Friday, August 14, 2009

One of the more sensible voices on health care

Avedon Carol sez:
Dave Lindorff at After Downing Street says Progressives Should be Shutting Down These So-Called 'Town Meetings' Too!: "This is not about civil discourse. This is about propaganda. The Obama administration and the Democratic Congressional leadership have sold out health care reform for the tainted coin of the medical-industrial industry, and are holding, or trying to hold, these meetings around the country to promote legislation that has essentially been written for them by that industry--legislation that will force everyone to pay for insurance as offered, and priced, by the private insurance industry. What a deal for those companies--a captive market of 300 million people! There will be little or no effort to control prices, and the higher costs will be financed through higher taxes, and through cuts in Medicare benefits. This isn't "reform." It's corruption, pure and simple. (Via Corrente.)

My problem with the "shut it down" approach is that you lose your opportunity to say that insurance companies are "death panels", that insurance companies do put your medical choices into the hands of company bureaucrats, that HMOs don't just let you choose your doctor, and that waiting a few extra weeks for elective surgery there's no rush for is a lot better than having to spend months getting sicker and sicker while you argue with the insurance company bureaucrats about whether you will get treatment at all.

And by the way, that is what needs to be said when it comes to the sorry state of health "care" in the US. Generally speaking, our current set-up does not allow us to choose our doctors, we get stuck dealing with byzantine corporate bureaucracies when trying to get treatment paid for, and let's face it - those insurance company bureaucrats are death panels. I am more and more convinced that my age cohort (the Gen X) will experience shorter life spans and lower quality of life than that of our parents. There are of course multiple causes for that particular reality, but the increased inaccessibility of adequate health care is one of the main causes.

By the way, read what Avedon has to say about the tendency for so-called "progressive" politicians to buy into right-wing ideological positions - it's very similar to what I've mentioned about the "New Democrats" being straight-jacketed by adherence to Friedman's neoliberalism orthodoxy, which values "free" markets over all else. Unless and until that orthodoxy is abandoned, we'll be stuck with policies that are in fact literally killing those of us who aren't among the privileged elite classes.

hypocrisy alert, and a few comments on end-of-life counseling

I always love this stuff: Former Gov. Palin was for end of life counseling during her partial term in office before she decided to turn tail and oppose it. Then we have a Georgian senator (Isakson) who apparently wanted to go much further than the current House health care legislation by making end-of-life counseling mandatory; I suppose that's one way to distinguish himself from his colleagues and the Prez. To be fair to Isakson, he's at least been willing to deal with the damn lies that have been spread by Palin and her ilk in a forthright manner, unlike many of his fellow Republicans. He's also been a long-time advocate of end-of-life counseling.

Which brings me to something I just want throw out there. What's the problem with encouraging end-of-life counseling? What's the problem with encouraging those who are elderly or who regardless of age may be facing terminal illnesses to decide the sorts of medical interventions that they want, and to basically get their affairs in order? I realize that death is a scary topic for the vast majority of us. If you really want to increase someone's anxiety level a few notches, make their mortality salient to them. Is that what the fuss is about? Or is it simply that those with an interest in putting duct tape on the current health "care" system just a bit longer to squeeze those last huge profit margins before the whole system collapses are desperate for anything that might scare constituents into "wanting" a product that already has a history of not working, and in fact is going to send them to earlier graves than they would have had otherwise?

Musical Interlude:

King Crimson Elephant talk

camel23 | MySpace Video

"Elephant Talk" by King Crimson (a tune off their album, Discipline). H/t BLCKDGRD. I'm guessing this must have come from SNL around 1982 (a period of that show that I generally ignored).

I'm sure fans of King Crimson's earlier recordings must have had no idea what hit them when the band started recording again in the early 1980s. For the rest of us, the albums that came out of that period, Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair were a breath of fresh air. I would have most likely encountered the tunes from these albums initially thanks to a friend who had installed a killer stereo system in his Ford Pinto - he'd pop in those cassettes along with contemporary solo recordings that Adrian Belew (guitarist and vocalist for King Crimson) had led. In a way, I'd already developed some familiarity with each of these musicians from other songs and recordings I'd either already acquired (with not much in the way of dinero, not too many of those), or simply heard on the radio (much more likely). Belew appeared on some tracks for David Bowie's Lodger album, Fripp had also made some appearances on Bowie's late 1970s recordings (Low and Heroes), Tony Levin's bass work anchored anything Peter Gabriel recorded during the period, and Bill Bruford had drummed for Yes (you couldn't grow up in 1970s suburbia without having encountered a few Yes tunes, it seemed). Combined, these cats were easily on par with, if not surpassing, similar outfits such as Talking Heads - very angular, funky, off-kilter music with vocals by Belew that seemed somewhat reminiscent of David Byrne's.

Yet another story illustrating why tasers should not be used

Deputy Tasers Mom In Minivan

The video is from an article titled, Mom in minivan tasered twice in Salina traffic stop; camera captures deputy's rough roadside arrest:
In January, an Onondaga County sheriff's deputy pulled over Audra Harmon, who had two of her kids with her in her minivan. A routine traffic stop escalated quickly.

The deputy, Sean Andrews, accused her of talking on her cell phone. She said she could prove him wrong.

He said she was speeding. She denied it and got out of the van. He told her to get back in. She did, then he ordered her back out.

He yanked her out by the arm, knocked her down with two Taser shots and charged her with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. His rationale on the disorderly conduct charge: She obstructed traffic when she got out of the van. The speeding accusation: going 50 mph in a 45-mph zone.

The scene along Hopkins Road in Salina on the afternoon of Jan. 31 was captured by a camera on the dashboard of Andrews' patrol car. Harmon, 38, says the video is proof of police brutality.

She plans to sue the sheriff's office today, claiming Andrews was improperly trained in the use of his Taser. It's not supposed to be used to take down people who pose no threat, she said.
Tasers are far from safe (contrary to what their proponents would have you believe).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The top priority in Tulsa? For real?

Dig this:
Republican mayoral candidate Anna Falling said Tuesday that putting a Christian creationism display in the Tulsa Zoo is No. 1 in importance among city issues that include violent crime, budget woes and bumpy streets.

“It’s first,” she said to calls of “hallelujah” at a rally outside the zoo. “If we can’t come to the foundation of faith in this community, those other answers will never come. We need to first of all recognize the fact that God needs to be honored in this city.”

Falling, who has founded several Christian nonprofits and is a former city councilor, also said the next mayor needs to appoint people to city boards, authorities and commissions who will “honor God.”


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mitchell and Jessen are in the news again

I've mentioned these two before. Here's a clip from the latest article to feature Mitchell and Jessen, titled, Interrogation, Inc. -- 2 U.S. Architects of Harsh Tactics in 9/11’s Wake:
They had never carried out a real interrogation, only mock sessions in the military training they had overseen. They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy. They had no language skills and no expertise on Al Qaeda.

But they had psychology credentials and an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists. For an administration eager to get tough on those who had killed 3,000 Americans, that was enough.

So “Doc Mitchell” and “Doc Jessen,” as they had been known in the Air Force, helped lead the United States into a wrenching conflict over torture, terror and values that seven years later has not run its course.
The whole thing is worth a read. Although I didn't find anything earth shatteringly new, it made for a reminder of professionals can use and abuse their expertise, doing considerable damage in the process. Last April I said the following about an ABC report on Mitchell and Jessen:
What they have done is expose not only Mitchell and Jessen as crucial architects of the torture practices at Guantánamo Bay, but as charlatans who misrepresented their expertise in interrogation - and guess who got to pay for it. They are not to be revered as heroes. They were not merely "working for their nation" and just "doing their job" any more than Adolph Eichmann was when he orchestrated his part of the Nazi genocide of Jews and Poles at Auschwitz.
A few days later, with regard to the same ABC article I said:
Surely the psychologists featured most recently in one of Brian Ross' reports shouldn't be the only ones under fire for their criminal actions. I've been on record for quite a while now of advocating that those who have crafted and signed off on the "legal" justification of torture should be punished, as should those in Congress who enabled these perps. Similarly, those in professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association who chose to look the other way while members of their organizations participated in torture, or who in one way or another collaborated with torturers should face appropriate repercussions - at bare minimum they should never be allowed to hold positions of influence within their professional organizations ever again.
Not only should those highest in the chain of command be appropriately sanctioned for whatever role they played in perpetrating torture, but there should be some major changes in the structure of our government's organizations to prevent such abuses from happening again. I've been very skeptical regarding Obama's and Congress' willingness to take on that particular challenge. As for the American Psychological Association, it's been in need of a major shake-up of its leadership for a long time. The organization is too cozy with the military establishment, and many of its leading members too hooked on the perks that come with that cozy relationship to objectively analyze the role that psychologists have played in creating the conditions under which torture occurs, much less accurately assess the ethical implications of involving psychologists in the perpetration of torture. I am equally skeptical regarding the APA's willingness to take on the challenge of facing its particular ethical demons, even though many among the rank and file of its members appear to be truly willing to do so.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wow, ABC actually does some real journalism

ABC's Kate Snow does some fact checking on one of the myths about health care: the false claim that the House bill will euthanize elderly (all that nonsense about "death panels" and such) (h/t Steve Benen).

I usually bag on the corporate media for good reason. This is one time when at least one outlet deserves some positive reinforcement. Hopefully, we'll see more such coverage this month. That said, my usual advice for those who might tune in to 20/20 - let whatever John Stossel says on health care (or really much anything else) go in one ear and out the other. He tends to like to perpetuation myths of his own - especially regarding the Canadian health care system - that can be readily debunked.

Oh, by the way, private insurers already deny payment on medical procedures (it's a real problem where people with legitimate medical needs are effectively denied necessary treatments that could save or extend their lives) - one might even refer to the bureaucracies in these corporations as "death panels".

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Brownshirting of America

I'm actually quite pleased to see an old Paul Craig Roberts column reprised by Newshoggers' Ron Beasley. What I found valuable about Roberts' column at the time is something that I still find valuable five years hence: Roberts succinctly lays out the strategy and tactics used by what we might refer to as "movement conservatives" (in their many forms, including the Birthers, tea-baggers, ad nauseum). The strategy is to attain power by shutting down anything even remotely resembling a democratic process in order to impose a fascist society; the tactics that we see used frequently include misleading propaganda (scare tactics), disruptions, threats of violence, and actual violence itself.

It bears repeating that Roberts is no lefty. As I mentioned almost five years ago:
This guy is basically a libertarian - what would have been called a conservative many moons ago before the wingnuts hijacked that label for themselves. Agree or disagree with cats like Roberts on many issues, but realize that he and others like him have some valuable points to add to the dialog. To me one of the most important things we can bear in mind when thinking about the issues that face us is to accept the limits of ideology, and to be willing to take a look at the hard data - both those facts that disconfirm ideology and those that confirm. That's something that movement conservatives have consistently failed to do.
At the time Roberts wrote his column, The Brownshirting of America, the US was run by the Bush II regime and a Republican Congress. The events of September 11, 2001 cast a much more imposing shadow then, and the "War on Terra" was largely accepted by many as either a "necessary evil" (the general "progressive" to moderate position) or our manifest destiny to impose some weird brand of Evangelical Christianity and neoliberal capitalism on the rest of our aching planet (the general vibe of movement conservatives). Criticism of any facet of the "War on Terra" including waging the damned wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place, the carnage and displacement caused by those military actions, and of course the detainment and torture of human beings based on presidential fiat (for lack of a better way of characterizing it) would lead movement conservatives to go on the attack. Typically this meant being barraged with insults such as "America Hater", "socialist" or "communist" (odd since many of the most vehement anti-war voices at the time were actually libertarian or paleo-conservative), "pro-Islamist" or "anti-Christian" (something that wingnuts would pull out of their asses with no evidence to make such outrageous claims), along with the usual demands that such critics should "renounce their citizenship", "shut up" and just go along with whatever orders Bush II and the homeland insecurity apparatus barked at us. Take any other issue of the day, and you'd get the same basic flack from these goons. Well, Bush II is history, but the movement conservatives are still there and up to the same old tricks. No doubt that much of what we're witnessing now (especially with the Birthers) is racist in nature. Nor is there any doubt that the wingnuts are generally every bit as intolerant of dissent and nonconformity as ever before.

One thing you can count on when the chips are down

Banks will figure out ways to up their fees - in this case overdraft fees. The ones who get hardest are those who are already struggling to survive as it is. One thing I've learned over the years is that if you get caught in cycle of overdraft fees, it's pretty damned impossible to get out (especially if you live from paycheck to paycheck). Assuming that you have the same basic expenses from month to month (rent, utilities, food, transportation, etc.), those fees mean less money to pay those expenses the following month, which mean even more risk of being overdrawn and incurring overdraft fees; wash, rinse, repeat. One commenter made a point about how banks go about charging those fees:
It's bullshit too because most banks will honor your largest payment first, then your smaller ones. So, say you have $400. You make a a $398 purchase, a $2 purchase, a $5 purchase and a $10 purchase, they'll start with the largest one, so you get hit with an overdraft fee on everything after the first large purchase. If they did it the other way, you'd only get one overdraft fee, since you could cover the $17 of the smaller three purhcases.
What the commenter suggests is a simple reform of bank practices that would minimize fees, and would likely minimize the risk of customers ending up in a cycle of holding negative balances over the course of a monthly cycle. That all of course assumes banks are motivated to prevent negative balances in the first place. On the contrary, I've been convinced for a while that in general the banking industry cares less about preventing their customers from holding negative checking account balances and more on bleeding their customers of every last nickel and dime they can get their filthy paws on.

Sometimes you just need concrete examples

h/t Mike Buffington

Musical Interlude: Antipop Consortium

My first encounter with this group was on an album in which the Antipop crew collaborated with free jazz maestro Matthew Shipp (Antipop Consortium vs. Matthew Shipp). After hearing the results of that union, I wanted to check out the rest of Antipop's catalogue. "Bubblz" is the second track off Arrhythmia. If you dig this tune, you'll probably find plenty to like on the rest of the album. They earn their rep as the Sun Ra of rap. Their sense of word play and instrumentation is on a whole other plane.

The crew broke up a few years ago, and Beans has since recorded a number of solo albums (look for the album, Only, which features bassist William Parker and drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake). More recently Antipop got back together, and they have a new album (Fluorescent Black) set to drop this October 13th.

Bonus video ("Ghostlawn", also from Arrhythmia):

Bears repeating: Birther edition

Andrew Sullivan isn't really saying anything that I find especially surprising. As noted before, the racist subtext of Birtherism is pretty damned obvious, and is strongest in the former Confederacy.