Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Now they have time for resolutions? From Daily Kos' BarbinMD ...

Here's what the Republicans are upset about ...

Incredibly enough, the Republicans aren't upset about, nor in the mood to demand resolutions on this, this, this, or this. Go figure.

- Mark


President Obama announced today that the National Institute of Health (NIH) would receive a $5 billion grant for future research.

Why is this such an important announcement? Because, as a report from a Joint Economic Committee of Congress pointed out, of the 21 highest ranking therapeutic drugs introduced between 1965 and 1992 public funding was "instrumental" for 15 of those drugs.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. As the report notes, private research is not only built "on a foundation funded by federal research" but many of the ideas underlying the private sector's commercial success "were developed by federally funded research."

These developments explain why President Obama said that the $5 billion grant represented the "single largest boost to biomedical research in history." Because NIH funded research creates the conditions for more projects and new medical breakthroughs the Joint Economic Committee also found that NIH funding has a net economic rate of return of 25-40% per year. This makes the NIH grant, as President Obama noted, a jobs creating engine.

The NIH, which got it's start in 1887 as the U.S. Hygienic Laboratory (with a $300 budget), is a non-profit agency responsible for biomedical and other health-related research. It's peer - in many respects - is the non-profit Pasteur Institute in France. In addition to funding the research of 93 Nobel Prize winners, most recently the NIH has been responsible for 36% of all biomedical research in the U.S. (the private sector funds approximately 57%, while other non-profits fund about 7%).

Given the Bush adminstration's antagonistic approach to science, this is a good day for scientists.

- Mark


Being all that you can be means getting a mandatory H1N1 flu shot. Here's a Defense Department official explaining why we want our military personnel to have the shots: "We have been preparing for pandemic flu because of its potential impact on the mission."

Put another way, national security means that we take care of our troops. This includes protecting them against a potential pandemic with mandatory vaccines. Via Daily Kos, we get this from Public Lunatic #1, Glenn Beck.

Where do I begin?

First, in spite of what Beck says at the end of this clip, not "everybody" who works for New York is required by "the government" to have the flu shot. Just health care workers.

Second, this is largely a state's rights issue (you know, the stuff Glenn Beck was for before he was against it). In the case of New York - which has a history of dealing with unintended disasters - they've decided to err on the side of caution.

Finally, the primary concern of the health care workers is that the vaccine has not been clinically tested to the same degree as the regular flu vaccine. In their view, they could suffer from unintended side-effects. While this may be true, in our society, this is not their call.

At the heart of the issue - which Glenn Beck and his lunatic fringe followers miss - is that when it comes to domestic security, national defense, public health, and other matters, it's the role of the state to determine what's necessary to protect society. This is why the U.S. military - as opposed to individual soldiers - can make the call on vaccines.

In fact, the reason why we even have a functioning society is because we have agreed to give up some of our individual rights so that we can be protected in other areas. This "social contract" is why we mandate vaccine shots for all kids who want to go to our public schools, even though there may be side-effects for some. It's also why the state of New York decided to mandate vaccine shots for public health workers. CBS News correspondent Declan McCullagh explains why we do it this way:

... routine vaccination has virtually wiped out, at least in developed countries, once-rampant diseases like mumps and whooping cough. The horrors of smallpox -- variola major, which slays about a third of its victims, and the less deadly variola minor -- have vanished, thanks to a successful worldwide vaccination campaign. Even where mandatory vaccination can cause complications, the overall side effects in a population of millions will almost certainly not be as harmful as the infectious disease itself.
Got that? The role of the government in areas like public health is to protect society by mandating certain activities that we can't or might not otherwise do on our own.

Glenn Beck's irresponsible hate for "the government" is so irrational that he's willing to drag a potential pandemic through his media mudpit just to make a point. At the end of the day, we need to keep one thing in mind: If it's good enough for our military, it should also be good enough for our public health workers.

- Mark

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The CIGNA way ...

Here's what the Baucus Bill will do without the public option ...

- Mark


MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan asks insurance lobbyist, James Klein (American Benefits Council), whether he would support getting rid of legal protections that allow one or two health insurance companies to operate in states with little or no competition. Specifically, Ratigan asks would the insurance lobbyist (Klein) support using anti-trust legislation to break up the insurance industry's "monopoly" in individual states, thus exposing them to competition. Klein's response is stunningly pathetic.

- Mark


After talking about the evils of the public option, and having the government involved in health care, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is forced to admit that Medicare is not only part of the "social fabric of America" but that it is a government run plan.

Right now, the Senate is debating Charles Schumer's public option amendment (after voting down Jay Rockefeller's public option amendment). The usual argument about the evils of government are being espoused by Senators Cornyn (Texas), Grassley (Iowa), and Ensign (Nevada). Here's the link for the public option committee debate, live.

Incredibly, Max Baucus (D-Montana) just said (12:40 pm) that he won't vote for the public option amendment because it won't get 60 votes out of committee. Huh? As chair of the committee he's done nothing to help the public option amendments gain support. His reasoning for voting against the public option amendments is like saying, "You can't swim, and I'm not going to help you learn, so I'm not going to let you in the water."

- Mark

UPDATE: The committee just voted down Schumer's public option amendment, 13-10.

Monday, September 28, 2009


The following has become a standard move for failing businesses ...

As we saw in the financial sector during the market meltdown large companies that get into financial trouble often pay their executives a lot of money, regardless of performance ... When companies (like Bethlehem Steel and U.S. Air) actually go bankrupt company executives will drop their underfunded pension programs in the laps of the the federal government ... The federal government, in turn, is charged with stabilizing and fulfilling "private" retirement obligations. The following helps explain how this works.

In January Nortel Networks filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. and Canada. Because Nortel had underfunded their retirement program their workers were left with roughly 58 cents on the dollar for their pensions. As a result of Nortel's bankruptcy the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) - which receives no money from general tax revenues - stepped in and took over Nortel's underfunded pension plan in July, and became its trustee on September 8.

Now for the fun part.

At the same time the company was going bankrupt Nortel was also cleared by bankruptcy judges to pay it's top executives and managers about $45 million in bonuses. The rationale was a simple and, by now, a standard industry meme: They had to compensate these talented people for their "high level of expertise." If you're wondering, since 2005 these talented experts helped the company lose over $7 billion.

Today, while Nortel Networks Retirement Income Plan has assets of $716 million, it has liabilities of $1.23 billion. Still, the PBGC believes that they will be able to cover the entire $514 million pension shortfall through other investments and insurance premiums (although this is far from a sure thing).

If you're keeping score at home, this is what we have.

* GOVERNMENT SAFETY NET: Private companies that go belly up while paying their executives big bonuses have found they don't have much to worry about. When it comes to funding pensions they are learning that the federal government will eventually pick up the tab, and their mess.

* ARTIFICIAL PROFITS/INFLATED COMPENSATION: Company board members and other executives who see the PBGC as a safety net are then able to shift money that should have gone into pension funds into other areas. This artificially inflates profits and, no doubt, increases bonuses.

* LOST STATE REVENUE/CORPORATE SUBSIDY: When money that the PBGC earns is siphoned off to pay for underfunded corporate pension funds - instead of being looped back as "profits" into the general fund - the process acts as yet another corporate subsidy.
I don't know about anyone else, but these developments tell me that we need tax clawbacks applied to the salaries and bonuses of executives who run their companies into the ground, and then dump their underfunded pensions on the federal government.

- Mark


Here's South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Clueless) over the weekend discussing Iran's nuclear program:

"We're walking down the road to Armageddon."

Here's Graham (R-Clueless) commenting on what would happen if President Obama doesn't commit another 40,000 troops to Afghanistan:

"We're going to lose. We'll be driven out. The Taliban will come back stronger than they were before, [and] the moderates in Afghanistan will go back in hiding or get killed. NATO will be seen as a failure, and America will go it alone in the future."[Here's my question: Why didn't Graham think this way when President Bush decided to pull troops out of Afghanistan to invade Iraq, pretty much alone?]
Here's Senator Graham (R-Clueless) in 2007 explaining why he supported the war in Iraq on Meet the Press:

"... I was wrong about certain things. The weapons of mass destruction issue ... I think Saddam believed he had the weapons, but apparently he didn't."
Here's Lindsey Graham (R-Clueless) on Meet the Press, explaining what we can all learn from his history of failed analysis in the region:

"Here’s what I can promise you ... no one wants to talk about this."
Drawing from Graham's last two comments, and as a point of reference, can you imagine if I had the following conversation with my bank:

"I was wrong about certain things. The money in the bank issue ... I think my creditors believed I had money in the bank, but apparently I didn't. Here's what I can promise you, and no one wants to talk about this ... so lend me more money."
OK, here my question. At what point does Lindsey Graham admit he's a clueless partisan hack who has no idea what the hell he's talking about when it comes to the Middle East?

- Mark

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Check out this interactive map showing health care coverage by congressional district. What becomes apparent is that the south, which is the most underinsured region when it comes to health care in America, is not being represented very well by their Republican representatives.

Something tells me that the Republicans in the south need to pick up their Bible and read Matthew 25: 35-45 (again). You know, so they can answer that eternal question, WWJD? (Who Would Jesus Deny?)

- Mark

P.S. It should be noted that I'm no big fan of Democratic Congressman Jim Costa's (CA-20 District) position on this. He still hasn't come out in favor of the public option, and his congressional district is as bad as those in the south. We'll be discussing this today.



Almost two years ago, when I started this blog, I posted two items tied to international relations that questioned President Bush's competence as a world leader. In a few words I argued that stable global relations require someone who understands movements over time and place, and can play like a chess player. This is especially the case when you're the President of the United States. George Bush, unfortunately, played like a checkers player, and left a legacy abroad that proved it. His actions made the U.S. - and the world - less safe.

Because of the issues surrounding Iran's nuclear program, and President Obama's remarks yesterday, I've re-posted my 2007 comments below.


On Thursday the United States, the British and France put forward evidence to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran has secretly been building a non-civilian nuclear facility in northern Iran. Standing with President Obama when he presented the news to the world were the leaders of Britain and France. France's President Sarkozy - who is not known for such threatening statements - even went so far as to tell Iran that they need to change their program within two months, or face sanctions. As well, Britain called Iran's program part of a “serial deception of many years” that led to a rare Russian rebuke of Iran, and a milder warning from China.

These developments can not be understated.

After President Bush single-handedly undermined America's credibility abroad with aggressive unilateralism, lies, torture, and his blundering wars project, it was tough for him to get other nations to support the U.S. on important issues, like Iran's evolving nuclear program.

Now, let's keep in mind that few doubted Iran's capabilities and intentions to secure a nuclear weapons program. We even suspected - if not knew - what they were doing. The problem was that no one wanted to follow the U.S. lead on the issue. At least as long as George W. Bush was in the picture.

It appears that this is beginning to change under President Obama.

There are several reasons for this. As MSNBC's Rachel Maddow so cogently points out here, President Obama's decision to change the direction of our missile defense program in Poland - which was directed against Russia - helped convince Russia's President Medvedev to go along with the U.S. position on Iran. This was absolutely necessary, in my view, because of the missteps of the Bush administration when it came to Russia. I wrote about them here over a year ago. They're not pretty.

More importantly, President Obama's actions and decisions abroad helped convince the United Nations Security Council (the U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia) to follow the U.S. lead in condemning Iran's program. We want to keep in mind here that Russia and France balked at supporting U.S. initiatives after eight years of being strung along, lied to, and lectured by President Bush.

Having the UN Security Council with us on this is big news. I like Rachel Maddow's observation: "If diplomacy got reported like war does, I think what we'd be reporting right now is 'Shock and Awe'." If you read my December 2007 posts below, or take a look at George W. Bush's "Russia" policies, you'll get a better understanding of why Rachel Maddow said this (and why Andrea Mitchell concurred).

- Mark


Dissecting Bush"s Strategic Failures, Part I

By way of Kevin Drum we have Niall Ferguson explaining why the United States is not the Roman Empire, or even the British Empire ...

Less than a century ago, before World War I, the population of Britain was 46 million, barely 2.5% of humanity. And yet the British were able to govern a vast empire that encompassed an additional 375 million people, more than a fifth of the world's population. Why can't 300 million Americans control fewer than 30 million Iraqis? Three years ago, as the United States swept into Iraq, I wrote a book titled "Colossus," which offered a somber prediction, summed up in its subtitle, "The Rise and Fall of the American Empire." My argument was that the United States was unlikely to be as successful or as enduring an imperial power as its British predecessor for three reasons: its financial deficit, its attention deficit and, perhaps most urprisingly, its manpower deficit. Rather cruelly, I compared the American empire to a "strategic couch-potato ... consuming on credit, reluctant to go to the front line [and] inclined to lose interest in protracted undertakings."
Not content, Kevin Drum introduced another variable: The “Rise of the Colonials” …

[Niall Ferguson’s argument] leaves out by far the most important reason for American failure: today's colonials fight back. Britain occupied India with a tiny force because the Indians mostly let them, and on the rare occasions when they rebelled the British (like all the other European colonial powers) felt free to crush them in the most brutal manner imaginable.None of that is true today. The people of Iraq are flatly unwilling to be ruled by outsiders, they have the weaponry to fight back effectively, and the West is no longer willing to spill rivers of blood simply to show them who's boss. If those things had been true a century ago, Britain never would have had an empire in the first place, let alone been able to keep it.
I have another variable to add. Let’s call it the "Grandmaster" variable.

I've used chess as a metaphor for international relations since reading Zbigniew Brzezinski’s
The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives. While it’s almost 10 years old, the book is still a good read and offers an understanding of strategic thinking that George Bush's foreign policy team obviously lacks. What we learn is that you can’t have rank amateurs, who think and act like they're playing checkers (with a club) when global challenges demand we think like chess players. With the power, influence, and global position of the United States the American Grand Chessboard really demands a Grandmaster. Or at least a tournament level player.

We have George W. Bush.

- Mark


Dissecting Bush"s Strategic Failures, Part II

The chess player metaphor is even more appropriate when we include the discussion Joseph Nye, Jr. offered on U.S. power and the challenges that confront our world.

The Paradox of American Power Nye argues that global power is distributed in a pattern that resembles a three-dimensional chess game. On the top board level we have military power, where the United States remains supreme. On the mid-level board we have economic power, where the United States is one of several states that can significantly influence global economic developments. On the bottom level we have “transnational” issues where no one country can dominate, or hope to solve problems on its own. Here we see issues like drugs, global warming, aids, criminal activities, environmental pollution, terrorism, etc.

According to Nye the world needs to work together because “the paradox of American power at the end of this millennium is that it is too great to be challenged by any other state, yet not great enough to solve problems such as global terrorism and nuclear proliferation.”

With record budget deficits and OPEC threatening to the
dump the dollar as its reserve currency (the 2nd tier), and Bush’s failed policies around the world (the bottom tier), it's hard to disagree with Nye that you can't focus simply on the military, or first tier, level and expect to win. And now, with the U.S. military under strain, we can't be sure about the power and influence the threat of U.S. force used to bring.

Simply put, the idea that the United States can act like past empires – whether it was the British Empire or the Roman Empire – reflects a serious problem of analysis on the part of Team Bush. And it began almost immediately after 9/11, when an unnamed Bush official
told reporter Ron Suskind:

We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
This arrogant, insipid, child-like attitude toward the ideas of others tells us that George Bush and his neo-conservative team never believed in understanding issues. Rather, their goal has always been to wield power to shape the world in a way that reflected their stunted vision of reality.

As we have seen in Iraq, that vision was never well thought out. As we are left to “study what [they] do” you can be sure that “history’s actors” will be judged by the “realities” they created. Our problem is that we have to live through their strategic incompetence and the havoc their realities bring us today.

Again, I don't need a Grandmaster to play America's Grand Chessboard. I'd settle for a beginning level tournament player. With Bush, we're not even close.

Iran anyone?

- Mark

Friday, September 25, 2009


Imagine that you don't have health insurance (1 in 6 of you probably don't). Now imagine how wonderful it would be to seek and get coverage after you were struck with some horrible medical calamity. Wouldn't it be great if you could suddenly access insurance and have the federal government subsidize the effort? Well, you can ... but only if you're a U.S. Senator living in flood zones, own a farm or ranch, or sell terrorism insurance. Here's how it happens.

In yesterday's Huffington Post, David Cay Johnston wrote about homeowners who "have access to public option flood insurance." Johnston tells the story of former Senator, Trent Lott of Mississippi, whose Gulf-front home was nailed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Johnston writes:

Lott had not exercised personal responsibility by taking out flood insurance even though it was available from the federal government at low cost. He did have private insurance, but his insurer refused to pay much of the claim, saying it was not wind damage (which was covered by the policy), but water damage (which was excluded).
What's a man to do? Instead of taking his lumps, and fighting with insurance companies to get them to pay for his uninsured home, Lott did what any other market-loving American would do. He introduced Senate Bill 1936, which would have authorized retroactive flood insurance. Here's how his bill would work.

First, it would let flood victims pay 10 years of flood insurance premiums after-the-fact; i.e. after the disaster hits. But don't worry. It's not a complete give-away. There would also be a 5 percent late payment penalty. Ouch! That should teach them.

As Johnston points out, "Instead of being laughed at by his fellow Republicans for promoting socialism, the concept of retroactive relief was warmly embraced, although not the idea for retroactive insurance. Instead the government went with handouts." It was left to fellow Senator Thad Cochran, also from Mississippi (and a Republican free market proponent) to secure taxpayer benefits for flooded property. At the end of the day, flood benefits were issued and expanded twice. The total cost to you and me was approximately $18 billion. Nice.

In a few words, what we have is a system that provides a retroactive public option for homes, but not people. Johnston asks: "How about a similar retroactive option for people with a pre-existing condition who do not have health insurance?"

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina I was told by my conservative colleagues and friends that the people in Louisiana were losers who should have prepared for the inevitable. They should have taken personal responsibility and left when they saw the hurricane forecast, like when Hurricane Floyd threatened (when President Clinton ordered the evacuation). In a few words, they got what they deserved.

Within a few weeks comes along this story. From Colorado it was reported that …

Many ranchers in Southeastern Colorado are unable to find or feed their cattle … state officials requested aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of their requests for federal assistance following back to back blizzards, to help ranchers recover their livelihoods. 

“We're anticipating that we have a serious disaster down in Southeastern Colorado," said outgoing Colorado Agricultural Commissioner Don Ament … “Those ranchers need money now, they need checks in their hands,” Ament said.
Blizzards and snow in Colorado? Who would have thought that this might occur? God must have been mad at Colorado.

But this story is not isolated. Here in California, "let-the-market-work" crowing farmers and rugged individualist ranchers regularly reach out to the government when the going gets rough. For example, farmers will make investments in vulnerable but very profitable crops like citrus (which are vulnerable to frost). Many buy frost insurance. Many others don't. It's a market risk, and a gamble. So we're told.

But then we get treated to 2007 headlines like this: "Gov. Schwarzenegger Proclaims State of Emergency in 10 Counties, Asks For Expedited Treatment of Requests for Federal Aid for Farmers." In a few words, farmers who gambled, took a risk, and then lost their shirts, went running to Uncle Sam for "retroactive protection" - and got our Republican Governor - to pitch their plight to the feds. This wasn't the first time either.

Have you ever heard of the Terrorist Reinsurance Act of 2002 (TRIA)? Don't worry, many haven't. It works like this ...

After 9/11 most insurers decided to stop providing terrorism insurance, or charged so much that policy holders dropped their policies. Worried about their investments, real estate developers, financial institutions, the hotel industry and many others urged Congress to provide "reinsurance" (nice euphemism; it's really a "subsidy" that is akin to "profit protection") to the insurance industry. The idea is to get the insurance industry to offer "private" terrorism protection (again) by having the federal government cover the industry's losses should another catastrophic terror event occur.

Congress obliged by passing TRIA, which says:

1) In the event of a terrorist attack the insurance industry is insured,
2) The feds would pick up 90% of the insurer's losses,
3) The insurance industry doesn't have to pay up front premiums to the government.
But the industry doesn't get off scot free. The industry must pay 7% of their earned premiums ex post if they want their subsidy. So, what does "ex post" mean? In this case, ex post is code for paying the premium only after a terrorist event occurs. In a few words, the insurance industry has a public option to cover their losses should their industry clients ever get hit with a terrorist claim.

So, let's sum up.

The insurance industry gets to collect terrorism premiums from their clients. They also get to invest the money. This increases portfolios and bolsters industry profits. The industry incurs little risk for offering terrorism insurance because they're not on the hook if a terrorist event occurs (the U.S. taxpayer is), and they don't have to pay premiums to the federal government until a terrorist event happens. At the same time, real estate and other industries get their private property protected through a publicly subsidized program. Sweet deal, huh?

At the end of the day, if you're a U.S. Senator, a rugged individualist farmer-rancher, and a member of the insurance industry you have access to a public option for your property and investments. But if you're a Regular Joe, middle-class American, you're at the mercy of the "market."

It's ironic that the same people who like to lecture about personal responsibility and the integrity of the market are the first to ask for a handout when their assets are on the line. They're also the first to complain about paying the taxes necessary for keeping their public option "insurance" programs available. Unfortunately, they are also the same people railing against the public option in health care today.

Somehow, "hypocrite" is neither sufficient, nor appropriate here. I like parasite.

- Mark

Thursday, September 24, 2009


The former head of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker - the man who tamed inflation in the 1980s, and then voted against some of the deregulation stupidity that allowed the morons on Wall Street to bring down our financial system - is sharing his wisdom with us again.

In today's NY Times Volcker warns that the Obama administration’s proposals, to overhaul the financial system's rules, would actually preserve our “too big to fail” policy. He argues that they will also lead to future banking bailouts. I couldn't agree more. Specifically,Volcker told Congress,

... that by designating some companies as critical to the broader financial system, the administration’s plans would create an expectation that those companies enjoy government backing in tough times. That implies those financial companies “will be sheltered by access to a federal safety net.”
Volcker is criticizing developments that have expanded the government safety net to include insurance companies, investment banks, and the auto industry. Let's call a spade a spade. What Volcker is really criticizing is the evolution of Corporate Welfarism.

What we need to do is pretty simple.

If a business is so big that it's "too big to fail" by definition it is a domestic and national security risk. Domestically, too-big-to-fail induced meltdowns cause unemployment and destroys lives. Internationally these meltdowns are contagious and convince leaders to blindly march their unemployed and (largely) clueless citizens past economic warfare and into all out warfare (see the 1930s).

These considerations alone mandate regulation.

Permitting "too big to fail" to continue unabated also undermines the democratic impulse in America. It grants certain financial institutions "poaching" rights on state perogatives (like taxation) and state resources (our money). No "private" institution should be allowed to hijack and siphon off state resources with impunity simply because they're so big and incompetent that we can't control them.

This can be addressed with a break up of the financial instituions, like we saw with Standard Oil and Ma Bell.

Either way we look at it, it's clear that the state needs to heavily regulate and/or break up the "too big to fail" financial institutions. Otherwise, we're simply misleading ourselves, and throwing our money and efforts into a giant Black Hole (again).

We can start, as I pointed out almost 9 months ago, by unwinding the deregulation policies that were enacted over the past thirty years. Then we compliment it with a new set of rules to account for our recent market stupidity. The break up of the larger institutions can follow.

It's really not that difficult.

- Mark

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Andrew Carnegie: "You may not like it Mark, but you have to admit this is a Christian country."

Mark Twain: "I know it Andrew, but so is Hell."


In my Introduction to American Politics class last night we discussed the U.S. Constitution and the role of religion in our nation's founding. I made it clear that, contrary to what certain Christian groups might want believe our country was not founded as a Christian Nation. Nor is it true, especially if we read Thomas Jefferson, that our laws are rooted in Christian principles. As part of our class discussion I promised to post this discussion on religion and society. I also promised to present, as a lecture in class, a talk that I gave last year to the Bakersfield Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Below I am re-posting my views on religion and society. 

It should come as no surprise that those who believe we are fundamentally a Christian nation also believe in Intelligent Design – the notion that the world is so complex only the hand of God can explain its creation. The problem is they also believe Creationism should be placed next to Evolution as a core educational program.

While Evolution vs. Creationism appears to be a good debate for some it is hardly an appropriate one in our schools.

You see, it is one thing to believe that God created the world and nature’s laws, but it’s quite another to say that this explains how the world evolved and how it works. Religion may help explain why things happen for some (“God willed it”) but it doesn’t explain, nor does it help us understand, how the world works.

John Berry, author of The Great Influenza (a book I recommend), explains that ultimately the question of “why” is too deep for science. So science is left attempting to explain “what” and “how” things have happened in our world. This distinction has enabled humanity to study and solve some of the greatest challenges that have literally “plagued” our world.

As products of the Enlightenment we’ve spent the better part of 500 years trying to eliminate uncertainty, focusing on what we can know, and finding new methods for studying our physical world. In the process, most scientists who have sought answers to questions about the natural world have left the deeper question of "why" to their personal lives.

And with good reason.

If we allowed our spiritual and religious beliefs to explain how the world works, and left it at that, we would still be treating the sick and infirm with leeches (which does work in some cases). We would also be burning witches, and might still be considering the implications our our "flat" world. Investigation and inquisitiveness - which the Church frowned upon - changed all of this.

This is important to understand if you are a Christian because the Bible makes it clear that seeking knowledge and understanding is critical for understanding God.

Specifically, Proverbs 3:3 tell us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” but “lean not on your own understanding.” Put another way, you're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts." Similarly, Proverbs 1:5 explains that a “wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.” This sounds awfully like that old adage "perception is not reality."

All of this is extremely important to understand because it tells us that, while it may be OK to believe that the world is the center of the universe (it's not), we should not be content with what we know. We should continue to ask questions and explore "how" our world works.

As I read the Bible, the search for knowledge - rather than blind acceptance of teachings - is an indication that you are not only inquisitive but that you fear ignorance and things that are greater than you. More importantly, if you fear ignorance enough to pursue new knowledge - as opposed to indulging gossip - you are in God’s good graces (Proverbs 1:7).

To be sure, 500 years ago we might have debated why God made the earth flat – because that was the extent of our knowledge then – but the fact that someone was willing to look beyond their “own understanding” of the world probably made God happy (Proverbs 1:7).

The result of hundreds of years of investigating our world is that we now treat the sick with procedures and medicines unimaginable hundreds of years ago. An added benefit is that, with the exception of a handful of believers, we’ve stopped blaming the Almighty for every major catastrophe that befalls us. And, we’ve stopped burning witches too. This didn’t happen because we deepened our faith or prayed harder.

Today Christians might tell us that surviving cancer, and its many treatments, were “God’s will.” But the reality is investigation and the scientific method have made "God’s" hand stronger. Similarly, Christians and other people of faith might say that having quintuplets is “a gift from God.” But I’m sure it helped that science made fertilization treatments available.

Which brings us back to the question of Intelligent Design.

Intelligent Design seeks to provide explanation through faith: “It’s God’s will.” While spiritually affirming, this approach is both simplistic (Proverbs 1:22) and, in America, defies the intellectual and scientific history that has made this country what it is today.

Belief in God and studying the Bible may provide certainty and deepen faith, but understanding how to make our physical world a better place requires that we study what we don’t understand.

The reasons why God created a virus that can wipe out entire civilizations may never be understood. But I think He intended that we develop the capacity to understand “what” is happening and “how” we can work to stop the virus from contaminating entire civilizations.

Faith and Intelligent Design can’t help us here.

- Mark

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Following the comments of SC Justice Sonia Sotomayor, it appears that we will be discussing the official status of corporate "personhood" some time in the future. This NY Times op-ed, "The Rights of Corporations," is a good primer on what may be coming down the pike.

- Mark

Monday, September 21, 2009


After posting "Financial Tryants and Social Parasites" I read Arianna Huffington's piece on Michael Moore, "Barack Obama Must See Michael Moore's Latest Film ...",

In the article Arianna shares with us the environment under which Michael Moore filmed the final segments of his movie:

It happened while he and his crew were shooting the climax of the movie, where Michael decides to mark Wall Street as a crime scene, putting up yellow police tape around some of the financial district's towers of power.

While unfurling the tape in front of a "too big to fail" bank, he became aware of a group of New York's finest approaching him. Moore has a long history of dealing with policemen and security guards trying to shut him down, but in this case he knew he was, however temporarily, defacing private property. And his shooting schedule didn't leave room for a detour to the local jail. So, as the lead officer came closer, Moore tried to deflect him, saying: "Just doing a little comedy here, officer. I'll be gone in a minute, and will clean up before I go."

The officer looked at him for a moment, then leaned in: "Take all the time you need." He nodded to the bank and said, "These guys wiped out a lot of our Police Pension Funds." The officer turned and slowly headed back to his squad car. Moore wanted to put the moment in his film, but realized it could cost the cop his job, and decided to leave it out. "When they've lost the police," he told me, "you know they're in trouble."
From the early reviews it appears that there's much in the film that I discuss in my book. It opens October 2. I encourage you to go and watch.

- Mark

P.S. On a related note ... A "Debtor's Revolt"? You might want to check this out. I like it.


I wanted to post on "Americans Have Been Taken Hostage" last week but got caught up with the beginning of the school year and other posts. The article is written by Dylan Ratigan, host of MSNBC's Morning Meeting. In a few words he argues - and I agree - that America's financial interests have been hijacked and taken hostage by well-heeled and powerful interests on Wall Street.

Their power is made evident by two developments. First, virtually no one on Wall Street has had to pay for their stupidity and greed, even though their actions spiked unemployment, destroyed retirement wealth, collapsed home values, and brought us the worst recession since the Great Depression. Second, nothing has been done to change the status quo, which means it's all going to happen again. With reference to the former, Ratigan asks:

Why did we pay Goldman Sachs and all the other banks 100 cents on the dollar for their contracts with AIG, using taxpayer money, while we forced GM and others to take massive payment cuts?

Why hasn't any of the bonus money paid to the CEOs that built this financial nuclear bomb been clawed back?

... why does the US Congress refuse to outlaw the most anti-competitive structure known to our economy, one summed up as TOO BIG TOO FAIL?
These are good questions that I think any member of Congress would be hard-pressed to address. To be sure, we might hear the usual "We need to do something about _________" which would be followed by "blah, blah, blah." And that that would be the end of it.

For those of us who live in the real world, where corporate donations for the next election cycle aren't our lifeblood, the proper response would be (or would have been) to allow bankruptcies in the financial market, nationalization of the failed institutions, and the settling of contracts at par value - even if it was five cents on the dollar. In my view, if the U.S. taxpayer is paying for the bailout, we should own the institutions. The idiots who got us into this mess shouldn't be allowed to continue running things, with bonuses, as if they were victims of unforeseen forces.

We also should have followed this up with retroactive taxes on the CEOs and other executives of the bankrupt financial institutions who received bonuses and other pay benefits for their "sterling" performances over the previous five years. At the end of the day these people did not create wealth. They sucked it up and then destroyed it for others. A "failed corporation" tax clawback would go a long way in sending a message about accountability and personal responsibility. Seeing a few CEOs file for bankruptcy would help middle class morale too.

Finally, why don't we break up the financial institutions like we broke up Ma Bell and John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil? No financial institution should be so large that it can call on and confiscate the resources of the state simply because it's considered too big to fail. As I wrote in my book, when I discussed the dangers of "too big to fail":

When the state allows the private sector to draw on the public treasury when market break down, it also allows the private sector to act like history's tyrants, who placed their needs above those of the public (p. 244).
Much needs to be done (which is why I like this observation from Sonia Sotomayor). Think about it. Together, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo have more than one third of all deposits in the United States. If we throw Citibank and Merrill Lynch into this group these five corporations represent almost two out of every three credit card issuers in the country.

At the end of the day, as Dylan Ratigan tells us, we can't continue calling those who built and ran the failed financial institutions capitalists. They are, as I point out in my book, financial tyrants and social parasites. The sooner Congress recognizes this, and begins regulating them as such, the better off all of us will be.

More importantly, it could also mark the beginning of the long hard slog that will be our recovery.

- Mark

Friday, September 18, 2009


More from the "Calling it like it is" department: CNN's Rick Sanchez says to FOX News, "You lie" ...

- Mark


I like this article, "Time to Say No the Giant Corporate 'Parasites' -- And Recognize Them for What They Are."

- Mark


In spite of support for President Obama's health care proposals from the American Medical Association, calls for a single-payer system from Physicians for a National Health Program, and a recent survey by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine that found overwhelming support (73%) for health care reform and/or the Public Option, FOX News decided to push a shabbily conducted health care poll from a less than reputable firm.

The following is from Media Matters ...


Fox runs wild with "not scientific" IBD pollSeveral Fox News media figures highlighted a recent Investor's Business Daily/TIPP poll which found that "[t]wo of every three practicing physicians oppose the medical overhaul plan under consideration in Washington, and hundreds of thousands would think about shutting down their practices or retiring early if it were adopted."

However, according to statistician Nate Silver, the poll is "simply not credible," and Fox News itself acknowledged that the poll is "not scientific."

(Click here if video not available on your screen.)

Silver, Fox News undermine IBD/TIPP poll's credibilityNate Silver: Poll is "simply not credible." In a September 16 post to his blog, Silver listed five reasons why the IBD poll should be "completely ignore[d]":

1. The survey was conducted by mail, which is unusual. The only other mail-based poll that I'm aware of is that conducted by the Columbus Dispatch, which was associated with an average error of about 7 percentage points -- the highest of any pollster that we tested.

2. At least one of the questions is blatantly biased: "Do you believe the government can cover 47 million more people and it will cost less money and the quality of care will be better?". Holy run-on-sentence, Batman? A pollster who asks a question like this one does not intend on being objective.

3. As we learned during the Presidntial campaign -- when, among other things, they had John McCain winning the youth vote 74-22 -- the IBD/TIPP polling operation has literally no idea what they're doing. I mean, literally none. For example, I don't trust IBD/TIPP to have competently selected anything resembling a random panel, which is harder to do than you'd think.

4. They say, somewhat ambiguously: "Responses are still coming in." This is also highly unorthodox. Professional pollsters generally do not report results before the survey period is compete.

5. There is virtually no disclosure about methodology. For example, IBD doesn't bother to define the term "practicing physician", which could mean almost anything. Nor do they explain how their randomization procedure worked, provide the entire question battery, or anything like that.
Silver added: "There are pollsters out there that have an agenda but are highly competent, and there are pollsters that are nonpartisan but not particularly skilled. Rarely, however, do you find the whole package: that special pollster which is both biased and inept. IBD/TIPP is one of the few exceptions."


- Mark

Thursday, September 17, 2009


We know that our health care system is not anywhere near the best in the world, but now we're starting to slip in other areas as well. Check this out ...

Europe has emerged as the richest region in the world, pushing North America, where wealth has declined by more than 20 percent due to the economic crisis, off the top spot, a study has shown ... North America's wealth, measured in assets under management, plummeted by 21.8 percent, the steepest decline in the world. A lesser fall was registered in Europe, where assets shrunk by 5.8 percent compared to last year, down to €22.2 trillion – a quarter of the globe's total wealth.
Do we have foam fingers that say "We're #2"?

- Mark

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Apart from being handed a country that was a mess, President Obama is facing challenges that range from questions about his citizenship to rallies with placards that make sure that he’s painted as an Muslim outsider who has single-handily remade America (e.g. “I want my country back”).

Others simply portray him in Joker-White dust, reminiscent of face paintings in tribal ceremonies.

Ultimately, the goal of his opponents is to delegitimize President Obama by marginalizing and isolating him. To do this his opponents need to believe that he is not a citizen, and an outsider. This is necessary to cast him as an illegal alien (the Holy Grail of outsiders for those on the right).

These developments might be amusing if they weren’t so serious. Like Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, President Obama is being derided by many of his opponents because of the color of his skin, and for what he represents. The images they use are telling because of how they seek to cast him as a scary outsider, with scary policies, from Africa.

I bring all of this up for two reasons. First, because of former President Jimmy Carter's remarks today.

I'm also bringing all of this up because of how all of this is so reminiscent of America's past, when change has knocked on our collective doorsteps. Specifically, this reminds me of when Jackie Robinson was asked to play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Recall, at the time, opposing teams rebelled. The St. Louis Cardinals even threatened to go on strike if Robinson played against them. Today, we find not so dissimilar developments.

Republican members of Congress have, in many respects, decided to go on strike too. Rather than legitimize President Obama’s policy efforts, they are taking their political ball and going home. They are simply saying ‘no” to everything of substance that President Obama proposes.
Jackie Robinson also became the target of rough physical play that everyone could see (especially when he received a 7 inch gash to his leg). The Philadelphia Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman went so as to tell his pitchers that when they had a 3-0 count against Robinson that they were to deliberately throw the ball at him rather than to legitimately walk him.

Today, death threats against President Obama are up 400% when compared to previous presidents.
Then we have the name calling. There was the game when Phillies’ players (and the manager) called Robinson a “nigger.” Today, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) felt it was appropriate to call President Obama a liar during a joint session of Congress. Worse, Congressman Wilson has no problem validating his actions - and stripping his apology of any meaning - by soliciting and accepting money because of what he said.

In my view, any genuine act of contrition does not involve profiting from the stupid act, and then basking in the "support" that comes from said stupidity.
Others who played against Robinson yelled out that he should "go back to the cotton fields," among other slurs about his origins. Today, apart from calling President Obama a Muslim, many of his opponents also call for him to return to Kenya.
Look, there’s more to the Robinson-Obama parallel, but the fact is - as former President Jimmy Carter put it - outbursts like those from Congressman Joe Wilson are part of a larger and more disturbing reality in America. People are using very real issues to supercharge their anger, and taking it out on a man they genuinely want to discredit and delegitimize because of who he is. Jackie Robinson confronted the same challenges.

While anger at the "change" President Obama wants to bring has it's roots in an economy that was left in shambles by President Bush, many of those who oppose President Obama today are more concerned about what he represents. If it were otherwise, those who say they oppose President Obama on matters of policy and current events would have rebelled and hit the streets long ago during President Bush’s term, when he doubled our nation’s debt, wrecked our economy, and embarked on a Blundering Wars Project that will take years - if not several administrations - to resolve.

While President Carter's comments may not be welcome by the White House, they do remind us about our past, and about how far we still need to go. Still, if Jackie Robinson's experience is any indication, there is hope for the future.

- Mark  

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


The market at work ...

You can be denied insurance coverage if you've ever been a victim of domestic violence. Why? Because it's considered a "pre-existing condition." If you were beaten once you're more likely to be beaten again. Spousal abuse costs money to treat. Check this out.

In eight states as well as the District of Columbia, it is legal for insurance companies to reject individual health coverage for people because they are survivors of domestic violence. Among those states three are in the South (Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina). The others are Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia.

I guess the message here is if you plan on beating your spouse, and want to leave them with a pile of bills, move to one of those states.

Here's a list of the U.S. Senators who voted to allow insurance companies to deny you coverage if you were ever beaten by your spouse.

* Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
* Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
* John Ensign (R-Nev.)
* Mike Enzi (R-Wy.)
* Bill Frist (R-Tenn.)
* Judd Gregg (R-N.H.)
* Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
* Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)
* Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
* Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

- Mark


Ponzi schemes (a la Bernie Madoff), risk without costs, reckless behavior, bonuses for running the economy into the ground, arrogance & hubris even after receiving taxpayer funded bailouts ... what more should we expect from the financial titans of America. Guess what? They want your house too.

Well, at least it would seem so, as this case of Vulture Capitalism suggests.

It turns out that a Wells Fargo executive used a foreclosed/bank-owned, beachfront Malibu home as her own private party pad. Neighbors said that Cheronda Guyton, a Wells Fargo senior vice president responsible for foreclosed commercial properties, spent weekends in the multi-million home hosting "eye-catching" gatherings.

But who can blame her, right? Check out the view.

And when you get tired of sipping wine and thinking about who you want to foreclose on next, you can whip up a nice meal here ...

which you can eat here ...

My friends, even though Wells Fargo is trying to pass this incident off as an aberration it's hard to deny that the irresponsible behavior of the industry is not. Sure, the Wells Fargo vice president was fired for getting caught (which, no doubt, will lead to a bonus for someone). But there is no doubting that the financial industry thrives under an environment that pushes one to pursue this lifestyle and behavior.

And, yes, Wells Fargo received taxpayer funded bailout money too.

- Mark

Monday, September 14, 2009


The Public Option made simple (and under two minutes). Fair Warning: This may be too much for the "Tin Foil Hat-Birther-Tea Bagger-Suddenly Concerned About Spending" Crowd.

- Mark

P.S. According to a survey published by The New England Journal of Medicine, "a majority of physicians (62.9%) supported public and private options" while only "27.3% supported offering private options only." More importantly, it didn't matter which subgroup (specialty, practice location, and practice types) was surveyed. There was majority support for a public option among all physician groups across the country.


As if we needed confirmation on this. Here's The Bush Legacy ...

In every major measurement, the Census Bureau report shows that the country lost ground during Bush's two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country's condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton's two terms, often substantially.
Click here to see the details. As The Atlantic Monthly put it, "It's not a record many Republicans are likely to point to with pride."

Unfortunately for America, while Republicans may not be pointing to Bush's record with pride they've become pretty adept at ignoring it, with little or no sense of shame or irony. A condition that is, perhaps, another Bush Legacy ...

- Mark


President Obama just finished giving a talk in lower Manhattan that focused on reminding Wall Street and America what happened last year. Incredibly enough, this speech was necessary because so many on Wall Street seem to have forgotten how pissed most of us were a year ago.

On this anniversary of our market collapse, and the largest bailout in American economic history, the NY Times has an excellent video clip that synopsizes those ugly post-September 15th days (Gretchen Morgenson also tells us that little has changed, while economist Joseph Stiglitz says things are worse).

The incredible thing - which President Obama did a tap dance around - is that the so-called free market geniuses on Wall Street, and in Bush's White House, didn't see this coming ... or did they?

Look, I'm no genius - like Wile E. Coyote or those getting bonuses on Wall Street - but I was one of many who wrote about the dynamics that were helping to set up our market collapse long before it happened. I even put it in my book. Here are some of my favorite posts from 2008. They should make it clear that if I saw the market collapse coming then Wall Street and Bush's White House understood what was coming down the pike as well. Or, at least, they should have seen it coming.

In fact, I believe they did.

In my view the Bush administration was desperately trying to kick the can down the road to the next administration, as I suggested almost two months (July 22, 2008) before the market collapsed. I'll have more to say about what President Obama said - or didn't say - in his speech later this week. So, for the moment ...

Happy (market collapse) Anniversary.

- Mark

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Nothing serious in this post. If you like reading "welcome-to-this-life" John Steinbeck-like stories then you're going to enjoy this one.

- Mark

Friday, September 11, 2009


- Mark


CNN has a useful bailout tracker (hat tip to Rude Awakening). It shows which agency is on the hook (actually, you and I are) and where the money's going.

It also tells you how much of our taxpayer funded bailout money has been committed, and how much has been spent. So far $11 trillion has been committed, but just $2.8 billion has been spent. As you can imagine, there are side stories to all the committed money (which I've discussed elsewhere).

You can check out all the numbers here.

- Mark

POVERTY UP, INCOME DOWN (and other "good" news)

George Bush not only handed President Obama an economy that is in shambles, but his reckless policies helped destroy and turn back the economic gains that President Clinton left him (which includes blowing through projected trillion dollar surpluses; but that's another story). According to the Census Bureau, as reported by the NY Times' David Leonhardt:

The typical American household made less money last year than the typical household made a full decade ago ... Median household fell to $50,303 last year, from $52,163 in 2007. In 1998, median income was $51,295. All these numbers are adjusted for inflation.
According to Leonhardt, "there has never before been a full decade in which median income failed to rise."

If you can imagine it, things could actually be worse. According to economist (and periodic guest on our program) Mark Thoma, "Without public insurance programs and the stimulus package, the news would be even worse."

Any way you look at it we're in trouble. The numbers are telling us that not only is the American consumer carrying more debt than ever, but we're losing the earning capacity to help revive this economy (on a personal note, my income was cut 10% this year). This helps explain, in part, why I've been arguing for some time now that this recession is far from over. In fact, I think we're looking at at least five years (minimum) for recovery. That is, if the financial sector doesn't screw things up again.

Generally, blame for this mess can be found in two areas: (1) Slower than average economic growth during the Bush years and (2) growing inequality during the Bush years. More specifically, blame can be assigned to blind stupidity, reckless deregulation, and unrestrained greed.

- Mark

P.S. In the FYI category, during the Bush years child poverty rates went up ...

... while the number of non-elderly who have no insurance rose to 46.3 million.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

SOUTHERN COMFORT: Thank You South Carolina!

Mark Sanford, Caitlin Upton (Miss Teen "such as" South Carolina 2007) ... and now Joe Wilson.

So, what's up with South Carolina? If you don't watch Jon Stewart, or don't enjoy his style of humor, you shouldn't watch this clip.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Thank You, South Carolina!
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

- Mark

HEALTH CARE ... WWJD (Who Would Jesus Deny)?

President Obama gave a great speech last night (text here). He laid out in clear and very definite terms where the opposition is misrepresenting the facts, and what the public option actually does. Using public universities to explain the "public option" was, for me, the best metaphor for understanding what we're talking about: No government takeover, just more options.

There were also several inspiring moments - especially his comments regarding Ted Kennedy - and several others that demonstrated Republicans could care less about decorum and respect. Watching Eric Cantor Tweet/use his BlackBerry during President Obama’s address was telling.

Another moment that stands out was Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) outburst, when he yelled "you lie" to President Obama. In a few words Rep. Wilson was responding to President Obama’s comment that those who are not citizens of this country - and who are here illegally - would NOT be covered by the reforms he's proposing.

Apart from the fact that no one from the Democratic side of the aisle ever called President Bush a liar in Congress - when he actually lied about Saddam Hussein's intentions and capabilities - Joe Wilson's outburst demonstrated the difference between Republican Reality and what's really going on in this health care debate.

In a few words, the Republicans are playing Small Ball politics with the issues (I'll discuss why below). And they're doing it with slander and innuendo.
Let's take the issue that drove Joe Wilson's petulence. At the heart of Wilson's outburst is his fear that illegal aliens - the top Republican bogeyman, behind terrorists and liberals - will have access to government funded health care. President Obama says they will not be covered under his program. Who's right. Incredibly enough, they both are.

Before I explain, let's ponder for a moment Joe Wilson's issue. He wants to deny public health care to non-citizens. Look, I'm not a Christian (just a bad Catholic) like Joe Wilson, but I'm having problems believing that Jesus would share Rep. Wilson's position. If I'm wrong "WWJD?" takes on an entirely new meaning. You know, Who Would Jesus Deny? Anyways ...

First, let's be clear. Under the plan that President Obama is proposing, no person who isn't a citizen - and who's here illegally - will be eligible for his health care program. Period. However - and this is where the confusion lies - we know that emergency rooms across the country will not turn away those who are sick and dying. Who ends up paying for these people? We do of course. Put another way, because the vast majority of medical professionals actually feel an obligation to those who suffer, we will have "illegals" who are treated under a "public" program.

But access is not mandated by the proposed programs or policies. It's mandated by a sense of humanity and common decency, which is found in the medical profession.

In this way Rep. Wilson and our esteemed representative here, Kevin McCarthy, are technically correct when they say illegal aliens "could be covered" by public health care. Simply put, because the medical profession is full of caring people we will end up paying for people who suffer, and are not U.S. citizens (about $4.3 billion per year). But these people are NOT covered under the President's proposal. Nor are they covered under H.R. 3200 (see Sec. 246; p. 143). See the pickle?

What's at issue here is not coverage, but politics.

Let me give you an example of how this works by way of our local representative, Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). During his Town Hall/Political Rally (which I discuss here) he fed his audience the political red meat they craved by agreeing or supporting those who railed against illegals in this country.

This was in line with his position that illegal aliens "could be covered under H.R. 3200" (#12 in his Town Hall Packet ). Congressman McCarthy understands full well that coverage isn't intended for illegal aliens. Yet, he also understands that one of the ways to scare his constituents - and Americans - into opposing President Obama's health care initiative is say that the hated Brown Hoardes will benefit.

At best, the focus on illegals is a red herring. At it's worst, it's race-baiting. Congressman McCarthy - who is a smart guy - understands this. But he and his Republican colleagues are also playing a parlor game. At the end of the day, non-citizens will be treated in emergency rooms under any scenario, including the status quo. The medical profession, fortunately, puts lives ahead of politics.

Ultimately, the reason Republicans are playing Small Ball politics now is because they know that if President Obama is successful on health care - as the Democrats were with social security and medicare, which are wildly popular - they stand to lose a generation of elections.

You see, effective government programs undermine the Republican "let-the-market-work-even-when-it-fails-and-threatens-to-drag-the-country-into-an-economic-black-hole" meme. Hence, the Scare America tactic with "illegals" (who, I'm sure, Jesus hates too) who might get health care in America.

So, in the spirit of bi-partisanship, maybe it's time to ask, WWJD?

- Mark

ADDENDUM: In the FYI category, Nevada Republican Dean Heller sponsored an amendment to H.R. 3200 to require verification of citizenship in order to access the public health care plan. Fortunately, Democrats saw it for what it was - a political red herring - and defeated it. Democrats understood that the amendment was "insufficient for the purpose of preventing illegal aliens from accessing the bill’s proposed benefits" (for the reasons I noted above) and wouldn't "provide mechanisms [i.e. resources] allowing those administering the program to ensure illegal aliens cannot access taxpayer-funded subsidies and benefits." In a few words, the amendment was seen for what it was, political grandstanding.

UPDATE: It turns out that Joe Wilson has a history of disrespecting colleagues and going off the deep end on stuff he knows little about.