Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Face Of Evil

That's Van Jones, the man Glenn Beck smeared unendingly. That's the man for whose destruction at least one commenter on this blog has expressed her gratitude to Glenn Beck, despite his clear qualifications for the job to which he was appointed. That's the man whose entire career turned on the overwrought rantings of a dishonest and venal, stupid and paranoid egotist.

Ever hear a man spout such left-wing radicalism? Ever see so much hate returned to a hater? It seems he's almost, I don't know, what, Christian?

Ever wonder why a clown with a chalkboard and no actual knowledge is given a platform from which to destroy our country?

Saturday, February 27, 2010


My support for a single-payer system of health care has been made clear. On the other hand, as I've also said, strongly, I have no illusions about the potential for running good doctors out of the business, since, so far, the only major cuts in health care costs have come via lowering reimbursement to doctors and hospitals. The dangers of continuing that process are obvious, and are taking place already. To some extent, I'm an example, as I had to work harder and harder -- to the point of irreversible burnout -- to maintain income. Beyond the financial there was both a physical and psychological toll: at no point was there recognition of the superior care I was delivering -- it simply didn't matter. Each year, reimbursement declined irrespective of my results, my costs, my efforts. (Trust me on the "superior care" claim. Or if not, believe there are docs doing a better job than others, with nothing to show for it.)

It's another in a line of emails from The American College Of Surgeons, of which I'm a Fellow, that provokes this post. It refers to the 21.2% cut (.2? That's like the offer from the car salesman, down to the penny, as if it's the best they can do, based on extremely accurate calculation) in Medicare payments to doctors, beginning Monday. The Senate, as usual, failed to act after the House did, in fact, put the cut on hold. Said the letter, written by a guy I trained with,

"...Last night, the Senate failed to pass a series of extensions that included a temporary halt to the 21.2 percent cut in Medicare physician payments. As a result, the cut will go into effect on Monday, March 1st. Earlier yesterday, the House successfully passed the extensions package by voice vote that would have maintained the current conversion factor of $36.0666 through March 28th. However, with Congress currently adjourned, the Senate will have to again attempt to pass an extensions package sometime next week. The length of the temporary extension is unclear at this point, but we do expect it to provide only short-term relief from the 21.2 percent cut and be retroactive to March 1st..."

In my former clinic it came to the point that we were losing money on Medicare patients. At the moment the only Medicare plans they accept are "Medicare Advantage," a program about to be cut, it would appear. A program that now covers me.

There's an end-point. In my area there are several doctors who do not accept Medicare at all. They'll see those patients, but only on the condition that they accept direct (and full) billing, and fight on their own for Medicare payment. In New York City, as I understand it, there are docs who don't even accept private insurance for any patient, demanding the same "deal" as I just described.

Every time I've posted on physician reimbursement, especially on Surgeonsblog which people actually read in significant numbers, I got a predictable number of nasty comments saying doctors are overpaid and that they underperform (except to the extent that they are considered able, evidently, to engage in anatomically impossible sexual acts). But, as I've also argued, in many ways doctors are quite similar to actual humans. Altruism, unrewarded, is not a good business plan, especially when we're talking livelihood. Taking 21.2% out of payment that's already inadequate isn't tenable. (What's "adequate?" Well, how about, as a minimum, covering overhead?)

There was a time when many doctors made too much money for too little work. Some still do. But generally, it's no longer true; especially if you look at Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. I'm fine -- and I always was -- with the idea that we need to sacrifice something to care for the less well-off. But I'm not fine with the idea that it's only health care providers who sacrifice, that the only thing politicians have the balls to do -- and the only thing voters have no problem with, sacrifice-wise -- is cutting payments. And yet, there we are. [Need it be said again?: this is in large part a direct legacy of Ronald Reagan's aptly named, by his later vice-president, "voodoo economics." For generations, with a brief departure in the 90's, we've been fed the idea that we can have whatever we want and not pay for it. That belief, despite the recent unsubtle evidence to the contrary, has a half-life longer than Pu-239. (At least the Russians moved Stalin out of Red Square eventually. Republicans keep digging up Ronnie and trying to reanimate him, completely ignoring his disastrous legacy of economic falsehood. But I digress.)]

So that's the downside of single-payer: limited ability of providers to influence a rational payment structure. But, really, it isn't much better with private insurers: they've cut payments by about two-thirds since I began practice, and providers have rarely been able to resist. At least, with single payer, there'd be comparatively more money left in the system, some of which might, conceivably, make it to providers.

And there's no reason why enabling legislation couldn't include a sensible means of establishing workable reimbursement. Other than the fact that it would have to happen here.

Meanwhile, even for a guy no longer in practice, it's easy to predict that if these cuts happen, there will be hell to pay. Oh well: at least someone will get paid.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Warning: Facts Below

Congressional Republicans, echoed on Fox "news" and by all the RWS™, claim reconciliation has never been used before on something as important as health care. Surprise. They're lying. Unless you believe they actually can't remember.

And, as long as we're talking facts, here, the clip below is worth watching. It will (or should) make you wonder why we're wasting so much time getting reform, or abiding Republican obstructionism and obfuscation. Really:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sum It

I watched the first hour or so of the "health care summit." I stopped, partly, because I early came to the conclusion that it'd be a battle of talking points, and, partly, because I went to see "Avatar" in IMAX 3-D. A much cooler experience.

But, sticking to reality, and having read summaries and watched clips, I have a couple of thoughts on that summit thing. First and foremost, as I've said before, I think that we won't get any really significant reform until the system totally collapses; at which point the main question will be whether it's simply too late. Second, and fivemost, since both parties are wedded (one more than the other, but it really doesn't matter) to maintaining the centrality of private insurers, who do nothing much more than suck money out of the system, I don't think it matters what they do, in terms of making the changes that are needed.

Underlying the discussion are a couple of obvious questions that no one asks Republicans: do you think our citizens deserve health care or not? Do you think that it's okay that people routinely face bankruptcy over health care bills? If you say yes to the one and no to the other (and, of course, they may say it but they really don't believe it), then how do you propose to accomplish it, and how do you pay for it? The answers we heard today were 1) "market forces" and 2) malpractice reform.

Market forces are what got us here. Market forces are what are keeping millions from having insurance, and they are what's behind the steadily increasing premiums. Market forces, if they work in other areas (like banking?) have failed in health care. There simply is no argument to the contrary. Many times today the empty talking point was raised from the right: "Washington" shouldn't be telling consumers what they need in health care. So who should? Insurance companies? Where has that gotten us? And what's so wrong about federal regulations, when needed? Should we leave it up to "market forces" to decide workplace saftety standards? Food safety? Is there a problem with the government setting standards for pharmaceutical efficacy and research? Have we been damaged by regulations that assure us, for the most part, that buying food won't kill us? [added later: I hadn't seen this clip but it seems our President has thoughts similar to mine. Which is nice.]

What does seem clear from the meeting is that there simply is no middle ground. Despite having dropped the "public option," which would have been a real fix, despite incorporating (with a couple of intelligent restrictions) cross-state purchasing, despite the many ways in which the Senate bill is nearly exactly like one proposed by Republicans several years ago (when "moderate" and "Republican" weren't mutually exclusive terms), it's apparent the Rs will not accept anything other than their way forward.

As a surgeon, I don't have a problem with malpractice reform. I think it's needed. But, as I've written, I don't think it's a huge part of the economic equation. Far as I'm concerned, put it in the bill. It's an area in which the Ds are dishonorable. (I do buy the argument, however, that malpractice law has had positive effects on quality of care.)

On the way home from the movie, I listened to some R congressman dodge the question: Do you think the Senate bill is a "government takeover" of health care? He said that because there are regulations imposed on insurers, it's government-centered. He refused to answer specifically, but he would NOT agree that "takeover" is not part of the plan. If there are regulations, by definition, it's bad. Non-negotiable, it seems. It makes no sense, but the cry of "government takeover" has been a most effective rallying cry for the uniformed. Tea baggers, in other words.

Many were the references to polls saying "the public" doesn't like "this bill." Absent were references to polls that show that if people are told the truth about what's in it (meaning, of course, when they get their info from someplace other than Fox "news" and the rest of the RWS™), they actually like it.

Be that as it may, I have no idea what the politically right thing to do is. Start over? I sincerely doubt that unless the solution were 100% written by Rs they'd support anything. Push it through as is? Using reconciliation? I don't know. But, given the disastrous future if nothing is done, it seems we need to start somewhere, get something in place. Legislation often needs fixing when it's made into flesh and blood.

I do know that today we learned again what has been clear for at least a year: if anything will be done to improve our health care situation, it will have to be done by Ds. Rs had the whole place to themselves for most of the last forty years, and they didn't do a damn thing; the reason, it should now be obvious, is because they really don't want to (and I'm not the only one who thinks so). They have theirs. As to the rest, quoting that estimable Senator from Kentucky, who said it about people suffering in related ways, "Tough shit."

The Ds, as is their wont, will screw it up, make it overly complex, won't go far enough, will pander to too many interersts. But at least they're serious about trying. I don't see evidence of that on the other side. Can anyone really argue with that? Other than "market forces" (which has failed), no regulation (which has failed), and malpractice reform (the economic importance of which they overstate), did they produce any serious proposals?

Difficile est saturam non scribere

Stupid? Crazy? Drunk on venom? All three, I think.

Right wing loonatics, who briefly viewed Scott Brown as the second (I guess it would really be third) coming, have turned on him like lady hyenas after he -- the horror, the horror!! -- joined four other Republicans to vote for cloture in the "Jobs Bill" debate.

It's bizarre on so many levels. Which, in a world of right wing politics where "bizarre" is mainlined like propofol at Neverland, is saying something.

First of all, the bill is a conservative's wet dream. It's practically all TAX CUTS!!! Which means, as with most of the stuff conservatives have proposed since Newt Gingrich first took divorce papers to hospital bed, it'll accomplish much less than the original approach, ditched to get some Republican votes. What more could they want; the final bill is everything they are, ferchrissakes: tax breaks, no progress. Moreover, when the final vote came up, six (or maybe eight) guys who voted against cloture voted for the bill. Tell me how THAT makes sense. (It's a little like the woman nominated to head GSA, held up for no good reason by a single Senator for over nine months, then confirmed 96-0.) (Or like the demagoguery of the health care bill as radical leftist policy, when, in fact, it's a centrist bill much like Republicans proposed only a few years ago. How amazing is it that people have been convinced, by the America-hating RWS™, of exactly the opposite?)

Actually, it's pretty clear. All those RW crazies who now consider Scott Brown a traitor aren't even trying to pretend. They couldn't care less about policy; they couldn't care less about improving the economy, balancing the budget, or fixing our system of health care. Seriously. They couldn't care less. They only care about defeating Barack Obama. If he's for something, they're against it. Period. Substance? Irrelevant. Because if he gets anything done -- even things that are undeniably necessary for the future of this country -- his chances of reelection go up. So, ipso facto, prima facie, res ipsa loquitur, caveat emptor, quantum materiae materietur marmota si marmota monax materiam possit materiari, whatever it is, they're reflexively, unequivocally, retardedly, terminally opposed to it. End of story. Country first? My ass.

Qui me amat, amet et canem meum.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Religion And Morality

One of the most commonly heard and, in my view, most easily dismissed claims from the religious is that without (most especially but not necessarily exclusively) the Bible, there is no basis for good behavior. My response has always been that humans have empathy. They know what things make them feel bad or do them harm, and it's easy therefore to know the same about behavior toward others. Not to mention that from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense to have developed the tendency to band together for the common good. (Would that right-wingers hadn't devolved so, recently.) Good and bad are not concepts exclusive to religion.

Anyhow, I came across a couple of bits on everyone's favorite science/atheism site, namely Pharyngula. Naturally, I pass them on to my open-minded readers. Here's a link to a study from everyone's favorite elitist liberal den of iniquity. It shows that atheists are as ethical as church goers. And here's one that goes even further:

I guess I'll have to look the guy up and read what he wrote.

Okay, I did. And I also saw articles claiming to have debunked him. But the thing is, I don't think they succeeded at all. What they did was to come up with a beautiful hedge: lots of people claim to be religious but they really aren't "highly spiritually committed." Hmm. How does one quantify that? In fact, the proposition is self-contradicting: spirituality (whatever that is) is very much claimed by atheists.

To feel connected in some way to one's fellow mankind and to the planet* is, in fact, something anyone can experience, with or without religion. Those of us that do -- for its own sake, I might add, and not for fear of fiery punishment or expectation of eternal reward -- are pretty likely to do the right thing, or so one would intuit. More so, in fact, than those that claim the righteousness of whatever their religious belief might be, as they fly into buildings, strap on vests, kill doctors, burn crosses on people's lawns, murder homosexuals and hang the bodies on fences, or throw rocks at Haitians.

Is how I see it.

[Addendum: In response to Timmyson's comment, below: I should have linked directly to the article, which is linked from here only via another link. I've corrected that above. Meanwhile, the title of the article answers Timmyson's concern: "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies." It didn't look at impoverished nations. Sorry for my laxity.]

[Addendum #2, 2/25: a favorite relative has pointed out that the Matthew Shepard murder (to which I referred in the "fence" reference) might not have been a hate crime. An example of later reporting is here. In that article, though, it mentions the attack came after Matthew grabbed the attacker's leg while sitting next to him... In any case, it's also true that there were people at his funeral chanting anti-gay slurs, loudly, in the name of their god.]
*That's about as far as I can go. I like looking at stars; the cold clear nights we've had of late give spectacular skies and I'm glad they're there. But, for now, I'm more concerned about what we're doing to our earth than what the cosmos is doing to us. Astrology- or other-wise.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sleepless Within A Reasonable Commuting Distance From Seattle

Important questions keep me awake at night. Here's one:

If it's true that customers save hundreds of dollars by switching their car insurance to Geico, Safeco, Progessive, Allstate, Pemco, State Farm, what is that overpriced company that every has before they switch?

Thumbs Up

This "tweet" (and, no, I'm not into twitter [although I do have an account]) may be all that needs to be said about US politics at this moment in time:

Roger Ebert twitter last week:

"Q. How come Bush got people to believe lies but Obama can't get them to believe truth?"

"A. Those are the same people."

Monday, February 22, 2010

How They Do It

Warning to the readers of this blog who like to ingest propaganda but prefer not to digest facts. This post is mainly a link to a knowledgeable and fact-filled article. And it's about a subject more easily lied about than subjected to truth. Perfect, in other words, for Fox "news" and the RWS™.

As you will know, the Department of Justice just issued a report "clearing" the writers of the torture memos (John Yoo and Jay Bybee, mainly) of legal liability. This was after the Office of Professional Responsibility recommended sanctions. So, naturally, the right-wing media are crowing about the "exoneration." Dana Perino, Bush's last press secretary, and Bill Burck, some guy I've never heard of, wrote an article in the National Review, a formerly reputable conservative magazine, founded, as I recall, by the actually honorable (for the most part) William F. Buckley. Worth reading in its entirety, here is a response by Glenn Greenwald, former US Attorney and very thorough critic of, among other things, Bush's torture regime and other Constitutional transgressions. For those of you unwilling to read the whole thing, some highlights:

I didn't think it was possible, but former Bush officials -- desperately fighting what they know will be their legacy as war criminals -- have become even more dishonest propagandists out of office than they were in office. At National Review, Bill Burck and Dana Perino so thoroughly mislead their readers about the DOJ report -- rejecting the findings of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) of ethical misconduct against John Yoo and Jay Bybee -- that it's hard to know where to begin.

He goes on:

Perhaps the most deceitful claim is this one:

So, in one corner we have a legal all-star team of Mukasey, Filip, Estrada, Mahoney, Goldsmith [all right-wing Bush lawyers], and Margolis. In the other corner, we have OPR operating far outside its comfort zone and area of expertise. This shouldn’t have been close -- and it wasn’t, on the merits.

Compare that to what Margolis actually said (p. 67):

For all of the above reasons, I am not prepared to conclude that the circumstantial evidence much of which is contradicted by the witness testimony regarding Yoo's efforts establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that Yoo intentionally or recklessly provided misleading advice to his client. It is a close question. I would be remiss in not observing, however, that these memoranda represent an unfortunate chapter in the history of the Office of Legal Counsel. While I have declined to adopt OPR's finding of misconduct, I fear that John Yoo's loyalty to his own ideology and convictions clouded his view of his obligation to his client and led him to adopt opinions that reflected his own extreme, albeit sincerely held, views of executive power while speaking for an institutional client.

Just think about that for a minute. Margolis said that whether Yoo "intentionally or recklessly provided misleading advice to his client" when authorizing torture -- about the most serious accusation one can make against a lawyer, as it means he deliberately made false statements about the law -- "is a close question." That's the precise opposite of what Burck and Perino told National Review readers about Margolis' conclusion ("This shouldn’t have been close — and it wasn't, on the merits").

And I liked this doozy:

As Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin so clearly explained, the only thing that saved Yoo in Margolis' eyes was that attorney ethical rules have been written by lawyers to protect themselves, and the bar is therefore so low that it basically includes only "sociopaths and people driven to theft and egregious incompetence by serious drug and alcohol abuse problems." As a result, Margolis could not ultimately conclude that Yoo -- as shoddy and misleading as his torture authorizations were -- purposely lied because Yoo "was an ideologue who entered government service with a warped vision of the world in which he sincerely believed." Does that remotely sound like exoneration?

There's more. And it's most definitely worth a read.

[P.S.: sorry for the font size menage. Correcting the HTML after all that copying, pasting, and blockquoting was too much for me.]

[P.P.S.: Here's an interesting analogy between what the torture memos did, and the guy who produced the justifications for al Queda's murders.]

Great Minds

These guys are smarter than me, and possibly even better known. And yet, they seem to have been reading this blog. Says Tom Friedman:

To be sure, taking over the presidency at the dawn of the lean years is no easy task. The president needs to persuade the country to invest in the future and pay for the past — past profligacy — all at the same time. We have to pay for more new schools and infrastructure than ever, while accepting more entitlement cuts than ever, when public trust in government is lower than ever.

On top of that, the Republican Party has never been more irresponsible. Having helped run the deficit to new heights during the recent Bush years, the G.O.P. is now unwilling to take any responsibility for dealing with it if it involves raising taxes. At the same time, the rise of cable TV has transformed politics in our country generally into just another spectator sport, like all-star wrestling. C-Span is just ESPN with only two teams. We watch it for entertainment, not solutions.

While it would certainly help if the president voiced a more compelling narrative, I am under no illusion that this alone would solve all his problems and ours. It comes back to us: We have to demand the truth from our politicians and be ready to accept it ourselves. We simply do not have another presidency to waste. There are no more fat years to eat through. If Obama fails, we all fail [Emphasis mine].

Says Evan Bayh:

Of course, the genesis of a good portion of the gridlock in Congress does not reside in Congress itself. Ultimate reform will require each of us, as voters and Americans, to take a long look in the mirror, because in many ways, our representatives in Washington reflect the people who have sent them there.

The most ideologically devoted elements in both parties must accept that not every compromise is a sign of betrayal or an indication of moral lassitude. When too many of our citizens take an all-or-nothing approach, we should not be surprised when nothing is the result.

Our most strident partisans must learn to occasionally sacrifice short-term tactical political advantage for the sake of the nation. Otherwise, Congress will remain stuck in an endless cycle of recrimination and revenge. The minority seeks to frustrate the majority, and when the majority is displaced it returns the favor. Power is constantly sought through the use of means which render its effective use, once acquired, impossible.

What is required from members of Congress and the public alike is a new spirit of devotion to the national welfare beyond party or self-interest. In a time of national peril, with our problems compounding, we must remember that more unites us as Americans than divides us.[Emphasis mine.]

Says Leonard Pitts:

To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper's online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe. [Emphasis mine.]

I submit that any people thus handicapped sow the seeds of their own decline; they respond to the world as they wish it were rather to the world as it is. That's the story of the Iraq war.

But objective reality does not change because you refuse to accept it. The fact that you refuse to acknowledge a wall does not change the fact that it's a wall.

And you shouldn't have to hit it to find that out.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Okay, it's time to see the world as the right wing sees it: this guy is truly disgusting. See how soft he is on terror, making all sorts of bleeding heart claims about torture. He wants to close Guantanamo. He even -- this could be worst of all -- pronounces "Pakistan" in that elitist America-hating way that our president does.

Go to this link, if you dare. Be warned. It's leftist defeatist drivel at its most shocking.

Oh, and at the same time, another lilly-livered unAmerican lefty was spouting off, as if he knows something about war and diplomacy. Where does the liberal media get these guys?


Couple of days ago, I, along with four other docs, met with one of the most progressive of US Congressmen. Surprisingly, he gave us one and a half hours of his time, and it was at least as entertaining as it was enlightening.

With regard to health care reform, he is guardedly optimistic. He thinks there will be a bill, that it will probably be woefully lacking in various ways, but that it'll be a necessary step on the road to real and needed measures. He didn't think there'd be any Republican help in the process, and he predicted nothing will come of the televised "bipartisan" meeting. Big surprise.

Explaining his (guarded) optimism, he pointed to several differences between now and the times when Clinton's effort failed: then, he said, reform was supported neither by unions, businesses, nor doctor groups. Already under fire, unions back then -- he said -- saw the ability to get health benefits for their members as a main selling point. A national system would remove that advantage. Having lost many battles over such bennies more recently, unions see the writing on the wall.

Businesses as well have seen the future: unsustainable costs. And, for various reasons which I'll not get into, doctors' groups are now much more on board as well. At least with the idea that we can't go on like this.

The Congressman had interesting things to say about political psychology (my term, not his.) People like the idea of change as long as it doesn't affect them too much. They're fine with getting various things, as long as "they" don't, where "they" varies with the speaker. Poor people; immigrants; the ones over there... But with the Great Recession, people suddenly find themselves in the same boat as "they" are: jobless, desperate, and without health care coverage. He analogized to those who fought mass-transit because it would give "those people" easier access to their neighborhoods. Stuck in traffic, now, like everyone else, suddenly they're all in favor of it. In less than polite terms (not wimpy in his choice of words, he) the legislator suggested that their place is now at the back of the line.

To that, I said the obvious: well, what you say is true. But we have tea-baggers shouting in the streets against health care reform and, disproportionately in relation to their cluelessness and their numbers, Congressional Rs seem to be listening to them. Well, he said, I didn't say there'd be help from Republicans!

The meeting began with the Congressman stating that he thought Obama was very naive and inexperienced when he took office; that his lack of understanding of the legislative process led to him making promises, in terms of time required, that couldn't be kept. As he said it I thought, yeah, well, he hired Rahm Emanuel, not exactly a neophye innocent, and Joe Biden, who'd been in the Senate since Daniel Webster. I had similar thoughts as he pointed out that it took FDR two and a half years to get unemployment insurance, even though when he took office, 25% of the people were out of work: my thought was that even in his naiveté, Obama has seen the process nearly to its end in only a year...

There's an old saying comparing legislation to making sausage, claiming you don't want to know how either one works. Contrarily, the meeting made me wish I (and you, for that matter) could be a party to the process. Heavy was the implication of double dealing and capitulation and sub-rosa shenanigans: it made me want to know more. And to think we need a lot more people in Congress of strong backbone, commitment to solving problems, and mindful of why they're there. I include this guy among the good ones.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sad Story, Sad Ending

Anyone catch the much-hyped story of the man in a coma for 23 years, found to be able to communicate? Anyone, like me, find it hard to believe, especially when the communication was "facilitated?"

Sadly, if you were skeptical, you were right.

I've seen it before, and it's a lesson that applies broadly: if people want to believe something, they will. In this case it's undeniably obvious; in the case of, say, followers of Glenn Beck, whereas the evidence is obvious to anyone outside the sphere of influence and nearly as easily demonstrated, it's close to impossible to convince the deceived. Perhaps the difference is understanding evidence; perhaps it's the openness to data. Stupid as they'd been, there were scientists -- of a sort -- involved in the coma case.

In the way-back, I watch a televised story of the miracle of facilitated communication involving severely autistic kids. So severe was their disability that they'd been fully unable to communicate; so strong was the belief of their care-givers, that in one case a "message" received via the facilitators led to prosecution and conviction of a dad accused of abusing the child. Yet video of the sessions made it clear there was no way the kids were actually providing input. The "facilitator" was poking the children's fingers on an alphabet board, spelling words, while the subjects weren't even looking. When it was clearly shown, by preventing the facilitator from knowing the answer to questions posed to the kids, that there was no communication, the response of the facilitators fell into two types: those that were crushed, sad, and embarrassed; and those that continued to insist it was real.

I find it at least as fascinating as sad. It reveals much about who we are; how easily led, by a need to believe things that give us solace or confirm our prejudices, into the most indefensible and easily disproved certainties. As it tells us about the limitations of human intellect, it also cries for a way to incorporate that knowledge into the public realm: would that it were possible. Were it so, tea bags would be in tea cups where they belong, bipartisanship would actually exist, and we'd be a lot further along the path to political solutions.

And, of course, this.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Republican hatred of President Obama is so great that now they're criticizing him for killing terrorists. These guys have no shame at all, no capability of being embarrassed at the extent to which they'll contradict themselves in the blink of an eye to score some sort of hit, no matter how crazy.

First, Obama was soft on terror. His policies are too easy on terrorists. He doesn't say we're at war. He's ignoring the problem. He wants us to fail.

But wait: he's actually killing AND capturing terrorists at a higher rate than Dick Cheney could imagine in his wettest of dreams (sorry. That's an image no one should have to contemplate.) So, to the applause of the assembled partisans of no, this guy (author of the Patriot Act, no less) says Obama is killing too many. Really. To applause.

Here's the thing (and "things" aren't exactly the sort of thing that these people can comprehend): the guys being taken out are in remote areas. Which means you can't get there from here. You can't march in and take the guys, not without huge risk, not without being seen. So what would the crazies have us do? Leave them alone?

Moreover, there HAVE been several people captured in recent days. In cities. Where the possibility of surprise without being detected miles away exists. (By the way: the willingness of the Pakistani military to engage in this way is pretty much unprecedented. Great credit is due -- and won't be given, of course -- to the Obama administration [and to Richard Holbrooke, no doubt] for doing the diplomatic work to make it happen.)

And still Barack Obama, that Nazi, that dictator, that hater of all things American, that taker-away of our freedoms (question: which ones, exactly?) continues trying to find common ground. Still believes in partisanship. Still notes (did so again today) that we're all in this together.

For that, I don't know whether to admire him -- I'd have given up long ago -- or to despair of his future. Because there's no one on the other side who returns the favor. Not a damn one at CPAC, less than none in the tea pots; few if any elsewhere. These people want one thing and only one thing: complete failure of Obama's presidency, even if it means the complete failure of America. They'll say anything, no matter how absurd, in hopes a few more empty-headed haters will soak it up.

They will, of course.


Guy hates government, is pissed at the IRS, goes on a suicide mission, killing and maiming others on the way. Not terrorism. Not in any way related to the pollution effluxing hourly from Fox "news" and other RWS™. (In fact, to the extreme right wing, he's a hero.)

Woman with a history of violence kills colleagues over being denied tenure. She's a liberal. So are the people she killed. Fox "news" blames it on liberalism. Silent, so far as I've heard, on whether it's terrorism. (Correct me if I'm wrong, because I'd assume someone there thinks it is.)

Man murders doctor who performs abortions, to save babies and send a warning to others. Not terrorism.

Doctor with mental health issues murders fellow soldiers, is a Muslim. Terrorism.

Doesn't it seem the definition is a bit loose? User dependent? Should we just say terrorism is any act of violence committed by a Muslim? Should we add, parenthetically, that violence committed by liberals is ideological and influenced by "their" media, while the same act committed by a right-winger is an individual act with no greater implications? Or might we just allow that it's whatever the namer thinks it is, depending on political agenda and point trying to be made?

Meanwhile, conservatives are getting a good laugh over the airplane incident, while signing on with, and encouraging more of the same.

Good News

It's the best news I've heard in a long time. Dick Cheney, who, as far as I can tell, has never been right about anything -- at least not when he was our de-facto leader -- has declared that Barack Obama will be a one-term president.

Hearing that, a sense of great relief took over my soul and, quenched by the cool water of my own certitude, was my thirst for optimism slaked. Nor was that sense at all diminished by the news that Dick was greeted as a hero by the assemblage at which he spoke those words. Wrong at its most anthropomorhic, the embodiment of failure most primal, once again a hero of the right. Bodes well for the good guys.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Here's what Rush Limbaugh had to say about President Obama touting the results of the stimulus money:

"I know we're not supposed to talk about Adolf Hitler but this administration is making it really, really tough to ignore some facts out there. ... [T]he "Big Lie" was an expression coined by Hitler. And the "Big Lie" is exactly what all of liberalism is. ... This is how the OSS described Hitler's psychology: "His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or a wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong..."
If there's a more perfect example of what he and all of the RWS™ and their apologists are about, I can't imagine what it might be. I mean, really, is there a better description of EXACTLY what Rush, Glenn, Sean, Bill, Ann, Laura, Michael, Dick, Dick, Michelle, Sarah, Newt, John, Mitch, do every day?

I could list the ways, point by point. But it's so obvious that most people will know it already, and those that don't will never be convinced.

These guys have done more than kill legislation and seal our fate as a failed nation. They've also put to death all remnants of irony.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I's On The Prize

I'm waiting for a certain commenter to get around to complaining about the number of times President Obama uses the word "I" in his speeches. To save a little time, I'd like that commenter to read this before doing so. And then, once again, to defend Fox "News."

Busting The Busted Buster

I share Rachel's concern, as should we all. To require sixty-percent majority for all important legislation is to turn democracy on its head. It's to subvert and pervert the Constitution, and to make governance virtually impossible. It's to paralyze us while our competitors around the world are sprinting. It's to give to the most hidebound, the most ideological, the least open to new ideas, the power to stop everything. And it's to institutionalize the rankest of hypocrisy, as those whose mantra just political moments ago was "Up or down vote, up or down vote, up or down vote" do the opposite of everything they claimed was important. For the people.

This is much more than the final nail, for that has already been driven in. This is lowering the coffin into the ground, covering it with dirt, and walking away, leaving the grave unmarked and without a map back.

But soft! Our nation's foremost Constitutional scholar, Dan Quayle, has weighed in; he's said the founding fathers didn't have in mind the idea that things could pass with a majority of votes. (Funny they didn't say so or put it in, y'know, writing.) Not 51 votes in the House, not 51 votes in the Senate, he potatoed. He was half right, though.

For something as undeniably critical as this, I hate to end on a facetious note. So let's hear from Tom Harkin, who has that thing so hated by the RWS™: knowledge. And credibility. Who began calling for change when he was in the minority, like the current abusers (but unlike them in consistency and integrity and commitment to the common good):
... I'm going to reintroduce that again in January. And people are going to say I only worry about this because I'm in the majority. But I come with clean hands! I started when I was in the minority!

The idea is to give some time for extended debate but eventually allow a majority to work its will. I do believe there's some reason to have extended debate. If a group of senators filibusters a bill, you want to take their worries seriously. Make sure you're not missing something. My proposal will do that. It says that on the first vote, you need 60. Then you have to wait two days, and on the third day, you need 57 votes. And then you need to wait two days, and on the third day, it's 54 votes. And then you'd wait another two days, and on the third day, it would be 51 votes.

Makes sense to me. And if not, then let's get back to this. (Well, in that clip it's the good guy who's filibustering, an entirely foreign concept, these days.) Let's make the bastards talk round the clock, till they're too hoarse to be heard. Let's let the public watch the spectacle and know who is really doing what. And to whom.

Monday, February 15, 2010


"We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the secret sits in the middle and knows."

That's what Robert Frost, who, in his later years, taught at my college while I was there, penned. I had to write an essay about it.

As Cheney flings another of his Peyronioid arrows at Obama for, in his sick view, not doing anything right about terrorists, news like this makes me think of that poem, and shake my head sadly.

Having gotten nothing right for the eight years of his presidency, having been easily lapped by the Obama administration in anti-terrorist successes, Dick still gets more air than Shaun White. And people believe him, think Obama doesn't get it, think the Dick did. What a pathetic people we are; how gullible, how easily misled; how hungrily we lap up the gruel spread before us by Foxdick, as long as it confirms our prejudices and doesn't require thought.

It's also worth noting that despite the Dickish invective, the administration kept mum on this success, in order that the intelligence gathered therefrom could be used. This is in contrast to the Cheney administrations trotting out every action ASAP, sometimes to the detriment of possible operations.

The president we need, to fix the universal destruction left behind by President Cheney: we have him, and we're being lied to at every turn by cynical people who want to stop him, and whose discredited ideas got us there in the first place. And somehow, it's working. We have a collective memory the length of the last disinformation show on Fox. Read the comments on this blog: it couldn't be clearer.

You'd think being right would be enough. But, since the wrong is killing us, it's not. I can't stand it.

Stupid On Display

So the "reporters" at Fox "News" have decided that snow in the East Coast disproves global warming. In a scoop of epic proportions (in the same way a shovel of horse crap is a scoop), they stuck a copy of Al Gore's book in the snow. Nothing like graphics to prove a point.

Now, anyone with a brain (a subset of humanity which, as has been amply demonstrated, does not include any of the "personalities" on Fox "News") knows snow in winter -- even record snow on an occasion -- neither proves nor disproves a damn thing. The fact that this January was the warmest one, globally, on record (while Florida froze, my area had its warmest ever, and let's not mention the Winter Olympics); the fact that the ten years just ended was the warmest decade on record; those bits of data carry a little weight. One season, in one part of the world: not so much.

With that caveat in mind, it'd be interesting to ask those yukking yokels, those proud prevaricators, those fatuous fabricators of Fox "News" what they think of the fact that at the very time they were getting their giggles garroting Gore, thirty-two people died of record heat in Brazil. And that, even after the unprecedented heat wave of a year ago, they broke another heat record a few days ago in Melbourne.

I guess it would affect them the way it affects Fox listeners: not a damn bit.

Keep up the good work, Fox and followers. You're like WWII collaborators; except this time, when your denial does its work, there'll be no one left to bring the full force of history to bear on you. So, lucky you.

[Yes, I realize this is sort of old news. But in my view you never can call enough attention to the kind of idiocy that passes for news and which is eaten like ice cream by Fox "News" viewers.]

Friday, February 12, 2010

Illiberal Media

This article makes an excellent -- if obvious -- point. Here's a portion:

What if, in 2006, at Yearly Kos, the first annual convention of liberal bloggers and their readers, organizers shelled out $100,000 for former Vice President Al Gore to address attendees? And what if the same organizers booked as an opening-night speaker a fringe, radical-left conspiracy theorist who'd spent the previous year pushing the thoroughly debunked claim that some Bush White administration insiders played a role in, and even planned, the 9-11 attacks. What if the speaker (also proudly anti-Semitic) received a standing ovation from the liberal Yearly Kos crowd?

Given that backdrop, and given the fact that the 9-11 Truther nut had for weeks bragged about his chance to share the stage with Gore, do you think the press would have demanded that Gore justify his association with a hateful conference that embraced a 9-11 Truther? Do you think pundits would have universally mocked and ridiculed Gore's judgment while condemning the Yearly Kos convention as being a hothouse of left-wing hate? Do you think Gore's appearance would have become a thing?

(In case you don't feel like reading the linked article, its point is the ways in which the media failed to cover the recent Tea Party Convention.)

The media have become like the Congressional Democrats. They've allowed a false narrative to drive debate and are either unable (in the case of the Ds) or unwilling (in the case of our vaunted media, those defenders of truth and balance) to set it right. In each case, they've let dishonest characterizations stand unchallenged. When it's in Congress, we get paralysis. When it's the media, that let themselves be talked into no longer doing their jobs, lest they be decried as "liberal" (because, to question and to demand facts, to call out liars is, y'know, elitist and liberal; and gods help us if reporters get all truthy on us), we get teabags.

[While we're at it, I wonder when some media person will ask Kit Bond or any of the other RWS™ types who are hyperventilating about trying terrorists in US courts, under US law, about this case.] [On the other hand, why bother: there are already so many examples of the stupidity of the argument that you'd think it would have died by now. But not here. Not as long as Foxbaggers are around and the rest of the media are AWOL.]

Thursday, February 11, 2010


It's taken almost two-and-a-half centuries, but it's clear that our form of democracy doesn't work. It did. But now it doesn't.

There are certain ironies: clearly, the writers of the Constitution didn't trust people all that much. They eschewed direct governance, and they established an elaborate system of checks and balances; they saw to it that rash decisions would be hard to make, that changes to the Constitution would be difficult, but possible. And yet, fundamentally, they made some optimistic judgements that have proved to be preposterously unrealistic. They counted, it seems, on a basic level of intelligence and education among the electorate and on the idea that those elected to govern would share at least a modicum of deference to the common weal. I can only assume that, back then, there was reason to believe it.

I don't hold Tom and Ben and George and John and Alex and James and the rest responsible for not being able to foresee the development of a major party devoid entirely of either of those basic qualities. Nor, in their zeal for a free press, seeing its necessity as a balance to government and as a provider of information, can I fault them for not imagining the scope and reach of a modern 24/7 news organization devoted entirely to a political agenda. Nor could they have predicted the gullibility of an ill-informed and lazy electorate subjected to constant propagandizing while having been deliberately deprived -- by a cunning mix of religious indoctrination and inadequate funding of meaningful education -- of the tools to recognize it; how could they have foreseen the efficacy of an effort so diabolically designed to deceive? But whether blameless or not, the founders managed to create a form of government that turns out to be entirely unworkable under the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

I've said it before: we don't deserve the democracy we've been given. It's as if we've been handed a precious work of art and are using it as an outhouse. Our democracy is the Buddha carvings after the Taliban got to them. Nor should it be difficult to understand who, in that analogy, are the destroyers. To function, democracy needs people of intelligence, of knowledge, of energy. And of good will. That, most especially: people of good will. In Congress. In the populace. On both sides.

Here's a perfect example of the problem: the "discussion" about trying terrorists in the US civil court system. It's one that is not just amenable to, but NEEDS, rational debate; in my view, the arguments strongly favor civilian courts, but there are reasonable positions to the contrary. Yet we've had nothing of the sort, and the blame is squarely on the right wing. There's the neo-cons and their daughter, desperately trying to defend their failures; there's the Congressional Republican spokesfolk and the usual RWS™, completely ignoring the fact that the current administration is doing exactly what the previous one did, 319 times, for people such as KSM and Richard Reid. And, worst of all, there are the thoughtless but angry, uninformed but certain, "patriotic" but hate-filled people in the streets, tea bags in hand, vitriol fully in throat, hurling epithets with no basis. Unformed rage, misplaced feelings of victimhood, complete incomprehension of how their government works.

For an informative discussion of the terror-trial issue, listen to this. But be warned: it's long and it's thoughtful; it contains facts. It shows why complicated issues are simply too much for our politics, as currently degenerated, where demagoguery replaces debate and hypocrisy replaces helpfulness.

If the Sarah Palin phenomenon isn't the perfect proof -- with her deliberate lies, her anti-intellectualism, her faux (and Faux) populism based on demeaning the other guy, her proud vacuity, her careful absence of actual ideas (her performance for the Teabaggers was a classic of appealing to the lowest common denominator, nastiness for its own sake, and avoidance of meaningful proposals), her rabid followers who find her "like one of us" (she is; oh yes, she is!) -- then nothing is. Well, maybe this, too.

Oh, I rant and rave. But I'm deadly serious. I've said we need two strong parties in this country, and intelligent debate over tough issues. But such a concept is predicated on honest intention, of which there simply is none in the current minority party. They won't take yes for an answer, and they never will.

And their followers will never admit it. Because outrage is easier than pitching in. Because believing stuff doesn't take the effort of knowing stuff. Because being led by people who deliberately feed your sense of aggrievement feels gooder than being made to think by people who know what they're talking about. Y'know. Like a charismatic law professor with a teleprompter. Damn sure don't need that, not us real 'Mericans. You betcha.

We no longer have the luxury of stupidity and crass party politics. Those are what got us here, yet those are what still drive the debate. If we can't rise above it, and soon, it'll be too late. But then, in my view, it already is.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Perfect Example

High on the list of hypocritical Republican and RWS™ dudgeon is the idea that, in trying KSM in civilian courts, Barack Hussein Obama is showing his weakness on terror. Weak on terror. Doesn't get it. Sending the wrong message. Whatever.

Far be from me the suggestion that there could be politics involved. Certainly, our America-loving, terror-tough minority party wouldn't be so crass as to switch 180Âș on an issue of this importance.



And so it is that when Eric Holder, explaining his KSM decision, said that over 300 terrorists had already been tried and convicted in civilian courts, there was outrage aplenty. Even W's press secretary called it a falsehood among falsehoods.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) insisted, flat out, that the number wasn't true. "If there were [300 convictions]," he said, "we would have heard about them." Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) called the claim "unsubstantiated" and demanded to know where it came from. Former Bush press secretary Dana Perino was even blunter, deeming Holder's assertion baffling. "The 300 number is as false as false gets," she declared.

Oops. If it was, it was her boss's falsehoods.

I'm shocked. Shocked!

Republicans are dishonest and two-faced, playing politics even with national security???

Your winnings, sir.

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