Saturday, August 22, 2009

A failure to distinguish

Apparently there is a problem distinguishing between the "bailout" and the "stimulus" legislation that has been enacted over the last year:

The anxiety is expressed over health care, but the opening for the mistrust came from Obama's favoring of Wall Street.

From A Blue Dog's lament: 'People are scared' - POLITICO.com,

“I go to church. I hear it at church. They’re just afraid. They don’t trust this administration,” Webb said.

Exactly why is tougher to pin down, but it often returns to the same litany, a mix of conservative and populist frustrations. Webb cited the stimulus before wondering in his next breath: “I don’t understand how a company can fail and then the head of that company gets a $3 or $4 million bonus.”

People don't know the difference between the bailouts and the stimulus. People don't know that it was the Bush administration that bailed out Wall Street. And people don't understand why the Obama administration allowed those bonuses.
The bailouts were what I was calling The Great American Swindle last fall. I thought they were a bad idea, that the taxpayers would be hosed while the banksters went on behaving as normal. That has come to fruition. Folks should be rightly frustrated that the Obama White House basically continued the Bush II approach to bailing out the big banks. The stimulus legislation was what pumped money into state coffers, allowing cash strapped states to improve infrastructures and prop up such necessities as k-12 and higher education. The latter was a generally good idea that worked insofar as it was allowed to. Personally, I thought that the stimulus bill was a bit half-hearted and could have been much more generous - and had it been more generous, more of us would have noticed a positive change sooner. In spite of being largely blinded by neoliberal orthodoxy, somehow the White House and Congress managed to do just barely enough to keep us from plunging into what would have been Great Depression 2.0. If nothing else, it beat the very inept approach of the last Bush II year, which amounted to hand individual checks (as a sort of advance against the next year's tax return) that were supposed to spur consumption but which in reality simply ended up being used to - gasp - pay bills.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Showing their true colors

I want to quote at length first Ron Beasley (from his post The Election Broke Their Brains):

John Hari writing at The Independent asks: How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality?

The election of Obama – a black man with an anti-conservative message – as a successor to George W. Bush has scrambled the core American right's view of their country. In their gut, they saw the US as a white-skinned, right-wing nation forever shaped like Sarah Palin.

When this image was repudiated by a majority of Americans in a massive landslide, it simply didn't compute. How could this have happened? How could the cry of "Drill, baby, drill" have been beaten by a supposedly big government black guy? So a streak that has always been there in the American right's world-view – to deny reality, and argue against a demonic phantasm of their own creation – has swollen. Now it is all they can see.

You have many say as much at the town hall meetings - "this is no longer my America " they say. They may talk about socialism, fascism and Hitler but what they are really say is the country is no longer white and right. Hari give us a rundown of the insanity:

Since Obama's rise, the US right has been skipping frantically from one fantasy to another, like a person in the throes of a mental breakdown. It started when they claimed he was a secret Muslim, and – at the same time – that he was a member of a black nationalist church that hated white people. Then, once these arguments were rejected and Obama won, they began to argue that he was born in Kenya and secretly smuggled into the United States as a baby, and the Hawaiian authorities conspired to fake his US birth certificate. So he is ineligible to rule and the office of President should pass to... the Republican runner-up, John McCain.

These aren't fringe phenomena: a Research 200 poll found that a majority of Republicans and Southerners say Obama wasn't born in the US, or aren't sure. A steady steam of Republican congressmen have been jabbering that Obama has "questions to answer". No amount of hard evidence – here's his birth certificate, here's a picture of his mother heavily pregnant in Hawaii, here's the announcement of his birth in the local Hawaiian paper – can pierce this conviction.

This trend has reached its apotheosis this summer with the Republican Party now claiming en masse that Obama wants to set up "death panels" to euthanise the old and disabled. Yes: Sarah Palin really has claimed – with a straight face – that Barack Obama wants to kill her baby.

And how else can you explain the health care debate?

You have to admire the audacity of the right. Here's what's actually happening. The US is the only major industrialised country that does not provide regular healthcare to all its citizens. Instead, they are required to provide for themselves – and 50 million people can't afford the insurance. As a result, 18,000 US citizens die every year needlessly, because they can't access the care they require. That's equivalent to six 9/11s, every year, year on year. Yet the Republicans have accused the Democrats who are trying to stop all this death by extending healthcare of being "killers" – and they have successfully managed to put them on the defensive.

The Republicans want to defend the existing system, not least because they are given massive sums of money by the private medical firms who benefit from the deadly status quo. But they can't do so honestly: some 70 per cent of Americans say it is "immoral" to retain a medical system that doesn't cover all citizens. So they have to invent lies to make any life-saving extension of healthcare sound depraved.

Yes, the health insurance industry is spreading the lies but why would people who already "socialized medicine" and even those with no health care at all be buying the lies? A local congressman had a town hall last night and the front row was full of skinheads complete with their swastika tattoos. When asked why they were there they said it was because the president was black. Now most are not that up front but they are still part of that group of angry white people who's world came to an end last November.

Following that up, Beasley would then state:
Now we here at hoggers have been trying to figure out what the next big story will be. I suggested it will be open violence on the right - at least part of which will be racially motivated.

[snip]

Now these same people are often well armed and angry. We ignore them and their motivations at great risk. They are not only being driven into a hate filled feeding frenzy by right wing pundits like Beck and Limbaugh but [by] the oligarchs of the medical industrial complex who see their profits as being more important than the future of this country and the Republican party which sees a return to power more important than the country. The racist card is one the Republicans have been playing since LBJ pushed through the Civil Rights Bill. The president of FOX news, Roger Ailes was one of the architects of the "Southern Strategy" and it plays a big if subtle part of FOX programing. The racists are a declining but vocal minority. They should not be ignored.
From a somewhat different angle over at Lenin's Tomb, its proprietor - after commenting on what I agree is a relatively tepid effort at reform of the US health "care" system - has a few things to say about the rather disturbing racist undercurrents that have been made more salient during the recent August recess town hall meetings (see the post American psychos):
...it has been rather odd to watch America's unusually large number of cranks get to work attacking Obama and his socialistic Nazi communist Muslim death panels.

[snip]

This time, the major public attack is coming from people incited by Palin's claim that health reform would lead to 'death panels' in which bureaucrats get to inflict some foreign eugenics or euthanasia programme in all but name. It has been pointed out that those 'death panels' already exist, and they're all about the stars n stripes. But nonetheless, Palin is being defended by others on the Republican right such as Newt Gingrich, and continues to double down on her assertion when asked. At this one point one recalls the kind of race-baiting hysteria that Palin and the McCain campaign indulged in during the election campaign last year, and the mass audience that clearly existed for it - a minority, but a truculent minority with altogether too many guns. This is yet another expression of exactly the same derangement.

What accounts for it? Clearly, it is only incidentally about Obama's tepid healthcare proposals. The undercurrents of racism being reported at these rallies, and the appearance of heavily armed crowds, clearly indicates that something far greater is at stake. There are some good analyses out there, such as this piece on Al Jazeera, which - despite basically resting on Hofstadter's analysis of the 'paranoid style in American politics' - hits the nail on the head with this:
But the sheer manic intensity of the foam-flecked tirades bursting out in the town halls, so out of proportion to their proximate cause, bespeaks much deeper roots of rage.

These are some of the same people who howled "traitor!" and "kill him!" at Sarah Palin's rallies last year.

They are the ones convinced Obama is a Muslim "sleeper agent" who will destroy American values and hand the country over to Osama bin Laden.

The flip side of their rage is fear. They scream: "We want our country back!" Their country is one where white, Christian conservatives rule.

Right-wing Americans are said to believe in small government. Certainly, where that government is doing something to look after poor people, they are opposed to it. But historically, the state's legitimacy has always been unquestioned when it functioned as the racial state. When it functions in a racial capacity, either through its capacity to imprison, police, blockade immigration, or make war, its legitimacy is assured. I am not saying that these functions of the state can be reduced to racism - far from it. If you really want to get to grips with the reasons behind, eg, the rise America's authoritarian prison state, you should consult Ruth Gilmore Wilson. But if you think of America's astonishingly high prison population, the severity of its policing, the regularity and expense of its wars, the byzantine bureaucracies devoted to policing immigration, and the trashing of civil liberties - all of these are accepted by a sufficient number of people because of America's unique racial dynamics. In a similar way, the de-legitimising of the welfare state took the form of barely coded racial slurs about black 'welfare queens'.

The interesting thing is that most of those protesting stand to gain from these reforms, especially if there's a public option with any meaning. It would reduce insurance costs and reduce the incidence of people being denied treatment on the basis of previously existing conditions. But this is channelling an existential crisis for white conservatives, who think of the country as belonging to them. That crisis arises not because of who or what Obama is. All of the crazy stuff about Obama being born in Kenya, or being a secret Muslim, is merely symptomatic. It is because of what the potential new electoral coalitions, flagged up by the 2008 election, might mean for politics in the future. Look at the way protester Katy Abrams put it to Senator Arlen Specter a while ago:
"I don't believe this is just about healthcare. It's not about TARP. It's not about left and right. This is about the systematic dismantling of this country. I'm only thirty-five years old, I've never been interested in politics. You have awakened a sleeping giant. We are tired of this. This is why everybody in this room is so ticked off. I don't want this country turning into... Russia, turning into a socialised country. [applause, cheers, idiotic hooting] My question for you is, what are you going to do to restore this country back to what our founders created, according to the Constitution."
Well, there you are. It's not just about healthcare or any other particular issue. Nothing less than America's survival as the original invention of the founding fathers is at stake. Abrams sounds nuts, but she compares rather favourably to some of her compatriots in the lunacy stakes. The militant rightists who put on such an ugly show last year, particularly those given to prominently bearing arms, are in the tradition of racial 'counter-conspiracy'. From the KKK to the gangs who ethnically cleansed Chinese workers from the Pacific coastal towns, there is a long tradition of reactionaries taking matters into their own hands when the state appears to them to be neglecting its proper role. They argued that they were countering a malicious conspiracy on the part of their victims to destroy the country from within. And of course, since racism defined (and still defines) labour markets, state practises, political communities, etc., it was usually contiguous with other issues - class rebellion or conscientious objection - so that this kind of 'counter-conspiracy' could shade easily into anti-Bolshevism, pogroms against Mexican workers, union-busting, etc. The language now being deployed, about having to resist tyranny, about having to restore the Constitution, about having to resist the systematic dismantling of the country itself, clearly evokes this tradition and its martial tenor.

At base, this racist hysteria and paranoia isn't about 'status anxieties', nor is it a peculiar cultural tic. It is really about the possible threat of class dislocation and downward social mobility for relatively well-to-do whites, a threat that is being amplified by the recession. For such people, whose privileges have always been expressed through private property (however modest their actual possessions may be), the idea of any trend toward 'socialisation' really does seem menacing, weird, alien, threatening. They really want to believe that they can return to conspicuous consumption, even with the impossible debt levels and high working hours that has sustained such consumption. And they really do believe that this lifestyle, based on some spurious 'free market' values, is mandated in the Constitution, somehow part of the country's genetic make-up, stitched into the blueprints. They really do believe that this crisis for their way of life is a crisis being wrought by nefarious, treasonous others. And there is a ready-made militia movement, with tens of thousands of members already signed up, should they decide they have to take matters into their own hands. And if these people get serious, they'll make Timothy McVeigh look like Eddie Haskell.
I think there is plenty of food for thought in the above posts. Suffice it to say, it's highly doubtful that some of the batshit crazy behavior we've seen at these town halls (and not too long ago at the so-called tea-parties, etc.) really persuades anyone outside of this largely white, extremely right-wing demographic. That said, the members of this demographic are certainly escalating the extremeness of their behavior, which in itself should be cause for concern. This is a topic that regrettably I'll likely be revisiting frequently in the coming weeks.

70 years ago this week

Drummer Ginger Baker turned 70 on Wednesday. Most folks will remember him as one of the members of the rock band, Cream. I've been more partial to his solo work (those two albums with his band Air Force or the subsequent 1972 album Stratavarious always did it for me). After his stint with Cream, Baker veered into jazz rock, straight-ahead jazz, and African music territory remaining consistently iconoclastic and rarely boring.

Here's a jam from 1971:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Packing heat in public? What a dumb idea.


Whackjobs:

Really.

About 12 people were carrying guns, including at least one semi-automatic assault rifle, outside a building where President Obama was speaking today.

CNN’s Ed Henry reported seeing a second man with an assault rifle, but that has not been confirmed.

These reports come less than a week after two people brought guns to a presidential event in Portsmouth, N.H.

Another man in Portsmouth was spotted carrying a gun in a leg holster outside the school. The unconcealed weapon was legal under New Hampshire law and he was not arrested. Later, when asked why he brought the gun, he replied, “That’s not even a relevant question. The question is, why don’t people bear arms these days?”

“These days..?” What days, exactly, were those in which people routinely walked around town with a gun (or two) hanging out of their trous? Um, yeah, if you guessed that for at least the past 100 years that would be never, you are correct. As a matter of fact, the last time this was a phenomenon that could be routinely seen anywhere in the United States was in the late 1800s in the western territories, and even then, it wasn’t your standard everyday citizen who carted an arsenal along with him as part of his daily routine–it was, well, the criminals. Ie, those who intended to terrify the standard everyday citizens into doing what they wanted them to do, which generally consisted of activities that were directly in opposition to those standard, everyday citizens’ best interests.

In other words, the only folks showing up in public carrying firearms are likely to gangsters doing gangster stuff. Seriously, my attitude toward firearms is pretty damned positive, and yet it has never occurred to me to go packing heat the next time I go grocery shopping, take my wife to the movies, or pick the kiddos up from school. Hell, I would seriously question the sanity of anyone who would advocate such a move as reasonable or desirable.

To put some of this in a context, I'm somewhat politically involved in my community (in the sense that I've become a fixture at school board meetings over the last year or so), and quite frankly would consider packing heat at one of those meetings to be if anything entirely counterproductive. Actually, I'm reasonably certain that the laws in my state would frown on such behavior, and rightfully so. Rather, if there is a dispute with district administration or the school board itself, I would suggest what worked for me (and my family): build alliances with fellow parents and a friendly school board member or two, and make sure that you have good solid arguments based on reason and evidence. In my corner of the US, I sure wouldn't try to "persuade" with intimidation tactics. For starters, it just isn't my style. But more importantly, folks here tend to react to intimidation efforts by simply digging their heels and fighting back. In other words, the attempt to terrorize, as some of these idiots have been doing at some of the town halls would be lead to the opposite results of what I would desire. Extrapolating to the various town halls being hosted by our congresscritters and the Prez, I'd say the same basic points apply. As a simple outside observer, I can say unequivocally that the efforts to shout down congresscritters at these town halls, hurling racist slurs at fellow attendees, as well as to intimidate by showing up armed, has done nothing to persuade me to embrace our current health "care" system. Given what I was discussing in the previous post, it is questionable as to whether such tactics have had any persuasive power on the general public with regard to the proposed reforms of the health "care" system. You simply come across as a thug who's probably pining for the "good old days" of sundown towns and Jim Crow laws, rather than as someone who has a legitimate point to make.

In survey research, wording is crucial

Apparently when the word "choice" is included in questions regarding the possibility of a public health insurance option, we get much different results than when such wording is not included (we're talking in the range of 77% in favor versus only 43% in favor). When I've discussed survey research in methodology courses that I have taught, I usually make it very clear that the results of surveys are only as good as the wording of the questions and the sampling. Any bias that shows up in either will make the validity of your survey's results questionable, at best. Given the individualist mindset that defines Euro-American culture, I would say that any health care question that does not include the term "choice" in its wording will fail to measure the extent of public support for the "public option" being proposed in this year's health care reform legislation.

"They have a good racket going, and they want to keep it."

United Health Group Would Like You To Attend A Tea Party. Hardly surprising that a major profiteer in the health "care" industry would send a memo to its employees urging them to go tea-bagging at town halls in which health care reform are being discussed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wingnuts Go Wild Part Dieux: But What About Leftist Violence?

To follow up from something I highlighted earlier today:
The right -- the modern American right -- has a very troubled history with political violence. The ideological pattern is clear going back at least thirty years and arguably far longer. A simple review of the 1990s, particularly 1993, 1994, culminating in many respects in the tragic 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal building in April 1995 tells the tale. Mix in the militias, the thankfully inept attempt on President Clinton's life a few months before Oklahoma City (see Francisco Duran) and it's all really not a pretty picture.

One moment stands out clearly in my mind. Back in the early days of the Bush administration, Mickey Kaus had a typically contrarian post in which he suggested that with the rising tide of animosity on the left toward President Bush it was only a matter of time before we saw the outcropping of political violence on the left, to parallel what we'd seen from the right with the Clinton-hatred of the mid-1990s. (Perhaps someone can dig up the post? Late Update: Found.) It was a typically Kausian post, not only for its strained contrarianism but more for its complete failure of predictive value. And the failure of anything in parallel to arise was even more telling because antipathy toward President Bush really did become entrenched, inflamed and profound. Far more than I would have imagined at the outset.

That was from TPM. The author makes mention of something that I had discussed several years ago: the dearth of incidents of political violence caused by leftist adherents and/or left-wing groups:

One of the commenters at Daily Kos asks a pertinent question:

Is there such thing as hate crimes/murder by people associated with the extreme left? I'm just curious because the wingers have had a really hard time throughout history (and recently) of fellow wingers (even if they are on the outskirts of their philosophy) of committing awful crimes against fellow humans. You have the possible Matt Hale followers murdering the Judge's family, Timothy McVeigh, Matthew Shepphard murder, Robert Byrd's murder, Branch Davidians, KKK and lynchings, Black church bombings, etc. etc.
Truth is, it's really hard to think of anything particularly recent. Get past the bad old days of The Weathermen and the SLA (and we're talking 1960s and 1970s when bloggers like myself were preschoolers), and it's not clear that there is much if anything in the way of extreme left-wing hate crimes or murders. I did a quick search of Earth First thinking that there was a group that might potentially fit the bill, but no dice. The more radical environmentalists and animal rights activists as I recall tend to be into property crimes (I'll save my opinions of those actions for another time - suffice it to say for now I frown on those activities) rather than engaging in physical violence against others. The organizations advocating and committing acts of political violence at this point in time appear to be almost exclusively right-wing. And as noted above, it's hardly hyperbole at this point in time to assert that these very right-wing extremists increasingly have the blessing of movement conservatives in the mainstream mass media and even in our own Congress.
Really, not much has changed since then. I recall back a few years ago when cats like Kaus were convinced that during the Bush II regime a bunch of us leftist were going to go off on shooting sprees and blowing shit up. Unless I missed something, nothing ever came of that - keep in mind that I am a voracious reader, keep up with numerous news sites from a variety of perspectives, and am well-convinced that if any left-wing backed political assassinations or bombings had occurred on US soil during that period, FauxNews would have been all over that story like ugly on an ape. Rather, whatever political violence that we witness in the US is practically exclusively right-wing.

Why the lack of leftist-induced political violence? Thing is, although there were (and still are) plenty of angry leftists (I'm using the term in the broadest possible manner, ranging from liberal reformers to radicals and revolutionaries), but it generally isn't in our psychology to haul off and create a bunch of bloodshed. Hence, we express that anger in other ways. Maybe the view of humanity espoused by most leftist ideologies is sufficiently positive to preclude political violence under any but the most extreme of circumstances. I rarely encounter the level of paranoia among, say Marxists, that I encounter among those associated with, say right-wing vigilante groups, tea-baggers, birthers, and the like. Nor does one find the level of advocacy of political violence as the action of first resort among leftists that one might expect of right-wing extremists. Many leftists are die-hard pacifists, and even those of us who might accept that circumstances could exist in which political violence might by necessary tend to view such violence as to be used only as a very last resort. In a society that is relatively stable socially, politically, and economically, (such as is generally the case in the US) there would be no motivation based on what I understand of my fellow leftists to engage in the sorts of actions that seem to be acceptable to the Tim McVeighs or Scott Roeders of the world, nor even to engage in explicit or implied threats of violence as some folks who have been showing up at town halls this August carrying firearms. Even in contexts in which a nation is marked by a lack of such stability, I am often impressed with the tendency for many leftist revolutionary movements to eschew violence whenever possible (the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico are but one example). On the other hand, it seems that we can easily count on right-wing groups to shoot or bomb first, and ask questions later.

Wingnuts Gone Wild!

Boy, when the going gets weird...I have just a few items to mention in passing as the conversation on health "care" continues to devolve. First, check out this video that shows a woman (named Pamela Pilger) at a Las Vegas town hall meeting screeching "Heil Hitler" at a Jewish man who was commenting on what he considers the superior national health care system in Israel.



Apparently moments before that particular outburst, Pamela Pilger was interviewed by a local TV station, in which she comes tries to pretend to be a "compassionate" conservative. Her arguments seem pretty simplistic, but just check the contrast in demeanor (h/t The Gawker).



As noted elsewhere, there is a bit of an irony alert: Ms. Pilger is apparently wearing an Israeli Defense Forces t-shirt. Go figure. Although I'm no fan of Israel, I do feel bad for the way that the Israeli guy in the first video was treated. It simply should not have happened. Unfortunately wingnuts seem to know few if any boundaries when it comes to simple decency.

Now from the absurd to the unnerving: TPM has been doing some excellent work in tracking the backstory of those goons who've shown up to town hall meetings (whether hosted by congresscritters or the Prez) packing heat. Turns out the ones in Phoenix are tied to a 1990s militia group:

It was only a matter of time.

While "Chris" was the guy who carried around the assault rifle at the Obama event in Phoenix yesterday, it appears to have been another guy, Ernest Hancock, who organized the whole thing. And Hancock, who was also on the scene with a holstered handgun, turns out to have had very close ties to a 90s-era Arizona militia group called the 'Viper Militia' most of whose members were eventually sent to federal prison on various weapons and explosives charges tied to plans to bomb federal buildings.

Sound familiar.

In other words, the Viper Militia folks were sort of Tim McVeigh also-rans from back in the glory days. Hancock, though not indicted himself, was their main public advocate. He was clearly close to these folks while they were plotting. And now he's the guy coming up with the idea to send a bunch of guys with guns to greet President Obama. Feel better now?

More about the troubled history of our wingnuts:
The right -- the modern American right -- has a very troubled history with political violence. The ideological pattern is clear going back at least thirty years and arguably far longer. A simple review of the 1990s, particularly 1993, 1994, culminating in many respects in the tragic 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal building in April 1995 tells the tale. Mix in the militias, the thankfully inept attempt on President Clinton's life a few months before Oklahoma City (see Francisco Duran) and it's all really not a pretty picture.

One moment stands out clearly in my mind. Back in the early days of the Bush administration, Mickey Kaus had a typically contrarian post in which he suggested that with the rising tide of animosity on the left toward President Bush it was only a matter of time before we saw the outcropping of political violence on the left, to parallel what we'd seen from the right with the Clinton-hatred of the mid-1990s. (Perhaps someone can dig up the post? Late Update: Found.) It was a typically Kausian post, not only for its strained contrarianism but more for its complete failure of predictive value. And the failure of anything in parallel to arise was even more telling because antipathy toward President Bush really did become entrenched, inflamed and profound. Far more than I would have imagined at the outset.

I'll try to have more to say about this latter post later when time permits.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Musical Interlude

I can never get enough Miles Davis:



The tune, "Hannibal", was from Amandla, released in 1989. That album was his second studio release for Warner Bros. His first was the 1986 album, Tutu, which I used to describe to folks as "Miles meets MIDI". The general consensus among my friends seems to be that Amandla was the better of the two. Miles sounded a bit more himself, probably facilitated by having an actual band with which to interact. As with Tutu, Marcus Miller composed the bulk of the tunes (Miles being content to simply lend his horn to the procedings). The results sound very smooth, polished, and ideal for cruising those semi-deserted city streets at 3 a.m. Actually, tunes such as "Hannibal" seem to have held up quite nicely over the last couple decades, and would easily fit in on any playlist dominated by acid jazz and nu jazz tunes. Any way, this particular version from the show "Night Music" (which I apparently managed to miss out on during its run), is enjoyable - these cats aren't going through the motions but instead are holding a conversation that you, the audience, get to listen in on. Enjoy!

At the individual level, going green is great. But...

As Mickey Z reminds us, it won't make that much of an impact as long as the big polluters continue unchallenged. Don't get me wrong: I'm all for us doing whatever we can as individuals to live more sustainably. By all means, recycle, switch to more energy efficient light bulbs, cut down on the driving, etc. It probably helps a little bit. Just realize that the sorts of changes that need to be made cannot be done merely at the level of the individual person, but rather require a sustained effort at a more structural level.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Health "Care": The US Continues to Lag Behind

While the White House continues to run lukewarm on even a watered down public option for health care, it might be useful to remind our readers as to how poor our health "care" really is, and how our quality of life continues to suffer as a result. About a couple years ago, I ran into this interesting graphic:
At the time, I said:
Health care spending in the US itself appears to be an outlier on the above graph. US life expectancy is about the same as that of Portugal (about smack dab in the middle of the distribution). When looking at the combination of health care spending and life expectancy variables, the US truly stands out - and in this case not in a good way. When it comes to health care, Americans are not getting much bang for their bucks.
Earlier this year, I made mention of another study showing that US residents lag behind practically every other developed nation on practically any quality of life variable imaginable: lifespan, obesity, infant mortality, etc. Again, I would invite you to look at the disconnect between our health care expenditures and our actual overall health. Those medical expenses, assuming the likelihood that the status quo is maintained, are only going to go up. Someone will profit while fewer and fewer of us get the health care we deserve.

To further drive the point home, let's look at what Bernard Chazelle shared with his readers at ATF a few days ago:

Chazelle goes on to say:
The US spends at least twice as much per person on health care as any other country on earth.

In the 70s, American social scientists introduced the concept of "amenable mortality," which tallies "the number of deaths from certain causes before age 75 that are potentially preventable with timely and effective health care."

In a study of 19 countries, including the US, 14 Western European countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, the US ranks dead last.

According to the authors, if the U.S. had been able reduce amenable mortality to the average rate achieved by the three top-performing countries, there would have been 101,000 fewer deaths annually by the end of the study period.

No doubt those hard-working doctors, insurers, hospital administrators, and drug manufacturers deserve their hard-earned pennies.
Amazingly enough, this is yet another health indicator in which the US and Portugal are strikingly similar, and yet as I have previously noted, Portuguese residents spend only a fraction of what US residents spend on health care. To make a long story short, we're getting ripped off, and there is precious little concern from the powers that be in the White House or Congress (from either of the two parties that are acceptable to the CEO class). Contrary to some, I don't think it's so much a lack of "spine" or "intestinal fortitude" on the part of the Democrats (who are nominally the ones who are supposed to be championing major health care reform). Rather, most Democrats, including the bulk of those who can legitimately lay some claim to being "progressive" are still stuck in the 1980s and 1990s when the neoliberal form of capitalism advanced by such folks as Friedman, Sachs, etc., with its "privatize or perish" mentality, was going to save the world. If you're not getting my drift, what I'm saying is that the vast majority of those in positions of political power in the US cannot or will not take off their ideological blinders. In the meantime, CEOs in the insurance and pharmaceuticals will keep on making a killing - literally.

The more things "change"

the more they remain the same.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Musical Interlude



The cat who uploaded this video clip sez, "forcing punks to listen to free jazz is fun."

I love this band. Black Flag rapidly evolved from one of the premier hardcore acts of the early 1980s into something else altogether by the time they split up in the mid-1980s. The tune on this video, "Your Last Affront", is from The Process of Weeding Out - an instrumental e.p. that would be released in 1985. The musicians stretch out a bit more on the recording, but then again, they had to be realistic whenever they went out on stage - the audience looks like most of them had no idea what had just hit them. If you dig this, you'll also like the instrumental half of Family Man, a 1984 l.p. (both records have the same lineup of Greg Ginn on guitar, Kira on bass, and Bill Stevenson on drums).

I ended up getting exposed to their later material first, and then worked my way backward to their earlier material. The Process of Weeding Out, in fact, was my first Black Flag purchase. In my opinion, it's hard to go wrong with most of their late-period recordings.

I recall the band got a bit of flack for taking the musical route that they took - punk purists dissed Black Flag as "hippies" which was a pretty big insult back in the mid-1980s. True to form, Rollins and crew really didn't seem to give a fuck, and went on playing what they were playing. Along with The Minutemen, Black Flag were not only the premier artists on the legendary SST label, but they were, simply put, premier artists in the rock world more generally. If you find yourself digging this, check out The Minutemen, and also start seeking out recordings by The Blue Humans. You'll thank me later.

Six Years

Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the launching of this blog at its original location. A few name changes, a few staffing changes, a few near brushed with Ted Barlow's Disease, and a more serious brush with a psycho stalker this past spring, and it's still here. Go figure.

I decided to start blogging mainly as a means to vent, after being exposed to way too much Faux News during a trip to visit in-laws in the summer of 2003 - the sheer volume of pro-war and pro-Bush propaganda had just about driven me nuts, and when I got back home, one of my first actions was to get a Blogger account (blogging was a bit different back in the pre-Google days, in some ways better, in some ways worse, but I digress). The blog was launched on what was called "Fair and Balanced Friday" in 2003, originally under the name "Fair and Balanced? Yeah, Right!" I quickly realized that was an awful name, and then went through a series of changes leading to its present name. The name Notes From Underground emerged as a possibility due to an ongoing interest in existentialist thought, the novella by Dostoevsky by the same title, and a shared criticism of what the protagonist of Dostoevsky's protagonist deemed "men of action" who go through the motions of life without engaging in a critical examination of their surroundings.

I might still have a veteran reader from back around six years ago, but most of the folks in the comments are very recent arrivals. I suspect that once it became obvious that I wasn't going to be a reliable pro-Democrat blogger, that became a turn-off to those who had pro-Democrat leanings and those who were virulent Democratic partisans. Being anti-Bush might have been one of the few areas where those comprising the so-called "left blogosphere" actually agreed. Beyond that, there may have been some variations along the anti-war theme (I'm basically against all forms of state terrorism, which is what wars amount to) among what passes for "left" in the US, but that's really about it. Truth be told, a lot of the so-called "left" was never all that "left" to begin with - that includes those who are partisan Democrats who seem to be completely down with the program of neoliberal globalist capitalism, as well as some of 9-11 truth folks (such as Kurt Nimmo) who although very consistent critics of the Bush regime tended to associate themselves with some sites and individuals who promote a right-wing perspective that I find more than a little unsettling. I find equally unsettling the devolution of American political discourse into rival personality cults (the Palinistas and Obamaistas come readily to mind), in which their partisans merely attack one another (as well as those outsiders who find the whole spectacle enormously stupid) and otherwise behave in a manner bereft of critical thought.

The editorial slant of this blog is largely the same as it has been. I have precious little use for capitalism (especially the extremely predatory form practiced in the US and by such organizations as the World Bank and IMF), pro-theocracy drivel, American exceptionalism, bigotry (be it racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, or sexual orientation), and what I see is a persistent lack of critical or reflective thought in American culture. The very pressing problems of torture and genocide are still very much of interest here, as are the promotion of alternatives to neoliberal capitalism (I'm especially attracted to the "21st century socialism" promoted by the Bolivarian revolution, as well as the on-going experiment occurring in the portions of Chiapas controlled by the Zapatistas), alternatives to imperialism, along with - of course - my continued fascination with pop culture (one can learn a lot about a society's hopes and fears by looking at its pop cultural artifacts).

When I started this thing out, it was simply intended to be a hobby site. I never harbored any delusions of making a living from blogging, nor becoming a celebrity because of something that I had written here. Six years later, I still toil in relative obscurity, by choice. If anything, the problems I had with the weirdo stalker person have encouraged me to keep much about myself and my life cloaked even more in obscurity than ever before. After all, I don't have access to a staff of security guards for myself and family - rather, I am the security staff, and have no qualms about self-defense, by any means necessary.

The Blogtopia Class of 2003 produced a number of excellent writers, some of whom regrettably are no longer with us: e.g., Enemy of the State (Ductape Fatwa's blog, which went silent just before the autumnal equinox in 2006), and Baghdad Burning (which went silent a couple years ago, after Riverbend had to finally flee Iraq). Thankfully, several others from the class of 2003 are still quite active: American Leftist, Left I on the News, Mickey Z: Cool Observer, Orcinus, Lotus - Surviving a Dark Time, and I'm sure a host of others who will slip my mind.

Maybe I'll be commenting on a seventh anniversary next year. Stay tuned...