Monday, July 30, 2007

Moving Miss Daisy

One of the saddest parts of taking my new job was having to find Daisy -- the dog that I inherited after my dad died -- a new home. I was having a hard time finding someone to take her when by luck I found an opposing attorney's secretary whose mother's dog had just passed away. She needed a new dog. The lady has 5 acres of fenced-in land, so Daisy should be right at home exploring her surroundings. Daisy always pushed me to take her out on walks twice a day -- once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Hopefully, Daisy will find happiness in her new home.

Another bittersweet ending to my life's transition.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Perversity of Opposing Health Care for Children

From Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times today:

So what kind of philosophy says that it’s O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?

Well, here’s what Mr. Bush said after explaining that emergency rooms provide all the health care you need: “They’re going to increase the number of folks eligible through Schip; some want to lower the age for Medicare. And then all of a sudden, you begin to see a — I wouldn’t call it a plot, just a strategy — to get more people to be a part of a federalization of health care.”

Now, why should Mr. Bush fear that insuring uninsured children would lead to a further “federalization” of health care, even though nothing like that is actually in either the Senate plan or the House plan? It’s not because he thinks the plans wouldn’t work. It’s because he’s afraid that they would. That is, he fears that voters, having seen how the government can help children, would ask why it can’t do the same for adults.

And there you have the core of Mr. Bush’s philosophy. He wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.

This sounds like a caricature, but it isn’t. The truth is that this good-is-bad philosophy has always been at the core of Republican opposition to health care reform. Thus back in 1994, William Kristol warned against passage of the Clinton health care plan “in any form,” because “its success would signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment that such policy is being perceived as a failure in other areas.”

But it has taken the fight over children’s health insurance to bring the perversity of this philosophy fully into view.

There are arguments you can make against programs, like Social Security, that provide a safety net for adults. I can respect those arguments, even though I disagree. But denying basic health care to children whose parents lack the means to pay for it, simply because you’re afraid that success in insuring children might put big government in a good light, is just morally wrong.

You tell 'em, Paul.


Scribe says:

It’s truly immoral that this administration does not want to spend the millions of dollars to provide healthcare to uninsured children, but doesn’t blink an eye in spending hundred-fold more in no-bid government contracts, where the waste alone surpasses the cost of such a program. What a perverse philosophy that promotes government handouts and policies that benefit soulless corporations at the expense of the very constituency that government is supposed to serve.

Great point.

No End In Sight

This movie is only showing in New York City and Washington, DC currently. To find other cities where it will be showing and their opening dates, go to the No End In Sight movie homepage and click on "theatres."

The movie shows how incompetently the Bush Administration handled the Iraq war. Many people argue that we should not have gone at all. Perhaps so, especially given what we've seen happen.

Donald Rumsfeld famously said: "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want or wish to have at some later date." It is also true that you go to war with the army you need, not the army that is the cheapest possible.

See my post "Some Folks' World," which was written several months ago.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Eye of the Storm

Eye Of The Storm

When it's dark outside you've got to carry a light
Or you'll stumble and fall like tumbling dice
It takes a steady step, it takes God-given sight
Just to tell what is the truth, what is wrong, what is right

In this world
Thunder throbs in the darkness
Out in the eye of the storm
The friends of God suffer no permanent harm

When the night sky glows with the red fires of war
And the threat of annihilation pounds at your door
You don't have to pretend that you got nerves of steel
To believe that the love of the Lord is actual and real

In this world
Thunder throbs in the darkness
Out in the eye of the storm
The friends of God suffer no permanent harm

When the daybreak comes with a trumpet blast
And the true fruit of faith is tasted at long-last
When the darkness dies and death is undone
And teardrops are dried in the noonday sun

In this world
Thunder throbs in the darkness
Out in the eye of the storm
The friends of God suffer no permanent harm

Written by Mark Heard
© 1983 Bug ´n Bear Music

You can only get the album Eye of the Storm at as a music download. It only costs $9.90, though. That's pretty cheap.

You can the song Eye of the Storm on Mark Heard's Greatest Hits CD, however.

A New Beginning

As of Wednesday, I am leaving the private practice of law. I have taken a job with a private company and because of the all of the work involved in the move, will be blogging lightly until I get settled in to my new position late in the week. I have a lot of work to do to prepare for the transition to my new life.

This is a time of sweet sorrow for me. No more Seven Years of Bad Luck. My fortunes appear to have changed. For the first time in I don't remember how long, I feel that I finally have some hope for the future. The oil industry is booming, and I am going to try to ride the wave for as long as I can.

Now it's the story of the Seven Fat Cows and the Seven Skinny Cows. I think we may be entering into a new time of the Seven Fat Cows. But we shouldn't become complacent. We must prepare for the Seven Skinny Cows. Oil is a cyclical market, and it is notorious for being a "feast or famine" and "boom and bust" market. And I am not even entirely convinced that it is not being manipulated right now. In any case, you have to strike while the iron is hot, and it sure looks hot to me.

Sunday Music: I Can See Clearly Now

The rain is gone.

Johnny Nash -- I Can See Clearly Now

Murder Mystery Tour

I went to the Stone Lion Inn last night. I had been intending to do it for some time. The dinner costs just over $55 and you play a character in the mystery. If you register early enough, you can also stay in the "haunted" bed & breakfast.

When you first arrive (it is important that you get there early to get your character assignment and read the plot and characters), you get your own little booklet that tells you one the clues that you will read later as part of the "play" that will reveal some of the clues necessary to solve the crime. I arrived at 7:00pm, and even that was a little late with all of the information that needed to be taken in.

You start the night seated in the living room eating finger food and getting introduced to some of the other characters (others who, like yourself, play one of the characters in the mystery).

The host then takes you to a graveyard in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where a true-to-life bungling outlaw was buried. She will go through the true story of Elmer McCurdy. At first I thought it was just a joke and part of the play. But no, this part of the story was really true. He even has his own Urban Legends page.

From there, true Oklahoma yarn takes over. The play that you participate in revolves around the fictitious descendants of Elmer McCurdy meeting to try to claim their share of the inheritance of $1.2 million in mysterious loot buried at the Stone Lion Inn. One of the potential descendants is "murdered" during the evening. Your job is to interact with the other characters during the dinner that follows to try to figure out who the murderer is. But beware, one of you is the "murderer." In order to solve the murder, you must piece together all of the clues given during the evening from the time you arrive back from the gravesite to late in the evening.

It was a fun time to spend a weekend evening in Oklahoma. After the mystery is solved, the host will go around the room and have each guest introduce themselves. Be ready for a late night though; the show, combined with the follow-up introductions and discussions, lasted until almost 1am. It is no wonder many choose to stay overnight at the Stone Lion Inn. Even if it is "haunted."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Take the Scam Quiz

McAfee SiteAdvisor Phishing Quiz

Can you spot the scam?

Is the Stock Market Manipulated?

At the Housing Bubble Blog this morning I found this comment intriguing:

Comment by Dawnal
2007-07-26 04:14:10

Another interesting day in the stock market. Up strongly at the open, faded through the day and coming back as the day ended. Up 68 for the day. Why? What was the news that would suggest that the market should be up?

The professional traders that post comments through the day at have no doubts about why. They accept as fact that the government is manipulating the stock market on a daily basis. They note that the indices “gap up” frequently through the day. Several times yesterday there were mentions of stocks being purchased at prices over the ask.

Here is what one posted yesterday:

“When the PPT is engaged near All Time Highs,

you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that:

1) our financial markets are a joke
2) our economy is a dead man walking
3) the bankers control our government
4) we are completely screwed”

And Bill Murphy, a professional trader who publishes the daily MIDAS report at, said:

“For the umpteenth time the problems for US financial markets and the economy disappeared overnight. The DOW is called 65 higher…

Whenever the DOW looks shaky, for whatever reason, and has a really bad day, the PPT makes sure the “Mo” immediately turns back up; at least they make an effort to do so. It has been this way ever since 9/11…”

"PPT" probably refers to the Plunge Protection Team.

I am not quite sure what to make of comments like this. On the one hand, you could make the argument that the credit sector is not the entire stock market. And the comments being made are by individual traders who may be shortsighted in their reading the financial tea leaves. On the other hand, someone buying stocks over their market price sure smells of manipulation.

What bothers me most about some of this talk is the reference to how the "bankers" control the government. In the past, "bankers" became synonymous with "Jewish." What worries me is that there may be antisemitism starting to creep back into popular discourse. If we have a real crash, I fear it may become more pronounced. I am even more concerned considering the push by the White House toward the "unitary executive," the unwillingness to accept Congress' oversight authority and the use of fear (constant terror threat warnings) as an attempt at social control.

Sounds like a movement toward fascism. That is what is so scary about current events.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down Retroactive Mandatory Arbitration Clause


The issue before this Court is whether a named plaintiff in a class action lawsuit must be dismissed when that plaintiff subsequently signs a consumer form-contract containing a mandatory arbitration clause that includes a class action waiver. We find the clause unenforceable.


¶14 Consumers signing such adhesion contracts are susceptible to unpleasant surprises prepared for the protection of the corporation, not the consumer. The law has begun to take a more active role in the protection of the consumer against abuses. That consumers have not read or do not understand the implications of contract provisions has been implicitly recognized in our insurance case law by the use of the phrase "hidden in policy provisions." Max True Plastering Co., 1996 OK 28, ¶ 2, 912 P.2d at 863. As a result, new rules in such adhesion contracts have been applied to protect the "reasonable expectations" of the parties. Max True Plastering Co., 1996 OK 28, ¶ 6, 912 P.2d at 864.

¶15 The question we must answer is whether the clause in the May 23, 2001, contract that asserts the parties "agree" to arbitrate any disputes arising from any prior agreement including those from predecessors in interest, is enforceable. The question is not whether the arbitration clause in the May 23, 2001, contract is valid as it relates to that specific contract, but whether it controls the previous Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems contract, which is the contract at the center of this class action.


¶20 Cingular cites Barnes v. Helfenbein, 1976 OK 33, 548 P.2d 1014, which provides the test for unconscionability.

"The basic test of unconscionability of a contract is whether under the circumstances existing at the time of making of the contract, and in light of the general commercial background and commercial need of a particular case, clauses are so one-sided as to oppress or unfairly surprise one of the parties. Unconscionability has generally been recognized to include an absence of meaningful choice on the part of one of the parties, together with contractual terms which are unreasonably favorable to the other party."

Barnes, 1976 OK 33, at ¶ 23, 548 P.2d at 1020.


¶22 Despite Cingular's argument, it defies reason to conclude that Bilbrey intended to halt a class action suit filed February 15, 2001, in exchange for a free cell phone on May 23, 2001. He even continued to pursue the case for another ten months at which time Cingular finally discovered the arbitration clause. Clearly, Bilbrey did not know the implications of the May 23, 2001, contract, and Cingular's agents, the attorneys in this lawsuit, did not realize he had signed it. It is equally clear that both Bilbrey and Cingular's agents were surprised by Bilbrey's signing a contract that could potentially result in the dismissal of a class action lawsuit that was currently being actively prosecuted by Bilbrey and vigorously defended by Cingular.

¶23 Such an effect is one-sided and unreasonably favorable to Cingular. The cases cited by Cingular that give effect to retrospective clauses in arbitration agreements are not on point.7 We accordingly find the retroactive clause in the arbitration agreement unconscionable as it relates to a presently active lawsuit that would be dismissed if this clause were given effect.

Hat Tip: Elaine Dowling at Consumer Law Updates

YouTube Debate: Health Care

Regular readers of my blog know that I express the same outrage that John Edwards did and express the same need for a "national commitment that universal healthcare is an American value" that Hillary Clinton communicated in her speech regarding national healthcare.

I agree with John Edwards the most here. I think we have to have a mandate to get anything done. I also very much liked his relaying the personal story of the man born with a cleft palate and not being able to get it fixed. We have doctors here in America who fly all over the world to fix children's cleft palates and yet we can't find one to fix one poor American's condition until he is 50 years old.

This is not to disparage the work of Médecins Sans Frontières ("Doctors Without Borders"); Lord knows we need medical professionals to travel to destitute parts of the planet to provide medical attention to people who otherwise wouldn't get it. But this story illustrates how we need some of those same doctors right here in America.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Are College Tuition Costs That Bad?

Teen Accused of Robbing Bank for Tuition
From Associated Press
July 20, 2007 1:47 PM EDT

CINCINNATI - A college student accused of robbing a bank had been worried for months about his mounting tuition bills, his mother said.

"He just really was struggling, working two jobs here, you know, temp jobs, two jobs and trying to get the money," said Franki Butler, whose son Andrew was charged this week with robbery. Andrew Butler, 19, and another man were arrested Tuesday after a Valley Central Savings Bank in suburban Reading was robbed, police said. Police recovered an undisclosed amount of cash.

A judge set bond Wednesday at $50,000 for Andrew Butler and Christopher Avery, 21, also of Cincinnati. Both are charged with aggravated robbery.

Avery, a student at the University of Cincinnati, posted bond and was released. Butler, a University of Toledo student, remained in custody Friday at the Hamilton County jail.

The sad part about this is that the college student will probably get a minimum sentence of 25 years if convicted. The real travesty of this is that -- while this is an aberration, if true -- no one should have to imagine such a choice in an attempt to get an education.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Prom Approach to Health Care

How Single Payer Works

Great animation explanation of how national healthcare would work under the system that I have been advocating.

Mortgage Delinquencies Rising in Oklahoma

I got this from The Big Picture. I can't read the stories behind it (Barry gives the links) because they are behind subscription firewalls. Hey, I can't afford everything.

I can tell from the maps, however, that the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas are both getting hard hit. The area near Ft. Smith, Arkansas is getting even harder hit. I don't know what is causing that.

What is interesting is that this is happening at a time when the oil industry is starting to make a comeback in Woodward, Oklahoma (near the Oklahoma panhandle). But while there are several large oil companies in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa area (Devon, Chesapeake, Anadarko, Phillips, Williams), it is surprising that we have not seen the rush to hire new people.

The delinquencies are probably due to the closing of Firestone, Dayton and other industrial manufacturing plants locally. I reported on that earlier here and here.

UnitedHealth Profits Rise

From MarketWatch:

The managed-care bellwether's consolidated medical-care ratio stood at 80.5%, a decrease of 1.1 percentage points from the year-ago period and down 2.2 percentage points from thr first quarter.

That means there is a 19.5% profit margin, if I am reading that correctly. Imagine how many more people could be provided with health care if all of that money went to actual care.

The company generated quarterly revenue of $18.93 billion, up 6% from $17.86 billion.

That means that $18.93 x 0.195 = $3,691,350,000 in just one quarter could be used for all Americans to have all the health care they need from just one company!

That truly is SiCKO.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hale "Bonddad" Stewart: Public Health Care Is Better

At the Huffington Post:

While I will almost always advocate for a market based economic approach to allocating resources, health care is not an area where the profit motive should dominate decision making. Simply put, the end product is a patient's health. Private health insurance has a conflict of interest between the insurance company and the insured which will be resolved in favor of the insurance company a majority of the time.

Let me paint a hypothetical picture to illustrate this point. Insured makes a claim with the insurance company, which is a publicly traded company. Because the insurance company is publicly traded they must turn a profit and increase their profits to maintain their share price. In order to make a profit they have every incentive to either

1. Deny the insured's claim, or
2. Delay payment to increase the possibility the insured will drop his claim

There are numerous stories about an insured making a routine claim only to be inundated with paperwork, or being told the policy doesn't cover that procedure, or being told the insurance company has to look into the claim to see if the insurance company can make a payment. In any of these situations the central idea of insurance -- to provide some safety for the insured at a specific cost -- is compromised.

Read the entire article along with the charts that he uses. It is an excellent market-based argument for national healthcare.

Elizabeth Warren: Worlds That Never Collide

Elizabeth Warren has written about her experiences testifying to Congress on the debt crises taking place all over the country by middle class Americans:

One sub-theme united the two hearings. Defenders of the status quo claimed that there is plenty of protection under the current law and that any efforts to change the law would impair the free market, making things worse for everyone. No need to change the law to deal with subprime mortgages, national healthcare or bankruptcy. Defenders of families said the experience on the ground is very different, and that hard-working people are getting pummeled.

The stories about what is happening to middle class families were agonizingly similar. At the FDIC, witnesses who work to help families in mortgage foreclosure told about mortgage brokers who falsified documentation, lied and cheated customers, and about mortgage companies that were hell-bent on collecting, even if it meant losses in foreclosure. At the House Judiciary Committee, Mrs. Donna Smith gave compelling testimony about how hard she and her husband struggled to pay their medical bills, and how health care providers told them that if they couldn't pay, not to come back. Her story was backed up by Dr. Himmelstein of the Harvard Medical School and Dr. Mark Rukivina of The Access Project, both of whom cited study after study showing how people are struggling to pay medical bills and that people die when they cannot pay for health care.


In "Thank You For Smoking," the hero-lobbyist offers the pithy advice that all that's needed to neutralize a grim reality is to tell an alternate story, claim the data are "controversial," and the resulting gridlock will prevent meaningful change.

This first-hand account of the discussion taking place in Congress shows how the debt divide is creating two different realities for corporate elite and the investor class and everyone else. Can America be saved before it's too late?


An thought provoking comment was left by "Destor23" who writes for the blog Those Things We Say:

Why would a mortgage company seek foreclosure even when everyone in the lending industry knows that foreclosure leads to losses to the lender, often steeper losses than would result by renegotiating with the borrower?

The answer is: securitization. Lenders move their loans off of their balance sheets by selling them on the public market, usually as part of loan portfolios called CDOs (collateralized debt obligations).

The people who buy the CDOs are looking for a relatively stable, predictable return. If they buy a CDO that promises to pay 8% a year for 10 years, that's what they want.

This really hinders the lender. A lender might be able to talk to a borrower in trouble and say something like "If we reduce your interest from 14% to 8%, you'd be able to keep the house and we'd still make money." But, once that loan has been sold as part of a CDO, they can't. The investor who bought the CDO would rightly counter, "I bought this for an 8% return. If you negotiate the underlying deals down, I don't get what I paid for."

The rise of this secondary market for loan obligations, which serves the lenders by taking risk off of their balance sheets, has also kept lenders from being able to reasonably deal with their borrowers. Once they sell the loan, there's another interest involved, one who hs no reason to help the borrower out.

The regulations that would be most effective probably aren't ones that touch on the consumer. Instead, we need to regulate the secondary mortgage market. It's the investors who are buying this stuff who are saying that they'd rather take the loss of foreclosure than allow for the terms of the loan to be adjusted. And those investors aren't acting out of malice. They buy debt because they need to buy predictable returns. Many of the investors are institutions like pension funds who know their eventual obligations and need non-volatile returns in order to meet them. Still, they are at odds with borrowers in trouble and their involvement in the transaction hinders the rights and options of both the lenders and the borrowers. If that's not addressed, nothing will change.

***Later update***

Another interesting comment from Robert Feinman:

Last week on "Now" they did a bit on the fight to renew the SCHIP child health program. Sonny Perdue, the governor of Georgia, when confronted with a story about a diabetic young girl who needed daily treatment at a cost of about $900 per month and who was denied entry to the program because it was "full" said it wasn't his problem. They should talk to the local congressman since it was a federal program. He in turn blamed in on the Dems.

This isn't about a firm or a wealthy person making more money. These guys don't stand to profit personally. What is striking is their total lack of human feelings and empathy.

Psychologist Robert Altemeyer has studied people with this type of personality and finds that there is a strong correlation between the belief in a hierarchical social system, the need for a strong leader and conservative social viewpoints.

By blaming behavior on greed we may be missing a more fundamental issue, that those with a sociopathic type of personality tend to rise to the top of the hierarchy. They then impose their inhumane feelings on everyone else. Countering these people means understanding their makeup. I suggest reading his free, online book to get some insight into what we are facing.

The Authoritarians

You can't counter the opposition if you don't understand them.

Medical Bankruptcy: Families At Risk

Click on the title to read the report.

"We have a huge debt bubble."

From CNNMoney Your portfolio: Defending against subprime:

Some analysts paint a bleaker picture and believe Bear Stearns is just the tip of the iceberg.

"I think we're looking at something similar to the stock market declines we saw in 2000 and 2001," said Dick Bove, a financial services analyst at Punk Ziegel. "But this time we have a huge debt bubble instead of an equity bubble."

"I don't think we can properly value those companies right now, and the fear is, of course, that they're tremendously overvalued," he said.

You think?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Don't Drink the Kool Aid

Brian over at Audience of One wrote about remembering the Jonestown mass suicide that occurred 30 years ago. Brian wrote:

Tonight while surfing around I came across a link with the sound recording of Jones explaining to his followers why they all had to commit suicide. A woman named Christine and a couple of others dissented but they were shouted down by others. Many yelled and cheered as Jones told them it was time to commit “revolutionary suicide." He explains how somehow he knows that some [of] his followers followed a visiting congressman and reporters to their waiting plane and opened fire on them. He told them that soldiers would soon be parachuting in and would torture their children and the senior citizens. To prevent this everyone had to die. He grew agitated as some people become reluctant and some of the children became hysterical. In the end it is believed that he shot and killed himself, avoiding the 5-10 minutes of suffering from they cyanide that his followers had to endure.

My favorite comment came from commenter "T":

"He told them that soldiers would soon be parachuting in and would torture their children and the senior citizens."

The current administration is using the same recipe -- a few are shouting protests, a few are taking off on airplanes...there are even a few reporters covering the story.

Fear is the spoon used to mix the poison -- the Bush Administration's Kool Aid -- do not drink it!

Speak out. Fight it.

The New Gilded Age

On Diane Rehm's show this morning, Ms. Rehm had a panel of guests that discussed The New Gilded Age -- a discussion about the "trends in the U.S economy and implications of the growing disparity between this country's super rich and everyone else."

You can listen to the program in Real Audio or Windows Media.

Robert Rubin discussed his new book In an Uncertain World. A lot of good points were made, but I don't yet have the ability to give snippets from the show.

The End of the Innocence

These are becoming turbulent times. We are constantly at war. And it's a war financed not by shared sacrifice, but by a massive debt that will be heaped upon an American populace already burdened by personal and consumer debt (at outrageous interest rates and fees). Americans feel like they are running faster but falling farther behind because of all their debt.

Things that used to be staples of the American dream are becoming out of reach. The college degree -- even a graduate degree -- no longer guarantees financial success. Schooling that used to be paid through tax dollars and scholarships have been replaced by student loans that are not dischargeable in bankruptcy if things go horribly wrong. The student loan payments become a house -- or at least a car -- payment. Such debt payments starting out in life increase the risk of failure. As I have said before, it creates a barrier to entry to American college graduates. Pensions that were part of the benefits promised by businesses to the workers can be paid to executives in bankruptcy proceedings. Health insurance that used to have some semblance of protection is now a sieve that helps almost no one, as Michael Moore's new movie SiCKO has shown.

There is a general feeling of malaise in the country. Everything is just out of whack. Our leaders, who have held themselves out to be paragons of virtue are turning out to be boors of vice. They often talk about "values," but they live lives that are the antithesis of those values. They oppose taxation to support programs to help their fellow man at their weakest, in favor of "private charities" which they do not support with their own wealth.

Frankly, I am tired of the hypocrisy. It is the very message that Jesus tried to convey in the Good Samaritan story. The Samaritans were considered a heretical group by other Jews, so by using a Samaritan for the parable, Jesus conveyed the idea that the most ungodly people could be more righteous than those who proclaimed themselves pious. Do you ever get the idea that God is trying to teach us this very same lesson all over again?

It makes me think of a song from the 1980s: Don Henley's The End of the Innocence. Some of the lines -- which I have bolded below -- have particular significance for us today. The song, originally written during the Reagan Administration, has come full circle -- although under somewhat different circumstances.

Don Henley - The End of the Innocence


Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn't have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standin' by
But "happily ever after" fails
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

But I know a place where we can go
That's still untouched by men
We'll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

O' beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They're beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king
Armchair warriors often fail
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers clean up all details
Since daddy had to lie

But I know a place where we can go
And wash away this sin
We'll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair spill all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

Who knows how long this will last
Now we've come so far, so fast
But, somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
So baby give me just one kiss
And let me take a long last look
Before we say goodbye

Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Following last Friday's post, I followed some of the links and found one on the Political Interpretations of the Wizard of Oz. There are several, but one that caught my attention was this:

Historian Hugh Rockoff interprets the story of the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in the Journal of Political Economy:

Dorothy: traditional American values
Toto: Prohibitionist party (also called Teetotalers)
Scarecrow: western farmers
Tin Woodsman: industrial workers
Cowardly Lion: William Jennings Bryan
Munchkins: citizens of the East
Wicked Witch of the East: Eastern business and financial interests, Grover Cleveland
Wicked Witch of the West: William McKinley
Wizard: Mark Hanna (chairman of the Republican party)
Oz: abbreviation for ounce of gold
Yellow Brick Road: gold standard
Cyclone: the free silver movement
Emerald City: Washington D.C.
Emerald Palace: the White House
Silver Shoes: the vote of the American people

At the end of the story, Dorothy finds her way home, but it is not by just following the Yellow Brick Road. After her journey, Dorothy finds that the Wizard is incapable of helping her or her friends. In the end, she finds that the magical powers of her silver slippers help her. Since the silver slippers are the vote, she realizes that she had the power to fix the problems all along.

Actually, the title to my post is somewhat misleading. I actually don't think that the gold standard is either feasible or beneficial anymore. However, I do think that Americans need to put on and tap their Silver Shoes (or Ruby slippers, as the case may be). Our modern-day Wizard can't help us today, either. We will have to find out own way out of this mess. In the next election, get angry and go vote.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bush To Veto Children's Health Insurance

From a New York Times article, Bush Is Prepared to Veto Bill to Expand Child Insurance:

The White House said on Saturday that President Bush would veto a bipartisan plan to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, drafted over the last six months by senior members of the Senate Finance Committee.

The vow puts Mr. Bush at odds with the Democratic majority in Congress, with a substantial number of Republican lawmakers and with many governors of both parties, who want to expand the popular program to cover some of the nation’s eight million uninsured children.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said: “The president’s senior advisers will certainly recommend a veto of this proposal. And there is no question that the president would veto it.”

The program, which insured 7.4 million people at some time in the last year, is set to expire Sept. 30.


“The proposal would dramatically expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, adding nonpoor children to the program, and more than doubling the level of spending,” Mr. Fratto said. “This will have the effect of encouraging many to drop private coverage, to go on the government-subsidized program.”

So much for "compassionate conservatism."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sunday Music: Gap Band

Here is another trio of brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma who made it big in their respective music genre. In this case it was Rhythm & Blues music. The Brothers Wilson (Ronnie, Robert and Charlie) formed in 1967 and had a string of party hits.

Party Train

Burn Rubber On Me (Why You Want To Hurt Me)

You Dropped A Bomb On Me

Friday, July 13, 2007

Great Depression 2010?

Look at this chart from the Of Two Minds blog today:

Charles alludes to a 40-year cycle of boom and bust:

Hmm, calling in loans, 1893, calling in busted CDOs, 2007... and did you notice the 40-year cycle of recession/depression? 1890, 1930, 1970, 2010.

He starts with the Panic of 1893 and goes forward:

Let's look at the similarities between then and now:

1. 1893: Massive debt-fueled speculation. Railroads and other speculative ventures (yes, they overbuilt railroads in the late 1800s, just like they overbuilt the Internet in 2000) were all financed with debt-- heavily leveraged debt. No money down, no assets, just paper and promises. Sound familiar?

2. 1929: Massively leveraged speculation. In the Roaring 20s, you could buy $1,000 worth of stock with only $100--a 10% margin requirement. Now, CDOs and other derivatives are leveraged 10 times or even 20 times. A drop of only 5% in the underlying security/mortgage/bond thus spells ruin for the 20X leveraged derivative.

3. 1970: Rising energy costs, deficits and inflation, war, stagflation. The "guns and butter" policies of the late 60s and 70s (paying for a horrendously expensive foreign war and a global Cold War, while lavishing massive Federal entitlements on millions of citizens) created unprecedented deficits and inflation which despite various manipulations (the Feds started the bogus practice of "core inflation") began to run away from policy makers and consumers alike until interest rates were ratcheted up to 16% in 1981.

The oil shocks of 1973 and 1980 sent energy costs to multiples of previous costs--just as oil has risen from $10/barrel in 1998 to $74/barrel today. This combination of inflation, spiraling energy costs and business cycle slowdown created a decade of malaise and stagflation.

4. 2010: Nowhere to hide for investors. The 1970s were a decade of decline for both stocks and bonds, especially when adjusted for inflation. Real estate faired better, as did gold, as "tangibles" were viewed as hedges against a sinking dollar. However, with the World's Greatest real estate bubble now deflating, real estate is not the "undiscovered hedge" it was in the 70s.


The root cause of all financial panics and depressions is of course runaway borrowing/skyrocketing debt, risk and leverage. Is the U.S. economy heading for a Great Unraveling? This chart suggests there is no other possible outcome for a debt/leverage/risk expansion which now far outstrips the stupendous imbalances of 1929.

I don't know how strong the connection is on the 40 year cycle as 1970 doesn't sound as bad as the other two. Furthermore, when I typed panic of 1893 into, there were multiple banking panics before 1900 (and there wasn't one in 1850). But that 304% credit market debt is certainly cause for alarm.

Intergenerational Poverty

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently conducted a study on the causes of intergenerational poverty. The study found that socioeconomic mobility (i.e. the ability to move up from the lower classes to the middle or even upper classes) is lower in the United States than many other Western Democratic countries including Denmark, Austria, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Spain and France.

I mentioned a similar report in a blog entry about this before.

Here are a couple of the conclusions from the report:

The level of wealth and education of parents are two crucial determinants of children’s future life-chances. For example, the evidence suggests that parental characteristics are reflected in educational outcomes, and that greater public intervention in the accumulation of human capital might reduce intergenerational transmission of advantage and disadvantage. Moreover, parents who are capital constrained – facing tighter liquidity constrains – cannot invest as much as rich parents in education although these constraints seem less important than other family background characteristics. The effects of such liquidity constraints are also likely to vary considerably accordingly to the ability of the child: they are likely to be tighter for low-income parents of high-ability children.

Growing up in low-income households seems to affect heavily children's future life-chances. In fact, parental poverty is related to lower levels of good health, nutrition and housing, all of which affect child development and future incomes. Furthermore, the home and social environment is where beliefs, attitudes and values are shaped (for example welfare dependency of parents is correlated with future
welfare receipt of children, even after adjusting for income, in part reflecting the role-model that parents provide). High parental income is correlated with a better quality of education because good schools are generally in good neighbourhoods, where in addition, networks useful in later life may be more present, and crime is less prevalent. It is further correlated with transmission of verbal ability, and non-cognitive skills, including self-discipline, which improve life chances (Heckman and Carneiro, 2003). Reducing poverty, and especially childhood poverty, might therefore contribute to reduce intergenerational inequality.

The language is highly technical; but basically it is saying that where a child starts out in life based on his parent's income and educational status has a great correlation to where they will end up. If governments would tax the wealthy more, it would go a long way to alleviating the problem of poor parents who don't have the spending power to get their children the best possible education.

The second paragraph says that children who live in better, lower-crime neighborhoods not only benefit from a better quality education, but also benefit from the social and business contacts who will be able to give them better job and entrepreneurial opportunities. Furthermore, going to those better schools improves language skills, interpersonal relationship skills (among them dispute resolution skills) and the principles of delayed gratification and other self-control skills that will help them avoid trouble. Therefore reducing poverty can lead to greater opportunities because it would alleviate the problems associated with stress brought on by fear of crime, which impedes learning.

There. Clear as mud?

I remember many years ago attending a short seminar put on by a local non-profit group that rated a child's chances of success based on some 30+ factors called "assets." The more assets a child had, the greater their chance of success in life. I can't remember if poverty was one of the factors. However, this study indicates that until we alleviate the problems associated with inequality in society, it needs to be a factor in evaluating a child's opportunity.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Legal and Political Justification for National Healthcare

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among several States, and with the Indian Tribes."

The purpose of the Commerce Clause was to eliminate the conflict between those states that had a commercial advantage as a result of their access to a major harbor, and the interior states that did not. That economic disparity was the source of many fights between individual states.

Health care currently takes up one-sixth of our economy. We are now seeing some states take action to guarantee their residents access to health care, while poorer states resist it. While health care is not limited to states that have major seaports, it is limited somewhat by wealth. Isn't it ironic that the wealthiest states -- which would have to pay higher taxes to provide health care -- are the bluest ones?

It is my assertion that health care, taking up such a large part of the U.S. economy, is too important to the unity of the country to be left to individual states. We cannot afford to have rich states with residents having guaranteed access to health care and poor ones where its residents do not.
You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long.

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among several States, and with the Indian Tribes." The purpose of the Commerce Clause was to eliminate the conflict between those states that had a commercial advantage as a result of their access to a major harbor, and the interior states that did not. That economic disparity was the source of many fights between individual states. Health care currently takes up one-sixth of our economy. We are now seeing some states take action to guarantee their residents access to health care, while poorer states resist it. While health care is not limited to states that have major seaports, it is limited somewhat by wealth. Isn't it ironic that the wealthiest states -- which would have to pay higher taxes to provide health care -- are the bluest ones? It is my assertion that health care, taking up such a large part of the U.S. economy, is too important to the unity of the country to be left to individual states. We cannot afford to have rich states with residents having guaranteed access to health care and poor ones where its residents do not.

Now I realize that nowhere in the Constitution does it expressly state that every American has the right to access to health care. I am also aware that for the first 200+ years of our Republic that we have not had it. But it is also true that for much of our history, health care did not take up anywhere near one-sixth of our Gross Domestic Product.

I would suggest that access to health care today is just as important to our national unity as access to ports was back in 1789. It is for this reason that we need a national universal health care program now.

December 2, 1993 - Leading conservative operative William Kristol privately circulates a strategy document to Republicans in Congress. Kristol writes that congressional Republicans should work to "kill" -- not amend -- the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future: Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party.

Some are arguing that we should accept some piecemeal plan because we don't have the votes to override a Republican Senatorial filibuster. I disagree. I don't think we have the time to wait. Health care takes up too much of the American economy to handle this piecemeal. The whole purpose of the Commerce Clause was to create a nationally integrated economy. It was designed to prevent "rich states" and "poor states."

I don't doubt that Bill Kristol's strategy will be employed by all Republicans. That just means that next year we will have to work harder than ever to gain the 60 votes needed to cut off the debate ("cloture"). In the meantime, we need to speak out and make this a national issue. This needs to our "Contract With America." Any Democrat running for any national office needs to promise that, when elected, they will support the creation of a national universal health care program. Fully 70% of the American public supports the idea. Probably even more will after seeing SiCKO.

Besides, even Bill Kristol says that it will "give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party." If national healthcare scares the Republicans that much, you know it has to be good.

Cross-posted to Daily Kos.

Christian Extremists Disrupt Hindu Senate Invocation

You know, just as I try to somewhat prove Pat Condell wrong about his perceptions of Christians, this happens:

It just goes to prove Everybody Loves A Holy War.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sounds So Simple

In my previous post, I referred to a song by the musician Pat Terry. He is still active as a songwriter and performs now and then.

His LP Humanity Gangsters never caught on with the Christian audience, but lyrically it was very progressive in Christian terms (it probably helped that Mark Heard produced it). The concept behind the album title is explained in the liner notes:

Could you comment on some of the songs on your album, "Humanity Gangsters?" ... Could you summarize your thoughts about it?

Yes, I wanted to find a title that said something about the theme of the album in a graphic kind of way. In one of the songs there is a line that says, "Humanity Gangsters, there stealing our compassion away," and I think that puts the idea behind the album in a nutshell. It's like were being robbed of all the things in life that are beautiful and we don't realize it. So, the album is just a kind of plea for people to be aware of that battle, and to find their own individual ways to fight it. I think it's also an album about faith that walks hand in hand with reason ... faith with substance.

The song Sounds So Simple is a song that appears to contrast unbelief with the often shallow thinking of Christians.

Sounds So Simple

Love is alive up in heaven tonight
And life goes on in this crazy mixed-up world
If we could bring some down
Well, I know it would be alright
Sounds so simple
Don't it girl

The rest of the world
Now they don't believe it
And I don't blame them
For the example we gave
It's hard to understand
Much less receive it
When the way they see it
Is through the way we behave

The sleeping masses
They just go on dreaming
While we keep swimming
On our surface world
I'd like to dive into the depths
And come up screaming
Sounds so simple
Don't it girl

Love is alive up in heaven tonight
And life goes on in this crazy mixed-up world
If we could bring some down
Well, I know it would be alright
Sounds so simple, don't it girl
Sounds so simple, don't it girl
Sounds so simple, don't it girl


Pat Terry e-mailed me back after I informed him of the post. Here is what he said:


Thanks for dropping a line, and for posting "Sounds So Simple" on your blog. It's been a long time since I'd looked at those lyrics. I think I'll pull it out and start performing it some when I go out and play. Thanks for the reminder.

Unfortunately my albums have not been re-released on CD or any other current media. I'm working on it and hope I can work out a licensing deal that will allow me to make them available. Word Inc. owns the actual master tapes. I appreciate your interest.

All the best,

Pat Terry

Pat also has a MySpace site where some of his new material is played. Here is the site:

The Real Pat Terry

The Thinkers

I have been tagged by Independent Christian Voice for the Thinking Blogger Award.

The five blogs that make me think are:

1. Of Two Minds by Charles Hugh Smith. Charles is an author, carpenter and economics commentator who thinks outside the box;

2. Audience of One Brian is a public school principal who writes thought-provoking ideas about life and why we are who we are;

3. Pat Condell. This one is more or less a vblog. Pat Condell is a British comedian who has started making weekly comments on politics and religion on YouTube. His videos are irreverent and funny. His videos show how most Christians -- and other people of faith -- turn people like him to disbelief. It is his commentaries that Christian artists like Mark Heard (whose last album this blog is named after) "Everybody Loves A Holy War", Pat Terry "Sounds So Simple" from Humanity Gangsters (now rare) LP and DC Talk's "What If I Stumble" sing about in their referenced songs. Here are a few lines from Pat Terry's song Sounds So Simple that you can't find anywhere else online:

The rest of the world
Now they don't believe it
And I don't blame them
For the example we gave
It's hard to understand
Much less receive it
When the way they see it
Is through the way we behave

(By the way, as an aside, Mark Heard produced Pat Terry's Humanity Gangsters LP.)

4. Robert Reich's blog. Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He is an accomplished Thinker. He is well-known for thinking outside the box.

5. The Big Picture by Barry Ritholtz. He doesn't need to get "tagged" by me as he already gets tens of thousands of hits a day. But he has become a leading thinker on Wall Street. When Larry Kudlow needs to find someone who doesn't just repeat the conservative free-market mantra, he turns to Barry.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sowing Wild Oats

A fellow chess player posted this joke on a discussion board:

"Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap."

This became real to me after years of sowing wild oats in my youth. As I grew older, I found myself praying for crop failure.

Fear and Debt

From a SiCKO movie review in the Twin Cities Daily Planet

All of the pieces I've read about “Sicko,” have what I find to be a glaring omission.

Not one mentions the comments by Tony Benn, a former member of Britain's Parliament. Yet Benn's statements probably are the most profound element of the film.

He notes, as other good people often do, that “if we have the money to kill (in war), we've got the money to help people.”

But, more importantly, Benn tells Moore, that all of Europe and many other places have good health care systems while the United States lacks such a basic service because in Europe and elsewhere, “the politicians are afraid of the people” when the people get angry and demand some action. In the United States, he observes, “the people are afraid of those in power” because they fear losing their jobs, fear being cut off from health care or other services if they speak up and make demands.

“How do you control people?” Benn asks, and he answers: “Through fear and debt.”

His point is that in the United States we have a great overabundance of both.

Yeah, I know. I have written about it quite a lot. But James Fuller makes another point in his movie review that I think is worth mentioning:

[I]f the gutless Democrats went out and explained, clearly and often, how a government run single payer system actually works, and what it really costs, and what the people of Canada, France, Britain, Germany and other countries really think of their health care systems, the ignorance-rooted suspicion could be reversed in a matter of months. And I believe that is true even assuming the inevitable all-out ad and PR campaign by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to protect their enormous profits.

(Does it occur to anyone that the profits they suck from our system, while we struggle for and often are refused decent health care, are truly enormous if the industries are willing and able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to protect those profits?)

Every American I know is fed up with our present health care mess, and more and more are deeply angry.

I would use the term "taxpayer-funded" (not "government run") single payer health care program. The government doesn't need to "run" it, it just needs to be the payment mechanism. There is no doubt that SiCKO is raising the level of conversation on the issue of national health care. I just hope that it can lead to a policy change.

The American Prosperity Façade

Charles Hugh Smith over at Of Two Minds blog today has written a great piece on the fake American prosperity built on debt. (You might say: like a house built on sand.) He contrasts it with a crumbling building of moral decay brought on by an over-medicated and drugged populace.

He adds useful charts such as this one:

And this one:

And this one:

Charles says:

So who are these people flying to Europe, driving brand-new $30,000+ trucks and blowing $200 for dinner? Yes, they're middle-class Americans--the ones with negative savings, tapped-out equity and medicine cabinets full of medications.

As we ponder the meaning of that enormous spike in re-financings--sure, people re-financed to get lower interest rates, but how many took out some cash at the same time?--let's consider another trend which we can see with our own eyes: a culture of individual identity based solely on the external markers of fame, prestige and wealth.

Combine this with an America where people medicate themselves trying to cope:

Hmm, if times are so darn good, why are personal savings plummeting and debt skyrocketing? Does everyone borrow more when their wealth is supposedly rising like a balloon? (Some charts are a bit outdated but the trend remains unchanged.)

And speaking of heady stuff, let's consider why so many Americans are on drugs. On the face of it, shouldn't such prosperous people be happy and secure? If you step back, you have to wonder: why are tens of millions of Americans taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, and tens of millions more addicted to cocaine, heroin, marijuana, alcohol and nicotine?

Like everything else in our Potemkin Village society, it's all just beneath the surface. People don't like to admit that they're not Superman or Superwoman, so it's only your close friends who will tell you. But check out who's a pothead, who's on anti-depressants, and whose underage kids are drunk--ho-hum, just another normal day in sedated, medicated, drugged America.

You think I'm exaggerating? Then ask your friend who's gone through an addiction or drug rehab program (yes, it may surprise you who you know who has), and ask them about the nurses who are coke-heads, or the software engineers on smack, or the folks who have to have OxyContin, that favorite "relaxer" of right-wing radio demogogues. If you're in law enforcement--well, I'm not telling you anything new. You've seen even worse, the guys doped up on ice (crystal meth), and boy, are they a piece of work.


What does this say about their culture and society? That it's "normal" and "healthy"? No objective observer could possibly conclude that unless they were in massive denial (and smashed to boot).

No, you have to conclude that this is a society under extreme duress, a culture in which individuals are feeling tremendous stress as a result of the double-bind they live in: you are only worthy if you go to a prestigious university, make tons of money, drive a luxury vehicle, are famous /recognized as wonderful somewhere, are slim, athletic, good-looking, talented, and a perfect parent with perfect kids--and yet most of us are average-looking, with average intelligence and drive (I raise my hand here) and average everything else, too (my hand is still up).


Bottom line: in an era of supposedly unparalleled, widespread prosperity and wealth creation, the financial and inner reserves of many Americans appears vulnerably thin. Somebody profited from originating all this debt, but nobody forced anyone at gunpoint to borrow it, either.

The disease lies deeper than predatory lenders; they are the pushers, but who's the customer? And why?

Good questions, Charles.

Michael Moore Responds To CNN Piece

Michael Moore at his website responded to assertions presented by Dr. Sanjay Gupta in his segment prior to Michael Moore's interview yesterday.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN: "(Moore says) the United States slipped to number 37 in the world's health care systems. It's true. ... Moore brings a group of patients, including 9/11 workers, to Cuba and marvels at their free treatment and quality of care. But hold on - that WHO list puts Cuba's health care system even lower than the United States, coming in at #39."


* "But hold on?" 'SiCKO' clearly shows the WHO list, with the United States at number #37, and Cuba at #39. Right up on the screen in big five-foot letters. It's even in the trailer! CNN should have its reporter see his eye doctor. The movie isn't hiding from this fact. Just the opposite.

* The fact that the healthcare system in an impoverished nation crippled by our decades-old blockade (including medical supplies and drugs) ranks so closely to ours is more an indictment of the American system than the Cuban system.

* Although Cuba ranks lower overall than the United States, it still has a lower infant mortality rate and longer life span. (see below)

* And unlike the United States, Cuba offers healthcare to absolutely everyone. In an independent Gallup poll conducted in Cuba, "a near unanimous 96 percent of respondents say that health care in Cuba is accessible to everyone." ("Cubans Show Little Satisfaction with Opportunities and Individual Freedom Rare Independent Survey Finds Large Majorities Are Still Proud of Island's Health Care and Education," January 10, 2007.

CNN: "Moore asserts that the American health care system spends $7,000 per person on health. Cuba spends $25 dollars per person. Not true. But not too far off. The United States spends $6,096 per person, versus $229 per person in Cuba."


* According to our own government – the Department of Health and Human Services' National Health Expenditures Projections – the United States will spend $7,092 per capita on health in 2006 and $7,498 in 2007. (Department of Health and Human Services Center for Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures, National Health Expenditures Projections 2006-2016.

* As for Cuba – Dr. Gupta and CNN need to watch 'SiCKO' first before commenting on it. 'SiCKO' says Cuba spends $251 per person on health care, not $25, as Gupta reports. And the BBC reports that Cuba's per capita health expenditure is… $251! (Keeping Cuba Healthy, BBC, Aug. 1 2006. )

* As Gupta points out, the World Health Organization does calculate Cuba's per capita health expenditure at $229 per person – a lot closer to $251 than $25.

CNN: In fact, Americans live just a little bit longer than Cubans on average.


* Just the opposite. The 2006 United Nations Human Development Report's human development index states the life expectancy in the United States is 77.5 years. It is 77.6 years in Cuba. (Human Development Report 2006, United Nations Development Programme, 2006 at 283.

CNN: The United States ranks highest in patient satisfaction.


* True, but even when the WHO took patient satisfaction into account in its comprehensive review of the world's health systems, we still came in at #37. ("World Health Organization Assesses The World's Health Systems," Press Release, WHO/44, June 21, 2000. ).

* Patients may be satisfied in America, but not everyone gets to be a patient. 47 million are uninsured and are rarely patients - until it's too late. In the rest of the Western world, everyone and anyone can be a patient because everyone is covered. (And don't face exclusions for pre-existing conditions, co-pays, deductibles, and costly monthly premiums).

* It's not that other countries are unhappy with their health care – for example, "70 to 80 percent of Canadians find their waiting times acceptable." ("Access to health care services in Canada, Waiting times for specialized services (January to December 2005)," Statistics Canada,

CNN: Americans have shorter wait times than everyone but Germans when seeking non-emergency elective procedures, like hip replacement, cataract surgery, or knee repair.


* This isn't the whole truth. CNN pulled out a statistic about elective procedures. Of the six countries surveyed in that study (United States, Canada, New Zealand, UK, Germany, Australia) only Canada had longer waiting times than America for sick adults waiting to schedule a doctor's appointment for a medical problem. 81% of patients in New Zealand got a same or next-day appointment for a non-routine visit, 71% in Britain, 69% in Germany, 66% in Australia, 47% in the U.S., and 36% in Canada. (The Doc's in, but It'll be AWhile. Catherine Arnst, Business Week. June 22, 2007

* "Gerard Anderson, a Johns Hopkins health policy professor who has spent his career examining the world's healthcare, said there are delays, but not as many as conservatives state. In Canada, the United Kingdom and France, 'three percent of hospital discharges had delays in treatment,' Anderson told The Miami Herald. 'That's a relatively small number, and they're all elective surgeries, such as hip and knee replacement.' (John Dorschner, "'SiCKO' film is set to spark debate; Reformers are gearing up for 'Sicko,' the first major movie to examine America's often maligned healthcare system," Miami Herald, June 29, 2007.)

* One way America is able to achieve decent waiting times is that it leaves 47 million people out of the health care system entirely, unlike any other Western country. When you remove 47 million people from the line, your wait should be shorter. So why is the U.S. second to last in wait times?

* And there are even more Americans who keep themselves out of the system because of cost - in the United States, 24 percent of the population did not get medical care due to cost. That number is 5 percent in Canada, and 3 percent in the UK. (Inequities in Health Care: A Five-Country Survey. Robert Blendon et al, Health Affairs. Exhibit 5.

CNN: (PAUL KECKLEY-Deloitte Health Care Analyst): "The concept that care is free in France, in Canada, in Cuba - and it's not. Those citizens pay for health services out of taxes. As a proportion of their household income, it's a significant number … (GUPTA): It's true that the French pay higher taxes, and so does nearly every country ahead of the United States on that list."


* 'SiCKO' never claims that health care is provided absolutely for free in other countries, without tax contributions from citizens. Former MP Tony Benn reads from the NHS founding pamphlet, which explicitly states that "this is not a charity. You are paying for it mainly as taxpayers." 'SiCKO' also acknowledges that the French are "drowning in taxes." Comparatively, many Americans are drowning in insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays and medical debt and the resulting threat of bankruptcy – half of all bankruptcies in the United States are triggered by medical bills. (Medical Bills Make up Half of Bankruptcies. Feb. 2005, MSNBC.

CNN: "But even higher taxes don't guarantee the coverage everyone wants … (KECKLEY): 15 to 20 percent of the population will purchase services outside the system of care run by the government."


* It's not clear what country Keckley is referring to. In the United Kingdom, only 11.5 percent of the population has supplementary insurance, but it doesn't take the place of NHS insurance. Nobody in France buys insurance that replaces government insurance either, although a substantial amount buys some form of complimentary insurance. ( Private health insurance and access to health care in the European Union. Spring 2004.

CNN: "But no matter how much Moore fudged the facts, and he did fudge some facts…"

* This is libel. There is not a single fact that is "fudged" in the film. No one has proven a single fact in the film wrong. We expect CNN to correct their mistakes on the air and to apologize to their viewers.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Why Does It Always Have To Rain On Me?

It's raining hard again right now. I had planned to post another song (and entitled this post something else), but it has been removed from YouTube except for a 36 second clip.

So how about:

Travis - Why does it always rain on me?

Maybe I should go to Los Angeles. I hear it never rains in Southern California. So much so that there are lots of fires out there burning everything up!

Albert Hammond - It Never Rains In Southern California

Politically Incorrect Nature of Man

From The Nature of Humans:

4. Most suicide bombers are Muslim – I think we already knew this, as I can’t remember any other type of suicide bomber. Almost all of them are Muslim. The author ties this to polygyny as mentioned above. Muslim society allows for polygyny, thus depleting the pool of available women for the guy on the street. There is also the mention of the 72 virgins available for Muslims who martyr themselves. Stay on Earth and have no wife and no sex or blow yourself up and find 72 virgins at your disposal?

It is the combination of polygyny and the promise of a large harem of virgins in heaven that motivates many young Muslim men to commit suicide bombings. Consistent with this explanation, all studies of suicide bombers indicate that they are significantly younger than not only the Muslim population in general but other (nonsuicidal) members of their own extreme political organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. And nearly all suicide bombers are single.

Translation – the lack of sex and promise of it in the hereafter makes men blow themselves into little pieces.

This statement was only one of 10 controversial ideas posted today over at Audience of One, a local Oklahoma blog by a Tulsa school principal. The idea ties into other ideas about power and sex in society. Here is another example from his post today:

2. Humans are naturally polygamous – I wrote about this some time ago in this post. There is certainly much in human history to indicate that monogamy does not come naturally. My friend Patrick (Patrick is the author of Optimus: Praetorian Guard and who is a regular commenter here. --OkieLawyer) commented on that post that monogamy evolved to keep men from killing each other in competition for women. Monogamy increases the number of available women as opposed to wealthy men monopolizing them in a polygamous society. The article agrees with Patrick’s assertion.

Among primate and nonprimate species, the degree of polygyny highly correlates with the degree to which males of a species are larger than females. The more polygynous the species, the greater the size disparity between the sexes. Typically, human males are 10 percent taller and 20 percent heavier than females. This suggests that, throughout history, humans have been mildly polygynous.

Translation – Tall dark handsome men get to have more sex and produce more children, thus increasing the average height of men as compared to women.

What constitutes "tall, dark and handsome?" Scientific studies seem to indicate it is related to symmetry. I wrote about it before, but only as a brief blurb. The basic idea is that people whose faces and bodies are more symmetrical make more money, have more sex, are more popular and enjoy more power than others. Kinda fits in with my Four Corrupting Influences.

Whatever the motivations are, it is worth talking about.

Health Care's Moral Argument, Part 2

Paul Krugman in his column in today's New York Times responds to the argument put forward by Fox News and followed by other conservative news organizations in the days afterward:

“National healthcare: Breeding ground for terror?” read the on-screen headline, as the Fox News host Neil Cavuto and the commentator Jerry Bowyer solemnly discussed how universal health care promotes terrorism.

While this was crass even by the standards of Bush-era political discourse, Fox was following in a long tradition. For more than 60 years, the medical-industrial complex and its political allies have used scare tactics to prevent America from following its conscience and making access to health care a right for all its citizens.

Then he makes the point that I made in one of my first posts on my blog: Health Care's Moral Argument, Part 1. Paul Krugman continues:

I say conscience, because the health care issue is, most of all, about morality.

That’s what we learn from the overwhelming response to Michael Moore’s “Sicko.” Health care reformers should, by all means, address the anxieties of middle-class Americans, their growing and justified fear of finding themselves uninsured or having their insurers deny coverage when they need it most. But reformers shouldn’t focus only on self-interest. They should also appeal to Americans’ sense of decency and humanity.

What outrages people who see “Sicko” is the sheer cruelty and injustice of the American health care system — sick people who can’t pay their hospital bills literally dumped on the sidewalk, a child who dies because an emergency room that isn’t a participant in her mother’s health plan won’t treat her, hard-working Americans driven into humiliating poverty by medical bills.

He concludes:

All of which raises the question Mr. Moore asks at the beginning of “Sicko”: who are we?

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.” So declared F.D.R. in 1937, in words that apply perfectly to health care today. This isn’t one of those cases where we face painful tradeoffs — here, doing the right thing is also cost-efficient. Universal health care would save thousands of American lives each year, while actually saving money.

So this is a test. The only things standing in the way of universal health care are the fear-mongering and influence-buying of interest groups. If we can’t overcome those forces here, there’s not much hope for America’s future.

I agree. I said myself when I posted about the meme saying that health care=terrorism that I thought that the argument was absurd. It still is.

While my first post argued from a more strictly Christian perspective, Paul Krugman has argued it on more general humanitarian principles. For Christians, my first post on Health Care's Moral Argument, Part 1 should suffice. For Humanists and people of other faiths, Krugman's argument today should show that moral arguments for a national health care system are universal.

Defending Lawyers ...

In a somewhat surprising turn, CNN Money and Business 2.0 magazine are defending lawyers (no joke). From the article:

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Decades after Tylenol bottles were tampered with and Ford Pintos exploded, you'd think that product-safety panics would be nearing extinction.

No such luck. Consider just the past few months: Pet food laced with poison killed more than a dozen dogs and cats. Toothpaste shipped from China to Latin America turned out to be tainted with a potentially fatal thickening agent. And the FDA issued yet another recall for defective defibrillators, bringing the total number of heart devices that need to be replaced to nearly 200,000.

Here's another frighteningly persistent trend: The drumbeat for weakening the ability of people to seek redress in court by curtailing product-liability suits continues unabated.

A recent study by the nonprofit Pacific Research Institute estimated that the cost of tort law in the United States had reached $865 billion, equivalent to an 8 percent tax on consumption or a 13 percent tax on wages. But much of that analysis leans on faulty logic, and while most of my friends in business consider lawyers at best a necessary nuisance, for the most part, they're dead wrong.


Tort-reform advocates love to rail against the skyrocketing costs of litigation and multimillion-dollar damage awards, yet one definitive study from Rand showed no increase in the percentage of tort cases won by plaintiffs and no statistically significant increase in the median award paid by businesses. Comparisons with other countries can also be misleading because they have more stringent regulatory regimes.

True, regulatory agencies cost billions, and so does our legal system. But I would argue it's a pretty good deal -- simply a necessary cost of running an economy in which people rely on the promises and products of strangers.

The alternative is precisely what we see in the case of the pet-food mess: agencies and companies sending people to inspect factories and raw materials more carefully, and increased testing of products coming into the country.

The next time you want to complain about "frivolous" lawsuits, picture doing business in a world where promises can't be relied on and you can only deal with people and organizations you already know well. There are undoubtedly abuses and problems in our current system, but the cost of punishing malfeasance is a necessary and small price to pay for running a modern economy.


Check out this link on "Tort Reform" in Oklahoma:

Tort terminators, not ‘reformers’. From a Letter to the Editor of the Edmond Sun:

EDMOND — As professors of torts and civil procedure, we disagree with the views of our colleague, Andrew Spiropoulos. We applaud the governor and the attorney general for the veto of the so-called “tort reform” bill.

We say “so-called” because this bill was neither confined to torts nor did it envision “reform.” It sought the curtailment or outright elimination of remedies for injured and wronged people and businesses. We prefer to call advocates of this bill tort “terminators,” not tort “reformers.”


[T]he bill itself — provides no evidence that Oklahoma’s civil justice system is in a state of crisis that would justify the draconian measures proposed. As one example, the bill would have all but eliminated class actions in Oklahoma. Is there a problem with class actions here? Not at all.

In Oklahoma County, about six cases a year — out of thousands — are filed as class actions. Only one class action filed in Oklahoma County in the past five years has awarded fees to plaintiffs’ counsel.

Most of the remaining cases were dismissed.

Our courts are well-equipped to weed out unmeritorious lawsuits with the tools they already have. Yet the “tort terminators” continue to try to “fix” a system that is not broken — slandering the plaintiffs’ bar in the process.

We eschew [Professor] Spiropoulos’ use of the term “bottom feeders” to refer to members of the plaintiffs’ bar. We take pride in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ efforts to provide access to courts and to obtain compensation for ordinary residents for harms caused by negligent doctors, shady businesses and other wrongdoers. Space limitations prevent a detailed response to the bill’s many other questionable provisions.

The bill’s elimination of joint and several liability could leave an innocent injured person without full compensation, while shielding a wrongdoing defendant from paying for an injury he helped to cause.

The bill also would have restricted prejudgment interest, which Spiropoulos claims violates the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Besides misapplying a criminal, not civil, law principle, the claim is false. Prejudgment interest is never paid unless and until the defendant is found liable by a judge or a jury.

Spiropolous talks about “doing justice.” We believe justice lies in a legal system that compensates people for the wrongs done to them. Where is the “justice” in a “reform” that leaves those people with nothing?

Professors Patricia Hatamyar and Carla Spivack are on the faculty at Oklahoma City University School of Law.

In fairness, here is a link to the article the two law professors were responding to: Lawyers not ready for reform.

Real Class Envy

A new blog has just been started by a woman who left a comment to my post Seven Years of Bad Luck. Her blog is called Classism, Unearned Privilege and the Ruling Class.

Here is a quote from her first entry The Real Class Envy:

... Taking money from those who worked for it to give to others by using the strong arm of government is downright Communist. That's just un-American, right?

Well, not exactly. On the contrary, getting to skate while making others pick up the tab is indeed very American. You see, there was very little outcry back in the 1980's -- the "greed is good" era -- over wealthy owners of corporations who got much bigger hand-outs than any welfare recipient ever got. Wealthy owners of corporations and venture capitalist firms benefited immensely from a little-known IRS loophole that enabled them to use leveraged debt (other people's money) to buy and then liquidate other companies while the tax bill for the profits from such transactions got picked up and paid for by the tax-paying middle class: Leveraged corporate buy-outs, a nice "welfare" hand-out for the rich. But very few people noticed that fig newton folly, much less got angry about it. Isn't taking money from the supporting classes and giving it to the leisured class taking from the producers and giving to the slackers? Why isn't that Communist and un-American? Do I hear the silence of apathy ... or the white noise of hypocrisy?

And what became of the skilled, capable and educated middle-management professionals in such acquired companies? They were downsized out of their jobs. If they fell into poverty because they were unable to get re-employed elsewhere due to age discrimination despite their most ambitious efforts and Pollyanna-ist attitudes, it was all their own fault, according to the wealthy. These folks who did "all the right things" and got educations simply "should have planned better" according to the "haves" and "have-mores." It was the fault of the unemployed for not being educated enough, not having "marketable skills" in order to compete, and not having positive attitudes, thus spoke the ruling class.

Corporate welfare far exceeded any miserly welfare entitlement begrudgingly given to America's least privileged. Apparently, getting a "free ride" and a hand-out for [doing and producing nothing] of any tangible value for society is perfectly acceptable -- when you're rich.