31 December 2009

Ring in the new!

With each dawn we start fresh, the days past never to be relived. Marcus Aurelius believed that in each day, each moment, we experienced a small death when it passed.

Whatever sadness, whatever regrets, whatever dreams unfulfilled – all are left behind with each new day, new week, new season. We are constantly renewing.

Our annual ritual of ringing in the new year is just one of our many renewals, and, though the calendar is a manmade device, it is based upon the cycles of the planet, the moon and the sun. This cycle of renewal and rebirth is given to us by God. It is written on our hearts to embrace this celebration.

Aurelius simply saw a way not to fear death. Christ leads us to embrace a new life. And so we resolve to improve, to do better, to be better with each new year. To remake ourselves.

“See, I make all things new.”

Happy New Year.

30 December 2009

Defending the indefensible at Texas Tech

In a case that has attracted national attention, Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach has been fired for his treatment of wide receiver Adam James, son of broadcaster and former NFL player Craig James.

In facts that appear not to be disputed by anybody, James was diagnosed by the team physician with a concussion on December 16th. At practice the next day, Coach Leach required him to stand in a darkened storage shed, not allowing him to sit. Two days later, at the next practice, he required the young man to stand in a darkened closet and/or media room, again not allowing him to sit.

Initially, Leach was suspended. He appealed the suspension, and had a court hearing scheduled. Outside the doors of the hearing, Texas Tech presented him with a termination letter.

Those, as far as we know right now, are the facts.

What stuns me right now is that I have actually read commentary sympathetic towards, and defensive of, Leach. Some former players sent emails to media outlets which have been published, describing the younger James as lazy, a troublemaker, undisciplined. To that, I say, SO WHAT? What does that have to do with it? If he was a problem, cut him.

If I were Texas Tech, I would have only needed to confirm two things that were reported in the press. 1) Did the team doctor diagnose a concussion? and 2) Did Leach lock him in a darkened storage shed the next day?

If I were Leach, I wouldn't even think about offering any defense other than "one (or both) of those things did not happen."

All the stories about how lazy, selfish and undisciplined Adam James is are totally irrelevant, and saying it now sounds a lot like calling a rape victim a slut. It may be true, but it has nothing to do with the concussion and his subsequent treatment.

Pleading "he had it coming" only makes it look a lot worse. Leach's own attorney hasn't even tried to make that argument. Instead, he argues that "it wasn't a shed, it was a garage." So that makes it okay? Really?

Mike Leach may or may not have been treated unfairly by his employer. He definitely overpaid his lawyer - assuming he paid anything at all.

I often hear football players describe themselves as "warriors," and games as "battles." To a certain extent, I think the metaphor is apt. But as an Army veteran myself, I can tell you that I never locked anybody in a shed for discipline. That is not discipline, and it is certainly not leadership.

It is dehumanizing, and it is psychotic.

And people defending it should be ashamed of themselves.

The Crotch Bomber is an enemy combatant, not a thief

As more and more voices are being raised in objection to the Obama administration's handling of the Christmas Day "crotch bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, as a standard criminal prosecution, liberals are beginning to toss out strawman arguments to defend the decision.

First, they ask how this differs from the civilian trial of the Shoe Bomber, Richard Reid. Reid's attempted attack occurred in December 2001, before we had in place a military tribunal system, and before the prison at Guantanamo Bay had been established. The tactics and methods for fighting the nascent War on Terror were still being developed, and there really was no other option. Six months later, Jose Padilla, an American citizen, was detained as an unlawful enemy combatant, interrogated, and tried in the military system. The rules had changed.

Second, I am now hearing some ask about the 2006 civilian trial of Zaccarias Mossaoui, the "20th hijacker." This may be the single worst counter-example for Obama apologists to use. Mossaoui was arrested in August of 2001 - not only before the new rules I discussed above, but before 9-11. The failure to allow a search of his computer was identified as one of the chief problems that might have prevented those attacks. This is what began to shed a new light on the need to be able to apply military and intelligence rules in what otherwise would have been treated as domestic criminal investigations.

Further, Mossaoui was indicted in December of 2001, prior to Reid's attack. He made an absolute circus of pretrial motions and hearings, requiring multiple Appeals Court and Supreme Court rulings to protect national security before his trial was finally allowed to take place in 2006.

Mossaoui is probably the worst example these people could use to justify a civilian criminal prosecution of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and not only because Mossaoui's arrest and prosecution began prior to 9-11.

In fact, the failure to connect the criminal and national security responsibilities in the initial investigation of Mossaoui led to changes in our approach to such investigations, and the five year circus of hearings and trials in civilian courts still stand as one of the chief arguments against that approach.

UPDATE: I should probably add, in case you are furiously trying to research some past terrorist whose case was mis-handled, that the most important point to make here is that two wrongs don't make a right. As I noted with regard to Mossaoui, his trial was a circus and it required the Supreme Court to protect the nation's security interests. You're supposed to learn from your mistakes, not justify bad decisions by pointing to the very mistakes you are repeating. Getting away from the law enforcement approach to terrorism was a correction. Giving Abdulmutallab Miranda Rights and a defense attorney is turning back the calendar to, well, to 9/10.

23 December 2009

The risk of over-using words is that they no longer mean anything

Now that Democrats have spent nearly a year pressuring, cajoling, horse-trading and bribing other Democrats just to cobble together the minimum votes needed for each procedural hurdle, for a health care bill supported by little more than a third of the American people, causing nearly three quarters of those people to tell two different pollsters they are now "angry" at the government, why has the media lost the word "extremist" from its vocabulary?

They spent so many years calling things like tax cuts "extreme," that the word no longer means anything at all. If it still had its original meaning, I can think of no political act in my lifetime more extreme than this push for health care. Sadly, the next most extreme acts on that list are almost all from the nascent Obama Era, as well.

I can hardly keep up with it all.

17 December 2009

Congress continues to flush your money down the toilet

It is hardly worth noting any more when the Democratic Congress spends more money we don't have. The House voted to approve another "stimulus" - because the last one was not quote enough to stomp out all economic growth.

This on the same day that President Obama signed off on a $1.1 trillion spending bill that lavishes enormous raises to Federal agency budgets. And to cap it off, about half of the "funding" for this bill is redirected TARP bailout money. Remember when we were told that bailout would end up costing us nothing (we might even profit!) because it was all going to be paid back?

Well, scratch that. Our elected representatives have decided to go ahead and flush it instead.

Never forget: the road to hell is a shovel ready project.*

*Wish I knew who coined that phrase. It was on a Tea Party sign some months back...

16 December 2009

On the precipice

Well, it has happened. I agree with President Obama.

Addressing Congressional Democrats yesterday regarding the imminent passage of Obamacare, he said "we are at the precipice..." I could not agree more. We are about to fall over the edge of a cliff. It is the culmination of a year in which Democrats have sent this nation hurtling into tyranny, bankruptcy and forced dependency, fighting the roaring headwinds of the public's vocal and overwhelming disapproval of everything they are doing.

It appears even closer to certain now that the Senate will pass their version of Obamacare. If it moves from there to final passage, this long-running recession may appear, in our memories, to be the "good old days." We will no longer live under a Constitution, but at the whim of our overlords if we accept a Congressional mandate on individuals to purchase insurance. We will cede control of our very bodies to lobbyists and craven politicians if the government controls, as by this plan's design it will, the financing and delivery systems of our health care.

Democrats' political calculation is a simple one. They understand that by merely trying to pass this monstrous inversion of American values, they have already forfeited next year's elections. They have nothing more to lose by going all the way.

Republicans ought to run, starting now, on a promise not only to continue to fight it, but to work for its repeal if it passes. It may be an empty promise, because it is impossible for them to gain the veto-proof majorities that would be required to actually repeal the new laws in the next Congress. And history tells us they would not do it anyway.

Pray now, and cling to that thin, thin reed of hope that the legislation may yet be defeated.

04 December 2009

What gives me the right to tell gay people how to live?

Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston had a "relationship" that spanned 16 years. Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn have reigned as Hollywood royal couple for 26 years and counting. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been "together" for five years and had three (biological) children.

For generations, the moralizers for Hollywood have dismissed the importance of "a piece of paper" to validate their love. True love, we were told, didn't need some government license, or, heaven forbid, a phony stamp of approval from some antiquated church.

Right?

Well, you can take it up with Rosie O'Donnell and Kelli Carpenter. Or Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. Because now, it seems, the only thing that matters is that piece of paper.

But whose approval do they need, and why?

I am instinctively inclined to favor separation of marriage and state. My marriage is sanctioned by the Catholic Church, from which it obtains its only legitimacy. The government license is very much secondary, and entirely irrelevant to the sacrament of matrimony. At the same time, I am sympathetic to arguments that there is a compelling state interest in protecting the best interests of the children. In other words, marriage laws, at their heart, are not at all about marriage, they are about protecting the next generation that will sustain our society.

Whether or not one accepts that this reasoning is sufficient to justify state involvement in marriage, it is difficult to conceive (pun intended) of any other state interest in adult relationships. Everything in a marriage, except children, can be governed by contract, entirely outside of the marriage license.

Yet, children are never a consideration in a gay "marriage." Never. No lesbian or male homosexual couple can ever conceive a child.

Proponents of gay marriage licensure argue as if such a license is a benefit. It is not. It is a burden. It is government intervention. And believers in freedom understand that government intervention must be justified by a compelling state interest. I have yet to hear what compelling interest might enable me, a taxpayer and voter, to have any say over gay relationships.

Because if it is licensed by the state, if it's a matter of law, then I have a say. The government is in your bedroom. But here is the thing: I don't want to be in your bedroom.

So I ask: if you want me to be able to set rules for your relationship; if you want me to regulate what happens when you break up; if you want my opinion to to have legal bearing on your private behavior; please, tell me why.

30 November 2009

Swimming against the tide

Today comes news that Americans oppose Obamacare in virtually every major poll on the topic. Beyond that, a plurality, approaching a majority, rate the current system "good" or "excellent."

In other words, not only do the American people fail to recognize the health care crisis that the President insists we face, they appear to have decided that the best option available is the current system.

As I've said before, though, this president does not care what you think, or how you may vote next year.

Does the Congress? So far, the answer is no...

08 November 2009

One small step in the legislative process, one giant leap for socialism

There is no question that Obama is a committed leftwing ideologue. He does not care one whit whether or not he gets re-elected, or whether or not the entire Congress turns republican next year, as long as the foundation of socialized medicine is in place before then.

Sadly, I think that as long as the Obamites are in power, they will continue – as they have thus far – to build on the other remarkably radical socialist foundations they have already laid in their takeovers of the automotive and financial industries. There are no signs of government letting go its grip in any area. It is hard to imagine it, but as monumentally destructive as socialized medicine may be, it is also a great distraction from what otherwise would already be viewed as perhaps the most radical economic interventionism in American history.

Obama’s pitch to the Democratic Caucus yesterday seems to have been that all of them needed to view the vote in terms of basic principles; e.g., if you believe in socialized medicine, vote for it, electoral consequences be damned. Paul Ryan’s appeal, on the other side, was the same. “Which side of history do you want to be on?”

This vote, in the face of strong public opposition, is a stark reminder of the difference between a democracy and a republic. For two years, members of Congress can do as they please, all in our name. Leaders of both sides called for a moment of clarity about first principles in advance of yesterday’s vote, and they got it.

And freedom lost.

Hopefully, this can still be stopped at least until next fall, because history tells us that Republicans will never repeal it. Indeed, it is literally impossible for them to win the veto-proof majorities that would require, even if they were willing.

Maybe the best approach to the 2010 elections is to ask the voters for the same sort of moment of clarity the House of Representatives was asked for yesterday. To ask the people what sort of country they want to live in, what side of history they want to be on.

We do not need an election revolving around “concrete legislative proposals,” rather than first principles. It is long past time that we stop pretending that it is at all important for voters to consider those kind of details. Voters really need to choose their representatives based upon their fundamental principles, because that is the only way they can know - really know - if these representatives will actually represent them, regardless of legislative details and political winds.

Still, I tremble to think what the electorate will choose.

Reason to mope and reason for hope

Last night, the House of Representatives pushed through the most fiscally irresponsible, freedom-infringing, legislative monstrosity in history. To compound matters, it was pushed through largely unread by members of Congress, completely unread by the public, and in the face of powerful public disapproval.

It was a reminder to any who needed one that this is a Republic, not a Democracy. For the two years between elections, members of the United States Congress can do as they please. Reportedly, that was more or less the message of President Obama's pitch to the Democratic Caucus on Saturday. Sadly, it is the nature of government programs that, no matter how monstrous, they never go away. I reject the rosy outlooks of those who say this is merely procedural, and the bill stands almost no chance of passage in the Senate, much less as a final bill. Let's be clear about this: every step closer is a step closer. Last night's vote was bad for America.

Yet there remains reason to hope that it can be stopped on a subsequent vote. Over at the Spectator, Philip Klein points out that 42 members voted both for the Stupak amendment, removing abortion funding from the bill, and for the bill's final passage. With pro-abortion Democrats already beginning to pledge a return of abortion funding, these are the democrats to watch. It is difficult to imagine that all would oppose a final version that included abortion, but the fact is, only three of them need to switch their votes to kill socialized medicine.

Speaker Pelosi and her minions deployed all their arm-twisting and deal-cutting tools and barely squeaked out passage despite a strong majority. Now, they can't afford to lose more than two of 42 abortion opponents and still win final passage.

I've warned before that I do not believe President Obama cares in the slightest what the electoral consequences of passing socialized medicine may be. He is a committed left-wing ideologue. He knows, as I already pointed out, that once socialized medicine is in place, it is here to stay. Yesterday, he got just enough people on board to push something through, and that's what he needed.

The forces of freedom need to view this battle the same way. There is no reason to compromise or offer alternatives. The only thing that matters is to kill this monstrosity. While I understand the reasoning behind supporting the Stupak amendment yesterday, that may, in the end, have helped passage of the bill. From this point forward, every conservative effort must be directed towards defeating any version of medical reform offered.

Sometimes you win by three touchdowns, sometimes you win on a blocked field goal. But either way, you win.

22 October 2009

Daniel Lipinski, Pocket Dictator of the Day!

Our Constitution has succeeded for more than 200 years in preventing the ascension of a real, full-fledged dictator in the United States. But don't think for a minute that this is for lack of aspiring candidates for the role. The urge to tell other people what to do in the every aspect of their lives drives many in our society, not least among them our elected officials.

Sadly, they too often succeed in poisoning our laws with restrictions on freedom. Because they are thwarted in their obvious, underlying desire for absolute power, though, they must remain only pocket-sized dictators.

Our "Pocket Dictator" of the Day is Representative Daniel Lipinski (D - IL).

In response to the great national security issue of oversized carry-on bags, the Honorable Mr. Lipinski has introduced legislation limiting, by law, the size of the bags you can bring onto your plane.

His knowledge of airplane design, luggage dimensions, your personal needs, and how to properly run an airline is so obviously superior to all the airlines and passengers in the United States that he seeks to enforce, with the power of the United States government, the size his own delicate sensibilities and superior judgment has determined will serve your needs best.

What the Pocket Dictators like Mr. Lipinski fail to understand, as they solemnly contemplate at what point men with guns should seize our luggage, is that while they may not believe us smart enough to pack our own underwear, it is they who should not be trusted with sharp scissors.

16 October 2009

They weren't smearing just Rush. They were smearing you.

Much has already been written about the Rush Limbaugh smear campaign which ended in him being dropped from a group that is seeking to buy the St. Louis Rams football team.

It is clear by now that the two widely repeated quotes used to brand Limbaugh a racist were completely fabricated. A few writers have backhandedly retracted it with mealy-mouthed phrasing like "I take him at his word when he denies having said it." I've yet to read one who says "I should not have run with that quote without verifying it, because it is so over-the-top, and potentially career-damaging to the person I am writing about, that the least I cold have done was basic journalism."

Instead, the "okay, if you says so" retraction generally continues with some variation of "he is clearly so racist and vile that I hardly think retracting the quote changes anything. It certainly doesn't change my opinion."

This is not intellectual laziness. This is pure, ignorant, bigotry. It is nothing new that Rush Limbaugh is targeted by such hate, but there was a larger target implicated as racists in this campaign: Rush's 20 million listeners.

Think about that for a minute. What kind of nation do these media buffoons think that they live in? Twenty million people listen to Rush Limbaugh every week. He is a pop culture icon who has been the cornerstone of talk radio for more than twenty years. And we are expected to believe that he can laud the murderer of Martin Luther King, Jr. and advocate slavery, and still have that kind of devoted following? That prominent politicians, even presidents, would meet with him publicly, and even appear on the show of a man who would make such outrageous statements?

You cannot believe these things to be true and also live in the real world. You cannot believe that the most-listened-to radio personality in the world praised the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. eleven years ago, and nobody noticed that until now? And nobody protested at the time? Nobody stopped listening?

A country with that many racists would not have elected Barack Obama. It simply could not happen.

But now, days after it has become clear that these racist quotes were made up out of whole cloth, the liberal media still sees nothing wrong with its reporting.

Because all of you people are stupid racists.

13 October 2009

Two strikes on O'Reilly

I watch Bill O'Reilly from time to time, but find his program tremendously frustrating. He rarely asks tough questions, and often lets his guests get away with saying whatever they want. Interjecting with an occasional "come on, Senator!" doesn't make you a tough interviewer.

Earlier this evening, Sen Claire McCaskill was on The Factor, and O'Reilly let her get away with some whoppers. Here are a few:

  1. "We are going to make preventive screenings free" The senator was trying to explain the many cost-saving measures in the bill. Unfortunately, nobody can "make things free." If it is a good or service that has value, then its cost will be borne by somebody. What McCaskill no doubt meant is that the bill would require insurers to pay for preventive care screenings with no out-of-pocket costs for the patient. But that isn't "free." It is a cost, and an enormous new cost. It may not affect the Federal budget, but it will affect the family budget of everybody in America who has to pay for this new Government regulation through higher premiums. And they will be much, much higher. I don't know if McCaskill is too economically ignorant to understand that, or dishonest enough to say it, knowing how grossly misleading the statement is. All I know for sure is that O'Reilly let her make the claim completely unchallenged.
  2. "The CBO couldn't score the long-term benefits of preventive care" In fact, as you would think O'Reilly would know, the CBO has previously said that preventive care will raise costs. Again, if this is all done through mandates on private insurers, it won't raise Federal budget spending, but it will raise costs enormously for everybody in America. But O'Reilly let it hang there, unchallenged.
Look, I don't mean to single out O'Reilly - that's just the program I watched tonight. But he let some high, hanging curveballs go right past him, and a lot of viewers who depend on him to help cut through the spin were let down tonight.

10 October 2009

Great words, great thoughts

Reading reminds us, as Lincoln once said, that those great thoughts we have are not so original, after all. Here are some good ones to think about today.

Ah, consensus...the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner 'I stand for consensus'?
Margaret Thatcher

For over ten years, bombs rained down on every village and hamlet in South Vietnam, and no one budged. It took the coming of a Communist ‘peace’ to send hundreds of thousands of people out into the South China Sea, on anything that could float, or might float, to risk dehydration, piracy, and drowning.
General Vernon Walters

Well done is better than well said.
Benjamin Franklin

09 October 2009

Who says he has done nothing?

On the 20th Anniversary of the Dalai Lama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, it is awarded to the first US President to snub the Dalai Lama in an effort to appease the very Chinese dictatorship that continues to deny liberty to the Tibetan people.

So who says Obama has done nothing?

UPDATE: And by the way, the Nobel citation says Obama has "created a new climate." Wait a minute...didn't they just give this award to Al Gore for fighting against climate change?

08 October 2009

Read what bill?

Over the summer, many angry constituents showed up at town hall meetings demanding that their elected representatives at least read the massive health care bills before ramming them through. It sounds like a reasonable enough demand, don't you think?

Now comes the Baucus "Bill," from the Senate Finance Committee. There can be no demands that committee members read the bill before voting. Our fine senators have come up with a great workaround to that demand.

They intend to vote without writing a bill. That silly little detail can be taken care of after it passes.

06 October 2009

Markets are the physics of economic reality

I saw part of an interview of Michael Moore on the Sean Hannity show this evening. It was difficult to watch for a lot of reasons, but here are just a couple.

First, Hannity tries too hard to take the partisan line sometimes. In trying to focus on the Community Reinvestment Act as the cause of the so-called "mortgage crisis," he tried to make the case that it was only Carter's CRA, along with Clinton's later modifications of the Act, that were the root of the problems, and that it was only Democratic intransigence when Bush proposed reforms at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that allowed the final collapse. But this analysis ignores that at the time of the Democrats' resistance to Republican reforms, Republicans controlled the Congress. Further, it ignores that Bush, who quite vocally promoted an "ownership society," never advocated reining in the unsound lending practices encouraged by the CRA and subsequent modifications. Indeed, Bush fully shared the goals of those regulations. It's fine to name names, but to pretend that the party which controlled Congress for three-fourths of both the Bush and Clinton administrations have no responsibility for the problem is a dangerous position to take.

Second, and related to the above problem, Hannity never really called Moore on the central problem with the arguments (such as they are) which Moore makes. Indeed, Hannity seems to agree with Moore that the capitalist "system" is in need of reforms and improvements, he only disagrees on what form those improvements should take.

Yet for every bad thing, for every bad person that Moore holds up as an example of all that is wrong with the system, he fails to ever make a case that a "system" caused the problem, much less that the guilty system is capitalism. There will always be sad stories, there will always be bad people. Some of those people will be in politics, some will be in business, some will be in gangs, some will be in prison, and some will even be in Hollywood. That's not the fault of capitalism or any other system. It is a fact of human nature, and I don't understand why nobody simply asks Mr. Moore whether he believes there is a system that can possibly overcome human nature.

Capitalism, after all, is a term invented by Karl Marx to describe the world as he saw it. It is socialism which is a designed system. A better, and more accurate term for capitalism is "free markets." Markets, you see, are not a system to be designed or managed. Markets cannot be abolished or overcome. Markets are better described as the physics of our economic reality. You can no more change the fundamental operation of markets than you can change the law of gravity. That's why socialist economies never work. That's why the most efficient and best operating markets are free markets.

But there is probably no point trying to explain that to Mr. Moore. Perhaps a better question for him is how, if we are to consolidate more power over our economy and our freedom in the hands of a few people in Washington, we can be sure that those people won't be the same bad people who now cause bad things.

Free markets benefit from a value which Americans, more than any other people on earth, have always held dear: freedom. In a free market, power is not held by only a few, whether they be on Wall Street or Washington. No company is "too big to fail." To the contrary, all are free to succeed or fail, because all are subject to the same rules - the rules of markets.

The less free the markets, the less free the people.

25 September 2009

Nothing up his sleeves...

Magicians are masters at misdirection. You never see the trick, you only see the magic, because that's what they want you to look at - you can't help yourself. I can't decide whether Obama is a master, as well, or whether his approach is simple overload.

We are so caught up in the healthcare debate because the stakes are so high, that we can hardly absorb all the rest:

  • The IG scandal. Remember that? The Walpin lawsuit is still pending, but there were other IGs also fired. Transparency and accountability, in this administration are, well, "just words."
  • Cap and Trade. Sure, it's dead. Right? It isn't dead yet, and try to get the crowds away from the anti-Obamacare rallies to stop it.
  • Afghanistan. It's in the news right now, but not as prominently as it ought to be. There is a reason the McChrystal report was leaked, and it may have been revealed in today's report that the White House pressured his generals to "scrub" their assessments.
  • Nationalization of the banking and auto industries. Does anybody even remember that? It's still a pretty big deal, but it's dwarfed by the Obamacare proposal.
  • The radical Czars. Glenn Beck is a voice in teh wilderness on this one, I'm afraid. Van Jones is gone, and that's good, but he is hardly the only radical appointed extra-constitutionally, and probably not even the worst.
  • The new financial regulations are atrocious.
  • Our Iran policy is not only groveling and weak, but scandalous. Today we learned about another Iranian nuclear facility, but Obama knew about it before he was even sworn in.
  • Missile defense in Europe. Or lack of it. Obama is making the world a much more dangerous place.
I can't even tally it all up, but the cards are in Obama's favor on implementing radical change. We have to stop Obamacare. He doesn't have to pass it to get his brand of "change."

At least, not yet.

19 September 2009

What, exactly, do people dislike about health care today?

During my son's five year battle with cancer, the one constant was nausea. It was a symptom of his cancer, and a side effect of virtually every treatment and every drug he took. His doctors prescribed many anti-nausea medications, from Decadron, to Zofran, to Kytril, to Emend, to Aloxi, to Marinol, to Phenergan - he had them all, and more. Our insurance covered it, but they were very specific about when you could get a refill. If we needed to change the dose before a refill, and ran out before they thought we should, it was tough to get it refilled; a call to the doctor, a call to the insurance, another day for the pharmacy. If this happened on a Saturday night, the delay was longer.

On more than one occasion, we simply could not wait. We could not cure his cancer, but for a thousand dollars or so, we could ease his nausea for a couple of days. For people without the same means as we had, their kids would just have to live with the nausea.

Bear in mind, nobody ever denied coverage - every pill was covered by insurance. No doctor ever told us it was unnecessary - they went out of their way to find a way to help. No pharmacy ever acted as gatekeeper - they did everything they could to get us the medicine and limit the cost.

Everybody wanted to help, and everything was covered. But there were certain bureaucratic rules, and boxes to check, and forms to fill out, and people to sign off, and it just took too long and was a pain in the ... you know where.

This, I think, is the sort of frustration most Americans have with our current system. Not bankruptcy for lack of insurance, not dying in the street for lack of care, not paying too much for those last few months of life. Just bureaucracy and red tape and a whole new pain in the @$$ every time you turn around.

But most Americans have also stood in line to renew a drivers license, or to mail a package, or to get the local tax office to correct an error.

So why would any reasonable person believe that more government will fix the actual frustrations we have with the current system?

Great quotes, great thoughts

A friend once remarked to Abraham Lincoln that he had no use for books, since he'd come up with many of the same thoughts himself. Lincoln, an avid reader, responded, "Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new at all."

I think that is a useful admonition, and reason to save and reflect on the thoughts of those who have gone before us. Here are a handful of my favorites - I'll post more from time to time.

"Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle." Philo of Alexandria

“A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” Gerald Ford, 
Address to a Joint Session of Congress, 
August 12, 1974

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." Samuel Adams


My visit to the balmy tundra

I started a quest a few years ago to see a game in every NFL stadium. It’s a very long-term goal – so far I have only been to six, including many games at the home field of my Dallas Cowboys.

I grew up in Wisconsin, but have never been to a Packers game, either at Lambeau Field or at the old Milwaukee County Stadium, back when the team played half its home games there. My brother, who met me in Green Bay, had been to a game in Milwaukee once, but was also visiting Lambeau for the first time.

I know my Cowboys will be going to Lambeau later this year, but I avoid Dallas road games because, as part of the stadium experience, I like to buy the home team’s hat, and I obviously could not do that if the Cowboys were in the house. I don't think I could have picked a better game to attend than Bears-Packers - the 177th meeting of these teams in the NFL's longest-running rivalry.

I had bought a parking pass ahead of time to save searching for a spot. It turned out I didn’t really need to. We met our niece for lunch in the afternoon, and we could have left the car right there for the same $25 I paid. The restaurant was only a couple blocks from the stadium. From what I observed, the many stores and restaurants nearby offer ample parking with a short walk to the stadium. Our spot was in a lot right next to the Packers practice field, on the east side of Lambeau. For those who may not know, the Packers are one of only a handful of teams that do not travel for training camp. They practice year-round on a practice field, and indoor facility directly across the street from the stadium. Forget about parking in the actual stadium lots – they are 100% season ticket holders.

Out in the lot, there was tailgating as far as the eye could see. There was a pretty high percentage of hardcore fans who arrived in RVs and other converted delivery vans, custom painted with Packers colors and logos, many with full, 25 foot flagpoles erected, waving the Green Bay flag. One had a funny poster displayed, showing a mock-up of “Madden 2012” with Bears QB Brett Favre on the cover; another had a sign declaring Ted Thompson, not Brett Favre to be a “traitor.” I particularly enjoyed the polka-like music, with several dozen fans singing along to “The Bears Still Suck.” A lot more people joined in the sing-along after the game. It all seemed to be in good cheer and good fun, though. Even the Bears fans just laughed and shook their heads. It’s hard to imagine a fight breaking out in this place.

The stadium itself still sits on the same spot where it has since its dedication in 1957, but if you remember the old green facade, that was replaced by a mostly brick exterior in a major renovation in 2003. Inside the stadium, the concourses are wide and roomy, and there are plenty of concessions. (One of my favorite offerings was “Brett Favre Waffle Fries.”) We entered through the main doors. Just outside are two massive statues – one of Curly Lambeau, and the other of the hallowed Vince Lombardi. People waited politely to the side for a turn taking pictures with Vince.

We went inside pretty early so we could get our hats at the Pro Shop, and then tour the Packer Hall of Fame Museum. The museum will cost you an extra ten bucks, and on game day it is only open to ticket-holders. On display are uniforms going back to the original “Acme Packers,” a recreation of Vince Lombardi’s office, where you can go in and even sit down at his desk, plenty of video running and even a full size sculpture of the two lines, and Bart Starr, lined up for that final play of the Ice Bowl. They are proud of their team history and tradition in Green Bay, and it really comes through. They don’t even gloss over the down years (the 70s and 80s.) There are sections for every decade.

On to our actual seats, and we found that one thing which was not altered in any of the renovations over the years is the classic stadium bench seating all the way around. In addition, all the luxury boxes are up top – three levels of them – but the lower bowl is all benches. There is no upper level overhang, although there are some rows at the top (behind a rail) with actual chair seating. The majority of the fans, though, sit on metal benches. They rent stadium seats with a cushion and back for six bucks, and many fans bring their own.

I have to say that Packer fans are some of the friendliest you’ll meet. There was some good-natured ribbing of the Bears fans (and there were pretty many of them) but not once did I think a fight, or even an argument, would break out. I have always noticed on TV that when they zoom in on the fans, no matter how the game is going, they always seem jolly and cheerful. I can report that the cameramen are not being selective. Even with the Packers trailing in the fourth quarter, in the home opener against a hated rival, these people are all smiles, dancing to the music during “TV time-outs,” and commenting to each other what “good ball game” it is.

In similar situations at Texas Stadium, the mood gets rather grim. Not at Lambeau.

Are they loud? You bet – and exactly when they are supposed to be. I found it very easy, though, to carry on conversations. I don’t know how they manage to sound off so loudly on each opponent down (especially third,) then stop and chat politely in between, but that’s what they do.

I don’t mean to be too over the top here – after all, as a native Wisconsinite, these are my people – but it really is just a very happy place to watch a football game.

The Packers do not have cheerleaders, but they bring in college cheerleading squads for games. We had the (co-ed) squad from UW Green Bay at our game. There is also a drum line which appears on the sideline, and in random spots around the stands. They are called the Tundra Line.

The grass looked like turf to me, which was surprising, because I could not believe they would switch from real grass. Turns out, they haven’t. It is still real, but now enhanced with something called DD Greenmaster fibers.

The weather was hot (for Green Bay); in the mid-80s, although it was more comfortable in the evening. The game, of course, was terrific. I love it when the home team wins, especially with a come from behind, last minute score.

Whether you try to tour them all, like me, or just want to check out a few NFL stadiums, put Green Bay high on your list!

The cry-babies in the White House

During last year's campaign, Obama struck me as rather thin-skinned. He reacted to Sarah Palin's joke about community organizers by childishly mispronouncing "Wassilly" in an interview. Despite the fawning press corps' constant repetition of how cool he was, I always thought he seemed to react very angrily to any sort of criticism.

Chris Wallace, it would seem, agrees:

16 September 2009

Insurance companies don't provide health care; doctors do...for now

In touting his notion that we can stop wasting so much money on the very sick and very old if we defer treatment recommendations to an independent panel of "experts," President Obama seemingly leaves open the question of what exactly would qualify one as an "expert."

For most people, doctors would rank pretty highly as health care experts. In fact, they're the first ones we think of aren't they?

Investor's Business Daily offers us today a new poll of 1,376 practicing physicians nationwide. More than 70% of them do not believe the president's plan can cover all of the currently uninsured while improving care and reducing costs. No big surprise there. After all, you have to take a fair amount of math to get through college and medical school, and the math on this one is very simple. The doctors are not offering a mere opinion, but a scientific conclusion based on the numbers and the facts. Consequently, two thirds of them oppose the reform proposal.

But that's not the real shocker of the poll. The real bottom line of Obamacare is this: if Obamacare passes, 45% of doctors say they "would consider leaving their practice or taking an early retirement."

Add to this the 600 Catholics hospitals that their bishops have vowed to close if the Freedom of Choice Act (another Obama favorite) were to pass, and the future of health care under the Democrats' vision for America looks rather grim.

12 September 2009

Price is no object if the cause is just

In the current health care debate, much of the Republican opposition has centered around various objections to the cost. It is certainly legitimate for our elected representatives to concern themselves with a properly balanced budget - indeed, it is their clear fiduciary responsibility. However, there is a danger in focusing solely on such arguments, because debates about cost really really amount to debates about how to nationalize health care, rather than whether to do so, and the latter is the debate we should be having.

Just as a hypothetical, say the Democrats reached into their magic top hat and pulled out a magic money machine that could socialize medicine with a balanced budget. Would that make it the right thing to do? Obviously, there is no magic money machine, but there are magical rhetorical tricks which are not so far-fetched. The Democrats are using them now: Obama's pledge not sign a bill that will add "one dime" to the deficit, playing around with projections, and drawing moral equivalence to prior deficits. They do not have to prove it is paid for, they only have to lessen concern about the cost, and they win the argument.

Nearly a hundred years ago, G.K. Chesterton argued forcefully against the futility of debating "efficiency." Efficiency, he explained, is not a philosophy for action; efficiency, and success, can only be settled after the fact. The ground on which we must argue before the fact is not whether a policy will be efficient, but whether it is, "in the abstract, right or wrong."

Like it or not, this is exactly the ground on which Obama argues. You can talk until you are blue in the face (or green in the eyeshade) about how high the deficit will run, and his answer will always come down to the one he made to conclude his address to the joint session of Congress.

In that speech, he quoted Ted Kennedy's argument that nationalized health care "is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

Indeed, Obama furthered the argument by implying that the question is already settled; that to ensure "security" and to reward hard work and responsibility, government intervention "has always been the history of our progress."

What national leader is answering these arguments with equally forceful moral arguments? Who will stand up and say that progress in America has never been measured by the soothing, guiding hand-outs from Washington, but by the courage and achievement of individuals. Who is arguing that Obamacare will not affirm, but will unalterably change "the character of our country," and for the worse?

The opposite of government-run health care is not the absence of health care, it is the presence of freedom. Free patients are free to decide for themselves what treatments are worth paying for. Free doctors are free to research, free to innovate, free to volunteer their time to help the poor. Free people make free decisions. Governments can only follow cold, bureaucratic rules, and ensure compliance by force; it is the nature of government. It is why we must not allow our poor and our sick; indeed, our own bodies, to become matters of public policy.

We must remain human beings, not abstract categories of spending; individuals, not objects; citizens, not subjects. That's why Obamacare must be stopped.

10 September 2009

Simon welcomes Cousin Oliver to "Idol"

Well, nearly overlooked in last night's health care hub-bub, apparently the folks at Fox have settled on a successor to Paula Abdul. Comedienne Ellen Degeneres will fill out the American Idol judging panel, along with Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Kara DioGuardi.

Hey, I guess it's still the top-rated show on TV, and I know it was just a fig leaf of credibility, but up until now all the judges had some sort of background in the music industry. Even Paula.

I'm sure she'll be funny. So is Dennis Miller, but he just didn't fit in on Monday Night Football.

And really, haven't we seen this kind of thing before in a hit show's waning years?

J'accuse cuts both ways

I was as startled as Speaker Pelosi, Vice President Biden and President Obama seemed to be when Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted out "you lie!" during the speech last night.

I thought from the moment of the shout that it had potential to become a bigger story than the speech itself. I’m not sure if that will actually turn out to be the case, but I am amused by some of the commentary from liberal corners, condemning Wilson's outburst.

Lest we forget, Wilson’s accusation came on the heels of Obama himself offering three or four consecutive responses to his critics that consisted of nothing more than his own assertion that “they lie.” When two sides both yell “You lie!” it becomes somewhat more important to determine which of them is actually telling the truth. Enter the AP, with a startlingly unbiased “fact check” which cannot be reasonably construed to conclude anything other than that, well, Obama lied.

We can get all wrapped around the axle(rod) condemning the lack of “civility” that Wilson displayed, but his reaction was not isolated, and not unjustified.

The president did nothing more than repeat his own unsupported assertions and accusations that have driven many Americans to the same sort of frustrated outburst at town hall meetings all summer long.

Obama clearly did not advance his cause last night, and it is wishful thinking by liberals to pretend that Joe Wilson did it for him.

It's also about what he didn't say

In his speech before Congress, the president tried to evoke, at times, a sense of patriotism, historical precedent, and national purpose to build support for his proposals. It is interesting to note that there is an important historical anniversary approaching; one that you would think the President of the United States would have found worth mentioning in a speech to a national audience.

Yet, just 36 hours before the eighth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our nation, the only reference President Obama could muster during a speech before a joint session of Congress was a sneering remark that the war was one of "many initiatives over the last decade (that) were not paid for..."

09 September 2009

Elementary math

In case you did not catch it, in his speech tonight, President Obama referred to "more than thirty million American citizens who cannot get coverage." That's a pretty big difference from the "47 million uninsured" number which has been tossed about for months.

Why the change?

The White House explains tonight that they have subtracted 10 million illegal immigrants and 5 million they believe can afford insurance, but choose not to get it.

Those are interesting concessions, which I think need to be highlighted, because they are the most damaging to his overall call for radical reform. By reducing his estimate of those who "cannot get coverage," he maintains the call for universal coverage, yet concedes that the number of uninsured is not the same thing as the number who need government help to get it.

The same census report which concluded that 46 (not 47) million were uninsured also shows that 17.6 million of them make more than $50,000 a year. It is not unreasonable to conclude that all of those can get coverage if they choose. In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports enrollment of 18 million more people in those programs than the Census Bureau reports. Other estimates put the number of reported "uninsured" who are currently eligible for government programs conservatively at 10 million.

The number that "cannot get coverage" is now reduced to 9 million. Another 5-10 million of the uninsured are only temporarily without coverage; for example, people between jobs who opt not to pay for COBRA or temporary coverage.

Clearly, there is some overlap between these groups, but it is clear that the number of people who truly "cannot get coverage" is not only dramatically lower than the number Obama himself has now abandoned, but is likely closer to 5-8 million people.

That may be a problem the American people think the government should address, but a radical overhaul of the entire insurance industry, medical industry and tax code is not the way to do it.

Equally gratuitously denied

In case you didn't catch it, one of Obama's assertions that his opponents were lying was met with a shouted "you lie!"



Reportedly, the shouter was Rep. Joe WIlson, R, SC. I would not say he was rabble-rousing. It is a well-accepted rule of logic that a gratuitous assertion may be equally gratuitously denied.

UPDATE: I read that Sen. McCain has called on Rep. Wilson to apologize for calling the president a liar. I assume he will also be calling on the president to apologize for repeatedly calling his critics liars.

UPDATE #2: Wilson has apologized. Will Obama?

Assertions are not arguments

I have always thought President Obama comes across a bit school-marmish; a bit of a scold. I honestly cannot remember hearing a president shout as much as he did tonight.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that he did little more than repeat the same things he has been repeating for months as support for his reforms has plummeted.

He can say until he is blue in the face that talk about "death panels" is a lie, but I have read Obama's own words on the topic. After explaining that "...the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here," he goes on to say that the only way to reduce those costs is to reduce the care, and to do so you "have to have some independent group that can give you guidance."

No, he didn't say the words "death panels." But he clearly indicated that care for those who are terminally and chronically ill, as well as those at "the end of their lives," currently receive too much treatment, and an independent panel ought to be formed to determine the proper limits of their care.

If he wants to say that is not, and cannot become, a death panel, he needs to offer something more than a simple assertion that those who say it does are lying.

08 September 2009

Does covering preventive care save money?

As many others have demonstrated in some detail, preventive care does not save money in the aggregate. But let's skip the details, and think about it in terms of a simple analogy:

Requiring insurance companies to provide preventive care services would save money only if you don't actually get the services; the same way Netflix makes money only when you don't watch all the movies.

Think about it: on the two movies, unlimited plan you could cycle through six movies a week, 24 movies a month. Your $15 monthly fee would not even cover the postage on that. Netflix does not make money when you watch all the movies your plan "covers." Netflix makes money when you leave the movies laying on the table for a couple of weeks, which is what most of us do. If we all started watching a movie every night, one of three things would have to happen:
  1. The monthly fee would go up.
  2. They would start taking a lot longer to send out movies.
  3. Netflix would go out of business.
That isn't a knock on Netflix - they are a great company, providing a service people value. It's just basic math, and there is no way around it. Companies only make money if they take in more than they put out, and insurance companies and medical facilities are no exception.

Universal coercion

I posted previously about how "preventive care," if it is truly to be provided universally, must involve coercion. (If I don't want to get a prostate exam, who's going to make me?)

Along with "preventive care," the term "universal coverage" gets bandied about as a goal of health care reform. But what does that really mean? The Associated Press now reports that the current reform proposal in the Senate Finance Committee includes fines of up to $3,800 per family for failure to purchase health insurance.

For a reform that at one time was being sold as help for people who cannot afford health insurance, that fine sounds mighty steep to me. The simple fact, though, is that somewhere in the neighborhood of one third of the oft-repeated "47 million uninsured" in this country have household incomes above $50,000.

They can afford it. They choose not to buy it. You and I may disagree with their priorities, but the simple fact of the matter is that there is only one way "universal coverage" can be extended to these millions of people:

Somebody has to make them buy it.

06 September 2009

21st Century political discourse

Just a quick thought: If your political arguments fit in your Facebook status, they are not likely to be well reasoned.

04 September 2009

The revolution is what he does. It's all that he does.

Over at the American Spectator, Quin Hillyer has a very important analysis of Obama. In short, he warns conservatives not to take too much solace in Obama's falling poll numbers, nor in the popular uprising against health care reform. Obama, he points out, is not Jimmy Carter. He is smarter, does not have the same kind of opposition within his own party that Carter faced, and on the right, he faces no unifying leader, such as Reagan had become for Republicans in the late 1970s. As they say, read the whole thing.

Any disagreement with his analysis seems like nitpicking, as I think Hillyer's got it about right. But here I go anyway.

I share his assessment of Obama as an absolutely committed left-wing ideologue, and agree that Obama does not care about his poll numbers - at least not right now. I am convinced that if he can get through enough of his program on health care to make the slide to socialized medicine irreversible, he would willingly lose re-election.

I am not as convinced that he is a shrewd tactician, as Hillyer describes him. He did win the nomination against a Clinton machine that many thought all-powerful, but it is also a fact that Hillary Clinton, recent image rehabilitations notwithstanding, has never been particularly likable. Her campaign's mis-steps, and the howling wind of press approval at Obama's back had as much to do with his nomination as any shrewdness of tactics. His approach tends not to be shrewdness, but brute force.

I also think it has become clear that Obama's extremely high self-regard, and the cult of personality around him, simply cannot be parodied. I think they still believe that their devotion to the Dear Leader can and will infect the population at large. That will be their Achilles heel, because Obama is not, in fact, an inspiring speaker. His personal attempts to persuade regularly fall flat. His "personal narrative" is old and tired now. He exhibits no leadership. Rather, he passes the buck to third-rate hacks leading Congress.

Yet the danger remains, because I do not believe, no matter what happens, Obama will ever back off, and he has already exhibited an almost pathological inability to admit personal error. He has a single-mindedness of purpose, and an absolute commitment to radical change. With those two things, and a compliant Congress, he doesn't need shrewdness or popularity.

Even if health care reform dies this year, the fight is far from over.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound on your door?

In the current health care debate, one idea that keeps getting tossed out there is that we could all be so much more healthy if only there were more "preventive care."

Let's set aside, for the moment, the well-established fact that universally applied preventive care would increase aggregate health care spending. Let's also leave aside that some doctors are beginning to question whether some screening does more harm than good. Those points have been discussed elsewhere - the Congressional Budget Office even pointed out that universal preventive care would increase, rather than decrease costs. There is another point that I think is far more fundamental, in particular as it pertains to the notion that preventive care will make us all healthier.

Preventive care consists of things like annual physical exams, and screenings for things heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers. And all of that is voluntary. Most of the people who do not currently receive preventive care already have insurance and income sufficient to pay for it.

To take one example, one study showed that as few as 61% of women over the age of 65 - a higher risk group for breast cancer - received regular mammograms. All of them were covered by Medicare, which pays for annual mammograms.

Similar statistics can be found for a variety of other recommended screening tests and preventive care examinations. Whatever the real benefits of preventive care, it can't help you if you don't get it.

Yet large numbers of us simply do not seek those procedures, even though we already have both "access" and insurance, and there is no reason to think those habits will change simply because our insurance company does.

So, if 40% of little old ladies don't want to get their annual mammograms, who's going to make them?

01 September 2009

Come back here and follow me!

Wow - now that debate is almost over, and most of the Democratic Congressional leadership is seeking a fallback position on healthcare, President Obama is planning to lay out his plan - a plan "they can really sell." Yeah, because up until now, there just wasn't enough "Obama" in "Obamacare." Whether he likes it or not, the current plan is already his.

But I love how MKHammer puts it:

So, Obama sat back while most of the substantive legislative wrangling happened, spouted platitudes from the bully pulpit while a skeptical public imposed its will on his massive majorities, lost his chance at an abbreviated debate and an August vote, and went on vacation when things really got rough only to descend from the Martha's Vineyard Mountain with tablets inscribed with the more reasonable consensus ideas Congress has been forced to consider since his own ambitious vision tanked so spectacularly.

Stand back, look cool, don't get too involved, wait for things to shake out, adopt eventual consensus as his own idea, claim victory. Yeah, nobody saw this coming, unless of course they had paid attention to his entire career.

31 August 2009

Does it work for you?

"Of course, Behaviourism 'works'. So does torture. Give me a no-nonsense, down-to-earth behaviourist, a few drugs, and simple electrical appliances, and in six months I will have him reciting the Athanasian Creed in public."
W.H. Auden


In the latest round of debate about enhanced interrogation techniques, we are once again subjected to the completely irrelevant debate as to whether EIT (a.k.a. torture) "works." As Auden observed, of course it does.

As the so-called Cheney memos show, and even the Washington Post reported, high value detainees such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammed provided a great deal of actionable intelligence after being subjected to waterboarding and other such techniques.

Unfortunately, too many (mostly on the political right) repeat this triumphantly, as if the end truly does justify the means. That's dangerous ground to tread upon. It is also, it would seem, an accepted line of reasoning on the other side, though. Why else continue the now utterly absurd denials?

From a purely moral perspective, the question of whether or not EITs work, by itself, has absolutely no bearing on whether they should be used. There are two questions which are relevant, it seems to me, assuming there is already general agreement that torture, per se, is immoral.

First, we must decide whether we consider EITs such as those used on a handful of terrorists, including KSM, meet our definition of torture. Whether or not they worked does not answer this question. If they are not torture, we might still object, but not based upon our moral opposition to torture.

Second, we must recognize that the most difficult moral decisions often involve not a single moral choice, but a requirement to balance competing moral imperatives. It is legitimate to disagree on the proper balance, but that is not the debate I've been hearing.

Those who triumphantly point to the results of EIT sessions are not really celebrating the breaking of wills or spilling of secrets, I don't think (or at least I don't hope.) The reason they seem so cheered by these successes is that the information gleaned resulted in saving American lives.

That (saving lives) is the competing moral imperative which enables them to believe these methods (again, if we assume them to be torture) are acceptable to practice under certain circumstances. The responsibility to protect innocent lives, they reason, outweighs the prohibition on torture.

It would seem then, that by continuing to deny the effectiveness of EITs, those opposed to their use are tacitly accepting the moral calculus by which the other side justifies their use.

But both sides avoid the debate.

30 August 2009

About those town halls...

The White House and Democrats in Congress chose a curious strategy in response to the sometimes raucous town hall meetings. They attacked the American people.

Naturally, the mainstream media picked up on the theme. What was more disturbing is how many conservatives have offered their concern about the “lack of civility,” or some such thing. They would rather see a reasoned debate, they say; a polite airing of questions and answers.

There are a few problems with that. It is not the voters showing up to town hall meetings who tried to shut down debate. It was the clearly stated intention of President Obama and the Congressional leadership to ram a health care bill through without even debating it among themselves, much less soliciting input from their constituents. It is more than a little bit disingenuous to pretend now that it is they who are being deprived of an opportunity to fairly present their views. We know Obama’s view: “I won.” So shut up and do what I say.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, it really doesn’t work that way, and it never has. You can shut out the minority party if you want to, but you can’t just ignore the people, or expect them to go along with you every time just because they went along with you once.

President Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

By extension, I would say that those who attempt to eliminate all debate make vocal crowds at their town hall meetings inevitable. And they have no right to complain.

Beyond that, although I have not attended one myself, even in the televised highlights intended to show how out of hand the town halls have become, they really don’t look terribly unruly to me. And if you saw Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee answering her cell phone while a constituent asked a question, I think you’d have a hard time arguing she felt at all intimidated by her subjects. When the crowds roar, it seems mostly to be in approval of a taxpayer’s statement, or in loud disapproval of an elected official’s words. How else is a room full of people to participate?

Town halls are not a forum for debate, and they are not a forum for elected officials to lecture. Congressmen can lecture all they want the rest of the year. At town hall meetings, they need to listen.

20 August 2009

There are worse things than being broke

So, President Obama is going to make “an emotional and moral appeal?” I’m sure it will include many anecdotes about the struggles of various people trying to get insurance, or pay their medical bills. Isn’t it long past time to stop using sad stories to sell abhorrent policies? Because you know what? If your aim is to eliminate all the sad stories, you will never be done “reforming.”

Just to keep in the spirit of things, I have a health care “sad story,” but it’s one I don’t think he can use.

A little over five years ago, my son was diagnosed with brain cancer. He underwent a ten hour, microscope-guided brain surgery. He received six weeks of total brain and spine radiation, followed by 10 months of very intensive chemotherapy. After all of that, his cancer returned. He underwent another surgery, more radiation, a form of chemotherapy that could only be described as savage, and a bone marrow transplant. That did not work either. So he began another, somewhat more experimental therapy that his body simply could not tolerate. We traveled to other cities and states, got him into another clinical trial, and even tried many other, unconventional therapies.

During his five year battle, my son received at least 50 MRI scans, countless physical exams, many gallons of blood transfusions, at least three extended stays in ICU, a couple of near-death experiences, at least seven minor surgeries, and daily handfuls of prescription drugs for many, many months.

Also during this time, I changed jobs twice, and insurance companies four times. We paid our full, annual “out-of-pocket maximum” at least six times in five years. Not everything was covered fully, and we had to pay for a lot of of things in cash, despite being fully insured. I also took several months of unpaid leave from work. The total cost of his care was many hundreds of thousands of dollars, with tens of thousands of that out-of-pocket.

And I would gladly pay it all, and more, again. I would gladly sell everything I own, declare bankruptcy, and spend the rest of my days in debtor’s prison if it meant curing my son’s terrible illness.

But that was never, as it turns out, one of our options. You see, although treatments have become more successful over the years, the sad truth is that there is still no cure for cancer. Despite the best doctors and the best care in the world; despite many treatments and tests our young president’s “experts” might well have deemed “unnecessary,” my son died earlier this year.

In retrospect, I suppose you could say that all of his treatments were “unnecessary.” After all, none of them worked.

Only we don’t live our lives in retrospect; we don’t decide what is necessary, or even what is best, based solely on some oddsmaker’s calculation of the chance of success. As Americans, we expect to make our own free choices on how to spend our money, and how to live our lives. And some choose to honor the sanctity of life, rather than some ephemeral, materialistic notion of the “quality of life.”

My son chose to live his life fighting until the end, never giving up simply because the odds against him were too great, or the treatments too debilitating. Just because he lost his battle does not mean it wasn’t worth fighting - but that is exactly the sort of calculation that Obama seeks to mandate – not to preserve “dignity,” but solely to save money.

There are broader consequences to decisions to deny care. The incurable, seeking “unnecessary” hope for a cure, serve also to advance medical science by testing new therapies. But in Obamaworld, if the “unnecessary” is not worth paying for, not worth trying, how will it never become the cure?

I am pretty sure Mr. Obama will not use my sad story in one of his speeches. There is not much in my story to sell his idea of “reform.” His reform wouldn’t have helped my son. His reform won’t cure cancer. But that is not why I reject his plan. I don’t expect the President of the United States to cure cancer (although I suspect many of his supporters believe that he could.)

I reject his plan, and the philosophy behind it, because it does not celebrate freedom, does not encourage innovation, does not honor the individual judgment of medical professionals or their patients, and, in the end, because of its singular dedication to saving material resources, it is profoundly anti-human.

You may say his plan would have “saved” me some of the money I paid out over the years, and I have no doubt that is true.

But that’s savings I can do without. There are worse things than being broke.

18 March 2009

I don't care that AIG paid those bonuses

Would it have been better for the company to call the bonuses "deferred compensation?" After all, these were retention bonuses - money paid at the end of a term of services which had been completed by the employees in question. That's not the same thing as what we typically think of as a bonus - a special reward for a job particularly well done. In AIG's current state, and as the recipient of many billions of taxpayers dollars, it's hard to understand how anybody could be doing a good job there. But if changing the name would make it okay to pay the money, then maybe the real lesson is that we just don't understand anything about it and we should all just shut up.

It's not as if the grandstanding politicians have any justification for their feigned outrage. These bonuses were known months ago. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D, CT) inserted a special provision into the recently passed "Stimulus Bill" protecting these very bonuses, and President Obama signed it into law.

Assuming, of course, that anybody who voted on that bill actually read it, nobody should have raised an eyebrow over AIG's actions. They all pre-approved it last month.

Only they didn't read the bill, did they? They don't have the foggiest notion where all those hundreds of billions of dollars are going, or even why. They just wanted to "do something." And now they want - and deserve - to have control over the operations of a business they cannot possibly improve with their input.

Those in favor or bailouts always argue that the businesses being bailed are just too important to fail; that their downfall will affect too many other businesses. But the fact is that if the government is bailing them out, they have already failed. No amount of tax dollars will change that fact. AIG is no longer AIG, and it's employees are now wards of the state.

16 February 2009

Men are from three blocks north of main, women are from near the pink house in the cute neighborhood

There is an age-old trope that men never stop to ask for directions. It is my studied opinion that the reason for this is that men are afraid those directions will be given to them by a woman.

Case in point: I went to the grocery store today. Among the items on my list was sandwich rolls. Not just any rolls, but rolls which were located in what my wife had termed "an unusual place" in between the attended bakery and the self-service cake display, but not as far as the produce. Once in the store, I tried to follow my instructions. Having previously been berated for choosing the wrong; i.e. cheaper, brand of sandwich bread, I had no intention of bringing home the wrong rolls.

Yet, I could not find them. Not wanting to risk error, I called home, and described my location.

"Turn your back to the bakery. Now what do you see?"

"French bread."

"Sigh... On the other side of that."

"The deli."

"Go the other way - towards the produce."

The harder she tried to direct me, the more her directions sounded like a verbal pirate map: five paces from the old oak tree, face the sea, stand on one foot. Finally, I spotted an island display with bags of rolls. I could not help but laugh.

Her directions may or may not have led another person to these rolls, but for me, the directions could have been much simpler. Rather than beginning with the vaguely threatening notation of the "unusual location," followed by boundaries and shapes, it might have been simpler to say: "In the center of the bakery section, there is an island with a large sign that says 'Sandwich rolls.'"

Unusual location indeed. For a woman.

06 February 2009

Rules for a happy marriage

I have been happliy married for almost 24 years. These are some keys to our success (feel free to jot these down, kids.):

  • We don't "communicate." We talk. And we do that when we have something to say.
  • We don't have a "relationship." We are married.
  • We don't have an "equal partnership." That would require keeping score, and neither of us has the energy for that.
  • We never "make time for each other." The time is all ours already - sometimes we have to give up some of our time for other things.
  • Marriage is not "hard work." It's what we look forward to after a day of hard work.