An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
Well if the right-wing is going to combat healthcare reform with "Obama wants to kill your grandmother" then what do you expect them to do with this? There exist some privacy, security and fraud "holes" that I see no iron-clad air-tight way to fix. You know how Republicans/Conservatives combat reform: they point to the problems and ignore the benefits thus making it impossible to defend a change unless it's a 100% solution. Anyone can nit-pick a plan to death. Given the viciousness we have seen already I am reluctant to invest any money and (no offense) even much time in a technological element that has such obvious vulnerabilities to political attack.
Now to the other political/social consideration. You know I respect you and realize you have knowledge, expertise and experience in this field that goes way beyond my meager collection of information. I will venture an opinion/argument anyway. When Cindy and Alex visited Canada a few years ago Cindy sustained a minor injury and needed to go to the hospital for outpatient care. When they asked about payment or insurance the Canadians laughed and told them there was nothing for them to sign, no forms to fill out, no idiocy with which they had to deal. They walked out of the hospital without so much as a co-payment. If you want efficiency, single-payer makes any sort of plan such as you envision totally unnecessary.
Single-payer also obtains greater cost-effectiveness than any private insurance. It's a myth and a lie that government is intrinsically incapable of accomplishing anything. The overhead expressed in dollars per $100 of reimbursement for most HMOs is $15. The most efficient is Kaiser which has about $12 per $100. What about Medicare and Medicaid? Try $3 each. This from the GAO and also reported (twice) in Consumer Reports (non-partisan and accepts no advertising). Recall also that back on April or May the Health Insurance industry offered Obama a trillion dollars in savings over 5 years. Think about it - that's how much they planned to over-charge us.
You understand the insurance business better than I do. You understand then, why when Canada changed the rules to allow private insurance to operate the one most important rule they enforce is that the private insurance can not underprice the government. In other words, there's no poaching the good risks. If you only insure the people who have a very low incidence of serious illness or injury, and who recover from injuries quickly, you rake in money. Freed from the expense of actually providing healthcare, you can spend the profits on bonuses so your executives can afford yachts and summer homes. The money is not spent on healthcare. Then, when the "good risks" age and become "bad risks" you either cancel their policies or price them so astronomically high that the "customer" must opt into the government-run system.
This is what I foresee happening: a two-tiered system in which the very wealthy have the very best healthcare but the private insurance companies otherwise will insure only the good risks, then dump them into the government-run half of the "system" when they actually need expensive treatments. Essentially what, according to documented cases, the private insurance companies do now. And I'm not just talking about "Sicko." I have also read numerous cases of policy cancellations and/or denial of treatment outside of Moore and his grandstanding silliness. The difference between $3 per $100 vs. $15 is not better health care (at least not in most cases). It's yachts and summer houses. A single-payer system will give us greatly reduced costs just by spending the money on healthcare.
In England the doctors have incentives to encourage their patients to lose weight and to quit smoking. With more time spent with patients the doctor can spend more time on educating patients and that can translate to more effectiveness in changing diet and behaviors that lead to obesity and other maladies. The present system of pressuring the doctors to see patients for as little time as possible does not serve me. I find it ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy the argument that there are some who ruin their own health and drive costs up for everybody but then we do not let doctors have the time necessary with their patients to help them change. There are also some "cross purposes" with other industries, in particular the agribusiness industry which does research to design foods that lead to over-eating (especially snack foods are specifically designed to encourage the consumer to eat the whole package and still feel hungry). We have lots of people trying to gouge as much money from us as possible without regard to any sort of "greater good."
The English and Canadian systems are not perfect. But they are well liked by the majority of the populations of those countries. This morning on my clock radio NPR reported that some U.S. anti-healthcare liars duped some English people into complaining about their National Health Service on camera for what the English thought was a documentary. The two dupes have stated publicly that they have complaints but would never dream of replacing the NHS with an "American style" system. Likewise, when Canadian journalists at a press conference chided Michael Moore about "Sicko" pointing out that they thought he painted an unrealistically rosy picture of the Canadian healthcare system he asked them if they would prefer to switch to the American one instead. The Canadian journalists did the equivalent of crossing themselves a dozen times and said absolutely not.
In the present farce of a debate taking place you have a Senate full of millionaires (no exaggeration, I think that Al Franken is one too, given his successful show business career) all of whom enjoy government-provided healthcare, many of them telling us how evil, inefficient, bad and (gasp!) socialist a government-run system would be. I don't see any of these jackals signing up for Kaiser. I want what they're having.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
One of the great advantages to working in academia comes from what you can learn just chatting with a colleague. A few weeks ago one of my colleagues explained to me what he learned from a moslem member of his department: What green means. In a discussion about the use of the word "green" in the U.S. (and enthusiastically adopted by our workplace) to mean "environmentally friendly" he told me that in the Islamic world, green is the symbolic color of Islam itself. "Going green" in that context means becoming more Islamic, more religious.
In the news reports about the political unrest in Iran following an obviously (and sloppily) rigged election, I have yet to find any news outlet that points out the symbolic meaning of the green head gear, green flags, green banners, etc. that we see on the TV. Maybe someone did explain and I just missed it. Nonetheless, the idea of right-wing bloggers changing their color schemes on their blogs in support of the protesters in Iran makes me chuckle a bit. Nevermind, that only a short time ago (a couple of years) Senator McCain made a tasteless joke about killing Iranian en masse ("Bomb, Bomb, Bomb... Bomb, Bomb Iran"). I have grown accustomed to the ease with which ideologues can turn on a dime. But I digress...
I read this morning two items that have coalesced in my head, and hope to do justice to that here. Glenn Greenwald on salon.com discussed the hypocrisy we witnessed when the President sang the praises of the power of the visual image to reveal the violence and brutality of the Iranian regime while chuckling at the reporter who asked about the suppression of the torture pictures by the same President (The Neda video, Torture and the truth-revealing power of images). Evidently not only right-wing ideologues turn on a dime - lots of people have that talent these days. And Greenwald gives us more scary for the day: a Washington Post/ABC poll shows that support for torturing "terrorist" suspects stands at about 50% (?!). I realize that no empirical evidence could ever tie this to the 7 seasons of torture porn broadcast as the television series 24, but I believe that popular culture, or even culture in general, has the ability to influence opinions on that most basic level: people's assumptions (assumptions are what you don't know you're making).
To make matters even more surreal, NPR (Nominally Public Radio) has made a decision to stop using the word "torture." Consider reading (or, I hope, re-reading) the essays of George Orwell (including the one at the end of 1984) about euphemism and dishonest use of language. NPR's Alicia C. Shepard writes an apologia for dropping the use of the word "torture" that reads like something out of the Ministry of Truth. I guess she would argue that it's only torture if you actually open the rat cage? Happily, many who have left comments on this atrocity have called bullshit on her. (Read about this whopper and comment as you please).
Culture and cluelessness combine in fascinating ways in Iran now, as I read an anonymous Iranian's report about how the regime has tried to keep people at home and complacent by showing them more movies that usual. To this end, they have started a Lord of the Rings marathon. I can almost imagine these imagination-challenged, ignorant, authoritarian hacks picking this out: "Oh, look. Harmless escapist fantasy, no relationship to reality here." Right. As if religions do not pillage the popular culture of the times for their holy books. These idiots never guessed that Tolkien artfully distills hundreds of characters, myths, legends, themes from around the world -- the stuff of popular culture throughout the centuries -- into an epic story that has to touch on at least some cultural references familiar to nearly any given person anywhere in the world. Not that Lord of the Rings necessarily borrows anything directly from the Koran or Iranian epic poetry (I have no idea, maybe it does?) but that (more likely) Tolkien's trilogy borrows from the same sources. In Tehran Dispatch: The regime shows us movies the anonymous Iranian explains the Iranian interpretation of the films. Please read this yourself. I will give you a spoiler, though: the Iranian regime looks a lot like Mordor. Who'd have guessed?
I can not resist mentioning my favorite of all the comments I have read thus far on Shepard's Orwellian nightmare apologia:
Don McAdam (dmc) wrote:
The next time NPR does a story on child abuse or date rape, they should refer to those immoral acts as "enhanced parenting techniques" and "harsh dating practices".
Here's someone who beat me to the punch:
Overton Glavlit (Googie) wrote:
I recognize that it's frustrating for some listeners to have NPR not use the number 4 to describe certain sums of 2 and 2. But the role of a news organization is not to choose sides in this or any debate. People have different definitions of what 2+2 equals and different feelings about what constitutes "4". NPR's job is to give listeners all perspectives, and present the news as detailed as possible and put it in context.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Just the suggestion is enough to frighten those who have healthcare benefits from their employers to fear additional taxes. The idea of taxing people with jobs to supply healthcare others already has a firm link in many people's minds.
There's an easy way to resolve this problem. I wrote back in 2007 Are you a good risk or a bad risk that private insurance poaching the "good risks" diverts money from health care and spends it on six-figure salaries, bonuses, and a huge campaign war-chest for giving to politicians and both parties as well as PR efforts to fend off a single-payer system.
According to reports from the GAO to Consumer Reports private insurance and HMOs have an overhead (measured in number of dollars per $100 in reimbursement to health care providers) of about 15%. Some have overhead as high as $18 per $100 of reimbursement. What about the "grossly inefficient" government programs? Medicare and Medicaid consistently come in at $3 per $100. If you were simply to replace the current spending on private health insurance and divert the same funds to a single-payer system, you could pay for health care for everyone and have enough left over to give back money to both employers and employees.
The republican disinformation campaign and scare tactics take advantage of existing prejudices against poor people. Not all poor people are lazy, collecting welfare and uninterested in work. Many under-employed people to not receive employer health benefits. Many small businesses can not afford to offer health benefits and state laws do not require them to either. The stereotype of the lazy welfare recipient does not hold true for millions of people without health care.
Also keep in mind that back in 2007 GM griped about the competition from Europe. The European car companies do not have to pay health benefits but the U.S. ones do. If not for humanitarian reasons then for economic ones why not have a single-payer system that spends the premiums on health care instead of influence and astronomical salaries? Just a thought
Friday, May 22, 2009
Although he calls it "prolonged" detention, that word serves as a euphemism so disgusting that I shudder when I type the words. But others have done a far better job of parsing the President's speech. (See Rachel Maddow's expert deconstruction below).
In addition, Glen Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer and very articulate writer of the blog Unclaimed Territory as usual did a thorough job of examining the implications and the constitutional issues. Speaking of the Constitution, that President Obama chose to deliver that attack on civil liberties and the rule of law at the National Archives in the presence of the original Constitution suggests that he used the Constitution as nothing more than a prop. For Bush it was the "Mission Accomplished" sign.
I appreciate the sort of political bind in which Democrats find themselves. Ever since Willie Horton they have lived in fear that a person released from the custody of some government agency who subsequently commits a crime will give a great campaign issue to the republicans. If someone released from U.S. custody commits or participates in an act of terrorism, then we (and I guess Obama sees this coming) will see the Republicans howling with outrage. "We had him! But then the cowardly democrats let him go!" But recall that Benjamin Franklin once said that those who would trade liberty for safety deserve neither. (And I would add that they will have neither). This from someone who had a price on his head during the Revolutionary War.
We have already seen the U.S. law enforcement mis-use the RICO statue to confiscate property of ordinary people based solely on arrest (without convictions). I wrote about that here. A law promoted as a tool to combat organized crime police subsequently use to confiscate the homes of cancer patients growing their own medicinal marijuana. And have we forgotten about George W. Bush's "free speech zones" or the police round-up of journalists and activists in advance of their doing anything during the Republican Convention last summer in Minneapolis? The notorious "no fly" list which has excluded a baby and a U.S. Senator from flying comes to mind as well. We have seen plenty of examples of laws "intended" for foreigners and/or terrorists used on citizens as well. Speaking of the distinction between "foreigners" and citizens, you may recall the interment of Japanese Americans during WWII.
Rachel Maddow used a reference to the movie Minority Report as a scary example in which police arrest people for "pre-crime" : crimes that they will commit but haven't yet. I find this a good and clever reference to the sort of Orwellian nightmare that lurks behind "prolonged detention." I can think of another movie reference: A World Apart. This film took place in Apartheid South Africa and dramatized an actual, frequent practice of preventative detention. Barbara Hershey's character stays in jail for the legal limited period of detention without charge. Then the police have to release her. She leaves the jail-house then almost makes it to a public telephone before the police arrest her again for another period of detention. Remember this if in response to public outrage President Obama amends his plan to place a time limit on how long the U.S. government entitles itself to detain a person without charge or trial.
Remember back in 2002 when Bush set up his torture regime while his head of the newly created "Homeland Security," Tom Ridge, described civil liberties as "... the most precious gift we offer our citizens." First it starts out as an inalienable right. Then turns into a gift that the government deigns to give to us. How much longer will we keep it?
Friday, May 15, 2009
That was the little-noticed message from the made-for-TV spectacle that administration officials called a healthcare "game changer": In saying they can voluntarily slash $200 billion a year off the country's medical bills over the next decade and still preserve their profits, healthcare companies implicitly acknowledged they were plotting to fleece consumers and have been fleecing them for years. With that acknowledgment came the tacit admission that the industry's business is based not on respectable returns, but on grotesque profiteering and waste -- the kind that can give up $2 trillion and still guarantee huge margins.
From salon.com: Obama, the healthcare Riddler By David Sirota.
I like how David Sirota has grasped the obvious. But he does not plumb the depths of the depravity here. We have numerous HMOs, PPOs, and whatever other initials the health insurance industry can throw at us. But the free-enterprise champion always goes on about how competition provides us with the best of whatever at the lowest price possible. Where do you see any effectiveness of this philosophy at work in the health insurance industry? Where's the effect of this philosophy? Where's the efficiency that competition supposedly compels?
Sunday, April 12, 2009
President Obama has taken the same position on Habeas Corpus as President Bush: he's against it. Read Greenwald's post on this development. Obama's Dept. of Justice has argued that Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan lies beyond the law, that detainees flown there have no right to contest their detention. Same as the Bush administration.
Now here's the scary part. Obamaniacs, in the comments on Juan Cole's blog and other places, have made much the same arguments in support of President Obama running roughshod over the rule of law and effectively abolishing habeas corpus that Bush's admirers made in support of former President Bush running roughshod over the rule of law and effectively abolishing habeas corpus. For summaries of the comments in question see here and also here.
What is it on both sides of the political spectrum that leads people to so adore leaders even in the face of evidence of a monumental betrayal not only of promises that carried the leader into office but of bedrock principles of the civilized world?
Yikes! I say, yikes!
Saturday, April 04, 2009
As a follow-up to that broadcast, Glenn Greenwald wrote a post, Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Wall Street's ownership of government that provides a very complete and eloquent summation of the corruption of the Obama administration's officials (and don't forget Alan Greenspan). He uses facts publicly available to illustrate the revolving door between the government and private sector linking the gutting of laws and regulations that resulted directly in the crash (and in profits for the Obama administration officials) to the actions of those individuals: Geithner, Lawrence Summers and others. The mainstream media has not touched any of this.
Greenwald cites this article from Stanford magazine about Brooksley Born and how Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers and Alan Greenspan successfully blocked her attempts to regulate exactly those derivative financial instruments (Credit Default Swaps) that everyone now agrees caused the economic disaster we all have to face.
Greenwald's summation states the case better than anything I can think of:
Just think about how this works. People like Rubin, Summers and Gensler shuffle back and forth from the public to the private sector and back again, repeatedly switching places with their GOP counterparts in this endless public/private sector looting. When in government, they ensure that the laws and regulations are written to redound directly to the benefit of a handful of Wall St. firms, literally abolishing all safeguards and allowing them to pillage and steal. Then, when out of government, they return to those very firms and collect millions upon millions of dollars, profits made possible by the laws and regulations they implemented when in government. Then, when their party returns to power, they return back to government, where they continue to use their influence to ensure that the oligarchical circle that rewards them so massively is protected and advanced. This corruption is so tawdry and transparent -- and it has fueled and continues to fuel a fraud so enormous and destructive as to be unprecedented in both size and audacity -- that it is mystifying that it is not provoking more mass public rage.
This is the Obama Administration?! Does this look like change to you?
One last piece of priceless snark from A Tiny Revolution: Lawrence Summers in 1999, when he was Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary, on the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act.
And speaking of the repeal of Glass-Steagall, Mike Taibbi wrote a great article in Rolling Stone that gives a good background: The Big Takeover. For those keeping score, this travesty occurred under the Clinton Administration. This is also only one of the reasons that the thought of Hilary Clinton as President struck terror into my heart. Not that President Obama has proven much of an improvement, having enshrined the thieves and liars who now cover-up their misdeeds and raid the treasury again and again with impunity. Great way to restore confidence. Oh well.
Friday, March 13, 2009
U.S. Halted some raids in Afghanistan
I knew about predator raids mistakenly killing civilians as long ago as 2003-04. I did not realize that the horrible TV show, "The Unit," has an analog in real life. And because of the secret nature of the missions, we can not know which came first, the TV show or the real-life commando operation.
Quick summary: in making a public announcement that the U.S. is shutting down commando operations in Afghanistan due to high numbers of civilian casualties, we see an admission that the Bush Co. lunatics were running commando hit teams in at least Afghanistan (and who know where else?). Pull on a thread, the tapestry unravels.
Also, I realize that Seymour Hersh has added some speculative musings about the extent of these operations. I hope that people can sort out his speculations from what U.S. government officials and military officers have publicly admitted.
Friday, March 06, 2009
This involves the Obama administration taking up the the Al-Haramain case in which a charity is attempting to sue the government in matters relating to the warrant-less spying under Bush & co.
One passage in particular stands out:
"Obama defenders take note: this is not a case where the Obama DOJ claims more time is needed to decide what to do, nor is it even a case where the Obama DOJ merely passively adopted the Bush DOJ's already filed arguments. Here, they have done much, much more than that. Obama lawyers have been running around for weeks attempting one desperate, extreme measure after the next to prevent this case from proceeding -- emergency appeals, requests for stays, and every time they lose, threats of still further appeals, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court. "
This is not a question of time or resources but of the way the new administration uses the resources it already has.
BTW, I have also learned a new term from this article - when the right wing fabricates a fake grass roots movement it's called "Astroturfing." Wonderful.
Exposing the rightwing PR machine
Friday, February 27, 2009
One of the everyday hypocrisies in the U.S. (and something that I find myself falling into sometimes) comes from the obsession with very ordinary and "small" people who have committed relatively minor offenses while very "big" people commit far more major offenses live in comfortable anonymity.
Lindsay Beyerstein, blogging at Majikthise has a post about Nadya Suleman the "Octo Mom" who now has 15 children. One paragraph in particular I found noteworthy:
In the grand scheme of things, the resources consumed by 14 extra poor kids in California is (sadly) negligible compared to other conspicuous consumption that is accepted as normal. We may look askance executives who earn and spend thousands of times as much as the average worker, but they don't usually get accosted by angry mobs at gas stations like Suleman was.
Republicans have made much mileage since the 70s over taxes. Taxes have no constituency to defend them. No one likes them. Attacking taxes has strangled programs (whether good or bad) by making the constituencies attack each other. Now that government is the only lifeline available to a growing number of people, their self-interest informs them a bit differently now. Those taxes don't look so bad anymore.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
This becomes one of those "privately owned public commons problems." On the one hand the openness of the internet provides us with the "many to many" mode of mass communication. But then when a 500 lbs. gorilla like Google eats every platform that has any degree of success in facilitating this kind of communication, you have the removal of the public commons into a private domain.
In two instances (that I know of, there may be more) a small band of close-mined jackasses have misused the social networking features on You Tube to attack videos they do not like. Creationists and zealots have flagged as offensive videos without any "dirty words" (or the same sort of dirty words that the average junior high student hears and says every day) or "obscene" visual imagery. They have filed bogus DCMA complaints and also used "vote-boting" to lower a videos ratings artificially. The vote-boting works by deceiving Google's automated processes into thinking that the video in question is some crap that no one likes. Used together, these tactics make a given video look like it has only crap content, has few or no viewers thereby making it "safe" to remove and in some cases even an entire channel is also "safe" to remove. The principle victims of this censorship campaign have been atheist science-geek types who post satirical/humorous or serious science-oriented videos that dispute creationist and/or authoritarian religious views very directly and effectively. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway because I'm pissed off) if one's own views/videos are so self-evidently clear, convincing and true, why then would you have to censor videos that express disagreement or derision?
But the last time Google/You Tube tried to take the easy way out and allow a small group of users to manipulate it into censoring a video or a channel, this behavior backfired. They tried to squash a British comedian named "Pat Condell" last Fall and that blew up in their faces as his viewers (and I proudly among them) posted his videos far and wide and raised hell with You Tube. Now another Brit has need of that same kind of assistance.
Thunderf00t has posted a video explaining his difficulties with You Tube's management in dealing with vote-boting, false flagging and false DMCA complaints against his videos. He suggests sending e-mail to You Tube's advertising address, rather than its help address, as You Tube really does have to read every message in its advertising mail box or risk losing business.
What do we want You Tube to do?
I suggest if you write to You Tube as Thunderf00t asks, that you ask them to fix the holes in their social networking functionality, in particular to prevent "vote-boting." Also ask them to enforce their terms of service cudgel on the users falsely flagging videos and more importantly on those users filing false DMCA complaints. (BTW, the threadbare basis for these bogus DMCA complaints is the use of another user's video in one's own - a use very specifically protected under "fair use" as small portions copied for the purpose of criticism and parody have always enjoyed the affirmative defense of the fair use doctrine).
Other things you can do:
You can go to Thunderf00t's channel then subscribe to it and also add it as a "friend." The advantage of adding it as your "friend" is that in the future if Google/You Tube/500 lbs. gorilla tries to remove his channel (again) then he can distribute word of this to us and therefore mobilize a reaction. You Tube also looks at subscriptions to see how "popular" a channel is. Lots of subscribers will make them think twice about mindlessly blocking/removing someone's video and/or channel. From the link above you can view his videos, including the "Why do people laugh at creationists" series which first triggered the efforts to make You Tube remove them.
I noticed when looking for the video detailing his troubles with You Tube that numerous people have re-posted the video as a way to prevent Google/500 lbs. gorilla/You Tube from taking it down. If you have a You Tube account and the technical facility to do so, you may want to repost it yourself. I have also rated all of the re-posts that I could find as a way to make automated censorship more difficult.
You may also consider subscribing to and adding as friends other channels not presently under attack that have content you like, just as a preventative measure.
Keep in mind, just in case I did not make clear, that I do not accuse You Tube of taking the side of creationists or purposely censoring science or political/religious views. Google is a business taking the easy way as much as possible to reduce costs and maximize profits. This is what businesses do. A relatively small number of dishonest authoritarian kooks has figured out a way to exploit this corporate behavior to their advantage. If we want to keep You Tube or the internet in general a place for freely expressing and finding meaningful content, we need to act. If the 500 lbs. gorilla figures out that it's angering 10 times more viewers that the ones it's appeasing, its self-interest will kick in. Otherwise, You Tube will devolve into another Fox News channel.
Update, Feb 27, 2009: Thunderf00t has a new video detailing the victory over censorship. He asks that people stop e-mailing You Tube because his account has been restored, his channel open and all attempts to suppress his videos have ceased. You can view his third video on this matter. It includes some details of the vagueness of You Tube's acceptable use policy.