Thursday, July 30, 2009

Some replies to random criticisms of the President and his plans

NOTE: The following exchange picks up in the middle of what began as a phone conversation and turned into a series of emails. So there's not necessarily a lot of continuity or background here, but I'm not up to rewriting it at the moment. There are also a couple of graphs missing, but they were just added originally for emphasis, and don't contribute anything vital to the gist of what is said. Much of it centers on the health care debate, so if there's anything here you can use, you're welcome to it! ~~C.)

LEGEND: Barb's words in brick red, Cheryl's in teal blue

I don't need to respond to this except to say that your dad and I still don't believe that mankind is the primary reason for any so-called "global warming", which we note has been changed to "climate change" by some, so that if it's either global warming or global cooling, it's still man's fault.

It's true that topic is still being debated, but regardless of whether we're warming or cooling, and why, I wholeheartedly support efforts to reduce pollution on principle. Cap and trade was hugely successful in curbing the acid rain phenomenon (at a fraction of projected costs), so it's proven to work.

We want to make it clear that we really don't care if President Obama turns up the thermostat or not, leaving a bigger "carbon footprint". What bothers us is that we heard him say in one of his speeches that Americans need to "tighten their belts" regarding energy use. We reiterate - should he not lead by example? We mentioned that Jimmy Carter turned down the thermostat in the White House and wore warm sweaters. That's comfy. And we think he had a lot of stress also – rampant inflation, gas shortages, American hostages in Iran, etc.

All I can say is that I know he welcomes every American's opinion. Jimmy Carter set a good example, that's true. Perhaps the Obamas could do more. Instead of criticizing him behind his back, why not let him know how you feel about it? He may not even be aware how this issue is being perceived.

And as for his little trip to New York, we wonder what it cost the taxpayer, or did he pay for it out of his own pocket? Going to Camp David is a far cry from going to New York where the city had to foot the bill for hundreds of extra police, etc. We think all presidents need to get away for vacations, but this was not what we consider a vacation, but a little personal "junket". And this after he criticized CEO's for taking trips to Las Vegas.

Well, for one thing he was keeping a promise, which I support on principle. It took him four months to make good on it. And Mayor Bloomberg responded to the criticisms by saying, "We're ecstatic to have the Obamas come here. I can't think of anything that is better as an advertisement for our tourism industry, for Broadway, for our restaurants, for saying that this is a safe city and an affordable city… I would love to have the Obamas come back here as much as they want. It does cost us a little extra in security but given the advertising value of having the President and the First Lady come here is worth many times over that. It's a very good deal for us." That said, what would you guys have thought if I had constantly criticized Bush's 77 vacation trips to Crawford so he could clear brush and ride his bicycle, to the tune of $226,072 per trip, or $17,407,544 all told? I'm pretty sure it was Dad who once chided me for criticizing him during his presidency, as he felt it was unpatriotic.

I don't know if you know that the CBO head was a Democratic appointee. The office itself is bipartisan. They have no ax to grind with either party.

I consider myself an Independent, so any official's record is going to matter much more to me than his declared party.

It's interesting to note that you accept their views on tort reform, but not on the health care bill estimates.

It just makes sense to me. Yes, it's going to be real hard to project savings from universal access, because you have so many variables, so why even try? You don't know how many more people will seek preventive care and how effective that will be in hard figures. You can make general projections based on surveys and third party compilations, but would the CBO be comfortable basing a report on those? Probably not. It just stands to reason that as more people get regular, routine care at the doctor's office rather than the ER, costs would have to go down. One guy (on your side of the debate!) claimed to have found a report indicating that in Austin, one patient visited the ER 145 times in one year! Obviously the ER was not equipped to deal with his condition (did he have a vitamin deficiency? Allergies? ER's aren't set up to deal with those), and if he'd had a regular doctor who could monitor and treat him steadily, the system would have saved enormous sums of money. Here's one ER story from today, a local person who comments on the TNT blog:

"About 5 years ago my daughter scratched the inside of her wrist with a thumb tack while fooling around with some friends. A counselor at her high school saw it and over-reacted thinking she was some kind of "cutter". He sent her to the emergency room. This was 2 days before I qualified for health insurance through my work. My ER bill was almost $500. The doctor who came into the room to look at her wrist and asked her what happened was in the room for less than 5 minutes. I got a bill from the Physician's Group for nearly $1000. Additionally we were charged almost $100 for the band aid to cover her scratch. She was not allowed back in school until she saw a shrink. Another $120.

Yeah, health care costs are out of control and something needs to be done about it as soon as possible."

It's worth noting, though, that the New England Journal of Medicine projects savings of $1.5 trillion over ten years if its proposed mix of reforms is adopted.

Tort reform, on the other hand, is pretty easy to quantify. You have historical evidence of how much was awarded in malpractice suits, and insurance companies must certainly be able to provide some sort of figures on how those impact premiums. They can compare that with the impact to premiums from insurers' investment losses and make pretty solid conclusions. It's apples vs. oranges, to me.

It's our understanding that the main cost to insurance companies for medical malpractice cases comes from the settlements for the "pain and suffering" (not the medical costs) of the patient. This needs to be capped. Trial lawyers take on these cases for free and then reap a large percent of the money given to the aggrieved. John Edwards is a perfect case in point. He made millions off of such cases, and then put the money into special shelters so that he didn't have to pay as much income tax on it. Trial lawyers make large donations to the political parties. Whoever is in control, they should put a stop to this.

So if you go into the hospital to get a mole removed and by accident, they get you mixed up with someone who was supposed to get a double mastectomy, you should only be compensated the cost of the double mastectomy? Or maybe the cost of the DM plus the mole removal, as a consolation? What if you develop a systemic infection and need both arms and both legs amputated? (True story, see link below.) All that aside, though, the evidence shows that in states that have enacted tort reform, malpractice rates have actually risen, as they did when Texas instituted it.

There is an article on the House health care bill that I would like you to read. You can access it on

This woman has read the House bill twice, and has noted some very disturbing things.

I don't know which bill that woman read, but I don't see anything about any "managed-care plan with limits on your access to specialists and tests" – if anything, the opposite is true! Currently if you have an HMO, a PPO, or a POS plan, these are all considered managed care, and frankly, I don't know of any other type of health insurance plan out there. The insurer gives you a list of "preferred providers" from which to choose. They give you a drug formulary from which your doctor must prescribe. Under H.R. 3200, there are minimum services that must be covered in a qualified plan, but no limits! They cannot put a lifetime cap on your benefits. There are other such protections, but if you read them, they all work to benefit the patient, not to limit anything!

As far as these nefarious "counseling" sessions to which Ms. McCaughey refers, this appears to be a pilot project consisting of not more than 30 providers who must meet rigorous standards in order to participate, the results of which will be used to compare "the understanding by Medicare beneficiaries of their medical treatment options, as compared to comparable Medicare beneficiaries who do not participate in a shared decision making process using patient decision aids." Many Medicare patients, even the non-elderly, are completely at a loss to understand what their benefits and options are. Did you know I'm officially covered under Medicare too, and I would never dare use it, simply because I don't have the foggiest idea how to access it? This program would apparently attempt to help people who find themselves in this boat. See Section 1236 and read it for yourself.

And then she skips from the House bill to the Senate bill, which, BTW, doesn't even exist yet – it hasn't even gone into markup in the Finance committee, as far as I know! And she complains that "huge sums" go into preventive care. Well, I don't know about anybody else, but my gut feeling says that preventive care costs a LOT less than corrective care! Much cheaper to pay a pregnant mother a home visit than to have her make stupid mistakes that'll wind up in a deformed baby who'll need intensive care all its life, wouldn't you say?

One other thing not attached to the above article. The Congress and the President (along with all government employees) will not have to partake in this program. They are exempted. Why is that?

First, they are already covered by a "heavily managed private plan" – and aren't you opposed to "managed care" (which I presume you currently have)? As for why the President and family shouldn't go on a public plan, well, if you watched his press conference, he said he already has a doctor following him around everywhere he goes. Would you really expect the POTUS to have to go downtown and sit in a doctor's office waiting for his checkup, while crap is hitting the fan back in the Oval Office? Not to mention the huge motorcade, security details, spending an hour beforehand clearing and securing the building, patting down all the employees, etc. Would that really make anybody happier? Besides, that argument is akin to asking, "If the mayor thinks a housing project is such a good idea, why doesn't he come live in it himself?" Does the First Family have to go on WIC just to prove it helps mothers with infants? It's a completely irrelevant question, IMO. A program can help a lot of people without making everybody from the top down participate. THAT would be socialism, wouldn't it? One thing Obama has promised from the beginning is that if you don't want to switch your insurance, you won't have to – and that includes him and members of Congress.

We want to recommend that you spend a little time listening to Michael Medved's radio program. He is on KTTH from 12-3 every weekday. He doesn't always talk about politics, but he is very knowledgeable. He is a conservative (formerly a liberal), and has a nearly perfect recall of facts and figures. He loves to debate, just like you. You will hear of some of these things we talk about that you have never heard of. Your dad listens to Air America also, besides just conservative talk. He listens to Ron Reagan, Stephanie Miller, and 2-3 others, so he gets a good cross-section of ideas. Talk radio is a very good place to hear news and ideas. A good addition to the Internet.

I listen to talk radio in the morning, but because I lack an AM antenna, the only station I can get is KIRO, 97.3 FM. They have guys from all over the spectrum there, pretty much. I am almost never within "radio range" from 12-3 p.m. on weekdays. However, I did get to hear an interview with Medved on that station the other day, where he was decrying the "birther" movement (people who still claim Obama isn't a US citizen). Knowing his conservative bent, I was pleasantly surprised.

We find it hard to believe that a child is still living in a hospital after eight years. Where is CPS in that state? There are many services available to such a child. Our friends John and Michele Wilbur are foster parents to two such girls; they have cerebral palsy, and Catholic Services worked with CPS to put them into the Wilbur's home.

What could CPS do? Doesn't foster care placement require the parent's consent except in cases of abuse or neglect? A child in the hospital isn't neglected, is she? I don't know all the legal ramifications – that's just from a letter that a social worker sent to Sen. Bernie Sanders in response to his solicitation. He compiled many more letters from his constituents into a booklet. To me, this is truly a pro-life issue. Read some of the stories. People dying of colon cancer because they couldn't afford screenings. A diabetic mother cannot afford her checkups and medications and leaves behind two orphans. Self-employed people with a family history of cancer who are afraid to go to the doctor for fear of having something noted in their record that would indicate a pre-existing condition, preventing them from ever getting insurance. This is an abomination in a prosperous country like ours!

We think they should have let them go into bankruptcy. The bankruptcy courts are very qualified to handle this sort of thing. They would have sorted out the mess and then regrouped to pay off creditors, re-do their business plans, etc. This happens all the time. The automakers would not have ceased to exist, they would have been reorganized. The government should not have interfered. We think the unions had a large part in this decision.

So the heads of the Big 3 came to Washington, not once but twice, to beg for help, and the unions made them do it? I can't even begin to think of a scenario where this could happen. Not that I believe all unions are evil, as some seem to think, either. There has to be a counterbalance to corporate greed. I'm afraid that too many in America have equated unfettered capitalism with godliness – seriously. They have begun to worship money. "Your life is not worth saving if I have to pay for it." Putting a price on a human life! "If you're poor, or sick, or a foreigner, tough luck – go crawl in a hole somewhere and stop sucking MY precious tax dollars, and taking up my doctor's valuable time. I'm busy, you know! Too busy to wait behind the likes of you. I've got money to make, while you – I can look at your bank balance and tell you what you're worth: ZERO!" Maybe I've been getting caught up in too many debates lately, but this is the kind of attitude that has my jaw on the floor, time after time – from some of the very people who elsewhere sanctimoniously declaim about the value of every human life. Does an embryo contribute to society? Of course not. But they'll defend an embryo to the death while condemning an illegal immigrant whose work helps put their lettuce on the table more cheaply! It boggles my mind.

As you may already know, your dad and I were against all three of the stimulus/TARP plans. Two in 2008 and one in 2009. We believe President Bush and President Obama were both wrong in doing this. The economy would have sorted itself out sooner than it is doing now. We heard on the radio today (7/21/09 - if we remember correctly, it was Geitner speaking) that the Administration does not know how the banks spent the money. This is very disturbing.

It is disturbing indeed. The previous administration wasn't real big on accountability (remember all the no-bid contracts that paid billions to Iraq contractors for work that was never completed, or worse, so shoddily performed that it actually killed soldiers). I believe that's one reason the current administration insisted on tight controls, and part ownership, in the auto companies – so that they could show taxpayers that they were indeed getting something for their money. Namely, a share in the companies. That's more than what we got for the bank bailouts!

I suppose no one will ever know what would have happened if the administration had not stepped in to save the auto makers. There were supposedly rumors that the Chinese were poised to buy them, and I don't fully understand all the ramifications of that, but I'm sure we don't want to become any more beholden to them than we already are.

Final Note from Dad:

He thinks that this is part of God's judgment which we have invited upon ourselves, currently through the mechanism of the voting process. He believes that God is quite unhappy with our persistent continuation of abortion and its legalization. Our current president in his viewpoint is not doing anything to alleviate it, despite his promises, but rather to encourage it through possible legislation (Freedom of Choice Act).

"God is not mocked, whatever a man (or nation) sows, that also shall it reap."

(Galations 6:7)

I will not for a moment defend abortion, any more than I would defend lying, cheating, hypocrisy, or adultery, all of which God strongly condemns in the Bible. Is America also under judgment for not criminalizing these practices? In Islamic societies, women are still put to death for adultery. Here in America, we see prominent figures routinely engaging in all that and more, and not only are they NOT harshly punished under our legal systems, they still get to be congressmen and even governors! Will God not also condemn us for allowing those acts without so much as a trial and imprisonment, let alone the death penalty?

The Bible also condemns oppression and denying justice to the downtrodden. Jesus says in Matt 12:7, "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent." Yet we've held some 800 men at Guantanamo for years, with no trial, no lawyer, no access to appeal, knowing all along that only a couple dozen were actually terrorists! This came from a former aide to then Sec of State Colin Powell, and was reported on FOX News. Are we also being condemned for our voting process, which allowed those responsible for that to come into power?

Opposition to abortion should support measures that will actually prevent it, IMO. Evidence shows that criminalization does not eliminate the problem, and indeed, in countries where it is most harshly punished, it is most prevalent. Mexico's rate is 40% higher than it is here, despite highly restrictive policies. It is lowest in Western Europe, where it is easily accessible (12 per 1000 women) versus Latin America, where it is mostly illegal (31 per 1000).

Women do not get abortions because they are legal – they get them because they do not see any other way to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. When you can't get regular medical care and have trouble keeping food on the table just for yourself, the thought of trying to raise a child can be simply overwhelming. Yet critics decry expenses in proposed health care plans that would provide care to expectant mothers, and affordable access to medical services! Obama has said from the start (I know you both read his book) that he supports preventive and supportive efforts to both decrease the rate of unplanned pregnancy and provide feasible options for those who find themselves with one. Health care reform could do much to alleviate the problem. How many teenage girls, finding themselves pregnant with nowhere to turn for sound medical advice or social support, see no way they could possibly handle it? Without legal options available, they will try any means – a friend suggests drinking this or inserting that, or some opportunistic individual seizes a new market niche and sets up shop in his kitchen, and we have a new crisis on our hands. When a woman develops a systemic infection from a botched abortion, is she going to seek real medical treatment, knowing she could be prosecuted? I told you the story of that woman in El Salvador (?) who already had one young child and got pregnant again. Her parents would surely kick her out of the house if she had another baby, so a friend gave her something to eat or drink (I don't recall which now), which made her very ill but didn't end the pregnancy. A month or so later, someone else told her about a woman she could see. There were no sanitary measures, and it was very painful, but she went through with it, mostly because she was drugged to dull the pain and couldn't resist strongly. When it was over, the woman told her she would have a fever for a few days, but not to seek medical attention because she would be arrested. Then her child got sick, so she took him to the doctor. The doctor noticed her jaundiced condition and questioned her on it, but she admitted nothing. She was taken to a hospital and examined, where evidence of the abortion was found. The woman was sent to prison.

Look what happened with Prohibition. It did nothing to curb alcohol use, but created a whole industry of bootlegging, speakeasies, and corruption. Look at the "war on drugs" – it costs us untold dollars in enforcement, creates a lively and lucrative smuggling industry, pads the pockets of the Mexican cartels, inflames violence at the border, and makes little impact on actual marijuana consumption.

I want us to focus on more programs that work, rather than naïvely believing, against all available evidence, that laws against any particular activity will eliminate it. Instead, criminalizing an activity often just drives it underground and provides fertile soil for corruption. People who cannot legally grow their own marijuana wind up buying it, creating a nefarious network of street dealers on the one end, and powerful drug cartels on the other end of the supply chain. Why should criminals be making money off drugs? I would rather see the issue brought out into the open, and the problem approached from an educational standpoint:

You can't really educate someone on the drawbacks of something that's illegal. Look at the massive anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns – these are legal substances, yet education and dissuasion programs seem to be successful. Smoking among adults has decreased from somewhere like 50% in the 60's to, I think, less than 25% today.

So anyway, I didn't mean to overwhelm you with statistics. My point is, I believe Obama IS taking steps to tackle the abortion problem – he's just taking a different approach than the one you think would be most effective.

Can you tell me, honestly, that you believe criminalizing abortion would eliminate it? And can you cite hard statistics to prove it?


Sunday, July 19, 2009

My letter to the President re: health care reform

Dear President Obama,

I just finished watching your July 17 weekly address online. Yet not one hour ago, I heard on the radio as I was getting out of bed that the proposed health care legislation coming out of the HELP committee, of which my Senator Patty Murray is a senior member, contains strong protections for the pharmaceutical industry. It bans the importation of medications from across the border; guarantees 12 years market exclusivity for brand-name drugs; and does not allow the federal government to negotiate prices. This is not the change you promised us during your campaign, Sir! Until now I've always felt comfortable that Sen. Murray would really act in the people's interests, so this revelation is particularly shocking to me, but it now falls upon you to promise to veto any new legislation that coddles Big Pharma. We can do so much better than this! I have been actively advocating for health care reform in my community, but unless we can find a way to rein in drug costs, any "reform" will wind up bankrupting us, as its opponents claim, and play right into Republicans' hands, as they will be able to continue to chant about "tax and spend" Democrats.

Please, use your veto power to put these important protections back into the bill before you sign anything! Real Americans are depending on you right now to give us real reform, which will go a long way toward not only making us healthier, but also toward balancing the budget and easing everyone's economic burden.

Please let me know what you will do to allow importation of pharmaceuticals from Canada, development of "generic" medications, and direct federal government negotiation with drug companies for the best prices.

Also, people keep asking me why there is still no way to view proposed legislation online for 5 days before you sign it, as you promised during your campaign. We voted for a transparent, accountable government. It's been six months now, and it's becoming harder and harder to mumble about possible technical barriers, licensing or privacy issues, etc. Please tell me why this is still not possible!


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Soldier's rant about Michael Jackson coverage

Received this in email this morning -- wish I could say I wrote it, but it is purportedly from a soldier serving his 3rd Iraq tour:

Okay, I need to rant.

I was just watching the news, and I caught part of a report on Michael Jackson.. As we all know, Jackson died the other day. He was an entertainer who performed for decades. He made millions, he spent millions, and he did a lot of things that make him a villian to many people. I understand that his death would affect a lot of people and I respect those people who mourn his death, but that isn't the point of my rant.

Why is it that when ONE man dies, the whole of America loses their minds with grief. When a man dies whose only contribution to the country was to ENTERTAIN people, the Amercian people find the need to flock to a memorial in Hollywood and even Congress sees the need to hold a "moment of silence" for his passing?

Am I missing something here? ONE man dies and, all of a sudden, he's a freaking martyr because he entertained us for a few decades? What about all those SOLDIERS who have died to give us freedom? All those Soldiers who, knowing that they would be asked to fight in a war, still raised their hands and swore to defend the Constitution and the United States of America. Where is their moment of silence? Where are the people flocking to their graves or memorials and mourning over them because they made the ultimate sacrifice? Why is it when a Soldier dies, there are more people saying "good riddence," and "thank God for IEDs?" When did this country become so calloused to the sacrifice of GOOD MEN and WOMEN that they can arbitrarily blow off their deaths and instead, throw themselves into mourning for a "Pop Icon?"

I think that if they are going to hold a moment of silence IN CONGRESS for Michael Jackson, they need to hold a moment of silence for every service member killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They need to PUBLICLY recognize every life that has been lost so that the American people can live their callous little lives in the luxury and freedom that WE, those that are living and those that have gone on, have provided for them. But wait ..., that would take too much time because there have been so many willing to make that sacrifice. After all, we will never make millions of dollars. We will never star in movies, or write hit songs that the world will listen too. We only shed our blood, sweat and tears so that people can enjoy what they have.

Sorry if I have offended, but I needed to say it.

Remember these five words the next time you think of someone who is serving in the military;

"So that others may live.."

If you ever want to bring tears to somebody's eyes, just do this next time you meet a soldier in uniform. It'll make you both feel good.