Tag Archives: Activism

A Fairly Clear Explanation Of Why People Like Sen. Tom Coburn Can Claim that America Has the Best Health Care in the World, Despite the Body of Evidence Against That Claim (In Which I Refer to Rush Limbaugh With Approval)

Opponents of health care reform claim that America has “the best health care in the world,” arguing that changing the present system threatens our nation’s primacy. This argument is so unfounded, so completely contradicted by reality as to raise my frustration and blood pressure to levels I hadn’t experienced since Alberto Gonzales last testified before Congress. I’ve finally come to some understanding about the basis for the “best health care” claim, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I have to credit Rush Limbaugh for helping me figure it out.

Rush,or course, experienced American health care first hand after going to a hospital emergency room with chest pains during a recent visit to Hawaii. During his hospital stay, which included an angioplasty that found nothing seriously wrong, Rush said he experienced the “best health care the world has to offer.” But he made a point of letting his audience know that he paid for it himself, and that he doesn’t have health insurance. According to Rush, his bill was “less than the cheapest car that you will go out and buy today,” and that using health insurance would have resulted in Rush paying an additional 30%. Because he paid cash, “there was not one bureaucrat determining whether or not [he] was gonna get treatment. There wasn’t a death panel here.”

(It’s not clear what Rush, who owns a number of cars, thinks is “cheap”. One hopes he wasn’t thinking about his Maybach 57S, which retails at about $450,000.)

You see Rush’s point. Medical care provided in an American hospital: “the best”; health insurance: expensive, bureaucratic, not so good. And his 30% figure is a good estimate of the additional amount he might have paid an insurance company for the same medical services, though the real number for Rush (who would likely pay the individual rate, as opposed to those in a group plan), might have been as high as 40%. In other words, had he used health insurance, only 60 to 70 cents of every dollar Rush paid would be used to actually pay for health services.

Rush, of course, isn’t concerned with fixing health insurance. In fact, he’s against doing anything with a system that works so well for him. But his basis for deciding we have the best health care system in the world is clear. There are good doctors and good hospitals in this country, available to those who have access. This is what all those politicians, Senators John Barrasso, Richard Shelby, Tom Coburn, Congressman John Boehner and the rest, mean when they talk about the quality of health care in America. It’s fine, great, the best, as long as you can pay for it. But don’t mess with it, because you might screw that up. It’s the reason Tom Coburn thinks it’s relevant that Canadian Danny Williams, the Newfoundland and Labrador premier, came to the United States for his heart surgery. It’s more proof that America provides some of the very best health care that (lots of) money can buy.

In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that this point of view is held by so many opponents of changes to the present system. I was blinded though, by my assumptions about Senators and Members of the House. They’re public servants, after all, and I assumed they’d judge the quality of American health care the way most other people and organizations — the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the Center for Disease Control, me, and probably you — would judge it; by comparing the health of those who live in America to the health of people living in other countries. By that standard, our health care system is poor, at least when compared to other developed nations.

The proof is unassailable. According the CIA World Fact Book, America falls behind 47 countries in life expectancy of it’s citizens, and behind 44 countries, including essentially all countries in the developed world, in infant mortality. According to a 2008 report funded by the Commonwealth Group, America was 14th of 14 nations surveyed in the percentage of deaths that could have been avoided with proper health care for people under the age of 75. A 2009 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that our primary care also falls short; the US has the highest number of hospital admissions for asthma and diabetes. Physicians in other countries manage chronic diseases so that they don’t become critical medical problems requiring expensive hospitalization. The OECD also point out in the same report that only the United States, Turkey and Mexico fail to provide universal or near universal care. Other OECD nations achieve better health care results for all citizens, allocating an average of about 9% of their GDP to health; in contrast, the United States gets substandard results for about 16% of GDP.

But there’s good news. Now that it’s clear what reform opponents mean when they talk about the “best” health care, we just need to explain what the rest of us think is important, and what we want them to do. So contact your representatives in Congress and explain that:

We agree that American medicine is fine. But we want everyone in the country to have access to it. Judge the quality of America health care by the health of Americans.

As to our children: some of you think they should have legal protection from the moment of conception on. Surely, we can all agree that our children’s health should be protected after they’re born, and that fewer should die in the first year of life.

Oh, and one more thing — cost. The rest of the world gets quality universal health care and pays a lot less than we do. Can’t America do as well?

Opponents to changing the economics of health care in American proudly proclaim their belief that America’s medical services are the best in the world. Tell Congress that we want them to do the work necessary to ensure that American citizens get the benefit of all that quality car, so we all have the chance to be as healthy as the citizens of the rest of the developed world. To fail to do this, to not even try seems, well, unpatriotic.

News from the Massachusetts State House — Marriage is Safe!


I’m proud that Massachusetts took the lead in recognizing the right to marry for same sex couples. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recognized that right on May 17, 2004. Despite dire predictions, the sky has stayed right where it is, and I’m not aware of any heterosexuals filing for divorce on the grounds that their marriage has been devalued. And now I’m proud again; yesterday, June 14, 2007, the Massachusetts legislature rejected a proposal that would have subjected the fundamental right to marry to a public vote.

 Under Massachusetts law, a proposal to amend the constitution must be approved by two consecutive legislative sessions, then by a majority of Massachusetts voters. The proposed amendment to ban same sex marriage was approved by the legislature in January 2007 with 62 votes, and would have been put on the ballot for a vote had the proposal passed again today. The proposal needed the support of 50 voters to pass. It lost, 151 to 45, thanks, in great part, to the leadership of Governor Deval Patrick, Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, Senate President Terry Murray and House Speaker Sal DiMasi. The idea that a basic human right should be subject to the whim of the majority has been defeated.

I was outside the Massachusetts State House along with hundreds of others to encourage the legislature to make the right decision. (Photos are posted here.) People on the other side of the street — and the other side of the issue — were fewer and less enthusiastic. That’s to be expected, I guess. We were supporting a community of people, couples and families. We’ve seen marriage make a real difference in real lives. Folks on the other side were concerned about an abstract idea, and a corrosive one at that. Their sense of morality is offended by the idea that two men or two women can care about each other in a relationship recognized by the state. It must be hard to be cheery about hating strangers.

The Lie at the Heart of Gonzales v. Carhart

By now, most people are aware of the summary holding in Gonzales v. Carhart: for the first time since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court left standing a law proscribing a particular abortion procedure without an exception to safeguard a woman’s health. Standing alone, this is a terrible result, but understanding how the decision was made is more frightening still.

In upholding the “Partial-Birth Abortion Act” (referred to here as just “the Act”), the Supreme Court’s new majority drew upon old lies about the emotional fragility of women, and the need to protect from their own decisions. The Court used this new/old lie to bypass forty years of precedent safeguarding reproductive rights. The Court allowed Congress to place political values over best medical practice, and to put women’s lives at risk. The lie at the center of Carhart could return to threaten our freedom to live according to our own values.

Read the rest of this post at Sex in the Public Square.

Cheney’s Empty Argument On Iraq

Using meaningless language is a standard tool of politics, brought to high art by the present administration. Dick Cheney has added a new gloss on the old game, repeating an old argument about Iraq that has lost all meaning.

Here’s the way Cheney put it recent speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee 2007 Policy Conference:

… when members [of congress] speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines or other arbitrary measures, they’re telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out.

This argument was used by Bush for the first few years of the war in Iraq to avoid setting a time table for withdrawing troops. Agree with it or not, the argument meant something:

The situation is us versus the bad guys. “We” are the coalition and the fledgling democratic government in Iraq. Insurgency groups dedicated to destroying any US supported government in Iraq are the bad guys. If we tell the bad guys when we plan to pull our troops out of Iraq, the bad guys will hang back, save resources until our troops are gone, then come out of hiding to destroy the Iraqi government.

This argument allowed the Bushies to govern in their preferred way: completely ad hoc, no goals to meet, therefore no way to determine failure.

Whatever value this description of the war once may have had, it clearly doesn’t represent what’s going on in Iraq today. Even the Pentagon admits there is an internecine civil war in Iraq, fought among multiple groups with diverse interests. The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (a non-governmental group of former intelligence specialists) provide a clear analysis in their recent memo Denouement on Iraq: First Stop the Bleeding:

The vast majority of the violence in Iraq is sectarian in nature and involves a multifaceted civil war mostly pitting Sunnis against Shias. However, the violence also entails secular Sunnis fighting Sunni extremists linked to Al Qaeda and secular Shias battling Shia extremists…. in other words, a rabid dog fight with our troops in between. The only thing the various factions share is unflinching opposition to US occupation. But the notion that there is a monolithic group of “insurgents” or “enemy” falls far wide of the mark.

The “we can’t set a time-table” argument falls apart under these conditions. There is no “them,” holding back waiting for us to leave. The various coalitions are in full-out battle against the provisional Iraqi government and against each other. We have met the enemy, and he is…. well, everybody.

We are used to Cheney’s lies, but this is something different and worth attending to. It’s a concrete example of the administration using empty phrases to shore up support for a misconceived and unpopular war. “Support the troops!” “Democrats want to cut and run!;” smoke and mirror language used for effect rather than meaning. Sweeping aside empty language can raise the quality of the public debate about the war; and a debate based upon facts is precisely what the administration is trying to avoid.

Speak out on General Pace’s disgraceful comments!

General Peter Pace, the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced on Monday his personal opinion that simply being a gay or lesbian person is immoral, and that the military should therefore continue to refuse gays and lesbians the opportunity to serve in the military. Well, to be more precise, he supports the official military policy, that gays and lesbians can sign up, as long as they’re willing to crawl into the military closet and deny who they are.

The current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is immoral because it openly requires dishonesty, and treats gays and lesbians as second class citizens. It is unconstitutional because it punishes by exclusion gays and lesbians, not because of what they’ve done, but because of who they are; this type of “status crime” was years ago determined unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

General Pace’s delicate moral niceties are archaic. Barry Goldwater, the bastion of all that’s conservative, and 37 year veteran of the military, announced years ago his support of the right of gays and lesbians to be in the military:

The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they’re gay. You don’t have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay. And that’s what brings me into it…. why the hell shouldn’t they serve? They’re American citizens. As long as they’re not doing things that are harmful to anyone else.

Vice-President Dick Cheney, while Secretary of Defense under the first President Bush, called security concerns about gays and lesbians an “old chestnut” and referred to the idea that “a gay lifestyle is incompatible with military service” as “a policy I inherited.” These comments were made by Cheney just after his assistant secretary of defense, Pete Williams was outed as a gay man.

The world has moved on ahead of the US. There are at least 26 nations that allow gays and lesbians to serve, including Israel, Australia, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Columbia, and every country in the European Union, which requires all members to abolish any bans on open service.

Pace’s comparison with adultery is specious. According to files received by Salon pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request the military, under General Pace, is currently providing waivers for at least 17% of incoming recruits, accepting recruits with civilian criminal records including domestic abuse, assault, breaking and entering and auto theft. An outstanding article by Helen Benedict, also published in Salon, documents the pervasive threat of rape and sexual harassment women soldiers in Iraq live with daily. Perhaps General Pace should focus his moral concerns on matters of real substance existing within the scope of his responsibility.

The Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has let the world know what he thinks Department of Defense policy should be, based upon his morals. He has also provided encouragement and cover for the continued harassment and abuse of men and women by their fellows and those in their chain of command. Sounds pretty damn immoral to me.

Please note: I am personally against the action in Iraq and support plans to withdraw troops now. I am not advocating for the war in Iraq, but for the right to openly serve in the military without regard to sexual orientation. Tom

IMPORTANT: If you agree with me, write your representatives in Congress and the Senate as well as General Pace, and write your local papers. Register your disapproval with General Pace’s remarks and your support for changing military policy to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. General Pace can be reached at:

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chairman
9999 Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon
Room 4E873
Washington, DC 20318
Fax: (703) 697-8758

All or any part of this post can be used, with attribution, for any non-commercial purpose to help spread the word.