Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moved to new site ... www.despinakarras.com

Thanks to all of you who have been following my blog!

Things have been pretty quiet around here for the last week as I've been preparing to move to my new site: www.despinakarras.com.

The site is up as of today. I'm still putting the finishing touches on it, but it's almost there. I hope you all enjoy the new design!

If you have comments or feedback, feel free to leave a comment on the new site, email me (despina.karras@gmail.com), or send me a Tweet!

I look forward to chatting politics with you on the new site!

Despina

Monday, September 14, 2009

Otto Raddatz: WSJ sheds light on his story.

President Obama has repeated a couple of heart-wrenching stories during his sales pitches for his health care reforms this summer. A little less than a month ago, I got curious about one of these stories -- the one about the man whose insurance policy was revoked while he was in the middle of chemotherapy. According to the President, the insurance company claimed that he had lied on his application, failing to admit to a history of gallstones.

Given our President's tendency to distort facts, I looked into the story of this Illinois man, who I found out was Mr. Otto Raddatz. And, it turned out the President's version of what happened to Mr. Raddatz was untrue. Since then, I've been wondering if anyone in the media would pick up on this story, and finally, Scott Harrington did so today in the WSJ.

Below is a reposting of my original piece on the American Issues Project Blog on August 23, 2009.

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Debunking willful misrepresentations in the health care debate: the story of Otto Raddatz

President Obama used his weekly address yesterday to "debunk[] some of the more outrageous myths circulating on the internet, on cable TV, and repeated at some town halls across this country." If we're clearing the air of falsehoods related to health care, then there is one story in particular that the President himself has referred to on a number of occasions that he should have corrected. That is the story of an Illinois businessman named Otto Raddatz.

At a town hall forum in New Hampshire on August 11, referring to Mr. Raddatz, President Obama said:

"Another [man] lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because the insurance company discovered he had gall stones that he hadn't known about when he applied for insurance. Now, that is wrong, and that will change when we pass health care reform. That is going to be a priority."


A few days later at a town hall in Montana, the President repeated this story.

"One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer discovered he hadn't reported gall stones he didn't know about. True story. Because his treatment was delayed, he died. "


And on August 15, Obama penned an op-ed in the New York Times titled, "Why We Need Health Care Reform" where he repeated the story for a third time.

"A man lost his health coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because the insurance company discovered that he had gallstones, which he hadn’t known about when he applied for his policy. Because his treatment was delayed, he died."


The story the President relates of this innocent person who played by the rules and maintained insurance only to have it fail him in his time of a need is indeed a powerful, persuasive story ... except that it's not entirely true.

Here's the true story, based on testimony from Mr. Raddatz's sister at a hearing before the House of Representatives' on June 16, 2009.

Mr. Raddatz was a restaurant owner in Illinois who purchased an individual insurance policy for himself and his wife in 2003. On the original insurance application, he indicated that he had a history of kidney stones and was a smoker. A year into the policy, at the age of 59, Mr. Raddatz found himself losing weight rapidly and sought medical attention. It was then that he was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkins type lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. After undergoing a series of chemotherapy and drug treatments, he was referred to a specialist for high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

At that time, he was informed by his insurer that his insurance was being cancelled due to his failure to disclose material information about his medical history - namely that he had a history of gall stones and an aneurysm. As it turns out, Mr. Raddatz was unaware of this diagnosis, having never been given the test results this information came from.

This happened just as Mr. Raddatz was told that he only had a 3-4 week window in which to get the stem cell transplant he needed. With his insurance rescinded, he could not afford to pay for the procedure out-of-pocket. His sister, Peggy Raddatz, reached out to the Illinois Attorney General's office who reviewed the situation and sent two letters to the insurance company arguing that Mr. Raddatz had not lied to the insurance company since he had been unaware of the test results and had in fact, never received any treatment for either of those issues.

The insurance company reinstated his insurance policy. He went on to receive the stem cell transplant, "which was extremely successfully" and enabled him to live for three and a half more years. He passed away when, while being scheduled to have a second transplant, his donor suddenly died.

Now in President Obama's version of the story, Mr. Raddatz died because his treatment was delayed. That is a lie. Mr. Raddatz's story is powerful in terms of illustrating problems with the insurance industry. It is particularly relevant that he was self-insured, given the problems with the individual insurance market, the low numbers and high turnover of participants and the lack of tax benefits which make it less attractive to individuals. All of this makes the pool of participants amongst which claims can be distributed even smaller, resulting in higher costs to individuals and the insurance companies themselves.

But, that wasn't the President's point. He didn't tell this story to promote reforms in the individual insurance market, to make it equitable with employer-based insurance by giving it the same tax benefits or allowing people to purchase insurance from any state they'd like. Instead, this was a story, much like the cases of tonsil-removing, foot-amputating doctors, that was meant to vilify the insurance industry and exploit people's emotions given the tragic ending Mr. Raddatz faced at the hands of his evil insurance company under President Obama's made-up version of the story. If, as he said this weekend, President Obama really wants to open a new chapter, "not one dominated by willful misrepresentations and outright distortions", then perhaps he should start leading by example.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Questions for President Obama

Yesterday, while listening to the President's remarks at the Pentagon, I was struck by the apathy, the flatness of the words he chose and the language he used to describe the 9/11 attacks.

The President remarked:
"Let us renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and who plot against us still. In defense of our nation we will never waver; in pursuit of al Qaeda and its extremist allies, we will never falter.

Most of all, on a day when others sought to sap our confidence, let us renew our common purpose.

This may be the greatest lesson of this day, the strongest rebuke to those who attacked us, the highest tribute to those taken from us -- that such sense of purpose need not be a fleeting moment. "


The strongest words he used in his entire speech were 'barbaric', 'extremist' and 'attack''. He didn't mention the words murder, terrorism or war in his speech. "On a day when others sought to sap our confidence," he said. To sap our confidence? Doesn't he mean on a day when innocent American lives were specifically targeted by terrorists? And that those terrorists wanted to make us tremble in fear to spread their suicidal message of Jihad? That is, to show the world that the American 'infidels' had hell to pay for our very way of life?

The President stayed away from using any such harsh language. But, "sap our confidence"? Surely, he could have chosen words better suited to show that on his first 9/11, he stood with the victims, the families of the victims and with the rest of America in opposition to these deathmongers who instigated the deadliest attack on our soil in history.

But, the excerpt above was the extent of his mentioning the 9/11 attackers. I could only shake my head reading and rereading the President's comments. Just a few days ago, he spoke about his health care proposals more passionately than he did about the attacks on 9/11.

This prompted me to write this tweet:
"Chilling, hard to listen to. http://bit.ly/11Mrf8 Yet a reminder of the evil, not barbaric Mr. Pres. ,but evil that killed so many innocent.


I wrote that on 9/11. And I tried to bite my tongue for the rest of that day. And, it's for that reason that I'm posting this on 9/12, because I believe 9/11 should be a day reserved for remembering and honoring those whose were brutally and suddenly taken from their loved ones. 9/11 is a day we should all strive to remember what unites us, not what divides us.

So today, I'd like to share some of my thoughts on our President. The truth is, I disagree with President Obama's policies almost across the board. My convictions and my vision for the country are fundamentally opposed to the big-government policies Obama espouses.

But, when I disagree with someone's politics, I try to remind myself that while the means may vary, our intentions, on the left and on the right, are the same -- to implement policies that we believe are right for our country. I have reminded myself of this often since the President's days on the campaign trail because even then, when his rhetoric was more centrist, I saw him as an extreme leftist that would push our country in a totally new direction if elected, as he promised -- or threatened depending on your view of him.

But, I'm not so sure I can give our President this benefit of the doubt anymore. I don't know if his decisions are based on what's best for the country, what's best for the politicians in Washington or what's best for certain groups of people he backs, like unions for example. From his decision to appoint Eric Holder, who orchestrated the pardoning of Puerto Rican nationalist terrorists by going so far as to write their apologies when they refused to, to his decision to close Guantanamo and strip the CIA of the power to question suspects who are deemed national security threats (without undertaking any examination of the strategies and reasoning behind the former administration's decisions), I don't know that he sees the world as I do. That he sees America as many of us do. That he takes threats to our national security as seriously as he should. Or really, when it comes down to it, that he loves and respects America.

It seems that he exploits every opportunity he has to centralize power, even stripping the CIA and the military of their authority where he can.

While our President opted out of visiting New York City on the anniversary of 9/11, he penned an op-ed in the New York Post. He stated:

"And in the policies and principles that guide our efforts, we are reaffirming a simple truth: that our strength as a nation comes not only from the might of our military, but also the power of our fundamental values."


I recognize that this President is seen as a supreme communicator, and maybe this is just too far above my pragmatic head, but what does this mean? His op-ed must be understood within the context of 9/11, in which he remembers what began our current struggle against the "real and present danger posed by violent extremists who would use terrorism against Americans." And so, he continues reassuring the reader that his administration is "providing the necessary resources and strategies to take the fight to the extremists." And, he goes down the list of measures: investing in intelligence and military capabilities, increasing the Army and Marine Corps, making efforts toward securing non-proliferation, building partnerships with allies and then he concludes by talking about these "fundamental values" and our "common sense of purpose" that he says provide us strength to defend ourselves alongside our military's might.

So I have to ask, how does pitting the Attorney General against the CIA strengthen us? How does creating a new interrogation task force to be overseen by the FBI, instead of the CIA, strengthen us? How does spending more than all of the Presidents in our history combined strengthen us? How does backing legislation that deprives workers of the right to vote on unionizing via secret ballot strengthen us? What fundamental values do these policies suggest, and how do they strengthen our nation in our ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the larger war on terror throughout the world? How do they strengthen us in fighting against violent, Jihadist terrorists that seek our demise?

President Obama has been hailed as one of the greatest communicators of our time. As you can probably tell by now, I don't find this to be true. I think the utopian speech he uses, with its grand gestures, leaves much to be desired, particularly in the way of specifics. And I believe that this vague manner of speaking has started working against him -- first when it came to spending and the stimulus, then with regard to the debate over health care this summer and yesterday, on 9/11.

These questions, about the President's intentions, about his view of America, the Constitution, individual liberty and economic freedom -- these are questions every American needs to ask themselves. And on 9/11, I found myself wondering if President Obama believes, like his spiritual mentor of twenty years, Rev. Wright, that America had it coming? Does he believe that those terrorists that murdered so many in cold blood on that day were pure evil, not just barbaric and uncivilized as he stated, but cold and calculating evildoers? Had he not found himself in the middle of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how would he have responded on 9/11? Does he believe in the Afghanistan war as he says he does, or is he just an opportunist who knew that the 'war of necessity' in Afghanistan would read better to those answering the polls?

I don't know the answers to all of these questions. But, I do know that when you stack them up side by side, the facts start to paint a picture of a President whose intentions for the country are to take it in a direction so different from our deep-rooted traditions. That is why all those people marched in Washington and throughout the country today, because they believe, like I do, that this country, this great melting pot that was built on freedom is the greatest country in the world. And I don't believe anymore that this President agrees.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering Mary Jo Kimelman - A Kid At Heart, Taken Too Soon

Today, as part of Project 2,996, I am honoring Mary Jo Kimelman. Mary Jo was working at Cantor Fitzgerald, on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center, when she was taken from her family and friends on the morning of September 11, 2001.



Here is a portrait of Mary Jo published by The New York Times in 2001.

Mary Jo Kimelman: 'Time Out New York,' Live
Published: Saturday, December 8, 2001

Whenever friends or friends of friends came to town, Mary Jo Kimelman eagerly became their tour guide. She knew so much about happenings in New York City that her mother once called her "Time Out New York," after the magazine.

Ms. Kimelman, 34, was always a taker when people had an extra ticket to concerts or sporting events. She often read poetry at clubs in Greenwich Village and ran up on stage when bands invited audience members to sing. About two years ago, Ms. Kimelman impressed her friends by belting out a Melissa Etheridge tune at a bar near Wall Street. "At the beginning she was a little nervous," said her friend Carolynn Kutz. "But once she started going, she let it rip. The band helped her along and she shined."

Ms. Kimelman was passionate about photography and travel and was particularly smitten with Paris. She mused about getting executives at Cantor Fitzgerald, where she worked as a volume control clerk, to transfer her there. "We always got a kick out of that," said her [step]mother, Pat Kimelman. "I said, `Mary, maybe you should learn to speak French first. You should go to London.' But she happened to like Paris better."


In addition to being her own "Time Out New York", Mary Jo's mother, Terre Wallach, recalled, "no one had more fun than Mary Jo."

Her stepmother said, "She could be a kid with the kids ... crawl around the floor and make them laugh."

And she had plenty of opportunity to let the kid inside of her out when she spent time with her six nieces and nephews.

When she wasn't hitting the town or sharing laughs with her family, Mary Jo poured her heart out through her writing. Her choice of medium was poetry. Her boyfriend, Thierry LeBras, recalled that just before 9/11, she had read her poetry at a show in the East Village.

"She wrote about everything," her mother said. "She shared her father's interest in food and wine. She had so many interests."

Mary Jo wore her heart on her sleeve. She was always there for everyone. Her boyfriend said, "She had this special talent of listening to people that she had just met. She would talk [to them] about their lives."

And, she would talk to co-workers about her life and how she dreamed of being transferred to work in Paris. Her family would tease her, saying she should explore other options, that she should visit London first. But Paris had a special place in Mary Jo's heart.

Mary Jo was taken away well before her time, but she embraced life and had a vivacious spirit that we remember today. They say it doesn't matter how one dies, but how one lives. And Mary Jo lived her life to the fullest and touched everyone she met during her young 34 years.

She would have been 42 years old this year. She might have published her poetry. Had a family of her own. Taken that trip to London. Maybe even moved to Paris. But a group of people who didn't know Mary Jo, or her father Michael Kimelman, her mother Terre Wallach, her sister Dara Berliner or her brothers Michael and Scott Kimelman, set off a chain of events that took the lives of Mary Jo and 2,9995 other victims 8 years ago today.

Today we remember and honor Mary Jo. I hope that Mary Jo's family has found some comfort, and I know that she is watching over them with that same vibrant spirit she had here on earth. We will never forget you. May you rest in peace Mary Jo.

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To read more tributes to the victims of 9/11, visit Project 2,996 and Friends of Project 2,996.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Durbin getting all snarky with a constituent

Thanks to Ed Morrissey for providing this clip of my Senator, Dick Durbin, at a townhall event yesterday evening. Of course, I didn't know about the townhall until I saw this clip, on a national web site, but I'm sure that's how Durbin wanted it anyway.

Not only was Durbin clueless when it came to individual mandates in the House bill (which really, by this time, you don't even have to have read the bill to know it includes individual mandates), but he continued to spread misinformation about our current system as a way of justifying his government-centric health care goals - namely, that most bankruptcies are caused by medical problems. My stomach hurts at the idea of listening to him closely enough to transcribe where he addresses this, but here goes anyway.

"I'm glad for your experience and that you came out of it without debt, but you are an exception. When you look at the filings for personal bankruptcy in America today, 31% were for medical bills just a few years ago, that's doubled. And, it turns out that of the 62% who are filing for personal and family bankruptcy because of medical bills, 78% have health insurance. It's just not good health insurance, and it doesn't cover them...a lot of people are facing bankruptcy today because they're not in that good position. And, I'd like to take you back to one sentence you said, the government is going to force us to take an option. Listen to what you said. It's an option. If you don't want to choose the government plan, you don't have to. It's an option. You can choose private health insurance."

I'm no math whiz, but Durbin thinks that 62% of individual bankruptcies are because of medical bills that pile up. First of all, even under his own theory, he says that close to 80% of those people have health insurance, but it just doesn't work for them. That's false; the controversial study he's referencing states that nearly 2/3 of personal bankruptcies are due to uninsured medical treatment and loss of coverage. Brett Skinner of AEI's The American analyzed the study and also compared American and Canadian rates of bankruptcy due to medical reasons, since Canada already has the type of system we're heading toward.
"Th[is] medical bankruptcy study has been soundly refuted by several researchers. This includes critiques published by David Dranove and Michael Millenson in Health Affairs and a working paper by the American Enterprise Institute’s Aparna Mathur.

The idea that large numbers of Americans are declaring bankruptcy due to medical expenses is a myth. Dranove and Millenson critically analyzed the data from the 2005 edition of the medical bankruptcy study. They found that medical spending was a contributing factor in only 17 percent of U.S. bankruptcies. They also reviewed other research, including studies by the Department of Justice, finding that medical debts accounted for only 12 percent to 13 percent of the total debts among American bankruptcy filers who cited medical debt as one of their reasons for bankruptcy.

As for the notion that greater government involvement in health insurance will reduce bankruptcy, it is helpful to compare personal bankruptcy rates in the United States and Canada. Unlike the United States, Canada has a universal, government-run health insurance system. Following the logic of Himmelstein and colleagues, we should therefore expect to observe a lower rate of personal bankruptcy in Canada compared to the United States.

Yet the evidence shows that in the only comparable years, personal bankruptcy rates were actually higher in Canada. Personal bankruptcy filings as a percentage of the population were 0.20 percent in the United States during 2006 and 0.27 percent in 2007. In Canada, the numbers are 0.30 percent in both 2006 and 2007. The data are from government sources and defined in similar ways for both countries and cover the time period after the legal reforms to U.S. bankruptcy laws in 2005 and before the onset of the 2008 economic recession.

The truth is that the majority of debt among bankrupt consumers in both Canada and the United States is comprised of non-medical expenditures and therefore has little to do with health insurance coverage.

On the rare occasion that medical debts do partially contribute to bankruptcy, they likely accumulate from patients’ demands for the kinds of expensive, cutting-edge or end-of-life treatments that would never be covered by government insurance anyway. It is a fact that many of these same types of expensive treatments are increasingly not insured by government healthcare in Canada. Survey research commissioned by the Canadian government found that despite having a government-run health system, medical reasons (including uninsured expenses), were cited as the primary cause of bankruptcy by approximately 15 percent of bankrupt Canadian seniors (55 years of age and older).

There is no objective evidence to indicate that a government-run health care system in the United States will reduce personal bankruptcies. The U.S.-Canada comparative analysis strongly suggests that bankruptcy statistics are being exaggerated and distorted for political reasons."


The Dranove and Millenson study Skinner cites found that among the 17% whose bankruptcies appear to be linked to an inability to pay their medical bills, most have income within the poverty level. They certainly don't have private insurance that doesn't work for them as Durbin suggested.

And it's no wonder Durbin didn't want to hold any town hall forums this summer when his strongest argument was, look at the phrase you used, public option. What should he have called it? The public-no-other-option? The step 1 to single-payer public option? I mean, come on, that's all you've got Senator? Your only answer is to play semantics with a man who got up and told you his personal health story of overcoming Hodgkins lymphoma, and you remind him of the label Democrats chose to place on this monstrous transformation of our health care system? Perhaps you raise a good point; perhaps those of us that are anti-ObamaCare ought to stop calling it an 'option' altogether since it's been shown over and over that that term is clearly not based in reality.

Or, here's another thought Senator. Before you start getting all clever on us with your word games, and before you have another panel discussion about health care, how about you sit down and at the very least, even if you don't read the House bill since I guess that would be beneath you as a Senator (and you wouldn't have time for that given all that you've been...hey, what exactly have you been working on all summer? This constituent would like to know, but I digress...), why don't you at least do some research and inform yourself as to what the issues are before you start accusing others of 'misrepresenting the issues', 'sucker-punching their opponents' and 'engaging in political theater'?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

And it just keeps getting worse: health czar given access to tax returns and bank accounts.

If you thought the worse thing about the Democrats' health care bill was the public option, you're in for a surprise. Today, CBS correspondent Declan McCullagh picked up on a blog post by Tom Giovanetti, President of the Institute for Policy Innovation of Texas, who dug deeper into the 1000 page tome that is the health care bill and uncovered Section 431(a). This section requires the IRS to hand over your financial information to the Health Czar or any head of a state-based insurance program (so the state's health czar) if such a request is made. The justification for this intrusion: to determine whether you would be eligible for federal health care benefits.

So, if a federal or state health czar requests any information from your tax returns, the IRS is required to hand it over. There is no requirement for the IRS to contact you or even notify you that this is taking place. And, of course, it would just be too simple and not at all sneaky enough if, in these kinds of situations, the bill laid out a procedure by which any individual who applies for government health benefits could, on their own, follow steps to prove their eligibility - including disclosing their financial information themselves. Basically, why would the government ask you for your information when they can set up a system under which they have access to information that paints them a nice picture of your life - your tax returns, your medical records, etc.

What is extremely distressing, is that in the age of Obama and the bloated government policies that have come along with it, this probably doesn't phase most people. But, it doesn't stop there. Under the Senate version of the bill, the health czar can sneak a peak into your bank accounts at their leisure, all justified under the same logic, that the government may need this information to check your eligibility. Wait a minute, those evil insurance companies are criticized left and right for asking questions about your medical history when you apply for insurance. Can you imagine the outcries if they also asked for cart blanche access to your tax returns, bank account information and your health records? For those that find no fault with this policy, may I ask, has the government proven itself so capable, so competent, that you are willing to hand over total control of this information to them? If so, when??? Or, to quote Barney Frank, something I do very rarely, 'on what planet do YOU spend most of your time?' Where are all those people that were up in arms over the Patriotic Act? Isn't this far worse?

Not to mention that as Joe the Plumber found out during the 2008 election cycle, when government bureaucrats have access to your personal information, you don't want to find yourself on their wrong side.

And, the icing on the cake, the legislation does not allow for a court or administrative review of the provisions in that section. Of course. We wouldn't want the government to have to answer to the people they represent - better to grant them complete immunity, and if your information winds up in the wrong hands, no redress for you.

But, don't worry. As Giovanetti points out, we've got a politician with conviction, a man of the people, who isn't swayed by day-to-day politics on our side.
"Senator Arlen Specter promised the other day at a town hall meeting that “we’ll do everything we can to stop people from breaking into the files.”
I feel so much better.



Monday, August 24, 2009

More on Panetta

Guess I wasn't that far off. ABC is reporting that:
In addition to concerns about the CIA's reputation and its legal exposure, other White House insiders say Panetta has been frustrated by what he perceives to be less of a role than he was promised in the administration's intelligence structure. Panetta has reportedly chafed at reporting through the director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, according to the senior adviser who said Blair is equally unhappy with Panetta.

"Leon will be leaving," predicted a former top U.S. intelligence official, citing the conflict with Blair. The former official said Panetta is also "uncomfortable" with some of the operations being carried out by the CIA that he did not know about until he took the job."

Indeed. With Holder appointing a prosecutor to investigate the CIA and the announcement of a new unit in charge of interrogations, who could blame Panetta? What's the point of putting your own guy in charge of the CIA if you're just going to go around him anyway? It'll be interesting to see how long Mr. Panetta sticks around and what stories will come out about the tensions between him and the White House along the way.

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Here is a statement Panetta issued to the agency today (in response to the disclosure of an Inspector General report from 2004):

"I make no judgments on the accuracy of the 2004 IG report or the various views expressed about it. Nor am I eager to enter the debate, already politicized, over the ultimate utility of the Agency's past detention and interrogation effort. But this much is clear: The CIA obtained intelligence from high-value detainees when inside information on al-Qa'ida was in short supply. Whether this was the only way to obtain that information will remain a legitimate area of dispute, with Americans holding a range of views on the methods used. The CIA requested and received legal guidance and referred allegations of abuse to the Department of Justice. President Obama has established new policies for interrogation."

If I were Panetta, I'd be ticked off...

Having spent the day running around the Daley Center today for my day job, I'm just now getting around to reading the news of the day. First stop: Drudge where there's a link to an article reporting on the creation of a new interrogation unit, supervised by the White House, led by the FBI, but of course, we're assured that their decisions will be made 'independently.' (Wish I could insert one of those rolling eyes emoticons here.)

If the administration has already decided that investigators must abide by the Army Field Manual while conducting interrogations, what's the point of this new department? The optimist in me tried to read between the lines, wondering if this could be another example of the administration governing through loopholes. What I mean is for a second, I wondered if this could be a signal, an admission from the administration that every situation is different, and that when lives are in danger, civilian or military, sometimes the rules of the Army Field Manual just might not cut it.

But, my hopes were shattered later on in the article. The entire structure has apparently been set up, if I understand it correctly, to work as a sort of liaison on behalf of detainees, to ensure that they are not 'tortured' and that, when they are sent back to their mother countries, that they have a safe trip.

With the economy in decline, the deficit projections having been increased by another $2 trillion, unemployment on the rise, states' budgets sinking deeper into the red, and citizens up in arms in fear of the government taking over the health care industry, the Obama administration is spending it's time looking after the rights of terror suspects.

Which brings me to another issue, why is this task force necessary at all? Isn't that what we have the CIA for? Even with Obama distancing himself from policies implemented by the CIA during the Bush administration, he has his own guy in there now. It seems like everyone has their hand in this new unit except for Leon Panetta. What happened to moving forward? This seems like another situation in which the President's rhetoric and his actions don't match up.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health insurance: an oddity among insurance policies.

In this excellent article, Steven Malanga of The Manhattan Institute highlights the exceptional nature of health insurance as compared with other types of insurance. When it comes to health services rendered, our culture sees paying the bills out-of-pocket as the exception, not the norm. As Mr. Malanaga points out, most of us carry other types of insurance policies that protect us should a catastrophic event occur - like home insurance, car insurance, life insurance, even insurance on our valuable,sentimental items like jewelry. But, when repairs or updates to those insured items become necessary, we don't call upon our insurance. We understand that everyday repairs due to wear and tear or even renovations that may improve or add value to the insured items are costs that we must bear.

Imagine calling on your insurance when you need a new coat of paint. You wouldn't get very far would you? Take this one step further, and imagine trying to purchase an insurance policy to cover an event that has already happened. Your house burns down. Can you call and get an insurance police to cover your home and your belongings after the fact? Certainly not. If that were how the system worked, who would pay into the system before the catastrophe occurred? And, where would the money come from to pay for claims? And, imagine those premium rates for any suckers who actually maintained insurance prior to making a claims? (Assuming, of course, that there's anyone would who do this which is highly unlikely.)

You might be thinking, but those are items or goods you're talking about insuring and that they're different than insuring people's health. But, the point is that while the item (or person) that is insured may vary, the nature of insurance is all the same. Despite what Congressman Weiner might think, insurance is a good, just like other goods, that are sold in a marketplace. It is a essentially a contract, whose terms consumers should be able to shop around for and negotiate just like with other types of insurance. And, your insurance should be priced according to the coverage that you choose. For example, if you want a policy with more limited protection, then you will pay less for your insurance. Makes sense. If, on the other hand, you want an insurance policy that covers everything - including riskier treatments or holistic medicine for example, then you should pay more.

Or at least that's how the insurance industry should work. The option to customize insurance like we customize or negotiate every other contract we enter into does not exist because of the government placing itself in between the provider and the consumer in what should be a completely private, contractual relationship. As Mr. Malanga points out:
"There are significant [] ways that government mandates treat health insurance differently, at great cost to all of us. Consider this scenario: You don't have home insurance and a big storm comes through and knocks over a tree into your roof. You can't just phone up an insurer, buy coverage and then submit a claim, even if you face financial ruin by not having the coverage. But that's more or less what you can do in health insurance under so-called guaranteed issue rules, in which someone who hasn't purchased insurance and gets sick can't be turned down for coverage. Needless to say, states that have guaranteed issued, like New Jersey and New York, have the highest health insurance premiums in the country because healthy people know they can run the risk of not buying insurance until they get sick. Insanely, the health reform package now on the table in Washington would create a federal version of guaranteed issue.

In auto insurance, some states have given us our own private version of tort reform to keep premium prices low. In these states, a driver can opt out of the litigation lottery when he purchases auto insurance by promising not to sue for pain and suffering if he's hit and injured by another driver. By doing this a policy holder can save hundreds of dollars a year on premiums. And yet for some reason the same option, that is, allowing us to buy a health insurance policy where we agree not to sue a health provider for pain and suffering if a treatment goes wrong, is not available, even though I imagine the cost savings would be enormous."

Government regulators also require us to buy so much more health insurance. In auto coverage, for instance, states will generally mandate that we have certain minimum coverage to compensate anyone we may crash into, but otherwise regulators will leave us alone to decide which options (towing, collision) we want to buy. By contrast, states will require buyers of individual and small group health policies to load up on mandatory coverage, including options that many people don't want to pay for, like fertility treatments. Politicians will often claim that they demand these coverages because they are looking out for our own good, but that's a difficult case to make persuasively when mandates help make insurance unaffordable for many people."
Justifying these regulations by saying the government is looking out for our own good is paternalistic and offensive. People enter into the marketplace and make decisions for themselves day in and day out without any help from the government. Health insurance should not be the exception. I understand that President Obama and many liberals find fault with insurance companies because they believe that operating based on a motive to make profits and fulfill your bottom line is evil. And so it follows that they believe that those evil companies must be reigned in and controlled in order to make the system more 'fair'.

But, this comes at a cost to all of us. If you want to make something more available to a larger group of people and to bring down cost, you don't impose more regulations or restrictions on that item. It is competition among private individuals and companies that brings costs down, increases supply and makes markets more transparent. The federal government has never and is incapable of producing these kinds of effects in a market.

The only way to improve an inefficient and costly market is to put the bargaining power back in the hands of the people and eliminate restrictions - on everything from where the good (in this case, insurance) can be bought from to what is or isn't included for the price. Until then, as Mr. Malanga points out, "insurance costs will continue to spiral."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A follow-up on Glenn Beck.

Clarification:

It looks like the media got it wrong. Ed Morrissey of Hot Air dug deeper and contacted the big three companies reported to have pulled advertising from Beck's show. Best Buy said that they only advertise on Fox in the morning hours, never during Beck's show or any of the other commentators' shows. CVS did ask that their ads not be aired during Beck's show but will continue to advertise on Fox during other time slots. Sounds like they have a grudge against Beck to me. Wal-Mart also conceded that they have asked for all ads to be pulled from the show. A reader forwarded an email he received from Wal-Mart to Morrissey, indicating that Wal-Mart has decided to pull their ads from all news shows that provide commentary. It'll be interesting to see if they keep their word.

Thanks to Ed Morrissey for following up on this story.

----
Looks like the left's strategy is producing some results - with Best Buy, CVS and Wal-Mart pulling advertising from Beck's show. I haven't come across any information that indicates whether these companies are pulling all advertising from Fox, or are instead following in the footsteps of others who continue to market to Fox's audience, just not on Beck's show.

Has Beck addressed this at all yet? I haven't watched as regularly as usual since this began. I know Beck won't be speaking at the 9/12 event in Washington, D.C. Despite the fact that he began the 9/12 project 'for the people" as he put it, it seems uncharacteristic for him to decline to speak at the first large gathering of a project he pioneered.

Beck has become one of the most influential conservative voices this year - right up there with commentators like Rush Limbaugh. The campaign against him could hurt him, but it won't succeed in getting him off the air - not radio or television. How displeased Fox is with the situation and how much of the decision not to appear at the 9/12 project had to do with demands made by Fox, is unclear.

Beck's situation is another example of the left's inability to take on rational dissent. When the Speaker of the House and House Majority Leader call opponents of their pet project un-American, this sets the tone for everyone else as to what is and is not acceptable. When regular Americans showing up to townhalls and engaging civically not only have their patriotism questioned, but are commonly called racists (by commentators and even academics, particularly on cable television), we become jaded at the left's action when they choose a target to zero in on like Beck.

Unlike others who believe it really doesn't make a difference whether they have an effect on Beck's show, I fall into the camp that believes that it's not only unfair but dangerous to allow the anti-Beck campaign to go unnoticed. If they're targeting Beck, it's not because he just spews worthless blabber on television. If that was the case, they'd mock and belittle him, but not engage in serious tactics to bring him down. Beck has struck a chord, by using both logic and humor to get his message across that this administration's expansionist policies are leading us down a disastrous road. Like other conservatives the left loves to hate, he has a knack for simplifying complex issues and bringing game-changing facts to light. His ability to personalize issues, relate to people and yes, even get emotional, has brought him great success and allowed his voice to reach many people. Thanks in part to his show, books like the The Five Thousand Year Leap made their way to the top of the bestseller lists, and people are actually reading history and figuring out for themselves how the system constructed by our founders led to the greatest innovation and wealth the world has ever seen in one country.

Now, I don't always agree with Beck completely, but I believe that he works hard to put forth strong arguments and that he does so with passion. And perhaps that is why they chose him specifically. Regardless of their inane reasoning, we should all stand up for Glenn Beck and make sure to continue to follow this story and spread the word. Beck is not an extreme commentator; he is not an offensive commentator. He is a thinker and an analyst who is rooted in the conservative tradition. And, he is an educator, a man who has a great respect for history and shares it with his audience. He has brought people of conservative values together and helped the conservative movement. And if we allow the left to take him down without a fight, who is next? And what does it say about freedom of speech in a country where thugs tied to the President (through one of the many czars no less) are able to shut down opposing voices like that?

When Jeremiah Wright engaged in an indisputably racist rant, conservatives were told that it was either irrelevant or racist to bring him up. I was even told by some here in Chicago that anything that he said should be excused because he has done a lot for the community of the south side of Chicago. Why is it that as a society, we give leftists a free pass? Is it because we're afraid we'll be labeled racists? This is the sentiment that Beck tapped into when he drew his own conclusions and wondered aloud on television if our President is indeed racist. No one blinked an eye when liberals painted President George W. Bush as a racist or when Janeane Garofalo accused tea partiers of being racists, but when a white, conservative commentator opines that the President might be racist, liberals begin planning his demise. The hypocrisy and unjustness is astonishing here. People should begin paying more attention to this situation and continue to stand up for Beck.

Monday, August 17, 2009

And the pendulum swings back.

Just eight months into Obama's nascent presidency, a new Gallup poll shows that conservatives outnumber liberals in every single state. Except for in Washington D.C., a greater number of people consider consider themselves conservative over moderate or liberal.

Looking at the numbers for each state, one wonders where all of these self-identified conservatives were on November 4, 2008? Less than a year into the era of hope and change that Democrats promised to usher in, Americans are coming out in droves to oppose Obama's expansionist policies - primarily when it comes to health care.

As the pendulum swings back toward the right, I wonder if this is just what conservatives needed - someone to remind them of what they do not stand for. Just a few months ago, the big question of the day was how conservatives were going to make changes in the GOP in order to attract more voters. On the one side were the traditionalists, arguing for going back to the party's conservative roots a la Reagan. On the other side of the spectrum were the 'big tent' supporters, who believed the Republican party needed to step back, particularly on social issues like abortion and gay marriage to entice more voters.

But, in the face of massive government spending and a potential government takeover of the health care industry that would run private insurance to the ground, the senseless debate about the party died rather suddenly. There were real problems and threats to the system to deal with. The potentially disastrous consequences of Obama's policies brought together all conservatives, all fiscal conservatives that is. And isn't that really the fundamental philosophy that we all agree on? Limited government, economic freedom, individual opportunity, property rights, states' rights - these are the pillars of conservative philosophy, the foundation on which America was built. And those ideas have produced a country that has seen more innovation, progress and wealth than any other in history.

It seems that every so often we are doomed to repeat history, and to forget how we got to where we are. In President Obama's case, the code he speaks in, particularly during the time between the election and his inauguration, made it sound like he would govern from the center (maybe even right of center in some cases). But in reality, as we have all learned now, President Obama is a classic leftist; he is just able to hide it better than other politicians because he recognizes what many of us have been saying all along and what this new Gallup poll confirms - that America is still a center-right country. And so it took Americans longer than perhaps it should have to deconstruct Obama's language, his intentions. But, in the end, no matter how many consultants you hire and focus groups you listen to, Americans will judge you by your actions and not how good a speech you can give. Obama's rhetorical style is what got him elected, but it also what is driving his fall from grace. Lofty speech that appeals to people's emotions will only get you so far.

The health care debate has brought all of this to the forefront. People are willing to give a new President, administration and Congress time to prove themselves on economic issues, immigration, social issues etc. But health care is different. Americans have drawn the line and are engaging with their representatives in a way that I have never seen in my adult life. Liberals like Sen. Specter who insist that health care opponents are not representative of America can only ignore the reality on the ground for so long. Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to pick yourself back up. And in a way, this is what has happened in the last eight months. Conservatives hit rock bottom and are picking themselves back up. Let's hope they do so before the Obama administration comes up with some great sales pitch (after all, this is their greatest strength) that moves the pendulum back the other way.


Canada: our health care system is sick.

Topping the agenda at this week's annual Canadian Medical Association is curing the ails of their medical system.

"Dr. Anne Doig says patients are getting less than optimal care and she adds that physicians from across the country - who will gather in Saskatoon on Sunday for their annual meeting - recognize that changes must be made.
We all agree that the system is imploding, we all agree that things are more precarious than perhaps Canadians realize," Doing said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

The pitch for change at the conference is to start with a presentation from Dr. Robert Ouellet, the current president of the CMA, who has said there's a critical need to make Canada's health-care system patient-centred.

His thoughts on the issue are already clear. Ouellet has been saying since his return that "a health-care revolution has passed us by," that it's possible to make wait lists disappear while maintaining universal coverage and "that competition should be welcomed, not feared."

In other words, Ouellet believes there could be a role for private health-care delivery within the public system.

He has also said the Canadian system could be restructured to focus on patients if hospitals and other health-care institutions received funding based on the patients they treat, instead of an annual, lump-sum budget. This "activity-based funding" would be an incentive to provide more efficient care, he has said.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that as the left is making efforts to Frenchify our health care system, in France, the trend is moving toward some privatization. Over the last few months, conservatives have pointed to problems in the Canadian system, including long waiting periods and rationing of medical treatment, as an argument against implementing a government-run health care system in this country.

Canada and England control costs in a similar fashion - they create a budget for how much will be spent on health care, and they stick to it. So, in order to determine how that money gets spent and who gets treatment, they must 'prioritize' (read: ration) who gets what treatment and when.

The health care debate has highlighted the problems with this type of system. But, an admission from the Canadian Medical Association itself speaks volumes. Even with the news that the Obama administration *might* be backing away from the public option, the fight's not over yet. We've heard stories from Canadian citizens who waited years for treatment, while their afflictions progressed to the point where it was too late for some. But, I for one, haven't heard much from Canadian medical professionals themselves. And it's crucial for Americans to recognize the problems these countries face and that many believe that the only cure for these problems is to move toward a system that looks more, not less, like the current American system. (Of course, for that reason, I don't see this story getting much attention in the media.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Standing up for Glenn Beck

I've heard rumors this last week of sponsors pulling their advertising from Glenn Beck's show. I haven't been able to watch his show every day this week, so I'm not sure if he's addressed this explicitly. But, redstate.com just posted that Obama's green jobs czar, "convicted felon and self-declared communist Van Jones" has direct ties to a group that is trying to shut down Beck, which has hired a big Hollywood PR firm to *influence* (read: bully) others to follow their lead.

Erick Erickson posted the information for the organizations that are boycotting Beck. I'll repost it here for convenience.

Here’s the list of the groups that have boycotted Glenn Beck. Let them know you disagree. Let them know you will boycott them for kowtowing to Barack Obama’s worshippers, brownshirts, goons, and thugs.

SC Johnson:
Fisk Johnson Chairman & CEO
Phone: (262)260-2000

Steve Peckham, Senior Global Public Affairs Manager
262.260.4402
swpeckha@scj.com

Progressive Insurance:
Glenn Renwick, President & CEO- (440)461-5000

Linda Harris, Advertising & Sponsorships
Linda_J._Harris@progressive.com

Geico:
Tony Nicely
Chairman, President & CEO, Insurance Operations
E-mail: tnicely@geico.com
(301) 986-2462

Chris Tasher, GEICO Media Relations
301-986-3271
ctasher@geico.com

Erickson says this was prompted by Beck's calling Obama a racist. I believe that there are ample facts out there to support this claim. Whether you agree with Beck or not, he has every right to lay out the facts as he sees them, make his conclusions and share them with the public.

For me personally, I think Beck's opinion has merit. I lost all respect for our President as a person when he said that despite sitting in Jeremiah Wright's church for 20 years, he had no idea that he used his pulpit to preach offensive, racist and anti-American ideas. Either the President lied about going to church (which is the lesser of the two evils here), or he lied about the types of ideas and sermons he listened to as he sat in that pew for twenty years.

If you don't like Beck, start your own blog, radio show, whatever the case may be and make the counter-arguments. But, to use Beck's own word, it seems to me that those in power, including Van Jones and his group, are forming nothing less than a thug-ocracy when they go to such lengths to shut down one man's voice.

I already sent an email to each of the people on Erickson's list, and I encourage everyone to do the same. My email is reprinted below.
Dear Sirs and Madams,

I write to address the fact that you are boycotting Glenn Beck. While some of you may have come to this decision individually, as I understand it, others are being pressured by a PR firm tied to the current administration that is trying to shut down Mr. Beck for his opposing political views.

It is shocking that this is happening in a country that was built upon freedom of speech. Mr. Beck's contentions all have a factual basis - regardless of whether or not you agree with his analysis. It is shameful what you and others are doing to shut him down, and I am hopeful as ever that the truth will prevail and that you will not succeed in your goals. In the meantime, please know that at least for my group of friends and family, so long as you are making efforts to shut down Glenn Beck, we will choose to take our business elsewhere and boycott you in turn.

Despina D. Karras
Chicago, IL

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mid-week review: liberal hypocrisy.

Yesterday's news was full of sound bytes from the various town hall meetings held across the country - Obama in New Hampshire, Specter gracing the citizens of Pennsylvania with his presence and McCaskill being held accountable by her constituents in Missouri.

I haven't had any luck finding the transcript of Sen. McCaskill's town hall gathering. If anyone gets a hold of it and feels like forwarding it to me, that'd be great.

My first reaction however to the bits and pieces I saw of the forum, was to praise and give credit to McCaskill for facing the people she represents and addressing their questions and problems with the legislation. In fact, of the forums that were given media attention, she did the best job answering people's questions honestly. I disagree with her fundamentally over the kinds of reforms that are needed, but at least on the surface, she did a better job than President Obama did - answering questions from supporters and opponents alike and actually sounding like she cared.

But then I stopped myself. Why did I think for even a moment that she deserved any special credit for doing her job?! That's what our representatives are supposed to - execute the will of their constituents. And there is no way to determine what their desires are unless you engage with them and debate the issues. But, we've gone so far from this tradition that when someone actually does their job, it's shocking. To me, it's akin to someone who's been abused and becomes so used to it, that they are ever so grateful to the abuser when they are actually decent.

“But I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking.”
Then, at the beginning of this week, the administration launched a website to 'fight the smears' about health care and noted that:
“[A]s more people become engaged in the issue, defenders of the status quo have responded by muddying the waters with more wild rumors and scare tactics.”
And the biggest insult of, all on Monday Americans woke up to an editorial by the Democratic Speaker of the House and House Majority Leader calling health care opponents un-American, ironically accusing them "of drowning out those who want to have a substantive discussion."

The hypocrisy is overwhelming - especially given the complaints about the previous administration and of government generally that brought this President and a Democratically-led Congress to power. Wasn't is Candidate Obama that touched a chord with people by tapping into their distrust of government and of the previous administration? In his acceptance speech at the DNC Obama said that the failure of government to respond to challenges was a result of the broken politics of the previous administration and that "our government should work for us, not against us."

And even more importantly, in start contrast to the drafters of the health care bill he so strongly supports, he stated:
"One of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism."
In that same speech, he even alluded to "the cynicism we all have about government." Now set aside the fact that that last sentiment is completely opposed to the big-government policies he supports. The point is somewhere along the way, these politicians who speak as if they're in the center or right of center but vote with the left either forgot or never understood the fundamental distrust of government Americans possess. Sen. Specter added his two cents, stating he doesn't think that the protestors are really representative of the rest of the country. I'd like to know what newspapers he reads, what polls he looks at, what kind of people he surrounds himself with, and what TV news shows he might watch if he thinks that the protestors that showed up at his town hall are just outliers.

The short-term memory of liberals, both those in and out of power, has been front and center this week. The same people who complained for years about the Bush administration trampling on their rights have no words for liberal politicians who would literally rather sacrifice free speech than make any concessions to their opponents. This has been mentioned plenty of times this week, but imagine the reaction of those same liberals if the Bush administration had come out and asked the public to send them the contact information and topics discussed by those who opposed their plans?

It hasn't even been a year since the election. And already Democrats have forgotten how they won the last election - it wasn't by alienating people or questioning their patriotism. And the circus continues...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Earth to Pelosi: Are you not listening, or do you really not get it?

The Heritage Foundation points out that in the Pelosi-Hoyer condemnation of health care opponents today, they write:
"People must be allowed to learn the facts. … Reform will also mean higher-quality care by promoting preventive care so health problems can be addressed before they become crises. This, too, will save money."
For being so concerned with getting facts out, it seems surprising that they either missed or ignored CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf's statement last week that refuted this position.
Elemendorf wrote:
"Although different types of preventive care have different effects on spending, the evidence suggests that for most preventive services, expanded utilization leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall," Elmendorf wrote. "That result may seem counterintuitive.

To avert one case of acute illness, it is usually necessary to provide preventive care to many patients, most of whom would not have suffered that illness anyway. ... Researchers who have examined the effects of preventive care generally find that the added costs of widespread use of preventive services tend to exceed the savings from averted illness.
This is not to say that preventive care shouldn't continue to be a priority. It should. Preventive care is indeed a priority, as Ed Morrissey points out at AIP, this is why almost all health care plans cover annual preventive visits at 100% (even those high deductible insurance accounts in my experience). This also includes blood work and diagnostic testing, aimed at catching problems early if you do visit the doctor annually so that problems can be, that's right prevented.

Don't believe her, she's acting.

Michelle Malkin posted a great video today (here) that shows a Massachusetts representative stumbling to explain to why she voted to opt out of the government-run health care she's selling constituents. Her irrelevant, rambling response is telling, just as is her inadequate explanation of how after five years, private insurance plans will be 'grandfathered in' under the new system and will be forced to comply with government standards/regulations or cease existing.

What is also interesting about this video is the dialogue between the health care opponents and supporters in the audience. The first man to stand up after Rep. Tsongas' inadequate response, calls out the dissenters as disruptive. This is despite the fact that during Tsongas' answer and while this man began asking his question, he was uninterrupted -- until he called other people out, criticizing them for doing just as he was, attending a town hall to make their feelings known and to engage on the issue.

Later in the video, around the 6:30 mark, a young woman gets emotional while speaking on the subject. On another topic, this could be seen as being too much, but this debate deals with the most personal, difficult decisions we face in our lives, and her emotions are not over the top or out of place in any way. As part of the audience cheers her on, when she says "we should have the choice in this...this is not speaking for the people", one man screams, "don't believe her, she's acting." She finally does get to her question, which is twofold: why won't she have a choice for herself and for her parents, and why is Congress (and this Rep. in particular) dodging out of the plan that they are imposing on her?

Despite how respectful and reasonable her question is, she couldn't get through it without being heckled and talked over during her exchange with Tsongas.

Compare this to the final comment coming from the audience. A young woman from the other side of the aisle, supporting Democrats' health care plans, refers to her personal situation. She has a grandmother that passed away from breast cancer after being denied care based on a preexisting condition. Listen closely in the video. Do you hear heckling? Do you hear anyone accusing her of acting, of lying? Do you hear any boos when people applaud after her question? None. Both the supporters and opponents of health care allowed her to say her part - peacefully.

Why is there such a difference between the reaction people on the left and right side of this issue got? There's no good way to answer that question, but it is important to take note of. And, when politicians like Pelosi, Hoyer and White House officials decide to castigate opponents rather than set the tone for a civil debate, scenes like this one could become even more heated - as we saw in St. Louis last week.

Ok for left to organize (bottom-up approach), not for right (unpatriotic, disruptive mob).

Politico reports this morning that the White House is launching a new web site dedicated to setting the record straight on Democrats' health care proposals. But, the site doesn't stop there, it also links to social networking sites and provides talking points and material to be distributed via these sites, email, or whatever your choice medium may be to help spread the White House's message. A senior administration official is quoted as crediting this 'bottom-up approach' for getting his man into the White House. And, they hope it works for ushering in the health care transformations they support as well.

So, organizing on the left is a bottom-up approach. And, there is absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging citizens to become engaged and politically active on issues. Right? Wooops - there lies the rub. Apparently, the White House, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are not equal opportunity encouragers of engagement. As their op-ed in today's USA makes clear - if you are against health care, if you are trying to engage with your representative and happen to be on the other side of the aisle on this issue, if you have tried to make your way through the bill and decipher what it will really mean for our future -- you are an unpatriotic, member of the dissenting mob and should be shut-up. Pelosi and Hoyer say no less in their shocking, speech-suppressing, un-American piece today.

If Pelosi thinks that she stands for what it means to be American, as the Speaker of the House pointing fingers at concerned Americans who are doing exactly what this country's founders hoped Americans would do - get involved, become engaged, hold government accountable - then she has no understanding at all of what it means to be American.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

French Health Care: When no one wants to foot the bill

Despite liberals' efforts to convince us all that France's universal health care system is sheer perfection, France is actually in the process of taking steps that will make it a sort of hybrid between our system and theirs. What is stopping them is their citizens' aversion to any changes that require them to take any personal responsibility for their health care. Co-pays? Unheard of in France. Think medicine might be a lucrative career for you? Try again - doctors in France cannot charge more than 22 euros for a consultation, but they can tack on 3.50 for house visits. And I suppose that despite all the years of studying, rotations, late nights and the emotional toll of I don't know, dealing with sick people takes on a person, they're expected be thrilled with the extra 3 euros that won't even buy you a Croque McDo in France. But, as I'm sure liberals would quickly point out, their medical school is paid for by the government. I would venture to guess they would trade in that free ride in a New York minute for the freedom to treat patients under their terms, and not according to the fine print of the government contract that dictates every decision they make, including what fees to assess.

The French are so attached to their system, that they will not support any changes in the system. And by any, I mean they are unmovable on this topic. When a recent hospital began charging patients 1.10 an hour to park, residents became infuriated, stating that this goes against the very nature of universal health care.

French citizens' stubbornness regarding any changes to the system must mean the system works well, right? I recall a conversation I had a few years back, discussing the difference between maternity wards in America and in France with an American friend and his French wife. I was told that in France, the maternity wards are like hotels. They are comfortable, family-friendly, peaceful places to bring a new life into the world.

Sounds like a nice idea, right? Then how come the woman mentioned in the WSJ article, Laure Cuccarolo got stuck giving birth in the back of a fire truck? Because of France's inability to deal with rising health care costs, the hospital closest to her had to shut its doors. When her baby came a month early, she found herself 30 miles away from the closest hospital, called a fire truck to her aid, and the rest is history.

France's health care system (indeed, it's entire economic model) is a perfect example of what happens when a citizenry becomes indebted to big government. The best way to create this kind of society is to start with health care. It's also the best way to create an entire society of people who want, want, want without ever working to earn those wants. Their system is the perfect example of what happens when everyone wants the best, and no one wants to foot the bill.

This is what our President is promising. As Peggy Noonan points out, President Obama, his administration and his supporters misunderstood the mandate handed down by voters last year. After 8 years of President Bush and controversies over an extended war effort in the Middle East, voters voiced their demands for change - for fresh ideas and governance, for more transparency and accountability. But, their desire for change did not eradicate their good ol' American common sense. You cannot promise to cut costs while providing people with more options - that just doesn't make sense. And, you cannot step in and interfere with medical costs without interfering with the quality of medical care - that doesn't make sense either. And, with a failed stimulus, a Democratic-led Congress that hasn't met a spending bill it hasn't liked, and most recently a $1 billion failed cash for clunkers subsidy, Americans have their doubts as to what government can and cannot handle competently. And, they sure aren't willing to take risks with their health care.

Monday, July 27, 2009

TSA: Is this how we want our health care run?

As some readers know, I recently took a much needed break and travelled to Puerto Rico for a week. I am always anxious when travelling, but my anxiety was higher than normal with this trip due to the fact that I needed to travel with a few liquid medications. These medications are all natural and therefore, not prescribed to me via the traditional route. Since I needed them, I couldn't take the chance of checking them in my luggage, so being the studious, rule-following person that I am, I called TSA ahead of time, seeking their guidance on the best way to travel with them so as to minimize any potential headaches while getting through security. To my surprise, I found the TSA agent pleasant, informative and reassuring. The medicine needed to be kept in the original containers in a clear, gallon-sized zip lock bag. Done.

Fast forward a week. We arrive at the airport early, I walk up to security, declare that I have medicine and pull the bag out of my carry-on. Aside from the fact that I was pulled to the side and searched for ten minutes because the metal detectors did not like the buttons on my jeans, which the TSA agent noted but proceeded to pat me down everywhere anyway, afraid to use her brain (by noting my demeanor, close-fitting clothing under which nothing could be concealed, etc.) I then had to deal with TSA agents when I came out of the glass box I was confined in during the search, telling me that my medicine would not be allowed on the plane.

So, I spent another ten minutes pleading, explaining, pulling out doctors’ notes, and telling the TSA employees of the conversation I’d had just one week earlier with the TSA representative who’d taken down my contact and flight information and assured me that every airport follows the same rules.

The response I received: smirks, confused looks, laughs, shrugs. The TSA employees at the airport had never heard of the rules I was told on the phone (despite the fact that these same rules are clearly laid out on their website). Then, the manager, the ultimate authority over what does and doesn’t get on the plane, walked over and very nonchalantly said to the agents, “do whatever you want”.

And, just like that, after performing a ‘vapor test’ on the medicine, I was allowed to take it through. (What does the vapor test do? Other than give the security people some semblance of legitimacy, I have no idea.)

While I remained calm during the ordeal, I was shaken up afterward. And, I couldn’t help but marvel at the disaster that is the TSA. They are supposed to keep us safe? Could they be any more disorganized? So, let me get this straight. The TSA is paid for by flyers and taxpayers. It receives funding from 1) the 9/11 fee assessed on airplane tickets, 2) airlines (in other words, people who fly who also presumably pay taxes) and 3) directly from taxpayer support.

After 9/11, the federal government decided to use taxpayer money to create the TSA. So, we paid someone to create the policies, to create a website detailing those polices, to answer phones and consult with flyers like me and explain/reassure them of the policies. And, we pay the security agents at the airport who somehow don’t follow the same polices. How does this make any sense?

Don’t get me wrong – if there is one function the federal government should have, it’s to provide protection. And, I have no problem with being questioned or searched at the airport for I have nothing to hide. But, how much time did these agents waste with me, only to let me take my medicines onboard, when they could have been searching people who were a real threat? And, how about if we must have them, why not hire people we trust to be thinking and rational to make judgments about who does and does not present a real security threat?

While the analogy has been made that having the government run health care will result in health care that makes us feel like we’re at the DMV – waiting in long lines, being at the mercy of the government bureaucrats and employees and having no other choice, I think comparing it to dealing with security at the airport is an even better analogy. They hold all the power – to decide who gets what treatment, who gets to go through and who doesn’t. The TSA is a perfect example of a government organization that is mismanaged and disorganized. It is the epitome of a government creation that has turned into a monster – is this who we want to run our health care?