are, are most likely provided by the physical bodily aspects of our brains. What good would an afterlife be that didn’t preserve these things?

That’s about it actually. I thought about including social value stuff such as a woman’s right to choose, gay rights, equal justice under the law and so on and so forth, but I realized that these aren’t core beliefs. They are conclusions reached as a function of my core beliefs.

I guess I could have included other strong scientific theories, such as gravity and relativity, but without a unifying theory and a better understanding of the implications of quantum mechanics, I’m not at all that certain we understand these areas as well as we think we do.

So that’s about it really. Not a very long list at all. What really frightens me is the number of people, a lot less intelligent than I am, that are so certain about so much.

Things I am absolutely certain about

This is a really short list. It contains only one item. The only thing that I am absolutely certain about is that I’m going to die.

That’s a depressing thought isn’t it? I’m not as concerned about being dead as I am about the process involved. The transition could be extremely unpleasant. The concept of a world without me is very strange especially considering that in 100 years no one will even remember that I existed.

I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t feel any particular need for fame or notoriety. I’ve been in highly visible positions and have discovered that it simply makes you vulnerable to criticism. I’ve learned not to bother unless it’s really important and worth the grief that is sure to be involved.

So, what about the idea of an afterlife? Nah, I doubt it, although you never know. My idea of the perfect afterlife would be one where I’m free of bodily restrictions and the restrictions of time and space. An afterlife that would allow me to explore all knowledge, go back and witness the great moments in history, and discover the secrets of the universe.

This would be an appropriately eternal task worthy of the eternity of creation. My only real regret in having to die is that there are so many things I still don’t know and so many things that I won’t be able to accomplish.

I’ll probably have regrets at the end. Like the 13th Warrior I’ll need to ask forgiveness for the things I should have done but have not done, for the things I should have said but have not said and, most distressing of all, for the things I should have thought but have not thought.

But I’m not dead yet and, like Phil Ochs said, I won’t be able to add my name into the fight when I’m gone so I might as well do it while I’m here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Health Care Reform Bill

I got an e-mail from my Congressman, Scott Garrett, with a link to the Health Care reform bill, HR 3962, and a list of specific areas he wanted to bring to my attention. Although he didn’t say so, I have to assume that these are areas of major concern to him.

Having learned a long time ago to NEVER accept anyone’s unsupported word for anything, I checked the references in the e-mail. This was probably the last thing Garrett expected anyone to do. To say that, in my opinion, most of Garrett’s descriptions were either misleading or flat out wrong would probably be fairly close to accurate.

Garrett has applied in his e-mail a number of propaganda techniques aimed at winning an argument on the emotional level without having to worry about little things like facts. The first is a time honored propaganda technique called “name calling.”

In “name calling” one attempts to attached labels with negative connotations onto a person, policy or idea. Garrett throws around terms like “bureaucrat-approved” and “job-killing” without ever justifying the assertions associated with the terms.

The second technique is an appeal to fear. He uses this technique when talking about abortion, jobs and Medicare, subjects guaranteed to be emotionally charged. Again without ever justifying the assertions, he implies the loss of jobs and a reduction in Medicare benefits.

The interesting part is that his assertions are not necessarily wrong, but I tend to be suspicious when someone appeals to emotion and fear rather than addressing the facts.

Garrett’s e-mail is also a classic example of “accurate but misleading.” The best way to illustrate this approach is with an example. Back in the dark days of the cold war there was a race between a Soviet horse and an American horse. The American horse won. The next day in the Soviet newspapers was the following perfectly accurate story.

“Yesterday, in an international horse race, the glorious Soviet entry finished second while the American horse finished next to last.”

Congressman Garrett’s list of sections of particular interest, complete with commentary:

Page 94Section 202(c) prohibits the sale of private individual health insurance policies, beginning in 2013, forcing individuals to purchase coverage through the federal government.

This is so misleading I’m having a hard time considering it accurate at all. Technically this is accurate if one accepts buying insurance via the proposed insurance Exchange as “through the federal government.”

The implication that individuals must buy a government issued insurance policy is flat out not true. There will be the public option available but private policies will be available as well.

Having individuals buy insurance through the Exchange actually strikes me as a very good thing for several reasons. Most individuals don’t have the expertise to know a good policy from a worthless one. Policies available through the Exchange would be screened for them by experts from the Department of Health and Human Services like drugs are screened by experts from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and aircraft and airlines are screened by experts from the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA).

It also supplies a one stop shopping venue for individuals and companies. If the Exchange also issues guidelines and a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) area it could actually turn out to be quite valuable in helping people get the insurance they actually need rather than what the insurance companies want to sell them.

Page 110Section 222(e) requires the use of federal dollars to fund abortions through the government-run health plan—and, if the Hyde Amendment were ever not renewed, would require the plan to fund elective abortions.

This is accurate but misleading. What the bill does is require the government-run health plan to abide by whatever law is in place relating to what, if any, abortions may be funded by Federal funds. It places no requirements with respect to abortion on private health care plans nor does it place any restrictions with respect to abortions on private health care plans.

The Hyde Amendment restricts abortions that may be paid for via appropriations to Health and Human Services. Specifically it prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for abortion other than in the case of incest, rape and when the mother’s health is endangered. Section 222(e) REQUIRES the Public Health Option (PHO) to support the services allowed by the Hyde Amendment but it does not prohibit the PHO from covering services disallowed by the Hyde Amendment.

So it is true that if the Hyde Amendment were ever not renewed, then the PHO would be required to cover elective abortions. However the PHO may chose to cover these services regardless of what happens to the Hyde Amendment.

Page 111Section 223 establishes a new board of federal bureaucrats (the “Health Benefits Advisory Committee”) to dictate the health plans that all individuals must purchase—and would likely require all Americans to subsidize and purchase plans that cover any abortion.

Yes a Health Benefits Advisory Committee (HBAC) would be established but that’s about all that’s accurate with this statement. The HBAC would be an expert committee and what it would be chartered to do is “recommend benefit standards, and periodic updates to such standards.”

In other words the HBAC recommends adjustments to keep the health plan definition up to date with the latest best medical practices. It would be idiotic NOT to have an expert committee to review and recommend updates and changes.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services would decide what recommendations, if any, to accept and then only after the publishing of the recommendations and public debate.

They wouldn’t be “federal bureaucrats” either. According to section 223(c) the members would receive travel expenses and per diem but no additional pay. Section 223(c) also states that they are not to be considered federal employees purely as the result of being an HBAC member.

The second part is absolutely not true. As a matter of fact Section 222(e) clearly prohibits the Health Benefits Advisory Committee from recommending ANY abortion service, including those that may be legally funded by Federal funds, and prohibits ANY abortion service as being required for a Qualified Health Benefit Plan (QHBP).

Page 211Section 321 establishes a new government-run health plan that, according to non-partisan actuaries at the Lewin Group, would cause as many as 114 million Americans to lose their existing coverage.

This is an appeal to fear. Section 321 certainly establishes a public QHBP. How that would cause anyone, never mind a third of Americans, to lose their existing coverage is unclear to me. I scanned the Lewin Group report and I see no basis for the 114 million number. What the Lewin group does predict is that the number of individuals covered by employer insurance will decline by 7.3 million.

They estimate that 19.1 million workers and dependents will lose their employer supplied insurance (ESI) as the result of the employer dropping insurance when the expanded Medicaid and premium subsidy programs become available. They predict this would be offset by an 11.8 million increase in coverage by employers that want to avoid the penalties leaving a total of 7.3 million.

They also evaluated a different form of the bill. They evaluated the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee.

One concern I have is I thought that any public option would be an option of last resort. This looks to me like they are setting up a competitive option. I’m not sure why the government would want to get into the Health Insurance business.

I would like to better understand the implications of the public option.

Page 225Section 330 permits—but does not require—Members of Congress to enroll in government-run health care.

Why would the bill want to “require” Members of Congress to enroll in the government-run health care plan? It’s not requiring anyone else to enroll in the government-run health care plan. This is an appeal to fear. The implication is that the public is being stuck with something so inferior that Congressmen themselves wouldn’t want any part of.

Yet apparently, according to the Republicans, this public option is going to be so good that those kind hearted capitalists we’re supposed to put all our trust in and wait for the “trickle-down” are going to choose to dump their employees onto it. Or it’s going to be good enough to drive insurance companies out of business.

Scott, a little consistency would be nice.

Page 255Section 345 includes language requiring verification of income for individuals wishing to receive federal health care subsidies under the bill—while the bill includes a requirement for applicants to verify their citizenship, it does not include a similar requirement to verify applicants’ identity, thus encouraging identity fraud for undocumented immigrants and others wishing to receive taxpayer-subsidized health benefits.

This is accurate but ridiculously misleading. The bill clearly requires individuals receiving subsidies to be “lawfully present in a state in the United States.” It also has a provision for “Program Integrity” and requires the Commissioner to “take such steps as may be appropriate to ensure the accuracy of determinations” for subsidies.

Those “steps” would certainly include insuring that applicants were who they said they were. It just doesn’t specify how this should be accomplished. Identity theft is a crime. It is not the purpose of this bill to define how that crime should be guarded against.

This is also an appeal to prejudice. It establishes the totally unrealistic concern that somehow illegal immigrants will manage to figure out a way to essentially steal benefits. I might point out that would also be a crime, one that could earn someone a jail term and not simply deportation.

What are you trying to say Scott, that all illegal immigrants are crooks? Other than being here illegally, that hasn’t been my experience.

Page 297 - Section 501 imposes a 2.5 percent tax on all individuals who do not purchase “bureaucrat-approved” health insurance - the tax would apply on individuals with incomes under $250,000.

Here’s a little name calling. The “bureaucrat-approved” label is prejudicious and, as pointed out above, totally inaccurate. The initial definition of a Qualified Health Benefits Plan (QHBP) is in the bill and the HBAC (who I assume are the so-called bureaucrats) would simply recommend adjustments and updates.

This is the “prevent someone from playing the system” provision. This is the provision that prevents someone from not paying for coverage and then having YOU foot the bill when he gets sick because hospitals are prohibited from turning away uninsured patients. So guess who, in the long run, ends up paying for them? What’s the alternative to preventing these sort of games? Let them die?

The language also implies, incorrectly, that there is some choice other than an approved QHBP health plan. There wouldn’t be. That’s the whole point of reform. The exception, if you can call it that, would be grandfathered plans, plans already in existence which people choose to continue. Those plans and individuals would be exempt from this tax.

So if what you already have is REALLY better than a QHBP, you can stick with what you have. However allow me to suggest you compare them very carefully. I’d be very surprised if that turned out to really be the case.

Page 313Section 512 imposes an 8 percent “tax on jobs” for firms that cannot afford to purchase “bureaucrat-approved” health coverage; according to an analysis by Harvard Professor Kate Baicker, such a tax would place millions “at substantial risk of unemployment”—with minority workers losing their jobs at twice the rate of their white counterparts.

This one has all the propaganda elements. Name calling, the appeal to fear and it’s accurate but misleading. It’s not a “tax on jobs.” It’s a payroll excise tax of up to 8%. The 8% number only applies to companies with a payroll greater than $750,000. For companies with a payroll less than $500,000 there is no tax. Between $500,000 and $750,000 there are 2% steps every $85,000 dollars or so.

We’re not talking about the ma and pa grocery store here but we’re not talking Ford or Sony either. I think there is a right to be concerned about this provision but at least the bill is providing an option for those employers that chose, for valid financial reasons, not to provide health care.

To my mind the bigger concern is that, given the existence of the public option, many small employers will chose to pay the tax rather than provide the health care. I’m also concerned that the amounts do not appear to be indexed for inflation.

Page 336Section 551 imposes additional job-killing taxes, in the form of a half-trillion dollar “surcharge,” more than half of which will hit small businesses; according to a model developed by President Obama’s senior economic advisor, such taxes could cost up to 5.5 million jobs.

This is just flat out wrong. Section 551 imposes a 5.4% surcharge on “modified adjusted gross income” that exceeds $1,000,000 for joint returns or $500,000 for those not filing a joint return. Corporations are exempt.

This tax is really aimed at individuals. The 2009 tax tables tax income above $372,950 at a 35% rate. This section means that income above $1,000,000 would be taxed at 40.4%. You will excuse me if I’m not going to cry over this. The implication that somehow taxing the money being taken out of a small business as individual profit is going to cost jobs is an argument I don’t find particularly compelling. This is just another example of Republicans wanting to let the rich keep what they have at the expense of the rest of us.

Page 520Section 1161 cuts more than $150 billion from Medicare Advantage plans, potentially jeopardizing millions of seniors’ existing coverage.

This is an appeal to fear and a particularly disgraceful one at that. It attempts to frighten seniors into thinking that a huge number, $150 billion worth, of arbitrary Medicare cuts are being made that are going to take away coverage they depend upon.

These are adjustments made in an attempt to reform current Medicare issues. The $150 billion is an assertion not justified or mentioned in the bill itself. I’m not going to claim that these changes aren’t going to cause any problems. One can’t tell simply by reading the bill and that’s the key point.

I will say that virtually everyone has recognized that there are inefficiencies in Medicare and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has ENDORSED THE BILL so it’s rather unlikely that any existing Medicare coverage is going to take a hit.

Page 733Section 1401 establishes a new Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research; the bill includes no provisions preventing the government-run health plan from using such research to deny access to life-saving treatments on cost grounds, similar to Britain’s National Health Service, which denies patient treatments costing more than £35,000.

The bill makes no provisions preventing the government-run health plan from using such research to develop procedures for torturing puppies either. This is another appeal to fear which attempts to resurrect the specter of “death panels” without using the term.

This is total bullshit that should be ignored altogether and Garrett should be ashamed of approving such a statement for publication.

Page 1174 - Section 1802(b) includes provisions entitled “TAXES ON CERTAIN INSURANCE POLICIES” to fund comparative effectiveness research, breaking Speaker Pelosi’s promise that “We will not be taxing [health] benefits in any bill that passes the House.”

This is also accurate but misleading. The implication is that the tax is on benefits which it isn’t.

The tax is on insurance policies and is based upon a per capita allocation. The tax is levied upon the issuer of the insurance policy and not the policy holder.

Yes, but, I hear you say; they’ll just pass it on in increased premiums won’t they? Well, perhaps. Would you like to know what the default amount is per policy? It’s a stinking $2. You lose more than this in dropped loose change you don’t bother to pick up.

Ok, enough throwing rocks at Scott Garrett. He honestly has concerns associated with out of control government spending and high taxes. I share the same concerns so I’m not going to criticize him on principle but I do think he could have done a more factual analysis without the innuendo and fear mongering.

Let’s get down to the bottom line shall we.

The bill clearly does some good things. It establishes minimum requirements for policies, establishes an advisory board, establishes the Insurance Exchange, extends dependent coverage, eliminates lifetime limits and protects health screenings and preventive measures.

It also adds a range of taxes the most difficult to assess being the payroll tax on employers that choose not to provide insurance. Couple this with the “public option” and the dynamics aren’t obvious.

Most employers, there are exceptions, but most employers, want to do what’s right for their employees. Let’s not forget however that staying in business is at the top of that list.

The bill broadens benefits. This might be offset in the long run by more people acquiring insurance but in the short term I suspect it’s going to drive premiums up. That could very well make providing insurance no longer tenable for some firms that are on the edge. The grandfathering clause will alleviate some of this but that grace period ends after five years.

It might actually turn out to be cheaper for some employers to terminate health care and pay the tax. As a matter of fact, for some really small businesses there wouldn’t even be a tax.

I have to believe that means that some Americans are going to lose the employer coverage they already have and be forced to buy individual coverage from the Insurance Exchange and I sort of suspect that coverage will be the bottom of the barrel with the Public Option at the bottom of the bottom. Most of these folks will be in the lower income brackets but I doubt they would see any premium increase because they will probably be eligible for subsidies.

On the other hand, millions of Americans that can’t afford insurance now will probably be able to acquire it.

For those of us that can afford insurance and have it, I suspect that our coverage will improve but our premiums, at least in the short term, will go up. The question is by how much?

Overall I think the bill is pretty good. I’m a little concerned about the penalty and public option dynamics but the Lewin Report has alleviated that to some extend. If you believe them, the upheaval isn’t going to be that great but of course they’re only predicting about 50% of the uninsured problem will be solved as well.

Should the reform bill ultimately pass, I suspect there will be tinkering and adjustments for years to come. Twenty years from now, as a Democratic Congress and a gay Hispanic President argue over the latest round of recommended updates and improvements, the Right Wingers will probably be screaming “don’t you dare touch my health care with your socialist policies!”

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Greatest Threat to America

The greatest threat to America is a Republican Party dominated by the Christian Right.

The Christian Right opposes abortion access, opposes gay rights (not just gay marriage but gay rights, the battlefield has shifted since the days of Anita Bryant because they are losing), believes the U.S. is a Christian Nation, wants creationism taught IN PLACE OF evolution (let’s teach the controversy is merely a tactic toward the ultimate goal), believes the Christian version of the Ten commandments should be posted in public buildings, believes that Christian Prayer and the teaching of the Christian interpretation of the bible should be an official part of the public school system.

That fact that Christians themselves cannot agree on some of these things is, for the moment, irrelevant to the Christian Right.

The bottom line is that the Christian Right in the U.S. believes that the separation of church and state should be eliminated and that Christianity should be accorded special privileges simply because it is Christianity. For the moment they are willing to tolerate non-Christians as long as Christianity has its privileges and everyone else stands by quietly and respects that.

The Christian Right has managed to attract millions of followers who feel frightened and powerless; millions who feel that they have been abandoned or failed by the political process; millions who feel that, for them, the American Dream is no longer achievable. The Christian Right promises a magical world where Jesus will make everything ok. It extends a false promise of hope to those that feel disenfranchised by the ongoing economic upheavals the country is experiencing. The Christian Right is American Fascism wrapped in the flag and holding a bible just as Sinclair Lewis predicted it would be.

The Christian Right promises to turn back the clock to a time that never existed. It promises a childlike mythological world view where God has a wonderful plan for everyone. A world view which cannot tolerate honest intellectual inquiry; a world view which has no use for science, where opinions become facts and faith is confused with knowledge.

Should the Christian Right ever come to control the United States it will cease to be the United States. There are far too many Americans intelligent enough, and educated enough, to reject the empty promises of the Christian Right. It could never hope to achieve a position of power without a façade of respectability.

The Republican Party is the façade chosen by the Christian Right as its vehicle. It is only the combination that is dangerous. The Christian Right by itself is impotent and the Republican Party, if it would return to its fiscally conservative and socially moderate roots, has been a stalwart defender of democracy for 150 years.

With the Republican Party under its control, all that the Christian Right would need is a major economic crisis. If one won’t happen naturally, they’ll be quite happy to help manufacture one.

Today, in this country, the wealthiest 1% of the population has more wealth than the poorest 90%. The middle class, which has always been the bulwark against fascism and communism, is under assault as never before and is rapidly losing power, influence and confidence.

If we do not “redistribute” the wealth of that top 1%, we are headed for economic catastrophe. Yet the very people that would benefit from that redistribution have been convinced that redistribution is Socialism and that Socialism is un-American and un-Christian.

The wealthy of the Republican Party and the corporations cynically believe that they can control the Christian Right and use it to help them amass even greater wealth. The German industrialists thought they could control and use the Nazis as well.

If the Christian Right ever manages to gain control of the Republican Party, all that would be standing between the country and a slide into Christian Fascism is a loose and ineffectual coalition of the Democratic Party, the so-called Intellectual Left, Academia and the Media.

The Democratic Party is too beholding to the same wealthy class and corporations that the Republican insiders are to take anything approaching effective action. They write fine sounding bills establishing universal freedoms but then allow religion special considerations and exemptions. They’re even perfectly willing to kiss the ring of the Christian Right in order to get elected.

The Intellectual Left is always too worried about political correctness and offending someone. They don’t realize that the very people they are afraid of offending are sharpening knives special for them. They defend a woman’s right to choose and they defend gay rights. Allow me to point out that defense never won a war. One needs to go on the offensive to win. The rise of Militant Atheism may change all that, but the movement is still too small, and too scattered.

Academia has no stomach for any fight that might require it to abandon its private little ivory tower of comfort and prestige. Professors are happy to argue over the theoretical implications of real world activities in papers published in obscure journals, using even more obscure language and utterly inaccessible to the general public.

The Media has succumbed to the mistaken impression that even handedness somehow means not educating the public to the danger in its midst and not opposing those who would quite happily silence the press and all criticism.

We are therefore, if something doesn’t change, almost defenseless. I say almost because as ineffectual as that opposing coalition is, it has the power necessary to crush the Christian Right should it ever recognize that crushing is necessary.

There are days when I look around and chide myself for being paranoid. But then I remember that I live within a fortress of reason and culture. Outside the pockets of rational civilization in the Northeast, the West Coast and the Upper Midwest, the darkness is already taking hold.

In Indiana they begin legislative sessions with an appeal to Jesus. In the south Christian prayers are a normal part of the public school day. In Kentucky and Tennessee they teach Creationism in the public schools and organize school trips to the Creation Museum. Millions of children are home schooled by their Evangelical Christian parents and taught to reject science, reject rational thought and that they must re-establish the Christian heritage of the United States.

No, I’m not being paranoid, the danger is very real.

When the next civil war comes that ineffectual coalition will bemoan its missed opportunities to head it off. I’ll be right there leaning on my walker and swinging away with whatever strength I have left. I can’t think of a better death than while fighting the Christian Right.

Excuse me now while I go clean my AKM and check my supply of 7.62 mm ammo.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Election Day 2009

Ouch! It was a bad day for the forces of light. Corzine falls to Christie in New Jersey and Maine voters reject same sex marriage. In Washington R-71 had a razor thin lead with only 51% of the votes in and, at least so far, I’ve been unable to locate any updated information. The Republicans also swept the Virginia elections.

So what does this all mean? It’s always dangerous to draw conclusions because there are many varied and complex factors at work but I think a few things are fairly obvious.

The first obvious conclusion is that a reasonable portion of the American electorate is always going to vote for the other guy. Whichever party is in control gets most of the flak when things go wrong and people always focus on what’s wrong more than what’s right.

Except for unusual situations, it’s always the economy stupid and right now the economy still sucks.

New Jersey had some additional things going on as well. Corzine made himself unpopular in a number of secondary ways. His initial Attorney General appointment turned out to be a scofflaw and then there was the whole fiasco with the Rutgers women’s basketball team and his car getting into an accident at 90 miles per hour.

Then there are the real estate taxes in New Jersey.

The New York Times had comparison maps between 2005 and 2009 and Corzine lost support across the board. He even lost five counties he had won the last time around. In counties he won both times, he won by a smaller margin; in counties he lost both times, he lost by a wider margin.

Then there are the real estate taxes in New Jersey and that’s not to mention the latest round of corruption scandals. Clearly Jon had problems. Did I mention the real estate taxes in New Jersey?

Corzine was vulnerable but Christie was a really poor choice. I think you will see lots of regret very quickly. I’m not going to talk about Virginia because I don’t know enough about it.

As for Maine, this is another indication that while folks are willing to extend equal legal rights to gay couples they do not want to call it marriage. While accepting “Civil Unions” or “Domestic Partnerships” sounds like a reasonable compromise, let’s not forget that different is inherently unequal and divides the population into first class and second class citizens.

Is this really want we want in a country that supposedly claims that all men are created equal and are entitled to equal protection under the law?

This isn’t the end of the war, just a temporary setback. I was online in the “No on 1” chat room last night so trust me the fight isn’t over. As early as this morning I got an e-mail to that effect marshalling the troops. Yes it’s a disappointment, so you will excuse us as we get up, dust ourselves off and get ready for the next fight.

There was a silver lining last night and it may turn out to be more important than any of the other results. In New York’s 23rd district there was a special congressional election. The 23rd is a solid Republican District but there was a problem this year.

The party regulars put up Dede Scozzafave, a moderate Republican, and there was what was called “a grass roots revolt” among the extreme ring wing of the party. Basically they drove Scozzafave out of the election and swung their support to the Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman.

This was touted as the first major confrontation in the Republican Party that would prove, as people like James Dobson, Tony Perkins and Sarah Palin have been saying, that success lay in going further to the right and completing eliminating any moderate positions.

Well, Hoffman lost. The Democrat, Bill Owens, won with 49.3% of the vote because 5.5% of the voters voted for Scozzafave anyway even though she had withdrawn.

Hopefully this is a strong indication that moderate independent voters simply will not support extreme candidates and that includes both the extreme right and the extreme left. I would very much like to see the Republican Party go back to its fiscally conservative but socially progressive roots.

The Democrats need to take this as a wake-up call. They could easily loose control of the Congress in the next election and ultimately the 2012 Presidential election if they don’t figure out a way to get credit for what they’re doing right and correct what they’re doing wrong.

Monday, November 02, 2009

So you believe in the Bible huh?

You just know with a lead in like that I’ve got my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek.

I think the bible is an interesting document. Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament contain fascinating snippets of history and wisdom.

But to claim it’s “perfect,” and that’s it’s the infallible word of god that should be followed blindly, is absurd.

Typically, whenever one puts up a questionable passage, the apologists point out why it doesn’t really say what it plainly seems to say. This has always struck me as a contradiction to the principle of Sola Scriptura, which declares that the bible is clearly expressed and self interpreting.

So let’s talk about James 5:14-15.

It’s almost cheating to quote from the Epistle of James considering Martin Luther’s opinion that it was an “epistle of straw.” But Luther was referring mostly to James 2:20-24 which appears to contradict the whole concept of Sola Gratia (by faith alone).

I don’t think he ever raged about James 5:14-15 which says:

James 5:14 - Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15- And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

So how come all you Christians go to doctors? Hell, all you have to do is get the elders of the church together to pray for you and you’ll be as good as new. Already I can hear all of the rationalizations gearing up.

The word used for sick is the Greek astheneo. This word can mean spiritually weak but more often than not it means physically ill. Of course the ancients knew absolutely nothing about what causes illness. Physical injury was easy to understand and often there was a fairly obvious cause and effect, but why someone apparently strong and healthy suddenly became ill was often a complete mystery.

Like other things people didn’t understand there was always “blame the gods” to fall back on. Illness might be a divine judgment, but if god was just, then the person must have deserved it, therefore he must have sinned.

That piece of logic explains the “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” phrase.

Think about this for a second, conservatively speaking, probably about 95% of sick people, even in those days, recovered all on their own. If all of them were prayed for, and lacking any other information, that’s pretty good empirical evidence of the effectiveness of prayer. The key there is “lacking any other information.” Add a control that no one prays for and it immediately becomes clear that 95% would have recovered without the prayer as well. In other words, the prayer is a total non-factor.

So what about the anointing with oil? Some apologists point to this and say aha, that means you should take medicine as well. In other words it’s a ready made excuse to let you go to a doctor and not depend solely on the prayer. The word that James uses is aleipho, which does refer to a medicinal rather than a religious anointing. The problem is that James 5:15 makes it abundantly clear that it’s the prayer and not the oil that cures. But if you insist, I’ll let the elders rub you down with any oil they want. Not a problem.

If you want to go beyond that, like having surgery or taking a pill, then it seems to me that you really don’t believe what your “scripture” is telling you. As far as I can tell, Health Care shouldn’t be a concern of yours whatsoever as you’ve got the big kahuna ready to take care of you with just a little prayer session.

You believe that the bible is inerrant and should be taken literally, then stop going to the doctor when you get sick. As a matter of fact, stop taking even over the counter cold remedies. James says all you need is a little prayer to feel better. And you get your sins forgiven as a bonus.

Until you’re ready to do that, don’t bother me because it means you are picking and choosing the parts you accept. Either accept it all or stop trying to force those parts of it you do accept on the rest of us.

Well, it’s November…

Yeah, it’s November, so now what?

Given the way the Giants are playing maybe I don’t want season tickets next year. Nah, I’m only kidding. Suffering with the Giants is just too much a part of what I am. It would be nice if they could play a little better though, looks like it’s going to be a frustrating year.

My daughters are preparing to once again participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Last year my wife dragged me down to see it. Maybe this year I can convince her to watch from home. Convince her? Who am I kidding? All I can do is hope she decides, all on her own, to forego the “pleasure” this year.

Tomorrow is Election Day and the biggies are Prop 1 in Maine, which attempts to rescind the gay marriage law, R-71 in Washington, which tries to make domestic partnerships there legally equivalent to marriage, and the governor’s race in New Jersey. The best outcome would be a “No” in Maine, a “Yes” in Washington and a Jon Corzine victory in New Jersey.

R-71 appears headed for a win for the good guys while Prop 1 and the governor’s race appear to be running about even between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. If I had to pick one, I’d take the “No on Prop 1” in Maine. New Jersey would survive a Republican Governor for four years and something like R-71 is still short of where things should be anyway.

I was watching the movie “Milk” the other day about Harvey Milk and the struggles of gays in the late 1970’s. It’s sort of strange how it followed a similar pattern as today except back then the struggle was over civil rights and employment discrimination. Anyone proposing gay marriage back then would probably have been laughed out of the room.

Basically a city council would pass an ordinance outlawing discrimination based upon sexual orientation and the Right Wing Evangelical Christian types, in those days with Anita Bryant as the visible figure head, would get an initiative on the ballot to repeal it.

They were successful until Prop 6 in California where the tide finally turned.

That war isn’t completely over either. Only 21 states have laws outlawing employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Another four have laws protecting public employees.

At the Federal Level, the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) has been banging around since 1994. The bill prohibits discrimination against employees based upon sexual identity, gender identity and disability for civilian, nonreligious employers with greater than 15 employees.

Notice that religion would still be allowed to discriminate.

The bill actually has had two versions, one that includes transgender discrimination and one that doesn’t. Its current incantation, HR 3017, was introduced by Barney Frank and includes outlawing transgender discrimination. The bill has 189 co-sponsors in the House and at the moment is sitting in committee. A similar bill in the Senate, SB 1584, has been introduced by Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

The bill may have enough votes this time around. Obama supports the bill and will most likely sign it if it passes Congress.

Opponents cite what they call a potential conflict between sexual orientation discrimination and the need to accommodate religious bias against homosexuality as a part of religious freedom. Some opponents also insist that homosexuality is a choice and that the bill would create a protected subclass that promotes homosexuality.

One attempt to address the first issue is to widen the exemption to include anything even vaguely religious in nature such as Christian Book stores. Practically speaking, this is such a small fish in the large pond so it strikes me as a reasonable compromise. Let them wear their bigotry openly and see how much it helps their business as time goes on.

As for the second issue, I don’t know what to say. I’d like to ask the folks who think that why anyone in his right mind would choose a lifestyle that leads to public ostracism and the potential rupturing of family ties?

You would have to be out of your mind to choose a path that leads to the kind of family confrontation that homosexuality can lead to. If it’s a choice, how come reparative therapy has about a 0% success rate?

Here I am looking for logic from bigots. Will I never learn?

Tomorrow in Maine could turn the tide for gay marriage and provide momentum to ENDA and a dozen other equal rights initiatives around the country.

It would also royally piss off the Christian Right and I’m always in favor of that.