Birther madness-2: The plot thickens

Yesterday, I pointed out that even if one takes the birthers’ highly implausible claim that Obama was born in Kenya at face value, Title 8, section 1401, subsection (g) of the U.S. Code seems to grant him natural born status since his mother was a citizen who lived in the US for at least five years, at least two of which were after the age of fourteen.

But the birthers have seized upon the fact that the requirement of years of residency in the US of the parent has changed with time. According to the U.S. State Department:

Birth Abroad to One Citizen and One Alien Parent in Wedlock: A child born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent acquires U.S. citizenship at birth under Section 301(g) INA provided the citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. for the time period required by the law applicable at the time of the child’s birth. (For birth on or after November 14, 1986, a period of five years physical presence, two after the age of fourteen is required. For birth between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, a period of ten years, five after the age of fourteen are required for physical presence in the U.S. to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child. (my emphasis)

So here’s what the birthers’ case boils down to: Obama was born in Kenya in 1961 but his mother was not yet 19 at the time (she was born November 29, 1942 and Obama was born August 4, 1961) so she could not have satisfied the ‘five years after the age of fourteen’ condition that was in force at the time of his birth. Hence Obama is not a natural born citizen. Hence he is not qualified to be president. In addition, if he is not a natural born citizen, and since there is no evidence that he ever went through the naturalization process for citizenship, that would mean that he is in the US illegally and would have to be deported.

(Without getting too much into the legal weeds here, it is not clear that the courts would even apply this rule in Obama’s mother’s case because it would seem to eliminate people over something they had no control, purely because they are too young, and this might violate the ‘equal protection’ clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As is usual in such cases, the courts do not go merely by the language of the law but will likely look closely at the explicit legislative history and language to see if Congress meant to only exclude people who could have satisfied the five year residency requirement but chose not to.)

Kitty Pilgrim of CNN lays out the evidence against the birthers. (If there is any doubt that the birthers are out to lunch, one needs to look no further than the fact that Alan Keyes (Alan Keyes!) is one of them.)

Furthermore, this article in the Honolulu Advertiser should put to rest the speculations that the newspaper announcements of his birth were planted by Obama’s people in the US as part of the elaborate hoax. The article says that the newspapers’ birth notices are not inserted at the request of the parents or family but taken by them from hospital records. It should also settle the issue of whether Obama’s Hawaiian ‘Certificate of Live Birth’ that has been made publicly available is somehow less than complete and that he must produce the full document or else he is hiding something.

And what about the allegation that Obama’s step-grandmother (the second wife of Obama’s Kenyan grandfather) made a deposition that she was present when Obama was born in Kenya? That has also been debunked by Alex Koppelman.

Like all such elaborate theories, the birthers’ case first requires you to accept a highly implausible premise. In reality, all this is moot since no reasonable person could doubt that Obama was born in Hawaii. To think otherwise is to create a preposterous scenario in which Obama’s mother secretly went to Kenya (without leaving any discernible trail) to deliver her baby there (why?) and yet was savvy and influential enough to create an elaborate scheme with the collusion of Hawaii government officials to have his birth recorded in Hawaii and provide him with faked birth certificates even now. They also must have colluded with two Hawaiian newspapers to run contemporary birth notices of Obama’s birth. All this in order to make him eligible to run for president decades in the future.

Remember that even if Obama had been born in Kenya and did not meet the criteria for being a ‘natural born’ citizen, it would have been easy for him to become a naturalized citizen because his mother was a citizen. The only reason for this elaborate charade on his mother’s part is to make him eligible to run for president, the one and only job in the US that requires ‘natural born’ citizenship. If she was ambitious, smart, far-sighted, and knowledgeable enough to go to all this trouble to make her son appear eligible for the presidency, surely she would have simply had the baby in the US and been done with it?

The birthers’ would benefit from studying the logic of David Hume who explained how to judge the credibility of extraordinary claims: “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.”

I suspect that Obama and the Democrats are thoroughly enjoying this. Far from being a serious challenge to the legitimacy of his presidency, this issue, coupled with the insulting treatment of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court that focused so heavily on her Hispanic heritage in a negative way, is serving to further marginalize the Republican Party by making them look like a bunch of xenophobic and nativist loons.

To exploit this issue, one Democratic congressman introduced a bill celebrating 2009 as the 50th anniversary of Hawaii’s statehood. Included in the bill is a statement acknowledging that the state is also the birthplace of the current president. This put the Republicans in a quandary. Voting for this ceremonial bill might anger the birthers while voting against or being absent would make them look nutty. The bill passed 378-0, suggesting that Congressional Republicans are realizing that this is getting out of hand.

Will that be the end of the story? Not at all. For birthers, like truthers and those who deny evolution, no evidence will convince them to change their minds. What they will do when they encounter setbacks or counterfacts is expand their theory into even more extreme territory. When the inevitable happens, with a judge throwing out their legal challenge to Obama’s birth in Hawaii, they will start asking whether Stanley Dunham really was a citizen. Or if she really was Obama’s mother or whether, as part of a secret advanced fertility research program, the egg that was used to conceive Obama was not really Dunham’s but was taken from a non-citizen, fertilized in vitro, and then inserted in her. Or if all these arguments fail, suggest that there was a technical fault in the process whereby Hawaii became a state in 1959, invalidating its statehood.

It will never end for the true believers. One can only ignore the birthers. Or better still, laugh at them.

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show on the birthers

And right on cue, here is Jon Stewart to laugh at them.

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Birther madness-1: Here come the clowns

I was vaguely aware during the election that some people were questioning Obama’s eligibility for the presidency because of his Kenyan father, just as others were questioning McCain’s because he was born in Panama. Neither candidate made an issue out of the other’s birth and I assumed that this issue would die down after the election.

To my amazement some people seem to have become totally convinced that Obama is not constitutionally qualified to be president because he is not a natural born citizen. These so-called ‘birthers’ are still going on, even gaining steam, aided by some in the media such as Fox News and Lou Dobbs on CNN. Emblematic is this town hall meeting to discuss health care where a woman angrily claims that Obama is not a citizen and that she ‘wants her country back’. Congressman Mike Castle (R-Delaware) is then booed by the crowd when he responds that Obama is a US citizen.

It has since emerged that the woman in the video is well-known locally as “Crazy Eileen”, who has called Obama the anti-Christ and said she has spoken with angels and aliens. She has been banned even from local conservative call-in radio talk shows.

The birthers are (along with Sarah Palin) becoming a nightmare for the Republican Party, because the Party cannot totally denounce them because the base takes this stuff seriously, while they cannot endorse them because it makes them look like wackos too. Watch how Congressman John Campbell (R-CA) tries to dance around the issue, wanting to pander to the birthers while also not wanting to be seen as a nutcase who believes that Obama is not constitutionally qualified to be president.

Mike Stark of the Huffington Post and firedoglake tries to pin Republican congresspersons down on this question with no success except for one exception. Some of the people literally run away from him or hide to avoid having to answer.

Like most bizarre theories, such as the one that suggests that the events of 9/11 were an elaborate Bush-Cheney-CIA plot, (supporters of which are called ‘truthers’), there is a tiny kernel of relevance buried in mounds of rubbish.

The issue is the constitutional qualifications for president which are laid out in Article 2, section 1: “No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

The key phrase that the birthers have zeroed in on is ‘natural born citizen’. So what is the issue here? Since Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961, and Hawaii became a state in 1959, that should end the matter, no? Well, yes, except that the birthers allege that he was actually born in Kenya and that this whole Hawaiian birth thing was faked. They keep saying that his birth certificate is being hidden and the copies that are being shown are either faked or incomplete, and nothing anyone can say will dissuade them. The Annenberg Political Fact Check project has actually examined the birth certificate and pronounced it genuine, but they think that they are part of the elaborate cover up.

But even if Obama was born abroad, since his mother was an American doesn’t that make him a natural born citizen? This is where things get a little complicated. The intent of the drafters of the constitution was to exclude naturalized citizens from holding the office of the presidency. But they lived in simpler times when it was clear how to identify such people. But as time went on and children were being born all over the world to all manner of combinations of citizens and non-citizens, and as the US acquired territories that were not states of the union, things got more complicated and the conditions for being classified as ‘natural born’ needed to be more precisely codified and this was done in statutes. Title 8, Section 1401 of the U.S. Code lays out all the possible scenarios whereby natural born citizenship can be achieved. The relevant one that applies to Obama’s case (taking at face value the birthers’ claim that he was born in Kenya) is subsection (g) that grants it to:

a person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years.

But surely he qualifies under this too, since he had one parent (his mother) who was a citizen (born in Kansas) who lived in the US for “not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years”?

You would think so. But then you would be underestimating the paranoia and inventiveness of groups like the birthers.

Next: The plot thickens!

POST SCRIPT: Meet the birthers

Stephen Colbert gives a leading birther enough rope and she duly hangs herself, revealing her nuttiness in all its glory.

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The health care debate-5: How other countries health systems compare to the US

(For previous posts on the issue of health care, see here.)

The advantages of single-payer systems over the current US system are becoming increasingly obvious. Another pro-business publication BusinessWeek concedes the advantages of the single payer system as is practiced in France.

In fact, the French system is similar enough to the U.S. model that reforms based on France’s experience might work in America. The French can choose their doctors and see any specialist they want. Doctors in France, many of whom are self-employed, are free to prescribe any care they deem medically necessary. “The French approach suggests it is possible to solve the problem of financing universal coverage…[without] reorganizing the entire system,” says Victor G. Rodwin, professor of health policy and management at New York University.

France also demonstrates that you can deliver stellar results with this mix of public and private financing. In a recent World Health Organization health-care ranking, France came in first, while the U.S. scored 37th, slightly better than Cuba and one notch above Slovenia. France’s infant death rate is 3.9 per 1,000 live births, compared with 7 in the U.S., and average life expectancy is 79.4 years, two years more than in the U.S. The country has far more hospital beds and doctors per capita than America, and far lower rates of death from diabetes and heart disease. The difference in deaths from respiratory disease, an often preventable form of mortality, is particularly striking: 31.2 per 100,000 people in France, vs. 61.5 per 100,000 in the U.S. (my italics)

PBS’s Frontline had a program Sick Around the World that looked at the health care systems in England, Taiwan, Germany, Switzerland, and Japan.

The private, profit-seeking health industry knows that their system is terrible compared to what single payer or socialized systems can offer and so they have to obscure and confuse things as much as possible. What has been amusing to watch has been the logical knots that the health industry has been tying itself up in to avoid even the minimal public option that has been proposed, saying that it would drive them out of business. Of course, if their claims that the government cannot run anything properly, that the private sector is far more efficient and will provide better health care at lower cost, then they should not have anything to fear from a public option. Even president Obama, who has been trying to placate the private health insurance industry, found this argument a bit much, saying, “Why would it drive private insurers out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality healthcare, if they tell us that they’re offering a good deal, then why is it that the government — which they say can’t run anything — suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That’s not logical.”

The fact that they are trying to prevent a public option shows that the opposite is true. What they really fear is that once you take the profits, the huge salaries and bonuses of their top executives, and their exorbitant bureaucratic costs out of the system, the public system will be cheaper and more efficient and people will flock to it. Because of this fear, they and their lobbyists will first try to prevent any discussion at all of a meaningful public option, such as single payer.

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If forced to concede one, they will try to hobble it by either limiting access to it or put in a lot of restrictions and rules in order to make is as inefficient and expensive and callous as the private system. “Opponents say private insurers could not compete with a public plan that didn’t have to make a profit. They argue that private health plans would end up going out of business, leaving only an entirely government-run health care system.”

I sincerely hope that this is true. Profit-making entities have no business being in the position of making health care decisions.

What the industry would really like is for the government to mandate that everyone have private insurance and pay for it, and at the same time reserve the right to deny coverage so that they make more profits. Because of this, we should be aware that the public plan that finally emerges from Congress may not be that good because of the amount of money that the health industry funnels to members of Congress. They may try to fob off on us some lousy system that they label the ‘public option’ that is designed to fail.

We should keep pushing for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all type system. The group Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) has done wonderful work in pushing for single payer and has created a comparison chart of public option vs. single payer. Single Payer Action Network in Ohio (SPAN Ohio) has come up with a plan just for the state that has the following features:

  • Patients get free choice of health care providers and hospitals.
  • When you go to your own personal physician for visits, there are NO premiums, NO co-payments, NO deductibles, NO one excluded. You pay nothing.
  • When you get your prescription filled by your pharmacist, there are NO premiums, NO co-payments, NO deductibles, NO one excluded. You pay nothing.
  • If you need hospitalization, there are NO premiums, NO co-payments, NO deductibles, NO one excluded. You pay nothing.

It beats me why anyone would prefer the current bureaucratic, service denying nightmare of the private, employer-based, profit-seeking system over such a plan.

POST SCRIPT: Tom Tomorrow on health care

One of my favorite cartoonists has been on a tear recently with three strips on health care: one, two, and three.

On books, audiobooks, and eBooks

When it comes to new communication technology, I can be labeled as both an ‘early adopter’ and and ‘early abandoner’. I got a Facebook account very early on, and now don’t do anything with it. I similarly got a Twitter account and abandoned it. I finally broke down and got a cell phone a couple of months ago under pressure from my family after I was in a few situations where having it would have been really helpful, but I use it only for emergencies and have given out the number to just a handful of people. In the three months since I got it, I have received about three real calls and a half dozen wrong numbers, which suits me just fine.

I think it is already pretty clear that I am a bit slow when it comes to new technology, adopting new things only when I absolutely have to. It is not that I am pathologically averse to new technology. It is just that so many new things come along that I prefer to wait until I feel that it serves a real need before I put in the time to learn the new tool. For example, I was quite happy with a pocket diary to keep track of my appointments until I got in a position where other people needed to make appointments on my behalf. Then I got a PDA (first a Palm and now an iTouch) so that I can sync with an online calendar that others have access to.

The only thing that I adopted fairly early and stuck with is my blog.

All this leads me to the topic of new book forms. I did listen to an audiobook a couple of times when I was driving long distance and it was not bad but the books that I listened to on it were lightweight humor. I usually read more serious non-fiction and that requires me to go back and re-read portions or jump to the index to find related things and audiobooks don’t seem to be suited to that. Even with fiction I like to flip back to refer to earlier points and you can’t do that easily with an audiobook.

Now we have eBooks. I tried out a Kindle that was loaned to me a few months ago (before the new version came out) because my university is embarking on an trial run to see if they might be good for students to use, so that they can have all their books in one portable device and not have to lug heavy textbooks around. My experience did not convince me enough to buy my own.

There are some good features to the Kindle. The screen was easy to read. You can also change the font size. Purchasing a book and downloading it from Amazon was very quick. Because it is small, about the size of a normal book, and yet has so much capacity, you can basically carry your entire library with you wherever you go.

But the reading experience was not as much fun as I would have liked, though some people really love it. There were also disadvantages. You cannot flip though the book easily, or jump to a page. I was reading Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin about how much of the human body originates from our fish ancestors and the book has lots of figures that are important in understanding how organisms evolved. The figures were hard to see and the labels impossible to read, and could not be enlarged, making it pretty much useless. The newest Kindle has a bigger screen that seems to partially solve this particular problem.

On balance, I did not like the Kindle. I prefer the tactile feel of a real book. After I returned the Kindle, I bought a hardcopy version of Your Inner Fish and enjoyed it much more.

Furthermore, with the Kindle you cannot lend a single book to someone without lending your entire library. This is a real drawback. There are many books that I have bought after I was first loaned a copy by someone who felt I would like it, and I have lent books to people as well. Furthermore, this will dry up the second-hand books market where you can find great old books that are otherwise unavailable. Almost every year, I give away a load of books to the university second-hand book sale and I like to think that others are going to enjoy what I once enjoyed. What are you going to do with all the old books on Kindle once you are done with them?

The new Kindle is also very expensive (about $500) and it locks you into only purchasing books that are offered in digital form by Amazon.

Users had a shock recently when they discovered that Amazon can unilaterally delete books they had already bought.

“It illustrates how few rights you have when you buy an e-book from Amazon,” said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer for British Telecom and an expert on computer security and commerce. “As a Kindle owner, I’m frustrated. I can’t lend people books and I can’t sell books that I’ve already read, and now it turns out that I can’t even count on still having my books tomorrow.”

Furthermore, because the font size can be changed, there are no page numbers (these being replaced for each page by a numerical range of numbers that did not relate to anything that I could tell) so I cannot cite a specific page of the book. This is a real drawback for academic use since I quote passages from books a lot and like to give the page numbers to readers so that they can see for themselves the full context of the quote.

I think that before eBooks really take off it needs to be the case that the eBook readers should be much cheaper (even free), and should be able to read digital books from any source.

The old-fashioned books have some real advantages. As Lawrence G. Smith, author of Cesare Pavese And America, says (thanks to Progressive Review for the quote):

The book has existed in its present format–essentially sheaves of paper between a binding of some sort–for over two millennia. It has done so because it is a perfect artifact of information technology. It is portable, permanent, nearly indestructible, easily shared. It suffers no damage near magnetic fields, and when opened its boot-up time is instantaneous–just open it and you are reading; close it and reopen and you are reading immediately once again. It uses no electricity and never crashes. When you are reading its pages, they never go blue or black and you never get a message “fatal error; system shutting down.”

Maybe I am just too old fashioned and stuck in my reading ways, the way I continue to subscribe to newspapers. I can see that printing and distributing books, like newspapers, involves enormous costs and a lot of waste since publishers have to guess how many copies to print and how to distribute them. A purely on-demand printing process, where a book is published and bound and sent to the person who ordered it might reduce that.

POST SCRIPT: Bronze age Luddites

Reluctance to adopt new technologies has a long history.

The health care debate-4: What the public thinks

(For previous posts on the issue of health care, see here.)

The fact that the current US system is broken and needs a complete overhaul with government involvement is becoming increasingly apparent to almost anyone except for those who have some kind of visceral reaction to the government being involved in anything. It is because of the stark reality faced by ordinary people that, despite the incessant propaganda against single payer public plans by the health industry and its allies in Congress and the media, the polls are pretty clear that people favor a greater government involvement in the health care system.

There is a Quinniapiac poll that shows that 69% want a public option.

A recent New York Times poll also finds that 72% favor “the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans.” The poll also found that “most Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes so everyone could have health insurance and that they said the government could do a better job of holding down health-care costs than the private sector.”

Meanwhile, as Bernie Horn points out, in another new poll “Eighty-three percent of Americans favor and only 14 percent oppose “creating a new public health insurance plan that anyone can purchase” according to EBRI, a conservative business research organization. This flatly contradicts conservatives’ loudest attack against President Obama’s plan to provide quality, affordable health care for all.”

To combat the charge that this was a biased poll funded by single payer supporters, we should note the groups that fund the EBRI (Employee Benefit Research Institute): “EBRI’s biggest donors include: AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, General Dynamics, General Mills, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Northrop Grumman, Schering-Plough, Schwab, T. Rowe Price, UBS Financial, and Wal-Mart. EBRI also receives large contributions from the insurance industry, including: Blue Cross Blue Shield, CIGNA, Hartford, Kaiser Permanente, Massachusetts Mutual, Metropolitan Life, Union Labor Life, and UnitedHealth. And who funded this particular EBRI poll? “AARP, American Express, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Buck Consultants, Chevron, Deere & Company, IBM, Mercer, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Principal Financial Group, Schering-Plough Corp., Shell Oil Company, The Commonwealth Fund, and Towers Perrin.”

As an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed in 2003, the majority of Americans support a single-payer, government-sponsored health care system, even when they hear the right-wing’s alarmist arguments. David Sirota highlighted some key findings of the poll:

  • Question 48 in the poll shows that 79% of Americans say they support “providing health care coverage for all Americans, even if it means raising taxes” over “holding down taxes, even if it means some Americans do not have health care coverage.”
  • Question 49 shows 62% say they support a universal health care system “run by the government and financed by taxpayers” over the current system.
  • Question 50 shows 57% say they would support this program even “if it limited your own choice of doctors” (which doesn’t necessarily have to be a side-effect of a single-payer system).
  • Similarly, question 51 shows 62% say they would support this program even “if it meant there were waiting lists for some non-emergency treatments” (again, not necessarily a side-effect).

So let’s stop talking about “popular opposition” to government involvement in health care. The people who are opposed are the people in the current system who benefit from the sickness of others or have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that involves the government. What they are really scared of is that the public plan will be so popular that everyone will want to join in. Currently estimates of the people who will want to get in can get as high as 119 million, a number suggested by one of the health industry’s main lackeys, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

What the health industry wants is to get their hands on the 50 million or so who are currently uninsured as a new revenue stream. As Robert Parry points out:

The industry’s hope is that the government will mandate that those Americans sign up for private insurance and offer subsidies for those who can’t afford to pay the premiums.

Fifty million new customers and government largesse to help pay the bills would be a huge windfall for the insurance industry, which otherwise faces a decline in its market because Baby Boomers are reaching the age to qualify for Medicare and because rising unemployment is draining the pool of Americans who have insurance through their employers.

So watch for them to make noises about how they support everyone getting insurance, while at the same time fighting any attempt to change the way the current system works because it has proven so profitable for them.

Since they are aware that the public supports the public option, their strategy is likely to be to make the public option as unattractive as possible.

POST SCRIPT: The Chasers are back

That group of Australian pranksters target torture advocates John Yoo and Dick Cheney.

There was a time when the US was a leader in this kind of political guerilla theater, led by people like Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies. I remember being enthralled by their antics even though I was far away in Sri Lanka.

Remember when they ran the pig Pigasus for president in 1968 under the slogan “Pork Power”?

And who can forget the political theater of the trial that followed the violent Democratic convention of that year? See the documentary Chicago 10 for an excellent encapsulation of the comic drama of that tumultuous event.

And what about the time that the irrepressible Hoffman said that they were going, using meditation, to get the Pentagon to levitate and spin, and the media actually arrived to cover that attempt? Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Armies of the Night offered an insider’s look at the 1967 anti-war March on Washington that formed the backdrop.

Has this kind of political street theater become another casualty of outsourcing to other countries?

The health care debate-3: Why profits should not be a factor in health care

(For previous posts on the issue of health care, see here.)

It is important to realize that in the single payer or socialized systems, everyone is covered and no one is denied coverage for lack of employment, pre-existing conditions and the like. Does that mean that one will be able to have any treatment that one desires whenever one desires it? Of course not. Whenever there is greater demand than resources available, there will always have to be decisions made as to how those resources are to be utilized, and invariably some treatments may be denied or delayed for some people.

The point is that this occurs even now in the private health insurance system that we have in the US. The difference, and it is a huge one, is that the private health insurance decisions about whom and what to treat are made by bean counters who are driven by the insatiable drive to make profits for their companies and who seek every means to deny treatment. There is almost nothing that ordinary people can do when they get shafted by the companies, because they are expert at giving you the run-around.

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In single-payer and socialized medicine, decisions about how to allocate resources are made by collectively by physicians, other health professionals, and public policy makers who try to maximize the benefits of the system with the resources they have. There is usually some kind of board that is responsible for the workings of the system, but unlike the boards of directors of private, profit-seeking health insurance companies, they do not personally benefit financially by limiting treatment. And if we do not like how the system is run, then we have power to change things in that we can either vote to give the system more resources (the way we vote levies for schools and libraries) or we can vote for a government that will make the changes we desire. The public ultimately controls the health care system, which is as it should be.

It is also important to realize that in both single payer and socialized systems that are in existence in other countries, people still have the option to buy private health insurance if they want extra services, so those people who want premium services can still have them.

Those who think that they have good insurance now in the US from the profit-seeking private health insurance companies and resist change towards a single-payer or socialized system might be in for a nasty shock when they actually get ill because the health insurance industry has entire teams of people whose sole job is to find ingenious ways to deny coverage. The US health care system is truly wonderful as long as you do not get sick. Reporter Lisa Girion of the Los Angeles Times of June 17, 2009 reports on how the insurance companies cancel the medical coverage of sick people after they are diagnosed, a practice known as ‘rescission’.

An investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations showed that health insurers WellPoint Inc., UnitedHealth Group and Assurant Inc. canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period.

It also found that policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions were targeted for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses.

Denial of coverage is mostly done by using the infamous ‘pre-existing conditions’ loophole. Insurance companies will go to great lengths to dig up something, anything, that can be used to deny claims and cancel coverage altogether. “A Texas nurse said she lost her coverage, after she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, for failing to disclose a visit to a dermatologist for acne… One employee, for instance, received a perfect 5 for “exceptional performance” on an evaluation that noted the employee’s role in dropping thousands of policyholders and avoiding nearly $10 million worth of medical care.”

Michael Moore’s film Sicko (see my review) interviewed people whose job was to do this and get rewarded for it by the insurance companies. This should be no surprise. After all, then president Richard Nixon approved of setting up the present employment based private health insurance system only after he was assured by his aide that “Edgar Kaiser is running his Permanente deal for profit… All the incentives are toward less medical care… the less care they give them, the more money they make… the incentives run the right way.” The present system is running exactly as they envisaged.

In May 2008 my younger daughter graduated from college so she immediately ceased to be on our health plan. But her job started only in August 2008 so we had to go through the dreary business of shopping around to get temporary coverage for the months of June and July before she got on her new company’s plan. That kind of irritation alone should be enough for people to want to ditch the present system in favor of one where coverage is decoupled from one’s employment status. For most people, the biggest nightmare about losing their job, or even changing it, is how to ensure health care for them and their families.

But that’s not all. When my daughter later went to the doctor for some minor treatment, the insurance company would not pay unless she could prove that it was not a ‘pre-existing condition’, which meant that we had to go back and get all the documentation about her two month temporary coverage. Even that was not enough and we had to get the paperwork of the coverage she had before that and submit that too. All this took a lot of time and the matter still has not been resolved. In the meantime she left that job and got a new one, so we don’t know what will happen now. But if she had not taken the precaution of getting temporary coverage for the two-month period of June and July 2008 (which happens to many people between jobs), and if we had not been conscientious about keeping all the paperwork, they would have simply denied her claims and she would have been on the hook for the entire amount. And there is nothing that we could have done about it.

Suzie Madrak relates an awful story about the hassle she went through when she injured her ankle. Because the injury occurred when she fell while getting down from a truck, her health insurance and auto insurance companies kept passing the buck to each other as being the party responsible for paying for treatment. This kind of thing simply would not happen in a single-payer or socialized system.

Anyone who has had to deal with the health insurance companies knows the aggravation that occurs routinely. The funny thing is that most Americans think this is normal because they have never known anything better. People in countries that have single-payer or socialized health systems never have to deal with an profit-making insurance bureaucracy that seeks to make money by denying treatment.

It is important to always bear in mind one undeniable fact: In the current system, it is that the primary mission of the private health insurance industry is to maximize the profits of their shareholders, not to provide good service to sick people.

The fact that finding ways to deny coverage is an important part of their profit-making strategy emerged once again when during congressional hearings last month, Rep. Bart Stupak, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations asked each of the heads of the major health insurance companies whether he would at least commit his company to immediately stop rescissions except in cases where they could show intentional fraud. All of them said “No”, thus confirming that denying coverage to sick people by any means possible is a deliberate profit-seeking policy of these companies.

Unbelievable.

POST SCRIPT: Bill Maher makes a commercial for the American Medical Association

Wafergate

Some readers may remember my post on the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation where it is believed that during the communion service, the wafer and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. I took that idea to its logical conclusion and argued that if true it could be used to clone god.

I also wrote about the huge ruckus that a college student in Florida caused when he did not immediately consume the communion wafer and instead tried to take it back with him to his seat. He got into a scuffle with a woman who wanted him to return it and the student was threatened with violence, comparisons were made to a hostage taking, and there were threats to break into his dorm room and rescue the wafer being held ‘hostage’ by him.

The university even sent in armed guards to be present at future services to prevent any more hostages being taken. The Catholic diocese also sent in a team of nuns as added protection for the wafers, though no mention was made as to whether they too were packing heat.

Well, it turns out that when the Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper recently attended a memorial service in a Catholic church for a deceased dignitary, he may committed the same religious offense as the college student. Watch and see for yourself.

I can guess what happened. Non-Catholics are not supposed to receive communion in the Catholic Church. The prime minister is a Protestant and probably realized at the last minute, when he was in a line where everyone was about to be given the wafer by the priest, that he did not know what the proper protocol was to deal with it. Eating it may have been sacrilegious and refusing it or giving it back might have been seen as rude. As a non-Catholic he realized he was in danger of committing a religious faux pas and poor sap, like all politicians faced with a tricky decision, he decided to punt. He probably felt that the safe thing to do was to put it in his pocket and deal with it later, not realizing that what he did was worse than the other options. As one news report on what is being called Wafergate says:

[T]he handling of the host is no trivial matter. As a non-Catholic, the prime minister should probably have refused communion, and church officials should have been advised of this in advance. But once the communion wafer, considered the body of Jesus, was in the prime minister’s hand, it should have been consumed promptly or returned.

Of course, what he should have done when he was called on this was to admit that he had pocketed the wafer out of uncertainty about what to do and simply returned it. Even very religious people realize that their Byzantine rules are not understood by outsiders and would have forgiven him. But again, Harper’s political instincts to never admit a mistake kicked in and he denied pocketing it, deciding to brazen it out.

So he either still has the wafer or he has destroyed it in some way and removed the evidence. There is no word on whether the Mounties or an elite swat team of nuns are going to try and stage a rescue of the hostage wafer from the pockets of this infidel.

The were fears that the allegations that Harper pocketed the wafer may have caused some embarrassment for him when he later went to meet with the Pope.

If I were Harper’s advisor, I would have suggested that he give the Pope the pocketed wafer and say that he took it because he wanted to give the Pope a special gift, something with more meaning than a typical head of state gift like a painting or vase or an iPod. What could be more special to the Pope than getting a piece of the body of Christ?

POST SCRIPT: The real rulers

Government of Goldman-Sachs, by Goldman-Sachs, and for Goldman-Sachs.

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The health care debate-2: Combating the health industry propaganda

(For previous posts on the issue of health care, see here.)

In order to effectively combat the health industry propaganda that seeks to preserve the current terrible system, people need to have a clear idea of what the main issues are and get clear on what the various terms mean.

First of all, ‘universal’ coverage, by which is meant that everyone has access to some health care is not enough. It is possible to achieve this by demanding that everyone must purchase private health insurance (the way all drivers must purchase auto insurance) and then providing aid for those who cannot afford it. All this would do is put more victims in the clutches of the rapacious and inefficient private health insurance companies and increase their profits while not improving the system.

So while universal coverage is a necessary condition, it is not sufficient. What is needed is universal coverage that is in the form of either single payer or socialized medicine. But the health industry and their lackeys are so terrified about people learning the truth about those systems that they have filled the debate with distortions that need to be swept away. A good place to start is by looking at this short animation that clearly explains how single payer works and why it is the best system.

Furthermore, not only are such systems not strange, unfamiliar, and complicated, the US has already had versions of them for decades and the people served by them are largely satisfied and would protest violently if they were eliminated.

The single payer system is what we now call Medicare, in that there is a single entity (the government) to which we pay premiums (in the form of payroll taxes) and which negotiates with and reimburses health care providers for the services they provide. In this system, people have the freedom to choose their doctors and hospitals. These are the systems that exist in countries like Canada and France.

The socialized medicine system is the Veterans Administration, in that the health professionals involved (doctors, nurses, etc.) are government employees and the medical facilities are government owned and run. This is the system in countries like England.

In both these systems, everyone who is qualified using simple minimal criteria (by age for Medicare, by military service for the VA) and needs treatment gets it without having to deal with health insurance bureaucrats, without being turned away because of ‘pre-existing conditions’, without worrying about the fine print in complicated forms, or all the other things that make dealing with the current private health insurance system such a nightmare.

It is interesting that all those who claim that single payer and socialized medicine are awful evils carefully avoid mentioning Medicare or the VA. If they were consistent, they would call for the abolition of those two programs. But they know that would be political suicide. People on Medicare and in the VA system, while complaining that they would like to see the system work better, would nevertheless react furiously to any suggestion of eliminating those programs and putting them back at the mercy of the callous private health insurance industry.

Watch this clip of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at a Senate hearing explaining this point clearly and making John McCain squirm by pointing out that when he and other politicians talk about how awful socialized medicine is, they are attacking the VA. Sanders challenges his fellow senators that if they think that socialized medicine and single payer systems are so bad, then they should propose legislation to abolish the VA and Medicare.

Of course, there are no takers because that whole argument is a fraud, manufactured by the health industry and its Congressional lackeys. As Sanders points out, those systems do not deny health care because you had a ‘pre-existing condition’ or because you lost your job. As Sanders points out, opinion polls repeatedly show that people want the government to be in the business of health care and they want more things like VA, not less. As he says, the US Senate may be the only body in the entire country that thinks that a private health insurance system is better.

In fact, the simplest health care reform to implement would be to incrementally expand some form of Medicare to eventually cover everyone, perhaps starting with young children.

With Medicare, we already have a working model that is in place and that everyone knows how to deal with. It would be relatively easy to build on it. On does not need to design an entirely new system from scratch.

POST SCRIPT: French health care system

CBS News compares the French health system (which I think would be the best model for the US to follow) with the US system. (Thanks to RCarla)

God is everywhere

There is a famous and funny old sketch called the Five Minute University in which comedian Don Novello acts in his character of Father Guido Sarducci.

As he says, when the students study theology at his university, all they will learn are the answers to the two questions “Where is god?” (Answer: God is everywhere) and “Why?” (Answer: Because he likes you). I am beginning to think that the answer to the first question is absolutely correct.

Take a look at this picture of a cut tree stump that is in a churchyard in Ireland. What do you see?

mary tree stump.jpg

Nothing? Just a tree stump that someone has cut in an odd way? Oh ye of little faith! To the devout this looks like the Virgin Mary and they think its appearance is (what else?) a miracle. People are making pilgrimages to pray around it. Over 2,000 have signed a petition objecting to plans to uproot the stump, and want to convert it into a permanent shrine of some sort.

The thing that strikes me is that recently Jesus and Mary seem to be showing up all over the place, in slices of toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, womb ultrasounds, Marmite jar lid, Kit Kat bar, shower curtain, cheese curl, dental x-rays, mugs of hot chocolate, even on the backside of a dog or in bird droppings. Here are yet more sightings.

Such stories, apart from revealing religious people to be hopelessly credulous, also demonstrate how weak some people’s faith is, not how strong. It is only people who are really desperate for a sign to bolster their beliefs that will seize on such pathetic things as validating their faith. The woman who saw the Marmite Jesus ‘took comfort from the image’ saying, “I’m not particularly religious but I like to think it’s Jesus looking out for us.”

This kind of thing puts religious authorities in a quandary. On the one hand, they realize that if you have too many such sightings, religion begins to look more and more ridiculous. After all, if people start worshipping tree stumps, how can you distinguish so-called mainstream religion from more allegedly primitive religions, such as paganism. Some religions actually do involve tree-worship and the Christmas tree symbol itself likely began as one.

On the other hand, religious authorities cannot categorically debunk all of them as nonsense because their bread and butter depends on people believing that god can reveal himself to people on occasion even if it in this weird way. The problem for the church is that it wants to discourage freelancers and keep a monopoly on what qualifies as a revelation of god and what doesn’t as this is the source of their power and money. They tried to walk that fine line on this occasion too.

Local parish priest Fr Willie Russell said on radio station Limerick Live 95FM yesterday that people should not worship the tree. “There’s nothing there . . . it’s just a tree . . . you can’t worship a tree.”

A spokesman for the Limerick diocesan office said the “church’s response to phenomena of this type is one of great scepticism”.

“While we do not wish in any way to detract from devotion to Our Lady, we would also wish to avoid anything which might lead to superstition,” he said.

Fortunately for the spokesman, he was not asked what distinguishes this particular “superstition” from all the superstitions that the church expects people to believe, such as that the wafer and wine become transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus when the priest mumbles some words over it. Mary-in-a-tree-stump is nothing compared to that.

Fortunately for the spokesman, he could depend on the ‘respect for religion’ nonsense to deter ‘polite’ reporters from asking such obvious questions.

That Mitchell and Webb Look reports on another miraculous sighting.

All these Jesus and Mary sightings and the comment in the above clip that the melon message blew his tomato message out of the water gave me an idea for a new reality TV series, because what the nation really needs is another reality show. This one would consist of people bringing their candidates for an authentic god appearance and making the case for it. Then a panel of theologians would give their comments, and the audience votes for which artifact is an actual miracle of god and then worship the ultimate winner.

I think a good title for the show would be “American Idol”. I hope no one has used it already.

UPDATE: Commenter Chris sent me this compilation of a huge number of Jesus sightings. There seems to be an epidemic.

POST SCRIPT: You mean the Earth isn’t 6,000 years old?

Watch this statement by Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen (R).

What is amazing is that her statement that the Earth is 6,000 years old is said so casually during a discussion of environmental concerns over uranium mining, as if it was the most commonplace fact in the world and not at all something idiotic and controversial. These people live in their own bubble world.

The health care debate-1: Clarifying the issues

(For previous posts on the issue of health care, see here.)

The late Walter Cronkite said, “America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” And he was right. It is a rotten structure that has continued purely on the basis of its ability to fool people using smoke and mirrors into thinking it is better than it is. But the structure is so bad that the façade is crumbling and the need for reform cannot be hidden anymore.

As the health care reform debate gathers steam, those who benefit greatly from the current system (drug and health insurance companies, hospitals, and doctors) by making large amounts of money while delivering less than adequate care, and the members of Congress whom they effectively bribe to protect their interests, and the mainstream media which is always obsequious in advancing the interests of the business and political elite, are going flat out to preserve as much of their interests by either lying or fear-mongering or creating confusion. As all the various plans are debated, with their details, it is important to keep clear what the issues are, and the next series of posts will try to do that.

These are the lies and distortion that are spread by the health industry:

  1. The US currently has the best health care system in the world.
  2. The private sector is better than the government at providing everything, including health care.
  3. Single payer or socialized systems are massive, complicated, expensive, bureaucratic nightmares that will not provide timely and quality health care.
  4. There is no freedom of choice under single payer or socialized medicine.
  5. The people in those countries that have single-payer health care systems (which is practically every other developed country and many developing countries) have terrible care and the people in those countries envy what we have in the US.

Expect to hear lots of frightening stories about how terrible single payer and socialized medicine is (although exactly how those plans work will be rarely explained and comparative statistics will rarely be produced) and how strange and confusing it will be for everyone. Expect to hear a lot of anecdotes about the long wait times that the people in those systems encounter. If you want to get the facts about single payer to counter this propaganda, see this FAQ page prepared by the group Physicians for A National Health Program (PNHP).

During all these discussions, the key question that will be avoided at all costs is what value the private health insurance industry adds to the health system. This is because the answer is zero. It is actually more accurate to say it is negative, because these companies are parasites, existing purely to take money out of the system in the form of high bureaucratic costs and profits. Currently the amount of money that is siphoned off by them is estimated at 30% of the total health care budget, far higher than the overhead costs in single payer systems.

All these special interests will try and avoid even mentioning the phrase ‘single payer’ and refuse to even consider it as one of the options. In fact it is only because advocates have loudly demanded that it be included, to the extent of even disrupting meetings and hearings and getting themselves arrested, that it has had any mention at all.

The only alternative that will be deemed to be even worth discussing is something called a ‘public option’. Every effort will be made to make even this clumsy and cumbersome, so as to make the present system look good in comparison and thus preserve the profits of the health industry and confuse the public that this is how single-payer or socialized medicine works.

Last month, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich described how ‘Big Pharma’ (the large drug companies) is planning to kill even this limited public option, let alone single payer.

I’ve poked around Washington today, talking with friends on the Hill who confirm the worst: Big Pharma and Big Insurance are gaining ground in their campaign to kill the public option in the emerging health care bill.

You know why, of course. They don’t want a public option that would compete with private insurers and use its bargaining power to negotiate better rates with drug companies. They argue that would be unfair. Unfair? Unfair to give more people better health care at lower cost? To Pharma and Insurance, “unfair” is anything that undermines their profits.

So they’re pulling out all the stops — pushing Democrats and a handful of so-called “moderate” Republicans who say they’re in favor of a public option to support legislation that would include it in name only. One of their proposals is to break up the public option into small pieces under multiple regional third-party administrators that would have little or no bargaining leverage. A second is to give the public option to the states where Big Pharma and Big Insurance can easily buy off legislators and officials, as they’ve been doing for years. A third is bind the public plan to the same rules private insurers have already wangled, thereby making it impossible for the public plan to put competitive pressure on the insurers.

But Big Pharma is just one player opposing any meaningful reform. Allied with it are all the other parasites getting rich off the misery of sick people, and their allies and sycophants and enablers in Congress and the media.

Next in the series: Combating the health industry propaganda.

POST SCRIPT: Walter Cronkite

In the wake of the death last week of legendary newsman Walter Cronkite, the current media has rightly eulogized him as representing some of the best elements of journalism. In a terrific essay, Glenn Greenwald notes how the media praise people like Cronkite and David Halberstam after they die, and bask in their reflected glory, while carefully avoiding adopting the very practices that made them exceptional journalists.

The essay is too good to excerpt. You should really read the whole thing.