25 February 2010

Live Blogging the "Health Care Summit"

So I decided to watch it. Yeah, it'll mostly be political theatre, but it'll at least be entertaining. Who knows? Maybe the dems and the repubs will actually hash out a workable plan...in one day? Yeah, that'll happen.

Anyway, it's started, so I'll get started.

Obama is making his opening remarks. Personal anecdotes about his daughters and his mom, regarding his experiences with them and health care. He says "everyone here has stories like that" but I have a hard time believing that a lot of the bluebloods among them have never had to go without, never had to face the hardship of dealing with a sickness without insurance.

Says he's read the opposition's plans. "Politics ended up trumping common sense." Too true.

He's going over some common ground regarding the ideas between the two parties: pre-existing conditions, fostering competition, etc.

Closing up, he is reiterating the four themes he wants to focus on: controlling costs, lowering deficits, expanding coverage, and

Says he wants a "discussion," not just trading talking points, that he hopes it doesn't turn into political theatre (we'll see).

Republicans' turn, delivered not by McConnell, but by Lamar Alexander.

Claims that the repubs represent a big chunk of the people, who are opposed to the health care bill, which he calls a "mistake" and makes the expected call to "start over."

Says he wants Obama to "succeed," but change directions.

Alexander is repeating the old criticisms: taxes, fees, cuts in medicare, etc.

Repeats the call to "start over."

He claims that a "comprehensive bill" won't work, ever. Cites failures of immigration and other comprehensive bills that failed despite "bipartisan" support.

He's listing off ideas...ideas that could only be part of a (DUH!) comprehensive bill!

Calls for a renunciation of the threat of using reconciliation to pass the bill. Where was he in 2005?

(Obama looks like he's a little annoyed at being lectured)

Start over, start over, don't jam it through. For pity's sake, it's been the longest debated bill in decades!

Now it's Pelosi's turn.

She's going back to March 5, when the whole process started, recalling the "bipartisan way" in which Obama brought them together...not sure, but I don't think they were that nice to the republicans.

"We cannot afford to start over" she says, as too many people already have waited too long, and suffered too much. Offers anecdotes.

Talks about John Dingell and the fight over Medicare back in the day.

We have a "moral obligation" to fix this. Pre-exisiting conditions stifles the "entrepreneurial spirit" by forcing people to stay in dead-end jobs because they can't leave for fear of losing their insurance and not being able to get new insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

The bill will create jobs, almost 400k right off the bat...we'll see.

Unless we pass this, she says, medicare is doomed.

Invokes Kennedy, "Health care is a right, not a privelege."

Reid's turn.

Starts off right off the bat with an anecdote about a constituent who had a baby with a cleft palate, and was denied insurance because that was considered a "pre-existing condition." Outrageous if true.

He's chiding Alexander that he's "entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

Most people, including repubs, want us to reform health care.

Talks about the "donut hole" problem with medicare prescription drug plans.

Talks about reconciliation, defending its use.

The bill already has significant input from republicans, so why start over?

Cites Harvard studies: 45,000 people die a year because they're without health care. 70% of bankruptcies in 2008 were due to health care costs.

Calls on the republicans, "let's hear your ideas." Defends deficit cuts in the bill.

There's a huge stack by Boehner, how much you wanna bet he's gonna throw down with the
"2700 pages" critique.
Obama again, critiquing Alexander's interpretation of the "process."

He wants them to talk about the substance, not the process. "We might surprise ourselves that we agree more than we disagree." Novel idea.

Everyone agrees on costs. It's true that expanding a "broken system" is bad, but part of what we need to do is fix that system. We can't just leave it broken.

Cites small business numbers who are dealing with soaring costs, forcing many to drop coverage, reduce incomes, and forgo new hiring.

So how do we control costs? One bipartisan idea: health care exchanges.

(Damn CNN, going to commercial. Assholes. Switching to Fox. Wish I had CSPAN-3, but oh well. )

Alexander disputes Obama's CBO numbers, Obama responds that it is, offers justification that Lamar is not being fair, citing different numbers.

Oh! He just cut Lamar off. Here's that "muscle" that we've needed to see for too long.

Obama says he wants every possible cost-saving measure to be in the bill, challenges repubs to add their ideas. Asks them to focus on what's good in the bill, as well as bad, instead of just the bad.

McConnell's turn. Cites polls that show people overwhelmingly oppose the bill in its current form.

Turns floor over to Dr. No...er, Coburn.

Says we need to adress the disease, not symptoms. Let's see what he means.

He says prevention is important, and he couldn't be more right. But what's his idea??

Claims there is too much waste in government-run health care, as 20% of money spent is fraudulently awarded. Says cutting fraud would save 7.5% of costs.

Says the tort system, the "extortion system", needs to be reigned in. Fear of litigation forces docs to waste money on redundant or unnecessary tests. Says it would be worth a 7.5% in savings.

Conflict of interest in the medical field, huh?

Change food stamps and school lunches to make it meet people's nutritional needs, to incentivize prevention.

We need to attack "where the money is" referring to fraud.

Don't need government programs, just incentives.

Obama says that there is plenty in the bill that deals with fraud, which Coburn acknowledges, but points out that it only extends to government health care.

There are plenty of measures for prevention in the bill.
Steny Hoyer's turn.

Every American should be covered.

More anecdotes of the misery people suffer.

Cost containment is key, as all agree. The "how" is the problem, of course.

Wants an open, free market that's transparent, whatever that means.

He's paying Coburn compliments on his suggestions. Says the bill does most of what he said, so what's to disagree on?

Says he's trying to drive down costs by giving everyone access to "large group" insurance rates, which of course are cheaper.

Cracking down on redundant tests.

First mention of the public option so far, mentioned in passing as a way to incentivize competition and cover people who cannot afford private insurance.

Obama addresses Coburn's points, says there are things we can do at the state level, invites republicans to voice their objections to specific dem provisions to drive down costs, gives example of increasing access to large group insurance, doesn't mention whether it's through exchanges or the public option.
John Boehner, who cedes his time to John Kline.

Says that one idea is to allow small businesses to group together like large companies. Good idea! Where were you last year?

Says this is better than the idea of exchanges, but doesn't say why other that to claim it will save more money.

Max Baucus is up.

Says we are actually quite close, there's not a lot that keeps us apart.

Says most of what Alexander suggested is already in the bill.

People can buy across state lines. No tort reform, but states will be able to settle disputes. Small businesses can pool together to get better insurance, through the SHOP act, which allows businesses to run their own exchanges to shop and compare insurance plans. Tax credits for employer insurance, 35-50%.

We're not that far apart.

Changes the way we reimburse doctors, rewarding quality vs. quantity.

(Fox is showing the new taxes in the senate bill, vs. CNN which is repeating the speaker's main points. way to stay classy Fox).
Boehner cedes to Dave Kemp.

Oh, this guy is a twit. "How can you say you're saving money when you spend 1 trillion over 10 years?" Gee, I guess he really thinks it will be cheaper to do nothing.

Lawsuit reform, again. OK, but what else?

Mentions that there is a provision in the bill that would create an un-elected board which would make recommendation to congress on medicare cuts, then claims if congress does not act, then the board would have to "look elsewhere" in medicare to cut. If it's up to congress, what power does this board have that this guy is so afraid of?

Obama cuts in to re-address the same points raised previously by Coburn, namely the CBO report.
Rob Andrews.

Talks about exchanges again. Disagreement erupts between him and John Kyl(?).

McConnell protests that dems have had more time.
Paul Ryan's turn. Says that federal regulation of insurance will cut off competition. Ho hum, same old lie.

Kline responds asking Ryan if he supports consumer protections, which he does, making him squirm to justify why he opposes regulation.

Obama is using this opportunity to address the philosophical differences. Says both parties would agree that certain protections need to be implemented. The disagreement is how much should government set as a baseline for people's insurance, how much they are entitled/required to have.

24 February 2010

Songs ruined by commercials

I really hate it when ad agencies try to use popular music to hawk their wares, and I really really hate it when artists sell-out to them and allow them to use their songs.

It's not a new practice, and from the ad agency's point of view, I suppose it beats keeping a jingle-writer on the payroll. But it ruins the song for me, because then whenever I hear that song, I inevitably think about the commercial, which is the whole point of using the song in the ad to begin with.

But all it does is make me angry at the artist and the ad company they sold out to.

I love Ray LaMontagne, but I lost a lot of respect for him when he let his song "Trouble" be used to sell insurance for Traveler's. And I won't be using Traveler's anytime soon, if I can help it.

There's also "She Sells Sanctuary" by The Cult, one of the few rock bands of the 1980s that actually rocked, but unfortunately sold their best known single to Nissan to sell Altimas in the early 2000s. I've always been a Ford man, anyway.

My wife and I both love Death Cab For Cutie, but it took me a long time to get into Ben Gibbard's other band, The Postal Service, because the two singles I was most familiar with when it came out in 2003 were also used in commercials. "We Will Become Silhouettes" was used by Honda to sell Civics, and "Such Great Heights" is featured in those UPS "whiteboard" commercials. So it was almost six years before I really listened to the album, "Give Up," and it's gorgeous. Too bad two of the best songs were wasted as ambient filler for commercials.

I also a huge fan of Wilco, but I was so bummed when I heard "You Are My Face" in a Volkswagen commercial, which apparently was only one track of many that they sold from their magnificent 2007 album "Sky Blue Sky." I wanted to kick Jeff Tweedy in the nuts.

Thankfully, sometimes an ad agency has trouble getting the rights to a song, and so instead they'll hire a cover act to do the song. So it's easier to ignore the Blackberry commercial which uses the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" to sell phones.

But the worst is when I hear a song for the first time in a commercial, and then hear it on the radio, which makes me want to turn the station. Such is the case with the new commercial for the Cadillac SRX, which uses a song I first thought sounded like Ben Gibbard and Death Cab For Cutie, but is actually a new band called Phoenix, the song being "1901." Too bad for them than I've been completely turned off by the song, because I originally thought it was catchy, but now every time I hear that riff and the chorus, all I can think about is that smug voice talking about a luxury car that's guaranteed to "reignite the soul."

Too bad it sucked the soul out of a decent sounding band and ruined them for me, and probably others, as I can't imagine I'm the only person who gets annoyed when good music is used to hawk cheap, useless crap.

Of course, it's kind of hard to blame the artists when the business model for making money off music so disfavors the artist. Selling CDs is a joke, for the most part, because who buys em? And digital downloads, even if paid for, don't bring the bacon, and even then the distributor probably keeps the lion's share of the proceeds. Live shows bring in money, but you have to already have made it somewhat big if you think you support yourself by touring. So I understand why artists would sell their songs to be used in commercials: it brings in money and it puts the music out there where it can be noticed. The only problem is that when I notice, it doesn't make me want to listen to more, it makes me change the channel. 

23 February 2010

People are just like cars, doncha know?

My dedication to civility and respect is going to be tested right off the bat, I see.

I'd never heard of Neal Boortz before, but apparently he thinks that society should value people in the same way it values automobiles when it comes to fixing damaged ones, and who should pay.

I had just walked into my local ABC store to pick up some brandy for the wife and some vodka for myself, and this guy's radio show was blaring through the speakers.

He started by presenting a hypothetical: if you crashed your car and didn't have insurance, and then go to an insurance company to apply for coverage with the added demand that they pay for the crash, even though it happened before coverage started, you would rightly be denied coverage for that car.

From there, he takes the analogy to health care with a particular harshness that I felt was uncalled for, and I'll paraphrase what he said to as close as I can remember it:

"So let's say that you don't have health insurance, and you contract diabetes because you're a fat pig, and then you decide you need insurance to help pay for the disease you contracted. Why should anyone insure you at all? You didn't have coverage prior to the disease you contracted."

He said "fat pig" with such vitriol I could practically hear the spittle pelting his microphone.

I was pretty disgusted, obviously, because this man seems to think that people are no different than cars, and should be "totalled out" if they're "wrecked" and are unable to pay for "repairs."

I took my purchase up to the counter and asked the clerk who it was that was on the radio.

"Boortz," he said simply.

"Well, it's kind of silly to treat people and cars as being the same, isn't it?"

The clerk, a man in his 40s, simply shrugged, looked away and curtly replied, "Have a nice day, sir." He obviously did not want to talk politics, though I can't fairly say whether it was him or another employee who appreciated Boortz's "insightful commentary."

So I took my bag and left.

Perusing Boortz's site, he keeps a blog where he posted pretty much the same argument:

...my "talking point," as you put it, is that it makes no logical sense whatsoever to require an insurance company to sign someone up for an insurance policy to provide coverage for an even that has already taken place. If you applied for homeowner's insurance after your house burned down it is a pretty safe bet that you're application will be declined. If you call Geico and try to insure your car after you've wrecked it, you're unlikely to get coverage for that wreck. Can someone please explain to me then just why it is generally accepted that a person ought to be permitted to contract a disease first, and then buy insurance to cover the costs of that disease after the fact? If that's the routine, they why would anyone ever buy insurance until they're actually sick?

Of course, that isn't how it happens in the real world. In general, there are only two reasons why people go without health insurance: either they cannot afford the premiums or they're stupid.

Now, there are plenty of stupid people in the world, and the American electorate has more than its fair share, but among the nearly 40 million who go without, affordability is the reason, not because they want to be Evel Knievel when it comes to their own health. There are plenty of stories of people who have to choose between feeding their family, paying their mortgage, or paying their insurance premiums. And the number keeps rising.

But that's just a minor mistake when taken against the assertion that people are to be treated like houses and cars. One wonders what kind of world it would be where Boortz's pragmatism ruled, cetainly not the kind that values human life: "What's that? You say you've got a debilitating illness that is life-threatening? Sorry brother, it's not cost-effective to save your life, doesn't matter if it was your own fault or not. I got mine, so sod off."

Here's the second part of his argument, where he stretches things way beyond reality.

Now .. here are some hard truths that are going to anger some of you. First, you have no right to health care. To obtain health care you must have access to the services of a health care practitioner and the products manufactured by drug and medical implement companies. To claim a right to health care you are claiming a right to the time and property of some other person. How do you then balance your claim of a right to a portion of that person's life against their own right to protect their lives and property? The argument for a right to health care simply cannot be sustained until you are willing to accept the idea that one individual in our society has a right to the life and property of another.

But that's bollocks, of course. This is the same kind of reasoning that would demolish such "socialist" government programs like fire and police departments. Fire and police are paid through community taxes (i.e. everyone's "lives and property" as Boortz puts it), so that if one person's house is burglarized or catches fire, that person can rely on the government for help. It's part of our social contract, we take care of each other for things that happen which are beyond our control. We cannot control whether or not a certain exposed wire is going to spark the insulation into a fire anymore than we can control whether or not a criminal will choose to burglarize our home.

The same is true of most diseases, we cannot control, and diabetes is included, even type 2 adult-onset, which doesn't just happen to fat people.

Anyway, this is rather moot because their is no comparison between the fire and police departments and health insurance, precisely because health insurance is not a government program (not yet, at least, and not anytime soon). No one is going to take Mr. Boortz's "life and property" by insuring someone with a disease that is expensive to manage. The problem is not, as Boortz seems to think, with people who want insurance to give them a free ride on someone else's dime, but rather that people who would like to be able to buy into the system, to contribute what they can for their own health.

Sure, such people do cost more to insure, but Boortz is far off-base from the reality. If someone with, say, cystic fibrosis, were to try and buy into a large health giant like one of the BC/BS "non-profits," I doubt the rest of everyone else's premiums would change. Of course, add a whole bunch and the picture changes, but as long as those with the pre-existing conditions are paying their fair share, no-one has any right to complain, because the alternative, already a reality, is that those people are left out in the cold, either to live in misery or, just as likely, die in misery. And if the measure of a society is how well it takes care of the least of its members, then ours falls far short of even being called "decent."

But let's let Boortz finish his point (here's where he alludes to the "fat pig" with diabetes from his radio show):

Second point: Your medical misfortune does not constitute a lien on my life or property unless I have voluntarily entered into a contract with you. Yes .. if you have diabetes or some disease that is going to cost you $20,000 a year, or more .. that's sad. Less sad if you ate yourself into that situation .. but sad nonetheless. As sad as it is your medical condition gives you no claim on my bank account. You can rely on your own resources, your family, your church, a charity or the voluntary goodness of strangers all you want; but to use the government as an instrument of plunder to seize the property of another for your health care needs is immoral .. no matter how grave your condition may be.

This is libertarianism at it's most vacuous, because the logic applied here also can be applied to the aforementioned fire and police departments. The fact is that we all must sacrifice something for the benefit of all (including Mr. Boortz, whether he likes it or not) when it comes to issues that affect us all.

We all contribute to taxes that pay for fire departments, because we want the benefit of our community's protection in case our house catches fire.

We all contribute to taxes that pay for police departments, because we want the benefit of our community's protection in case we're robbed.

We do this not only to protect ourselves, but because we value our neighbors and countrymen. We value their lives and happiness, which is why we protect their safety, so why wouldn't we want to protect their heath?

What Boortz is trying to claim smacks of Jane Fonda's ill-advised attempt to not pay her taxes during the Vietnam War, her reasoning being that because she did not support the war, she should not have to see her tax money used to pay for it. Of course, that argument failed because, as the judge pointed out, she benefits from national defense regardless of whether she agrees with what the military does or does not do. She lives in safety and enjoys her rights because of the protection afforded by the military through her taxes.

The same can be true of health insurance. It won't, of course, as a national health plan will not pass congress, not in its current state of partisan gridlock where lies, rumours, and hearless "logic" like Boortz's tend to get the most attention. But a small justice can be done by requiring that insurers accommodate those with pre-existing conditions. Because we value our fellow citizens enough to bring them in from the cold, even if it means we have to spare a few cents extra overall on our insurance premiums. To do otherwise is downright inhuman.

Update: I noticed that Boortz also writes a column for the WorldNetDaily, which if I recall, is run by fundamentalist Christian Joseph Farah. How "Christian" is Boortz if he advocates letting people suffer and die to save his own bottom line? Well, no one ever accused the WorldNetDaily of being consistent...or honest...or accurate...or fair...or, well, you get the idea.

17 February 2010

Resurrection and Rededication

It's been a long time since I blogged, since I wrote anything in fact. The past year has been...interesting to say the least: marriage, moving, unemployment, depression and despair, agony and ecstasy, blah blah blah, etc.

I want to start writing again, and I've been putting it off far too long, obsessing over details of what to write about and how. A gridlock of my own creation, I could see no way out until I chanced upon an essay in the AHA's "Perspectives" weekly newsletter titled "How Writing Leads to Thinking (and not the other way around)." I felt kind of stupid when I read the title, the simple truth of it illustrated for myself in the way that I used to do freewriting to jumpstart my brain.

Like I said, I stopped writing, and now I regret having done so. I also regret the way I was writing in the past on this blog, it seems like I was trying to sound like every other blogger out there instead of myself, which itself may have contributed to my stopping.

To thine own self be true.

So, in the interest of saving what little sanity I have left, and to follow DaVinci's exhortation to exercise the most important "muscle" in my body (lest it atrophy from disuse), I'm going to write about any and everything that engages my mind. There will be fluff, of course, but important fluff I promise. Well, important to me anyway. :P

So here is my rededication: this blog will be a forum for expression of my thoughts and opinions, my musings and meanderings, my beliefs and hopes. Though it always was thus, I have not always been the best writer, nor have I been as charitable or as nice as I know I am in person. Well, it is the internet...but no, the discourse in this nation, indeed the world, is already too rancorous. It's time that I went back to being the civil, rational human being on the internet as well as in real life, because such people are becoming an endangered species. So that's my rededication: to express myself and add my voice to the chorus, but to do so in a way that reflects well upon myself and shows a respect for the discourse.

02 September 2008

No other word for it: This is *fucked* up.

So it's been roughly a month since I posted, and a lot has happened in that time: I got engaged, then my fiancee's mother died of lung cancer, then I started the new semester. I might post about some of that stuff; seeing my fiancee's mother pass away before my eyes is an experience that I will never forget.

But for now, I'd like to jump right back into things. First off: Minneapolis Police at the RNC. What are they doing?

Well, it seems that the Republican Nat'l Convention is going on and they don't want the rabble (i.e. ordinary Americans) to be heard voicing their dissatisfaction with the last eight years during which the Republicans have run this country into the ground.

So here's what we've come to:


[via Pharyngula]

14 July 2008

Fundies get rick-rolled in real life!

From Friendly Atheist we have the video evidence of a real-life rick-rolling outside a gay club in Florida...

It's almost as good as the Anonymous protest against Scientology in London earlier this year. LONG CAT IS LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG!

07 July 2008

Short take with a Facebook fundie

I like to go on the Christian groups on Facebook from time to time. It's fun to discuss things like morality and the history of early Christianity (one of my favourite subjects as an undergrad). There are some Christians who are amenable to discussing things rationally without automatically resorting to scripture. But occasionally it's also fun to tease the fundies who also prowl these boards.

So I posted the video from my previous blog entry (see it here). And sure enough, my bear-baiting snagged a fundie.

Fundie: "Why try and convince believers that God is bad? All you're doing is trying to convince yourself there is no God so that you can go through life without fear of being punished for evil acts. Kind of gives you a license to do whatever you like, huh?"
Me: "Yep, in fact I'm eating an aborted fetus while we speak. Mmmmmm....it's like eating an omelette!!!"
Fundie: "God rebuke you, Satan!!"

Fundie: "God says not to be drug into endless debates by satan. We are to love and worship God."

Me: "Yep, you wouldn't want to end up in Hell simply for not believing in the right God."

I love it when he called me "satan." I rarely get that and it just gives me constant giggles when I do! Hehehehe! Fundies are so clueless!