Monday, December 31, 2007

The best baseball had to offer

Today, December 31, 2007, marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the death of Roberto Clemente. Let's look at why we must remember him, and what he meant, by looking at what happened in baseball this year:

In this steroid soaked year, when we saw Floyd Landis lose his final appeal of his disqualification for steroid use following last year's apparent Tour de France victory, Olympic medalist Marion Jones reverse years of denials and even a lawsuit alleging defamation to finally admit using steroids, and damning revelations involving many athletes in many sports, no sport was hit as hard as baseball. It was a year when Mark McGwire, just a decade removed from being named as the most admired man in America, couldn't even garner a quarter of the votes on Hall of Fame ballots-- suggesting that Big Mac won't ever make it to Cooperstown (since three quarters are needed.) It was a year that saw Barry Bonds break one of the greatest records in the game, and then not long after that get hit with an indictment for perjury in connection with his testimony to a federal grand jury investigating steroid use. And then it turned out that Bonds had a lot of company. A couple of weeks ago the Mitchell report came out and named scores of present and former players and slammed everyone from the commissioners office and the owners to the players union for fostering the use of performance-enhancing drugs at every level of the game.

Roberto Clemente was the opposite of all of that. To begin with, he was a great player. Probably nobody ever played better in right field. He could have played center, to be sure, but he was best in right and was a consistent gold glove winner. Clemente had a gun for an arm, and could throw strikes to home or to third base from anywhere in the outfield. In fact he rarely had to do so after the first few years because other teams learned that trying to run for the extra base was foolish if Clemente was fielding the ball. But when someone tried, they learned quickly that his arm didn't deteriorate, either in strength or in accuracy. He also got 3,000 hits. Unlike the fictional hero from the movie, Mr. 3000 (who gets 3000 hits, 'guaranteeing' his hall of fame induction and immediately retires with his team in a pennant race) Clemente finished with 3000 hits, but no one knew that his last regular season hit on the last day of the season was destined to be his last. His last game was a real disappointment-- in the 1972 playoff against the Reds, the winning run scored on a play that Clemente and the rest of the defending world champion Pirates could only watch helplessly, probably the least memorable ending ever to a thrilling playoff series--a wild pitch. But Clemente and the rest of the Pirates looked forward to getting back to the playoffs and trying to win another World Series in 1973. Clemente's 3000 hits would likely be higher if he hadn't missed a lot of games because of injuries (though he played hurt a lot too, and some of those injuries were caused by the fact that he wasn't a bit cautious about doing things like barreling into catchers if that was what he had to do to score or running into the outfield wall in order to make a catch.)

Ironically, in what is looked at more and more as another disappointment by many baseball fans, he just barely missed being voted onto baseball's all-century team in 2000. You may recall that that year it was all about Pete Rose. Rose, although he played before the steroids era, is banned from baseball for life because he gambled on himself (though always betting on his team to win.) Regardless of how anyone feels about Rose (and for the record I am a Reds fan) the fact is that the voting on the all-century team came down (thanks to the media looking for the 'big story') to a referendum on Rose. Now, Rose is a great player and there have been a lot of great outfielders but one has to wonder, given the fact that Rose barely edged Clemente for that final spot whether Clemente should have been on the team.

Certainly he should have, if baseball really means what it claims to mean about the character of players.

And that's where Clemente is really the greatest of players.

His code of ethics started with his family (where Roberto was the youngest of seven children). Both his parents worked very hard to support the family and taught Clemente about the value of work. They also taught him the value of honesty. He wrote in his biography (published just about the time of his death) that while playing for a Puerto Rican team for forty dollars a month, he was offered a contract in 1954 for $6000 by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He agreed verbally to accept it, and shortly thereafter got a phone call from the Braves organization offering him $20,000. This was a huge amount of money, especially in the early 1950's in Puerto Rico, and he called his mother for advice. Luisa Clemente had no doubts about what he should do. "You gave your word, you keep your word." Clemente signed with the Dodgers (though after one year in the minor leagues Clemente's contract was sent to the Pittsburgh organization via the draft, which worked differently then than it does today.)

But Clemente did a lot more than just show exemplary personal character. He realized he had been blessed to be in a very fortunate position, having the talent and having been given the opportunity to become an American baseball star, while others were not so fortunate. So he decided to give back, not only to his family and his community, but to the world.

His most famous quote was,

"Anytime you have an opportunity to make things better and you don't, then you are wasting your time on this Earth"

And more to the point he lived it. Clemente got involved in charity work, both in Pittsburgh and in his native Puerto Rico, before anyone expected baseball players to do that (remember he played while there was still a 'reserve clause' that essentially gave team owners the right to tell players what they would get paid with little recourse for the players other than to quit the team and even the highest paid ballplayers were paid less, even in real dollars than bench players make today.) Partly because of his charity work and partly because of his success as a Latino ballplayer, Clemente was idolized throughout Latin America, and it was for this reason that he would visit the area often for charitable work, knowing that his presence alone would lift the morale of millions (though he did a lot more than sign autographs.) He did the hard work, often working with his hands distributing food, medicine and other items to people who desperately needed them. He gave generously to those who were most in need.

And so it was hardly out of character for Roberto Clemente to do what he did on December 31, 1972. Most people who could were celebrating New Year's Eve festivities on that day. Clemente too was back home in Puerto Rico, where he would have been most welcome and honored at any celebration on the island. But he heard on the news about an earthquake that had struck Managua, Nicaragua. Thousands of people were injured or homeless. So instead of going to a party or enjoying a quiet evening at home he went to the airport in the middle of the night and helped load blankets, food and other relief supplies onto a rickety old airplane that was to fly to Nicaragua. And then he climbed onto the plane, to be there and help unload it when it landed.

The plane took off and a few minutes later it crashed into the sea.

And baseball has not been quite the same for thirty-five years.

Friday, December 28, 2007

President is doing the right thing by vetoing bill.

It is exceedingly rare that I agree with George W. Bush, and even more so that I agree with him or say he is right about anything pertaining to Iraq, but I will say that he is right in his statement that he will veto the defense spending bill, depsite provisions (which everyone agrees are sorely needed) increasing soldiers' pay and spending more on veterans funding.

At issue is a provision in the bill which would allow survivors or relatives of victims of atrocities committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein to sue the present Iraqi government. The provision would have frozen Iraqi assets as soon as a suit was filed. The Iraqi government had threatened to withdraw $25 billion in assets from American banks.

I have no problem with the concept that victims of Saddam's regime should be able to sue for damages and receive compensation for the horrible things that were done to them. And it is a longstanding international principle that the successor government (in this case the present Iraqi government) is responsible for settling matters attributable to the nation, including those charged to the previous government. Usually this applies to international debts and obligations (banknotes, for example) but it can apply to individual human rights cases (so for example the German government has set up a fund to help pay Holocaust victims.) It is also true that much of the Iraqi assets in question were accrued under Saddam's regime.

However, while I believe that it would be entirely appropriate for the present government of Iraq to set up a system to compensate Saddam's victims or their families and dedicate to that fund money which was accrued by Saddam's government, such settlements have to be set up in a structured and clearly defined manner. The bill the President is vetoing would simply have allowed lawsuits to proceed in a haphazard manner and result in the freezing of all the assets. Another closely related fact of the matter is that there are many thousands, maybe even millions of people who could file suit. However if this were simply pursued in U.S. courts, the likelihood is that those few who got in first would receive the lion's share of the cash (they, and their lawyers) in which case the assets would soon be used up and there would be nothing left for most of the victims.

I hope that the reason for the President's veto is because he understands this and recognizes that there should be a provision in place allowing victims of the former regime to collect damages, just that it has to be set up by the Iraqi government in a formal legal framework, as opposed to simply doing the bidding of the al-Maliki government and having no concern at all for the rights of those who did suffer.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

There are worse things than regulation. One of them is not enough regulation.

We saw more fallout from the mortgage crisis this week, as we find that home prices dropped 6.7% since this time last year. Many large metropolitan areas registered double digit declines in home prices since October of2006 with the highest being Miami, Florida where housing prices dropped 12.4% in that month. The rate of growth in housing prices began to decline in 2005 but it was not until late 2006 that prices themselves began to drop, slowly at first but with an accelerating trend.

This line sums up what part of the problem is:

The Case-Shiller report emerged as some economists and industry analysts are beginning to lower their expectations for housing markets, predicting a longer and deeper price slump than they had previously forecast.

NOW they figure out that this isn't just a minor hiccup? Tell that to a family who has been working hard and paying their bills but is now being foreclosed out of their house because their payments have doubled.

As we know, much of this was caused by unregulated or under-regulated or regulated but not enforced lending practices. Like the 1980's Savings and Loan debacle, this is the latest example of where lax government regulation and oversight has created problems that ultimately effect the economy as a whole and everyone in the country.

There are those who have an 'economic libertarian' view, in which they argue that government regulation is always or almost always a bad thing because it restricts economic freedom, and oppose almost all regulation. In their view, essentially an extension of the now-discredited philosophy known as "Social Darwinism" the world is made up of essentially two kinds of people, 'sharks,' and 'marks.' The 'sharks' are those, like the great showman P.T. Barnum, who are somehow blessed to be smarter or otherwise better repositories for wealth, and so they have a natural advantage over the 'marks,' which means anyone the 'shark' can snooker out of their money. Barnum once had a famous way of describing the 'marks,' when he said in response to someone who questioned why people kept falling for his tricks even when they were publicized, "There's a sucker born every minute."

But every time the 'sharks' get their way (generally in a situation like this where unscrupulous people figure out a way to make money that the government doesn't catch up to, and usually during a time period when those in charge of the government don't want to catch up very quickly) in the end a few people make a lot of money, sometimes a few people go to prison (as in the Enron/insider trading scandal of the early part of this decade) and many, many people end up on the short end of the stick. And in the end that costs society as a whole, when we have to pay to prosecute the insider traders or bail out the S&L industry in order to save millions of people from losing their savings, or recently when the government had to intervene to get the banking industry to reduce payments for some homebuyers so there won't be even more foreclosures.

In the past, government has had to regulate, over the objections of those who did not want it eveything from legal working age to workplace safety to pollution standards. Before that, seven year olds could be forced to work for long hours for very little money, children and adults could work in filthy, dangerous conditions in which injuries and death in the workplace were commonplace (workers, after all, were easier to replace than expensive equipment) and there was little concern about toxic pollutants, either in products or what was dumped out into the enviroment for the rest of the world to drink, inhale or otherwise be exposed to. We got a dose of that recently with the discovery of unhealthy levels of lead in children's toys imported from China. In China the government does not consider consumer safety to be very important so not surprisingly, millions of kids in America yesterday opened presents that conform to Chinese standards, but not necessarily to American standards. Pray to God that they all do (because it is extremely optimistic to think that during the recent furor we caught all of them, with 80% of U.S. toys coming from China).

Which in turn points out that we need to consider how to regulate products that are made outside the U.S. and how to condition trade agreements on that (I once wrote a post about free trade agreements in which I suggested that the U.S. enter into trade agreements with other countries only contingent on upholding American labor and environmental standards, but as recent events have made clear, I should have added consumer safety to the list.

I'm not saying that Government regulation is the answer to everything, but clearly those who argue that they are not needed and that industries can 'police themselves,' have failed in their argument. Or perhaps the banking industry has made the case for them that there has to be more government oversight. Because we see here the great lesson that undid Social Darwinism, and reached its sickening climax during the Second World War: No matter how much freedom and how much power people have, human beings are still the same, and you won't create a 'better' kind of human by just letting things go. Government was originally designed to be an arbiter as to what people can do, and it is still needed in that role.

CORRECTION: As commenter IndyVoter points out I misread the report, the drop was between October 2006 and October 2007 (I had originally read it as a drop JUST in October 2007). That has been corrected.

That represents my tenth material error in 719 posts (four of which have been pointed out by the same commenter), representing a fielding percentage of .986

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The price of no insurance, or of Scrooge-like insurance companies:DEATH

A report has come out using data gathered by the American Cancer Society showing that lack of insurance is directly correlated with an increased number of deaths in cancer patients.

Not that this is surprising, as the lack of health insurance influences everything from the decision of people to seek treatment or get screenings that they may have a hard time paying for, to the decisions by hospitals and healthcare providers not to provide more than the minimum amount of care they can knowing they may not get paid for it.

ATLANTA: Uninsured cancer patients are nearly twice as likely to die within five years as those with private coverage, according to the first national study of its kind and one that sheds light on troubling medical care obstacles.

People without insurance are less likely to get recommended cancer screening tests, the study found, confirming earlier research. And when these patients finally do get diagnosed, their cancer is likely to have spread.

The new research, analyzing information from 1,500 U.S. hospitals that provide cancer care, is being published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

It is true that only about four percent of cancer deaths actually occur in patients who lack health insurance (whereas the overall percentage of Americans without health insurance is around sixteen percent and rising) but that figure is misleading since the vast majority of fatal cancers occur in people over 65, all of whom are covered by medicare.

Of course, as we tragically saw in the case last week of Natalie Sarkisyan*, a seventeen year old who died needing a liver transplant even though one was available because her HMO, Cigna health, refused to authorize payment until the case hit the national media and by then it was too late, even having health insurance may not save you if the insurance company simply decides that they'd rather have you dead than cut the check.

Now, there are those who will continue to advocate that we should have the system we have now, where people can 'choose' to buy (or not to buy) health insurance. They conveniently ignore the fact that most people who don't have health insurance are not without it because they don't want it, but because they can't afford it. It is still true that for those who can afford it, there are more high tech, specialized treatments available in America than elsewhere. For those who can't, it might as well be a trip to the moon. The truth is, we have no real options available for the uninsured to get adequate treatment, other than don't get the treatment, or go far into debt to pay for it (so far that most hospitals, when they see that a patient is uninsured, will automatically 'fast-track' them out of the hospital with the minimum treatment they can, knowing that the large majority of them won't be able to pay.)

However, you may be one of those who will defend to the hilt the present system and say that the choice not to buy insurance, for whatever it's drawbacks are, outweighs all other alternatives.

Fine. But be advised that we now have hard data, in the form of this cancer study, indicating that one of those drawbacks is the increased numbers of deaths in Americans without insurance. If the death of other Americans is an acceptable price for maintaining the system we have now, then go ahead and advocate for it. But don't pretend that it is a benign system, or is something that it is not.

*-- On a personal note, I might add that I am an organ donor, should that ever occur. But the circumstances surrounding the Sarkisyan case cause me to wonder whether I should be, or how I should discuss organ donation with my kids. I've always felt that if I (or one of my kids, one of whom has said she would be willing to be a donor) were ever in a position in which my organs could save a life, then to do so. But I feel uncomfortable now, given what happened in this case, knowing that my organs could simply become available, not based on need but based on who is insured and whether their insurance company would pay. That would be one criterion I would absolutely NOT want used to determine who received my liver or other organs, or those of my family members.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why is the Republican establishment so afraid of Mike Huckabee?

This week, new GOP co-frontrunner (hard to say who is in front over there) Mike Huckabee has been taking a lot of flak from Republicans. Of course this is to be expected when it is from other candidates, who are competing for the same prize he is (and they have certainly gone after him, especially Mitt Romney, who has seen Huckabee come out of nowhere to suddenly be on the verge of snatching Iowa from Mitt.) One Romney commercial attacked Huckabee's record on pardons as Governor of Arkansas, saying "Huckabee granted more pardons than the previous three Governors of Arkansas combined." Them's fightin' words in a Republican primary, because they well know who one of those former Governors of Arkansas was. And Huckabee probably earned the barbs from Romney after making an anti-Mormon comment during an interview for the New York Times magazine.

What is really different though is that Huckabee has been getting a lot of flak from 'establishment' Republicans, such as Condi Rice (part of the Bush administration) and Rush Limbaugh, who usually either praise or say nothing about candidates in Republican primaries. While Rice was responding to a comment by Huckabee critical of the Bush policy in Iraq to be sure, some of the Bush administration's policies have come in for much harsher criticism during the campaign by other candidates and the administration has chosen to turn the other cheek, so the comment by Rice represents a change from how they've treated other candidates.

It is clear to me why they are suddenly treating Huckabee like a cat in a dog pound.

The truth is, that the GOP establishment has patronized the religious right and their millons of votes sort of like patronizing a crazy old uncle, but they have been careful not to let religious conservatives get too close to the tiller, afraid they will run the party onto the rocks. They promise them the moon, and give them enough bones to make them happy.

Originally the Republican establishment wanted John McCain. He was the early front-runner, and with his traditional appeal to independents they calculated he was the Republican most likely to hold the White House for the GOP. But then McCain ran his campaign into the ground, creating an organization that required more money than he was able to raise. "Mr. fiscal conservative" was embarrassed out of the lead, and dropped into the second tier during the summer as his campaign seemed to fly apart and was deep in debt. So then Rudy Giuliani jumped up as the apparent choice of the Republican establishment. As a social liberal with a base in the northeast, they figured he could be the one who could challenge the Democrats, on their home turf. They even tried hard to sell Rudy to social conservatives as a guy who 'could win,' and Rudy, the pro-choice Republican, promised to only appoint 'strict constructionist' judges. But social conservatives never warmed to Rudy (selling a guy with Rudy's positions and his personal history to the religious right is a little like trying to sell a package of ground beef to a vegetarian.) So then they brought out former Senator and lobbyist (about as 'establishment' as it gets) Fred Thompson to try and appeal to religious conservatives, but the former actor had all the appeal of one of those zombies from, "Night of the living dead." So they went back to trying to sell them on Rudy, even convincing social conservative Godfather Pat Robertson to endorse Giuliani.

But a string of recent scandals has soured many Republicans, not just members of the religious right on Giuliani. So now, McCain (remember him) who has been hanging around on the edges of the race has re-emerged as the apparent choice of the 'establishment.' They don't want Mitt Romney, though they will get behind him if he muscles his way into the nomination (and being worth a quarter of a billion dollars and having shown himself willing to spend freely on his own campaign, Romney has the muscles, at least financially.)

But Huckabee is the guy who scares them to death. He puts exactly the face on the Republican party that they don't want. An ordained Baptist minister, he is wildly popular with social conservatives, but many of his positions (such as wanting to teach creationism in schools) are viewed with skepticism (to put it mildly) by the majority of Americans. Even on areas where he tends to the center he becomes less electable. I personally admire Huckabee for being willing to actually seriously consider his authority as a Governor to exercise pardons (he still did deny 90% of them) even when he runs the risk of what happened, that one of the many people he pardoned subsequently went to Missouri and committed a brutal murder. But it's a very risky position politically, because people will remember (or be reminded of, a la Willie Horton) the one failure and not of the dozens of people who turned their second chance into something good for themselves, their families and society. His record on taxes and spending irks fiscal conservatives (the reason his success elsewhere has not been mirrored in New Hampshire, a state where fiscal, not social conservatives dominate the Republican primary.) Unfortunately for the GOP, fiscal conservatives make the most inviting target for Democrats to appeal for crossover votes. Most national Democrats are diametrically opposed to the position of social conservatives on abortion, gay rights, creationism and other hot-button issues, but it is possible for a Democrat to be nominated who preaches or has a record of fiscal responsibility at least as good as that pushed by most Republicans. Fiscal conservatives are in many cases disillusioned by the Bush administration and GOP Congress that actually accelerated the rate of increase in Federal spending and ran up huge deficits in the process. A Huckabee nomination would make them ripe for the picking if a Democrat was ready to capitalize on this concern, and GOP insiders know it.

For these reasons, they fear Huckabee, or rather they fear that if he is the nominee he could well lead the GOP to a historic landslide defeat. Given that Congress is already firmly in control of the Democrats, and that Democrats will likely gain Senate seats this year, Republicans fear most that there could be a Democratic Presidential landslide, electing a President who had a lot of political capital to push for something like, say, national health care and who would sign all of the bills that Congress has been frustrated with this year, everything from a timetable for Iraq withdrawl to comprehensive immigration reform. There is even an outside chance (though they'd pretty much have to run the table in terms of winnable open seats and knocking off vulnerable GOP incumbents) that Democrats could next year win a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. This is very unlikely but would become more likely if the GOP suffered a crushing landslide defeat in the Presidential race.

So Huckabee in fact scares the GOP establishment. That is why they tried to establish him early on as 'second tier.' And now that he is clearly up with the raft of candidates they've been pitching to the GOP faithful, they will do anything they can to try and prevent him from actually winning the nomination.

The only candidate that would scare the GOP establishment more than Mike Huckabee if he wins the nomination, is Ron Paul.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Building containing Dick Cheney's office is on fire

The Eisenhower Executive Building, which houses the Vice President's office is on fire. Hopefully no one is injured, but here are some explanations for how it might have happened:

1. With the clock running down on the Bush administration, they were going to build a bonfire to burn all those documents on Cheney's energy committee hearings, but with his penchant for secrecy he suggested that they hold it indoors.

2. After all those years of the CIA trying to get him with those exploding cigars, Fidel Castro finally got his revenge. He sent a box of them to Cheney, and Cheney, not knowing who they were from, lit one.

3. We now know where the 'secret, undisclosed underground location' is, and it's a hell of a long way down under the Eisenhower building, and quite hot down there.

4. Speaking of the devil, Dick Cheney forgot to extinguish himself this morning when he entered his office.

5. The ghost of Ike is sending a message that he doesn't like what Cheney and his crew have done to the military, the country and the Republican party.

6. With Congress withholding funding for Iraq, the Bush administration took out one of those risky subprime mortgages on the building and now they are also trying to collect the insurance money.

7. It is sort of cramped in there, so it was inevitable that they'd waterboard somebody too close to an electrical outlet.

8. We will find out who started the fire, because Scooter Libby will tell Bob Novak.

9. They just made the building non-smoking, so it started with Cheney sneaking a smoke in the bathroom. He accidentally caught the toilet paper on fire.

10. They experienced a short circuit in an electrical cattle prod during an interrogation session. After it melted one set of testicles, the fire really took off.

11. Dick Cheney is known to sometimes be a volcanic hothead. So this morning his temper got the better of him and the fire started in the room he was in due to spontaneous combustion.

12. The Vice President's answer to global warming: burn documents that were left in the office by the previous occupant.

13. On April 10, 2003 Dick Cheney said that the rioters who were burning all those government buildings in Baghdad were just 'blowing off steam.' So with tension rising in the Vice President's office, maybe he thought it was time to do the same.

14. With Congress passing the new energy bill, oilman Dick Cheney is doing his own research to try and develop a cleaner burning fuel.

15. While duck hunting in his office, Dick Cheney misfired with his shotgun and shot an electrical outlet.

16. The Vice President started a couch on fire with his rhetoric.

17. Congress and the Justice Department are looking into those destroyed CIA tapes. So they need to destroy the tapes of them destroying the tapes.

18. The Vice President had a meeting this morning with some space aliens from Altair-7, and the staff forgot to fireproof the room first.

19. Realizing that he was going to be leaving the office next year, Cheney wanted to make it clear which furniture was his. So remembering his old cattle ranching days he heated up the branding iron and tried to brand the sofa.

20. Never an advocate for civil liberties, Cheney was amusing himself by burning a copy of the Constitution.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Kisses and Hugs


endorses THE HUGGER

And the media is saying they are shocked! Shocked, I tell ya!

Boy, are they asleep at the switch, or maybe they want to be shocked.

Because the truth is, you could take the difference between Joe Lieberman and John McCain and put it on a butter knife and spread it thin on a cracker. An oyster cracker.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hillary's national co-chair takes a cheap shot at Obama. And misses the target.

In the wake of a tightening race that shows Barack Obama pulling into a tie with Hillary Clinton in his home state of New Hampshire, top Clinton advisor Bill Shaheen has raised concerns about Obama's past admissions of drug use.

CONCORD, N.H. - A top adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign said Wednesday that Democrats should give more thought to Sen. Barack Obama's admissions of illegal drug use before they pick a presidential candidate....

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in response to Shaheen's remarks:

"Hillary Clinton said attacking other Democrats is the fun part of this campaign, and now she's moved from Barack Obama's kindergarten years to his teenage years in an increasingly desperate effort to slow her slide in the polls. Senator Clinton's campaign is recycling old news that Barack Obama has been candid about in a book he wrote years ago, and he's talked about the lessons he's learned from these mistakes with young people all across the country. He plans on winning this campaign by focusing on the issues that actually matter to the American people."

I agree that this is a desperation ploy by the Clinton campaign and they are worried they might (gasp) lose.

Here is the question: WHAT DOES WHAT SOMEONE DID AS A TEENAGER HAVE TO DO WITH HOW THEY WOULD CONDUCT THEMSELVES TODAY? Obama said he has learned from his mistakes, and that is as good an answer as the question has.

It's been years since Obama's acknowleged use of drugs, and the fact of the matter is that you probably will find very few people who were absolutely squeaky clean in every way when they were in high school.

And at least he admits that he inhaled.

Let me quote from a post I wrote recently, ironically defending a campaign advisor to Republican Fred Thompson who it turned out had served prison time for drug related crimes a quarter century ago:

First and foremost, it's a matter of time. I wrote a post once, called the prison that follows prison that dealt with how hard it is for a convicted felon in America to become a productive member of society, or for that matter to be anything other than a convicted felon in the eyes of most people. For that matter, unless he's had his rights restored, Philip Martin would not be allowed to vote in most states. But look, his last conviction was TWENTY-FOUR years ago! TWENTY-FOUR bloody years ago! Do we EVER forgive anybody, or let them move ahead with their lives? The man has kept out of trouble for nearly a quarter of a century, and some people want to haul up what he did in 1979 or 1983. Guess what? Besides it being a long time ago, he was also a lot younger then. Sometimes younger people do foolish things, and then they learn from them. All the evidence is that Philip Martin did learn from his mistakes.

Unfortunately after I wrote the post praising Thompson for standing by Martin and not pressuring him to resign, Martin did resign under pressure.

People make mistakes, especially when they are young. I've never thought that the mistakes that people made in their youth should be held against them when they get older, assuming of course that they straighten themselves out and stop making those mistakes. Obviously, Obama has done that.

And to be honest, I have a former co-worker who lives in Albuquerque and grew up in Chicago, and he knew Hillary's family and was a friend of her brother's. He's told me stories about that, but I won't choose to publish them here.

I won't, because they don't matter.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Armed guard shoots gunman to put a quick end to massacre

There is one area in which I do diverge from some of you on the left (though surprisingly many agree with me). That has to do with guns and second amendment issues. And events in the past 24 hours show why that is.

A man murdered two unarmed people at a missionary training center in Arvada, Colorado.

The New Life Church in Colorado Springs had developed a 'security plan' that involved parishoners volunteering to serve as security guards during church services, when as many as 7,000 people can be in the building on a Sunday. After the shooting at the missionary center, the volunteers were contacted and asked to serve as security during Sunday services the next day.

Sure enough, the gunman, identifed as Matthew Murray, showed up for Sunday services. He murdered two teenage sisters in the parking lot and injured several other people. He then entered the building where he was confronted by the security guards. He ignored them and fired at everyone around him instead. There was only one guard, a woman, who had a gun. When it became clear that he was intent on mowing down anyone in his way, she shot him and wounded him. He reached for a weapon, and she fired again, shooting him dead.

Police determined that Murray had hundreds of rounds of ammunition on him, along with a number of smoke grenades and possibly some explosive devices. Had none of the guards been armed, it is likely, in fact probable, that we would be looking at another Columbine or Virginia Tech, with dozens or perhaps even scores of dead people murdered by the hand of a lone gunman. We saw a taste of it last week in Omaha, and that was a man with relatively little ammunition, not the arsenal that Murray had with him.

Gun laws would not have deterred this guy since he was bound and determined to do what he was going to do, having clearly planned it for some time. Those who suggest banning guns completely, well all I have to say about that is that marijuana has been illegal since the 1940's, and guns aren't all that hard to make. Show me anyplace in the country where nobody can get illegal drugs, and I might believe it is possible to prevent anyone who is up to nefarious ends from getting guns illegally.

There was one thing and one thing only that saved dozens of people. One armed guard who knew how to use a gun, had one with her and knew that she was the only person who could prevent a massacre.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Fumbling, Bumbling, Stumbling

In my last post I pointed out how the Bush administration took what had been a successful program of sex education that had reduced the incidence of teen pregnancies and STD's and replaced it with abstinence-only education which has in turn resulted in the first actual increase in teen pregnancies in years.

Now we find out in regard to the CIA interrogation tapes which were destroyed that this happened directly contrary to the direct orders of White House Deputy counsel Harriet Miers. So in other words the CIA is now (and in 2005 was) running its own show, ignoring direct orders from White House officials.

We've also seen such extreme incompetence and ineptitude as our stumbling into the Iraq war without any planning for what to do after the fall of Baghdad, the botched response (and continuing failure to fully respond) to Katrina, and turning a record surplus into an enormous deficit. Nothing has been done about heatlhcare for eight years except for the prescription drug giveaway to the pharmaceutical companies, with the effect that we now have the most expensive health care system in the world and it still isn't working. The housing crisis is likely to drag down the economy for at least the foreseeable future.

Our reputation internationally is as bad as its ever been, the myth of American military invincibility has been thrown to the wind, and with our army being stuck in the quicksand of Iraq, North Korea has been free to develop and build nuclear weapons and even if you believe the CIA report last week (which I am personally very skeptical of) there is no question that the real winners of the Iraq war have been the Iranians, who have gone from at best an annoying irritant in the middle east to a regional power that threatens to dominate the region.

We've seen how after crime went way down nationally during the 1990's that it is now going back up again, and how after a decade in which SAT scores and the performance of American students against international competition was improving, it is now declining again. The dollar has declined from $.66 to a euro to over $1.20 for one euro. Prices for gasoline have more than doubled, and by next summer may hit $4.00 per gallon, which will represent a tripling of the price in just seven years.

In short, pretty much everything that the Bush administration has touched, has turned to garbage.

Whatever else will be written about this adminstration, it is clear that it will be considered the most incompetent Presidency since at least Jimmy Carter's.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Like clockwork, another prediction comes true.

Last year, the teen birth-rate, which had been falling steadily during the 1990's and then leveled off to a slow decline the past few years, rose, by about 3 percent.

When the Bush administration and the GOP Congress started cutting funds for comprehensive sexual education courses in schools and spending more on 'abstinence only' the rate of decline started to slow, the slowdown accelerated and finally, after several years of pushing this policy it has now reversed and become an increase. This is exactly what experts in the field of sex education predicted would happen when traditional sex ed was replaced with 'abstinence only.'

This wasn't just a matter of 'if it ain't broke then don't fix it.' The Bush administration took something that was working, and while trying to 'fix' it, they broke it.

I have no problem with including the fact that abstinence is the only 100% effective method of preventing pregnancy and the spread of STD's in a broader discussion of birth control (as it had been in the past), but the Bush administration's insistence on abstinence-only education is now starting to bear fruit. And the fruit is lemons, not cherries.

What comes next? A rise in STD's among teens? More abortions? More AIDS cases? Will the doctrinaire officials who reversed the success that sex ed had had since 1991 by replacing what had been working with abstinence-only take the blame if that happens too?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A critical component to any health care reform plan: Mental Health Coverage.

I am, like everybody else, glad that the hostage situation involving a mentally ill man at Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire headquarters is over, and that it ended without any bloodshed. New Hampshire law enforcement officials did a superb job of bringing it to a peaceful resolution, and the Senator was right not to negotiate with the man, identified as Leland Eisenberg. Eisenberg had asked to speak to Clinton about the difficulty he was having with getting treatment for his mental health issues.

However, while Senator Clinton was right not to negotiate or accede to the demands of someone who was holding hostages, now that it is over we must pressure her or whoever the Democratic nominee is (and I am still supporting Bill Richardson, for the record) to include mental health in any comprehensive healthcare reform bill. The brain is an organ in the body, and it is just as susceptible to disease and dysfunction as any other organ in the body. Yet people are far more likely to get fully covered by their insurance plans for treatment for heart disease, digestive disease, bone disease or pretty much any other part of the body than they are to get fully covered for treatment for mental disease.

The health insurance industry has gone to great lengths to avoid treating mental illness with the seriousness it should be, of course for the reason that it is an easy way to cut corners. Patients who have cancer, AIDS, diabetes or other ailments can sometimes embarrass the health insurance industry by speaking out about their problems in the national or local media. Mental health patients however cannot as easily speak out if they get screwed over by their insurance providers. One reason is because of the stigma still attached to mental illness, a second is that the glare of the spotlight and the publicity may in fact be exactly what they don't need if they are suffering from mental illness, and the third and most damning reason why they cannot speak out is because just by virtue of their having a mental illness, many people will consider them 'crazy' and won't take them seriously, including many in the media.

Yet mental illness strikes millions of Americans every year, ranging from mild depression to completely disabling conditions that destroy otherwise healthy human beings.

Now that mental illness is in fact recognized as a real illness (and it took a couple of generations just to get that far, which it did thanks to biochemistry and some tireless advocates) the health insurance industry has changed their tactics, but not their goal of trying to dodge coverage for mental health treatment. At the moment they are opposing H.R. 1424, the 'Mental Health Parity Act of 2007,' with the goal of preventing passage of a bill that will require insurance companies to cover treatment for a number of well-defined and recognized mental health disorders.

I once wrote a post about 'favors' that Arizona legislators receive from a variety of lobbyists and while researching that post I discovered that if not openly allied, the insurance industry has been getting some help with their dirty work from the Church of Scientology (a cult that opposes clinical treatment for mental health care) I wrote:

Others have been wined and dined by a group calling itself by the appealing sounding name, 'Citizens' Commission on Human Rights.' A check of the group's web site reveals something less appealing. They are affiliated with the Church of Scientology. If you don't know who the Church of Scientology is, they are the group that Tom Cruise belongs to, that was founded by former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and believes in 'dianetics,' a medicine-free path to good health, and in particular to good mental health (and at a higher level to a release of untapped mental energy). That is the fundamental cornerstone of their belief system, so by necessity they also believe in all sorts of conspiracy plots, mostly involving psychiatrists and the mental health system. By forming CCHR, they have moved beyond the fringe and have tried to get their views accepted by people who make laws, not just in Arizona but around the country. In fact, this is a strange case of where big business and a loony religious cult have come together to shaft the little guy (as represented by a person who has a mental illness and needs affordable treatment that works). For a long time, health insurance companies have not reimbursed mental health providers or reimbursed them at much lower rates than other health care providers. Once their justification for doing so, that mental conditions were in general not diseases but purely were voluntary conditions or conditions which were produced by voluntary actions (such as drug or alcohol abuse), was proven false by biochemical researchers, they had to change their reasoning. In fact, the brain is just like any other organ in the body, subject to disease (as evidenced by chemical imbalance, even in otherwise healthy people) and psychiatrists (my father was one before he died fifteen years ago) are simply trained medical doctors who went to the same medical schools as other doctors, and specialized in the treatment of diseases of this organ. Because scientologists believe as an absolute truth and matter of religious conviction that mental illness is something that can be treated by their own (non-medical) methods, much like the old view of it, the insurance industry, while still taking mental illness less seriously (in terms of payment) than they do other kinds of illnesses, have been able to step back and let the religious cult do their dirty work for them. In fact, I have to wonder why CCHR has been so well funded. I know that Tom Cruise gets a pretty good paycheck and undoubtedly donates quite a bit of it, but the rate that this organization (CCHR) has grown is very suggestive that they may be getting some serious behind the scenes money, and if so.... well I can suggest a conspiracy theory just as well as they can.

Ultimately it does not matter what the justification is, while I do not agree with Mr. Eisenberg's methods, he does have a valid point that many people who need it don't get the mental health care they need. With the likelihood that the next President will include health care reform as part of his or her agenda, we must make it clear that mental health is just as important, if not more important, than making sure that we cover health problems involving other parts of the body.
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