Thursday, March 31, 2005


I got tired of waiting for The Da Vinci Code to come out in paperback or for my name to come up on the library reserve list.

So when Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa, came out swinging against the book I couldn't resist any longer and found it on sale at K Mart.

I like a good diversionary suspense novel and finished it in a matter of hours, but I wasn't terribly impressed.

Heck, most of that stuff has been around for centuries, and shouldn't surprise anyone who approaches Christianity with an open mind and an eye toward early church history.

But now I hear the Pope has been given last rites.

One of these days, I guess I'd better learn how to control these powers.


Part of my morning routine is booting up the old computer and quickly reading the morning headlines, and I do it again more times during the day than is probably mentally healthy.

Any time now, I expect to read that Terri Schiavo has died, and I dread hearing the howls when it happens.

I confidently expect to hear screams of "Murder!" and assorted curses thrown at anyone who doesn't identify with the Taliban wing of Christianity.

Let them howl. My gut says the tempest-to-come will only serve to emphasize the incestuous relationship between the GOP and the extremeists.

How many times have you had a serious political discussion with otherwise reasonable conservatives on banning stem cell research, birth control, and abortion - and they tell you "oh, I don't go along with THAT"?

When it finally hits them that they're party requires them to go along with "THAT", there's going to be a good many people staying home from the polls in 2006.

Update Well, what do you know. Peace, dear. To any upset wingers, let me just add that no - I am not happy now. I'm sorry for the whole, tragic mess that only got messier with outside interference.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Extraordinary measures

If you're up to doing some serious thinking about end-of-life care and "extraordinary measures" - as in, a feeding tube - check out what Michael has to say on the subject.

Good stuff.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

An annoying itch in a bad place

I’ve never wished death or serious illness on anyone, but with Jerry Falwell, it’s sure tempting. I’ve never forgiven him for the so-called “Moral Majority”, and I’m not likely to do so in this lifetime.

Jerry Falwell in critical condition

The Rev. Jerry Falwell was hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday, battling his second case of viral pneumonia in just five weeks, hospital and church officials said.

Falwell, 71, was admitted to Lynchburg General Hospital shortly before midnight Monday suffering from "respiratory arrest," the hospital said in a statement.

He was put on a ventilator and stabilized but remained in critical condition, the hospital said.

A 71-year-old man suffering a second bout with pneumonia in five weeks doesn’t sound too good.

I wish him a full recovery, with the exception of an annoying itch in a bad place that will respond to anti-fungal ointment and regular changes of clean underwear.

Congratulations, John Bolton!

You’ve joined the long and growing list of Bush appointees and policies objectionable to experts worldwide!

Ex-U.S. envoys oppose U.N. choice

Challenging the White House, 59 former American diplomats are urging the Senate to reject John R. Bolton's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

"He is the wrong man for this position," they said in a letter to Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which must consider the nomination before it goes to the full Senate for confirmation. Lugar has scheduled hearings for April 7.

"We urge you to reject that nomination," the former diplomats said in a letter obtained by The Associated Press and dated Tuesday.


The former diplomats also chided Bolton for his "insistence that the U.N. is valuable only when it directly serves the United States."

A valiant effort, gentlemen, and right on target.

I'd like to think the considered opinion of fifty-nine former diplomats would do some good; however, I'm afraid the Bush administration will only see your letter as another notch in their six-shooter.


Monday, March 28, 2005

Did I hear that right?

I just heard Bob Schindler on CNN implying that Hospice might do something to hasten his daughter’s death.

What kind of sick bastard would even think such a thing?

Anyone with any experience whatsoever with Hospice knows they are saints. How dare he?

Is this the next focus of the Religious Wrong’s venom?

I just sent a donation to the Woodside Hospice House, where Terri Schiavo is undergoing a death without dignity, thanks to her father. Here’s the link to Woodside’s webpage.

I've disagreed with the Schindler's opinion, but always had a great deal of sympathy for them.

That sympathy is rapidly evaporating.


Sunday, March 27, 2005

Why is this night different from all other nights?

The question comes from the Pesach Haggadah, and is asked by the youngest person at the Seder table by Jews worldwide on April 23, 2005.

I ask the question myself every Saturday evening before Easter - in this case, Saturday, March 26, 2005.

Why is this night different from all other nights? Because I have to get up on Easter morn at oh-dark-thirty to stumble to church, try to remember how to play the piano, and yawn through an Easter morning sunrise service.

For a night owl like me, this is hazardous to the health, as it takes my body and brain two days to recuperate from getting up at 4:00 a.m.

Our wonderful minister - brilliant, witty, and caring the other 364 days of the year - thinks an Easter sunrise service is the greatest thing since sliced bread. A natural early riser, he gets a large charge out of seeing me stagger into the church with one eye closed and the other half-open.

I learned years ago that laying out your clothes the night before is an absolute must. The lesson was learned after discovering I was wearing a brown shoe on my left foot and a black one on the right.

After a hymn, prayer, and brief mini-sermon, we conclude the service by traipsing out into our large cemetary to greet the sun (weather permitting), and sing "Christ Arose" - a hymn with an unfortunately wide range.

As we approach the refrain and the higher notes, my vocal chords and lungs shout back at me - "Go away and don't wake us up for three hours!"

The Bible tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought perfumed oils with which they intended to anoint the body of Jesus. Very early, just after sunrise, on the first day of the week they came to the tomb.

I have a problem with this, as I doubt any of these women would set foot out of their homes before the sun made it's earliest appearance, and object strenuously to setting foot outside my own home in pitch darkness.

As a consolation prize, the men's group at our meeting arrives a half hour before the service, and has a huge breakfast buffet ready for the early morning worshippers after the service.

Despite the tempting smell of coffee, bacon, and eggs, it's too early for my stomach to appreciate the feast, and far too early for me to be a scintillating breakfast conversationalist.

I go back home to my own pot of coffee and bowl of Fruit Loops. I know I wouldn't be any joy at a group breakfast, as I have already started fretting about Easter 2007.

To us night-owls, it's never too early to begin worrying about an Easter Sunrise Service that occurs on the same day we switch to Daylight Savings Time.

(Passover date corrected, thanks to Elayne and Melinama).


Friday, March 25, 2005

Friday Doggy Bloggy
Posted by Hello

Bandit & Nicky, fiercely guarding their mama's priceless collection of "Dummies" books
Death with dignity?

Terri Schiavo isn't the only one being denied a death with dignity.

She isn't the only patient in the Pinellas hospice facility.

That's the Wrong Reverend Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, exhorting supporters to make life - and death - as miserable, noisy, political, and public as possible.

If I were a hospice patient or had a loved one in the facility, I'd cram that bullhorn right down someone's throat, regardless of which side of the issue they were on.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

IMAX theaters reject film over evolution

IMAX theaters in several Southern cities have decided not to show a film on volcanoes out of concern that its references to evolution might offend those with fundamental religious beliefs.

Just guessing, but I assume the fundies don’t believe in The Force, either. What are the chances theaters will refuse to show the upcoming final installment of the Star Wars saga?


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Eureka! Vast right-wing conspiracy exposed

If you’ve been scratching your head in confusion, gnashing your teeth in rage, or pulling out your hair in frustration when you read about all the recent mind-boggling-ly stupid appointments going on in the Bush administration – wonder no longer.

Boston University Team Finds Link Between High Cholesterol And Better Cognitive Performance

What's bad for your ticker may be good for your bean, according to research from a team of scientists at Boston University.

The team looked at 18 years of data from the long-running Framingham Heart Study and found an association between naturally high levels of blood cholesterol and better mental functioning. The results were recently published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

We travel back to the days of yesteryear….well, to December 2004…and recall this moment -

Although the team of specialists at the National Naval Center in Bethesda, Md., declared President George W. Bush "fit for duty" after his annual physical exam on Saturday, they still recommended that he take a daily aspirin and a statin to help prevent heart disease.

It has been suggested by various segments of the health care industry that statins (cholesterol lowering medications) should be recommended for all healthy adults.

Big Pharma happily agrees, and continues to jack up the prices in anticipation of a windfall.

If enough of us healthy adults can be dumbed-down with statins, the Bushies can get away with whatever they want.

Makes perfectly good sense to me; but then, I've been on statins for about two years.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Just another one of those "Up Yours" appointments

If you thought Bolton, Rice, Hughes, and Wolfowitz were the last people in the world qualified for their positions, get a load of this –

Trophy Hunting Advocate Named Acting Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Interior Secretary Gale Norton has named Matthew J. Hogan to be acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Norton announced the appointment yesterday, following last week's resignation of Director Steve Williams. Hogan was formerly the chief lobbyist for Safari Club International (SCI), an extreme trophy hunting organization that advocates the killing of rare species around the world.

"Having a Safari Club lobbyist in charge, even temporarily, of the federal agency that is supposed to protect endangered species is precisely the wrong course to pursue for any Administration," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "Someone with a true wildlife conservation ethic, not an allegiance to the trophy hunting industry, should be nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the permanent director position as soon as possible."

(Link via Melanie)

It most certainly is "precisely the wrong course", but it's also consistent with all the other bass-ackwards Bush administration appointments, policies, and decisions.

I truly believe these characters have drawn up a list of everything detrimental to the population's life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness and are vigorously legislating, appointing, advocating, or otherwise forcing it down our throats.

Told you so

As TalkLeft outlined, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore is hardly a "liberal activist judge".

But he doesn't like being pushed around in the name of religion and doesn't mind slapping a lengthier sentence on those that have tried.

His Schiavo ruling:

"This court concludes that Theresa Schiavo's life and liberty interests were adequately protected by the extensive process provided in the state courts," the judge wrote.

He acknowledged the "gravity of the consequences of denying injunctive relief."

"Even under these difficult and time strained circumstances, however, and not withstanding Congress' expressed interest in the welfare of Theresa Schiavo, this court is constrained to apply the law to the issues before it," the ruling said.

Sounds reasonable to me.

If you have any doubts about the "extensive process", see the University of Miami timeline and most particularly the link to the report (PDF) from Schiavo's third (and latest) guardian ad litem, Dr. Jay Wolfson.

And if you have any doubts about the arrogance and ignorance of the man who would be king our next preznit, read first the Wolfson report, then Gov. Jebbie Bush's response.

I am sure that Dr. Wolfson, who indicated his reliance on ‘good science-based medicine,’ understands the importance of knowing which good scientists and good doctors he relied on to reach certain conclusions.


Nothing in Dr. Wolfson’s report leads me to believe the stay should be lifted at this time, or that Mrs. Schiavo should be deprived of her right to live.”

Dr. Wolfson relied on scientists and doctors who conducted extensive examinations and tests in person and and did a heck of lot more than look at a few videos.

Next time you're due for that yearly colon cancer rectal exam, Jeb, let's just stick a webcam up your rear and let Drs. Frist, Weldon, and Gingrey give you their opinions from the halls of Congress.

(thanks to Bryan for the links)


Monday, March 21, 2005

Schiavo saga continues

The federal court judge, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore, who has had the Schiavo case dumped into his lap is not a stranger to controversial cases and seeing past the religious malarkey.

According to the following account, he doesn't like to be pushed around in the name of God.

From the Tampa Tribune, August 7, 2001 -

Tampa -- Defiant to the end, the ringleaders of one of the largest Ponzi schemes in American history, both in their 60s, received lengthy prison sentences Monday.

Gerald Payne, founder of Greater Ministries International Church, received a 27-year sentence from U.S. District Judge James Whittemore, who called the church's fraudulent investment program ``absolutely despicable.''

Betty Payne, the founder's wife, received a sentence of 12 years and seven months - longer than she faced before she angered the judge by repeating a declaration portraying her and her husband as victims of a zealous government.

Jurors convicted the Paynes and three others on multiple counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. The church claimed international trades and lucrative mining ventures fueled a money-doubling financial program, but prosecutors proved it was a Ponzi scheme that paid established investors with money from recent investors.

Thousands of people nationwide lost huge sums of their money when the system collapsed in 1998. Gerald Payne, 65, is much thinner and walks more feebly since jurors convicted him on 19 counts March 12. He suffered a stroke, his fourth, while in jail awaiting his sentence last month, said attorney Ron Smith.

``This is the last time these two will be sitting together, the last time they'll be able to hold hands or touch each other,'' Smith said of the Paynes.

But Whittemore said Gerald Payne is a danger to the community who would commit more fraud and take more money if free. He blistered the defendant for using ``the word of God to perpetuate a fraud.''

Betty Payne, 61, is in good health and appeared headed for judicial leniency until her words prompted the judge to add 16 months behind bars.

Whittemore had just reduced her sentencing guideline based upon his finding that her role was minor compared to the other defendants. Then she read a statement, verbatim to what her husband read minutes earlier, claiming their constitutional rights were violated and their actions, all guided by the Holy Spirit, broke no laws.

The Paynes and their fellow defendants argued that a church program enjoyed First Amendment protections. Many of the program's followers harbor antigovernment beliefs and blame its collapse on government conspiracies.

``We are innocent of all charges,'' both Paynes said. The only difference in their statements came at the end. ``Glory be to God,'' she said. Smith later said he had tried to dissuade the Paynes from making such statements. ``They both feel that God will intercede,'' he said. ``And I told them both not to count on it.''

Attorney Anne Borghetti tried to minimize the harm, telling the judge that Betty Payne was under the control of other people: ``That's not her statement that she just read. She was given that by other people.'' ``That was my statement,'' her client insisted. Whittemore appeared surprised by the resistance.

``It's one thing to have blind faith,'' he told Betty Payne. ``It's quite another to cast yourself as a martyr for no apparent good. I just deliberated a matter that you could serve 33 months less. What you've just done is throw that right back in my face.''

Her sentence was 16 months longer than the sentencing guideline minimum. As much as $500 million flowed through the Tampa church during the 1990s, making it one of the largest Ponzi schemes investigated by the Internal Revenue Service. The church told investors it could double their money in 17 months or less based on biblical verse.

The Bible also contains passages pertaining to people who abuse God's words, Whittemore told Gerald Payne. ``You're going to have time to study those passages.''

(emphases mine)

Wanted: Hired assassin

I finally, FINALLY, have my washing machine back – the plumber just finished replacing some pipes and now I don’t have to schlep the laundry back and forth from my mother’s house. I'm happy as a hillbilly who just discovered indoor plumbing.

As I was writing the check and thinking I should have made plumbing my life's work, I jokingly said “I'm glad my ferocious Chihuahuas didn’t scare you away”.

He laughed – it’s hard to imagine anyone being scared of these three little bozos – and said the fatal words:

”The dogs didn’t scare me.

But the big black snake under the house sure did.”

Yes, yes – I know black snakes are harmless, and theoretically kill off all the other vermin, like disease-bearing mice.

Compared to snakes, mice are my dearest friends in the world.

I know exactly one kid who loves reptiles and would come take this critter away to a good home – but the kid is in college far, far away studying to become some sort of high-falutin’ snake-handler. Herpetologist. Whatever; just do it out of my sight.

After paying this plumber, there’s nothing left in the Collective Sigh kitty, but I will willingly sell my soul for a snake assassin.

Being a devout Googler, I did a search on "get rid of snakes". The best option seems to be getting someone to come and fetch the creepy bugger. Things like this are no comfort whatsoever:

The black snakes are there to catch rodents. Remove the mice and rats and the snakes will leave. In the meantime, I would suggest you go through every room and make sure all holes are patched so the varmints (rats, mice, snakes) cannot get into your living quarters. Pay special attention to drain and water pipe holes. When there is no food for the snakes, they will leave of their own accord.


We must have a mouse and rat refuge on our property, though I've never seen one, because this snake has been around for awhile.

If it's the same one...and I'm willing to bet on it....I watched him slither down a hole last summer and put a cinder block over the hole.

Either he's managed to move that cinder block (it's still covering the hole), magically transported himself, or he's tunnelled into the crawl space under my house.

I will NOT have a snake with magical powers or great strength under my house.

Will no one rid me of this troublesome reptile?

I plan to devote the rest of the day - and the rest of my life, if need be, to making "sure all holes are patched so the varmints (rats, mice, snakes) cannot get into your living quarters".

Next time I get to the store, I'll buy up every bit of rat/mouse poison available, and throw it under the house.

With any luck, the snake will eat enough poisoned mice to do himself in.

But I'm still open to any offers of snake assassination.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Random and bizarre musings on the NCAA Tournament

**Three cheers for the University of Vermont Catamounts for giving their retiring coach, Tom Brennan, the retirement gift of a lifetime.

**Who is this man, and what did he do to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons? There's a basketball team being held hostage somewhere; we must get Congress on this immediately.

**What is it with all the tattoos? Every time I see a man (or woman, for that matter) plastered with tattoos, my first thought is - "he/she needs a bath". It looks like a splotch of dirt, or maybe an unfortunate birthmark or wound.

I know I'm an old fogey, but tattoos always said to me - "jailbait".

**Dyed-to-match shoes are a fashion faux pas, whether you're a lady putting together a wardrobe or a basketball player. I'm looking at you, Illinois. There's something distinctly AFLAC-ducky about those orange shoes.

**As I've said in comments elsewhere, I realize my being a University of North Carolina Tarheel fan is a character flaw. But you've got to admit - any college that gave Jesse Helms a chronic case of heartburn for so many years has got a lot going for it. I merely carry out my liberal duty.

With every slam dunk, with every three-point shot, I imagine old Jesse exploding in a blur of wingnuttery spittle and invective.

Does my heart good.


Saturday, March 19, 2005

Abstinence education fails more often than condoms

Teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are more likely to take chances with other kinds of sex that increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, a study of 12,000 adolescents suggests.

The report by Yale and Columbia University researchers could help explain their earlier findings that teens who pledged abstinence are just as likely to have STDs as their peers.

(Thanks to Steve for the tip & link)

And in a related study -

Uganda's HIV rate drops, but not from abstinence
Study concludes basis of Bush policy apparently irrelevant

Research from the heavily studied Rakai district in southern Uganda suggests that increased condom use, coupled with premature death among those infected more than a decade ago with the AIDS virus, are primarily responsible for the steady decline in HIV infections in that area.


The U.S. researchers found that the single greatest factor lowering the percentage of Rakai people infected by HIV was the premature deaths of those who were infected earlier with HIV and subsequently died of AIDS. As the number of AIDS patients decreased, the percentage of those who remained infected or became newly infected decreased in the late 1990s.

A number of old adages come to mind - "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink", "Don't throw good money after bad", and about a hundred others, but my favorite is "Don't trust social conservatives with your tax money or your children's health".

More scrapping Social Security

It's a tough world out there, and George W. Bush aims to make it tougher for some folks.

From his Orlando Scrap Social Security appearance -

I was telling Mother in the limousine, I don't remember talking to her about 401(k)s when I was a little guy. I don't remember IRAs, defined contribution plans. This world has changed since -- since I was raised.

Do you get the feeling he started to say - "this world has changed since 9/11?"

When you were a little guy, George, there was no such thing as 401(k)s or IRAs. There were three kinds of people -

1) Those who saved their pennies for retirement and paid their full share of taxes on that savings.

2) Those who couldn't afford to save their pennies and relied on Social Security to keep them from sinking below the poverty level in their old age.

3) Those who didn't have to worry about retirement because their families were stinking rich.

Today, there are four kinds of people -

1) Those who save their pennies for retirement in 401(k)s and defined contribution plans IF they work for one of the vanishing breeds of businesses that still offer them.

2) Those who struggle to put their pennies in IRAs and watch the profits erode in a crappy market.

3) Those who are depending on Social Security to keep them from sinking below the poverty level in their old age.

4) Those who don't have to worry about retirement because their families are stinking rich.

So you see, George - things haven't changed all that much since you were a little guy; your administration's policies have just made it harder.

A little stroll through Dubya's asset details doesn't show much faith in - or much need for - IRAs or 401(k)s.

And we get a little hint of Dubya's ideas on "ownership" -

Now, ownership is powerful. Ownership was -- you know, it means you can -- somebody can inherit something from a mom or dad. And that shouldn't be the privilege of just the wealthy. That should be the opportunity of everybody who lives in America.

Give the guy credit; he's right about that.

Just about the only way anyone can own a lot these days is if they inherit it. And the way things are going, many people will only be inheriting their parent's debts.

What would I do?

There's not much I can say about the Schiavo case that hasn't already be said. Steve Bates has been particularly eloquent, having faced a similar situation.

I tried asking myself what I would do if my child were in such a state, but ended up in a puddle of tears. Please, God - not my chld.

I hope I'd have the courage of my convictions and enough love to honor hers. She's made it abundantly clear what she would want, as have I.

I'm totally disgusted by the Republicans trying to turn this into their politcal gain. What have they done lately to shore up Medicaid? Provide funding for Hospice? What would happen to disability benefits for people like Ms. Schiavo if their Social Secuirty schemes come to fruition?

I wouldn't wish Ms. Schiavo's fate on anybody, but it's awfully tempting...


Friday, March 18, 2005

Friday critter blogging

Posted by Hello

Love is cleaning out your brother's ears

Special bonus critter blogging - The Litter Box Cam


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Why does Bush hate the world?

The Financial Times wants to know -
George W. Bush has nominated Paul Wolfowitz as the next president of the World Bank. Is the Pentagon's deputy secretary of the past four years, and the Bush administration's most dogged advocate of using US power to transform the Muslim world, really the right man for the job?
When you get through laughing, go vote.


Those were the days

NY Times Jun 28, 2000 -

Bush said today that he would bring down gasoline prices by creating enough political good will with oil-producing nations that they would increase their supply of crude. “I would work with our friends in OPEC to convince them to open up the spigot, to increase the supply. Use the capital that my administration will earn, with the Kuwaitis or the Saudis, and convince them to open up the spigot.”

At the time, oil prices were around $28/barrel.

Just think! The world values our preznit's political goodwill so much that it only took four years to double the price of a barrel of oil!

Makes me proud to be an American.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Three cheers for Mike Kreidler

Mike Kreidler, the Washington State Insurance Commissioner, has taken positive steps to solving the medical malpractice insurance “crisis” in his state.

Read on!

After years of their lobbyists calling for caps on plaintiff's damage awards, squeezing lawyers' contingency fees and trying to throw litigation roadblocks in the way of injured patients and their families, the state's doctors may have found a legitimate way to cut medical malpractice premiums: Get their malpractice insurance company to quit gouging them.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler announced Wednesday that he had ordered the state's largest medical malpractice insurer, Physicians Insurance and its affiliate, Western Professional Insurance Company, to refund more than $1.3 million plus interest in excess premiums charged in 2003.

Nearly 2,400 doctors are in line for premium refunds as high as $4,681. The average refund is expected to be $534.

One insurance company spokesman called it a "paperwork error," and, sure, even a $4,600 refund check won't make much of a dent in an obstetrician's $80,000 annual med-mal insurance premium. But these are the folks who've been trying to literally blame the victims for the high cost of medical malpractice premiums.

The $1.3 million refund order came just one day after Kreidler's office released a report analyzing a decade's worth of medical malpractice claims. The report appears to give lie to allegations of a "crisis" in medical malpractice.

The insurance commissioner's office asked the top five medical malpractice insurers to supply information on claims that were closed between July 1, 1994 and June 30, 2004. These five insurers account for more than 90 percent of the regulated malpractice market for the state's physicians and surgeons, according to Kreidler.

The 10-year period produced just over 10,000 closed claims. That number is probably a good place to start. Ten years, 10,000 claims. That's 1,000 a year.

Of those 10,000 cases, juries decided in favor of plaintiffs in just 50 cases. Not 50 percent of cases, but 50 cases total. Runaway juries? Lottery justice? Based on normal win-loss ratios in cases that go to trial, the final jury score was apparently patients: 50 and docs: 307.

In all, 3,248 of the 10,000 cases were closed without plaintiffs getting a dime and without defendants having to spend a dime to defend themselves. In about 6,100 of the cases, defendants incurred costs for attorneys and expert witnesses. But it was money well spent. Defendants prevailed in 61 percent of those cases.

Only about 2,700 claims -- 27 percent -- resulted in any payment to the injured party.

And what about those blockbuster, multibillion-dollar jury awards? Over the 10 years, 200 claims resulted in compensation payments of more than $1 million. And that's apparently for all compensation, including economic damages and the non-economic or "pain and suffering" awards that lobbyists have been pressuring lawmakers to cap at $250,000 and that the current Initiative 300 to the Legislature would cap at $350,000.

Lobbyists and initiative backers have lamented the "explosion" in medical malpractice claims.

The survey shows that the number of medical malpractice claims increased by 4.9 percent a year. Population growth alone would account for nearly 40 percent of that increase. The average amount of the compensation per claim increased by 4.1 percent a year, well below the rate of inflation in health care costs.

The "explosion" appears to be more of a poof than a boom.


Anyone surprised?

Insurance companies of all stripes have been getting away with murder for a long, long time. I’d call for the creation of a national insurance commissioner with some real powers to stand toe-to-toe with these scam artists and make them conduct their business fairly and openly.

But I’ll wait for the next Democratic administration. One could have endless fun speculating on which insurance company fox Dubya would put in charge of the henhouse.

Karen Hughes picked to polish U.S. image

I'm getting a huge chuckle at the thought of Karen Hughes as "undersecretary of state for public diplomacy".

It was an obvious choice for Dubya - after all, he knows Hughes is an expert at smearing lipstick on a pig.

In 2000, the imposing lady was able to look straight into the cowering media's faces and get away with any number of bald-faced lies. Those members of the SCLM who didn't slink off to parrot her pronouncements jumped to their feet, saluted, and obediently vomited back her lies to the public.

But how well will this forbidding figure be able to snow the international media? Will they bow before her, say "thank you, ma'am", and print whatever she demands?

I don't think so. Hughes may be able to "polish" the image of an immature, ne'er-do-well rich kid, but when it comes to foreign policy with life-or-death consequences the audience won't be giving her any benefit of the doubt.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The country road trifecta

There are a great many advantages to living out in the middle of nowhere, but there are just as many disadvantages.

One of those disadvantages is that in order to get anywhere, you have to drive along narrow, two-lane country roads. Miraculously, our county keeps them in pretty good shape, but they are still narrow.

There are no shoulders to speak of, and no passing lanes. Get behind a tractor pulling a load of something, and you’re stuck behind him for the duration.

Why in the world some of these narrow, shoulder-less country roads would be considered official “bicycle paths” is completely beyond me. I suppose it’s considered the scenic route, but it’s hard for any cyclist to appreciate the scenery when impatient drivers are coming perilously close to pushing said cyclist off the road, or from a vehicle when you’re trying NOT to hit a string of Lance Armstrong-wannabes.

But I hit the true, country road trifecta last night; when I stop shaking, I’m sure it will give me plenty to laugh about the rest of my life.

Hit number one – I don’t like to drive at night, even when I know the road like the back of my hand. My eyes don’t serve me very well in the dark, and oncoming headlights throw me in a momentary tizzy.

Hit number two – the above-mentioned narrow, two-lane country roads, when faced with a creek or stream, tend to have even more narrow one-and-a half-lane narrow bridges.

I am afflicted with the dreaded Narrow Bridge Curse, in that every time I come up to one of these bridges, there is a vehicle approaching in the other direction. If it’s a little-bitty something – like a Volkswagon or Hyundai – we’ll squeeze past each other nervously but safely. But it’s usually my fate to meet up with an eighteen wheeler or a cement mixer or a tractor pulling some ungodly-wide farm implement.

Hit number three – deer. Lots of Bambis and their parents frolic around this part of the country, especially in the wooded areas bordering those narrow, two-lane country roads. Many a driver has jousted with a frolicking deer, and all three (driver, deer, and vehicle) usually lose the battle.

Deer aren’t the only hazard; various livestock tend to escape their confines and get into the road. I have dodged cattle, horses, a goat, and even a llama (of all things). I’ve even stopped to help herd a big old sow and her brood of piglets back into their rightful home.

Years ago, Mr. Andante rounded a curve and crashed his big old Ford pickup right into a mule sauntering down the middle of the road. Nobody was hurt; the mule left a pretty good dent in the front fender, but otherwise seemed unfazed. In Mr. Andante’s words, the mule gave him a “Jimmy Carter smile” and took off running.

All three of those hits came together last night, in what I hope is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As I was poking down the road, I came to a narrow, two-lane bridge with the usual vehicle approaching from the other direction.

And a deer standing in the middle of the bridge.

Pinned down by two sets of headlights, the doe was completely motionless. Both vehicles came to a complete stop on either side of the bridge, and we both admired the beautiful creature for a moment. At least, I did. I was fervently hoping the other driver wasn’t a hunter reaching for a shotgun.

To my relief, the other driver rolled down his window and hollered – “SHOO!!!”….and the doe did, leaping gracefully away from the bridge, within a foot of my car, and into the woods.

I motioned for the other driver to cross the bridge first – his vehicle being much bigger than mine, and I being no fool.

I suppose I'd occasionally run into a similar situation in the city, though I doubt any pedestrian foolish enough or inebriated enough to stand in the middle of a bridge would take off running when someone hollers "SHOO!!".

All in all, I count it as an advantage - the opportunity to admire one of nature's masterpieces close up, without getting hurt in the process.


Monday, March 14, 2005

Long-term health care

The NYTimes weighs in with a semi-decent piece on Medicaid and it’s problems, which are about a gazillion times more troublesome than Social Security.

The biggest problem with Medicaid is that it has been deputized to do a lot of jobs it wasn't originally created for. Intended as a health insurance program for families on welfare and people with disabilities, Medicaid has gradually been stretched to cover for Congress's failure to deal with the millions of low-income American workers without health insurance, and the refusal of Medicare to pay for long-term nursing home care for the elderly.

Let’s all say it once again, loud and proud - universal health care.

A universal, or “single-payer” system would automatically cover the families on welfare and disability. The problem of long-term nursing home care could then be addressed by something like Medicare, Medicaid, and/or through private insurers.

There was a time when long-term care was undertaken by families; multi-generation families living under the same roof. When grandma or grandpa could no longer care for themselves they were tended by (mostly) the other women in the home – daughters, granddaughters, and daughters-in-law. Only the most seriously ill went to nursing homes or hospitals – and the cost of health care was much, much less back then.

Except in very rare instances, those days are long gone. A home sheltering three or more generations plus assorted other relatives is just as rare as the household run by faithful family retainers.

A good many in the present administration and in the halls of Congress still have that option and have adopted a "let them eat cake" attitude to the vast majority of Americans who do not.

In the meantime, the sluggish economy and corporate irresponsibility toward our "employer based" health care system are putting a tremendous burden on Medicaid and the state budgets trying to pick up the slack -

Medicaid is performing a critical service that the public supports - making sure that poor children get proper medical care, that working families have health coverage and that old people get quality care. The driving force behind the recent upsurge in costs, according to an analysis by researchers at the Urban Institute, was a big increase in the number of people enrolled. The wobbly economy left more workers with incomes low enough to qualify for Medicaid and fewer employers offering affordable health coverage. That is hardly an indictment of Medicaid. The program was doing what it was meant to do, filling a gap for people in real need.

These "gaps" in Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance have become major obstacles to many, preventing them from attaining any sort of "American dream", causing more and more to slip out of the middle class, and keeping some at a bare subsistence level.

Recognizing that medical expenses are contributing to the moral bankruptcy of our society and the financial drain on families, our less-than-astute congressmen and women rallied behind the loan shark industry and made it even more difficult for families in financial trouble to get relief.

The Long-Term Care Act of 2004, introduced on February 12, 2004 by Sen Larry E. Craig (R-ID) would provide tax deductions for those who purchase long-term care insurance, but one of those who helped write the legislation, Steven Chies, Chair of the American Health Care Association (AHCA), makes clear the current administration's mindset on the subject -

"(it) would promote greater self-reliance and individual responsibility as Americans meet their own care needs as opposed to relying exclusively upon government funding."

Neither Senator Craig, Mr. Chies, or any other of the sponsoring congress members have suggested how Americans should meet that “individual responsibility” when wages are stagnant, employers no longer offer group health insurance, and health care costs increase by the minute. For many, long-term care insurance IS the American dream, and an unattainable one at that.


Friday, March 11, 2005

Erratic blogging

It's unlikely you'll see any sense or nonsense here for the next couple of weeks.

I shall be expending every ounce of my mental, physical, spirtual, and psychic energy in my heroic efforts to see the University of North Carolina Tarheels crowned basketball kings of the college world.

We defeated the evil Clemson Tigers today, but there are many ogres ahead. Dammit - I'm exhausted. Couch potato spectator sports are not for the faint of heart.

Unnecessary apology

A Canadian member of Parliament charged with improving ties with the United States apologized on Thursday for saying "let's embarrass the hell out of the Americans in front of other countries."

The gaffe by Marlene Jennings came exactly two weeks after Canada's Liberal government irritated Washington by refusing to join the U.S. missile defense system.

Jennings -- the parliamentary secretary for Canada-U.S. relations -- reports directly to Prime Minister Paul Martin, who came to power in December 2003 saying he wanted better relations with Washington.

"I would apologize to the members in this House that my comments were a little bit exaggerated. I apologize," she told the House of Commons elected chamber of Parliament.

No need to apologize, Ms. Jennings - we can embarrass the hell out of America all by ourselves. We've done it twice - in 2000 and again in 2004.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Selling out to Big Bidness

I’ve plastered the names of Democratic senators who voted for the atrocious bankruptcy bill on the sidebar, because when the time comes to raise funds for the 2006 elections I want to remember to whom I will NOT give my hard-earned dollars.

In addition, I've noted the ones who are playing footsie with those who would wipe out Social Security as we know it.

It’s hard to imagine a bill more at odds with the common good. If there’s any doubt that Republicans are living in a fantasy world and totally out of touch with the voters, this quote from the NYTimes link (above) nails it -

The sponsors of the legislation say that it will have the effect of lowering the costs of goods and services for all consumers by making it easier for companies and issuers of credit to collect unpaid debts rather than passing those costs on to everyone else.

Yes, indeed - those kindly loan sharks will collect unpaid debts, stop charging outrageous administrative fees and interest, give the money back to those they overcharged to begin with, and - voila' - prices will come down, all will be right with the world, and we'll all live happily ever after. Just like deregulation.

If this bill had one iota of consumer protection written into it, I could almost - almost - forgive the Sell-Outs. Is there anything about curbing exorbitant interest rates? No. Any exceptions for major medical crises? No. Any protections for the elderly? No.

These men and women should be ashamed of themselves. Surely Democrats can come up with credible primary challengers to these Big Bidness sell-outs.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

U.S. Expediting Probe of Italian's Death

The U.S. military decided Tuesday to conduct an accelerated inquiry to learn why American troops opened fire, killing an Italian intelligence agent and wounding an Italian journalist he helped rescue from insurgents in Iraq - an attack that has strained relations with a key American ally.

The world in general, and Italians in particular, will have good reason to doubt any findings or expect any justice from a United States military investigation.

On Feb.3, 1998, a NATO aircraft severed the cable car lines at an Italian ski resort, resulting in twenty deaths.

Victims' families and many Italians were outraged when the US marine court dropped involuntary manslaughter charges against Capt Ashby in March 1999.

In May 1999 he was jailed for six months and sacked for helping hide a video shot during the flight.

The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse investigations, while hinting at involvement higher up, have been confined to reservists and the lower ranks.

Nor can Italians look to the example of the Marine who shot a wounded, unarmed Iraqi.

It was a striking -- some said chilling -- moment in the battle for Iraq, captured on videotape: a wounded, un-armed Iraqi, shot to death by a U.S. Marine.

CBS News has learned that military investigators conclude there is not enough evidence to formally charge that Marine.

Accounts of the incident in which the Italian security agent was killed differ radically, but one thing is certain - as long as undertrained, overstressed, underequipped young men and women are thrown into the Iraqi quagmire, the more often these tragic incidents will occur.

And until the administration and the Pentagon accept responsibility for the undertraining, overstressing, and underequipping, there will be no justice or credibility to any investigations.


Monday, March 07, 2005

I'd like to thank all the little people

Brian at Brian's Political Donnybrook, a fellow North State blogger,has drawn my attention to an actual mention of Collective Sigh in the Charlotte Observer.

Jeff Taylor of the John Locke Foundation addresses the impact of blogs on the political landscape -

Columnist Kathleen Parker lets her fears of the blogosphere overpower her sound judgment when she holds a "funeral" for freedom of speech in America ("Speak now -- and forever wish that you hadn't," Feb. 16). In reality, the Internet helps to foster a meaningful exchange of ideas worthy of the nation's debate-rich, rationalist founding.


The sheer variety of this rapid-fire debate also is at odds with Parker's portrayal of bloggers marching in lock-step, chasing after CNN's Jordan or CBS's Dan Rather. Just one compendium of North Carolina blogs, the Old North State blogroll, spans the ideological spectrum. From Brian's Political Donnybrook and Collective Sigh on the left to the Charlotte Capitalist and the Locke Foundation's own Locker Room on the right, if you can't a find blog to suit your own outlook then, well, you should start your own blog! Yes, there's plenty of room in the cyber-mob for new recruits.

That does not sound like the death of free speech, more like a glorious re-birth.

(Emphasis mine, of course!)

Agreed, Jeff (except for the bit about Kathleen Parker's "sound judgment"). We need much more debate and much less lock-stepping.

I'm not exactly bracing myself for a slew of new visitors, but just in case maybe I should put up a "tip" button and take down that 3rd-grade picture.

BUI - Blogging under the influence

...of NyQuil.

After a night of sneezing, sniffing, nose-blowing, and coughing until my ribs hurt, I rose from my sick bed far too early but glad it was my Day Off.

Some people say mothers never get a “day off”, but they’re wrong. After I changed the sheets, dusted, vacuumed, washed the dishes, ran to the bank to sign some documents, picked up more cold remedies at the drug store, cooked a batch of spaghetti, washed the dishes (again), and did five loads of laundry, I had the rest of the day to do as I pleased.

Actually, make that six loads of laundry….as I folded and put away load number five, one of the dogs threw up on the kid’s bed.

One of the things on my to-do wish-list was calling Blue Cross/Blue Shield and telling them where to stick their $1500.00 per month health insurance policy.

That was fun.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield has a sweetheart deal with the state of North Carolina; they are required to offer insurance to those North Carolinians who can't find insurance elsewhere, but there isn’t a rule or regulation in sight as to how much they can charge.

But then I had to look around for alternatives. I called an agent or two, but I don’t think they were too impressed with my - “I need a - COUGH - quote – AH-CHOO – for a health – SNIFF – insurance policy (long, loud blowing of nose)”.

So, now that it’s almost bedtime on my Day Off – and oh, how I need that rest – I finally get a chance to get my news-fix.

I was struck by a couple of items –

I see the Army is struggling for recruits, which is just as well since they still don’t have the proper amount of body armor for them.

I sort of thought Rumsfeld would be embarrassed into doing something about the up-armoring and body armor problem, but expecting anyone in the Bush administration to show contrition or shame is perhaps asking a bit too much.

Recruiters are everywhere these days; in the malls, in the high schools - anywhere they might find fresh meat. One is reminded of the millions of young men and boys sent off by Ayatollah Khomeini to do battle with Iraq, often armed with nothing more than a martyr's headband and their blind faith.

In other news, the World Health Organization has named serenely beautiful, Ethiopian-born supermodel Liya Kebede as a goodwill ambassador.

Liya isn't just a pretty face; she will seek to address the easily preventable difficulties faced by pregnant women and newborns in third world countries. Her experiences in Ethiopia make her an ideal choice -

"Having lived in Ethiopia, I've known a lot of women who have died giving childbirth," Kebede said. "It's almost even normal to hear that women are going to die giving birth."

"(But) there are actually solutions, it's not like a cancer we can't cure -- we actually have treatments," the 27-year-old model said.

Speaking of ambassadors and definitely not a pretty face, Dubya has nominated Anarcho-Conservacon Club charter member John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Someone must have told Dubya that Jesse Helms wasn't available, as I can think of few men with more animosity toward the U.N. than Bolton.

David Corn puts it pretty well - Bush Gives the UN the Finger

If you were sitting in the Oval Office and George W. Bush asked, "Hey, tell me, who could we appoint to the UN ambassador job that would most piss off the UN and the rest of the world," your job would be quite easy. You would simply say, "That's a no-brainer, Mr. President, John Bolton." And on Monday Bush took this no-brain advice and nominated Bolton to the post, which requires Senate confirmation.

In the everything-has-changed-since-9/11 world, it would be interesting to hear him justify his comment - "If the UN secretary building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

Don't hold your breath. When those big, bad Senators confront Bolton with his own words, I'm sure we will hear the Dubya-Thomas-Guckert Defense that works just as well for draft dodgers and male-chauvinist-pig Supreme Court nominees as it does for fake journalist/male prostitutes - "I'm just not going to address it," and the ever-popular "I've made mistakes in my past."


Sunday, March 06, 2005


I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Andante for sharing his crappy, sloppy cold with me. If he wasn't so sick himself, I'd swat him.

I'm also in sticker-shock. We finally gat a quote on our individual health insurance policy.

Health insurance is now the largest item in our budget. It is twice as much as our home mortgage. It's even more than we pay for college tuition.

And that's the lower, COBRA policy, which will only be in effect for eighteen months. Blue Cross/Blue Shield wanted $1500.00 per month.

Needless to say, that $1500 provided us with a good laugh.

Keep in mind that we are relatively healthy, middle-aged baby boomers with one very healthy child dependent. The only "glitch" in our medical history is that we take cholesterol medication. Our cholesterol is just fine, now - low, in fact.

You might also keep in mind that Big Pharma thinks every adult should be on cholesterol medication.

Offhand, I'd say higher health insurance premiums are coming soon to you, probably sooner than you think and more than you expect.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Gay marriage, again

Republican Commissioner Fred McClure in nearby Davidson County is all het up about gay marriage, and wants the people of North Carolina to have the chance to vote on the issue.

But it's a different story when someone proposes a state lottery.

Every state surrounding North Carolina has a state lottery - Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina are the regular beneficiaries of North Carolinians driving over the border to buy tickets.

North Carolina dollars are financing new schools, remodelings, and additions for all our neighbors while our own schools decay and/or suffer extreme overcrowding.

"Oh!" you say - "North Carolinians have rejected a state lottery!".

Nein. Non. Ne. La. Nyet.

One poll after another has shown a state lottery would pass with a real mandate; approximately 70% of adults in North Carolina have purchased a lottery ticket in another state, and those are just the North Carolinians with easy access to a state line.

However, the Bible-thumpers have beat back every attempt to bring the issue before North Carolina voters.

Yeah, I know - a lottery ticket is a really crappy way of investing and you have batter odds at the Vegas casinos. But here in North Carolina, we haven't even been allowed the chance to vote against it.

North Carolina adults apparently are too morally degenerate to be allowed a referendum on a state lottery, but when it comes to gay marriage we're suddenly paragons of winger virtue who must be mobilized to slay the gay marriage dragon.

If I were queen of the world, I'd make everyone who proposes, initiates, or agitates for a gay marriage ban go for marriage counseling.

Gay marriage doesn't bother me or my marriage one iota. Obviously, if it's so threatening to them, they're the ones who need help.

Pneumonia Season

We don’t generally have an actual “winter” here in this part of the world; no long stretches of below-freezing weather or daily frozen precipitation.

Instead, we have a short and violent spring followed by a long, hot and humid summer. Summer gradually gives way to a (usually) gentle, golden autumn, and then it’s Pneumonia Season.

Pneumonia Season stretches from some time around the first of December until about mid-March. We had a perfect illustration a couple of weekends ago.

At the grocery store on Saturday, about every other person was wearing shorts and a tank top. Temperatures approached seventy degrees, the sunshine was brilliant, the sky Carolina Blue.

When I went outside to get the Sunday morning paper, it was sleeting.

By Monday, we were back to shorts & tank top weather.

When the weather vacillates so wildly, the area flora gets muddled up, the pollen flies around and anyone with the least sensitivity starts sneezing and sniffling. Combine this with the traditional flu season, a lot of people who were cooped up inside suddenly milling around and there you have it – Pneumonia Season.

The good news for sinus sufferers is a new product on the market which makes use of ancient wisdom – the SinuCleanse system, which can be purchased at many pharmacy chains.

For about fifteen bucks, you get a little vessel from which you pour a cleansing saline solution into your sinuses. You can also get an instructional video for around $5.95.

Follow that link, read up on it – and if you’re interested, come back here and I’ll tell you how to do it for free.

I thought this was just something we weird vocalists practiced. A voice teacher passed along the method to me many years ago when I walked into his studio with a nasty cold.

You need uniodized salt, warm water, a teacup or similar container, and a sink.

Mix 1/2 teaspoon uniodized salt in an 8 oz glass of warm water. You can even add a pinch of baking soda.if you have it handy. Mix the solution well until everything dissolves in the warm water, then pour it into a teacup.

You’ve got to do this over a sink, because you will snort, sneeze, and make a general mess.

Lean over the sink and snort the warm saline solution into your nose. Yeah, I know it sound icky and it feels rather icky, too.

But you WILL live through it, and you’ll have instant relief from sinus congestion. If you have ongoing sinus problems, do it every day and you’ll soon notice a big improvement. No drowziness from antihistamines, and a heck of a lot cheaper.

Mr. Andante has a sloppy cold, and I'm trying to get him to try it. You'd think a guy who could put up with me this long wouldn't be afraid of anything but he is, shall we say, apprehensive.

Actually, he's chicken.

But he'll thank me once I nag him into it, and get a good night's sleep.

Paging Dr. Josef Mengele...

....the US military needs your expertise.

The US military is developing a weapon that delivers a bout of excruciating pain from afar to use against protesters and rioters.

Documents released under the US Freedom of Information Act show that scientists have received funding to investigate how much pain can be induced in individuals hit by electromagnetic pulses created by lasers without killing them.

Due to be ready for use in 2007, the Pulsed Energy Projectile weapon is designed to trigger extreme pain from a distance of one-and-a-quarter miles.

It's unbelievable that our country has come to this.

And don't try to tell me everything changed after 9/11...this is designed for use against protestors and rioters, not terrorists and enemy combatants.

How convenient it will be ready for use in 2007; just in time for the next presidential election.

Three words....Bring it on.

If I might suggest - you might as well make it strong enough to kill, as those who use it will be no match for the outrage and fury of those subjected to the treatment.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Eyes on the prize

Kudos to law enforcement officials in Kansas for apprehending the BTK serial killer suspect.

Now, if only their jackass Attorney General can drag his attention away from possible late term abortions performed on teenage girls, maybe they can build a decent case.

Supreme Court Considers Ten Commandments Displays

To Whom It May Concern:

If you want to walk the straight and narrow but feel you need a physical representation of the Ten Commandments in order to do it - please do the rest of us a favor and turn yourself in to the proper authorities.

A crisis on every corner

The latest polls indicate the American people strongly reject Dubya's Social Security wolf-crying and plans to shift Social Security benefits into Wall Street pockets.

A sampling from Polling Report shows a marked "disapproval" of Dubya's privatization scheme -

Associated Press/Ipsos poll, Feb. 22-24, 2005 - 39% approve, 56% disapprove
NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, Feb. 10-14, 2005 - 32% approve, 62% disapprove

FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, Feb. 8-9, 2005 - 37% approve, 59% disapprove

Even the wealthy are getting a bit nervous about the effect the plot would have on their future investment strategies -

Poll: Wealthy Worried About Social Security

Social Security jumped to the No. 2 concern affecting affluent American investors' economic outlook in February, according to a survey.

Among millionaire investors, Social Security was the third most important issue affecting their investment outlook, according to Chicago-based consulting firm Spectrem's monthly affluent investor polls.

Note to Bush - I believe we have a true "mandate" here...and it's not yours.

The (few) Republican congressmen who hold open meetings on the subject are getting pounded by opposition, which they characterize as "more organized".

Silly Americans, don't you know you're not allowed to face the majority through organized or unorganized opposition?

If Bush is true to form, he will continue to project a confident, sunny-side-up view of his latest scam. When he can't continue the charade without looking totally ridiculous, he'll declare some sort of victory and drop it like a hot potato.

But the Bush administration always needs a crisis; something to rally support from the American people and keep us distracted from their gross mismanagement.

Enter Newt Gingrich and the so-called "Center for Health Transformation".

As the discussion about overhauling Medicaid becomes more urgent, there is a grave danger that it will be narrowly focused on money, trapping lawmakers in an unproductive power struggle between federal and state governments. In truth, America's Medicaid challenges reach well beyond finances and budgets. The system is fundamentally broken, ensnaring the most vulnerable in our society in a cycle of dependence and poverty while failing to realize the benefits of emerging technologies and new capabilities in health and long-term care. Medicaid is beyond reform and cannot be fixed with small cuts and waivers from the bureaucracy. It must be transformed with legislation to bring it into the 21st century.

Medicaid! Of course!

Medicaid recipients aren't represented by some big gay-supporting, troop-bashing lobby, there's a good deal fewer of them casting votes or liable to show up at faux "townhall" meetings, or even fewer are likely to be called by a pollster.

Medicaid does have serious problem, just like Medicare and the entire health care system. The answer is within easy reach, if our legislators had the courage to grab it - universal health care.

But don't count on Newt or his "Center for Health Transformation". While he does have some good suggestions for integrating new technology to increase efficiency, there's also this:

Poor individuals should be offered vouchers for health savings accounts that sensitize them to the benefits of prevention, wellness and early detection.

Someone needs to tell Newt that poor individuals would probably be a lot more interested in vouchers for food.

In Alabama, for example, a Medicaid recipient is income-limited to $599 per month for a single person and $899 per month for a couple. (link - PDF warning)

What is it with Republicans and vouchers? Every time you turn around, they want to offer a ridiculously low-value voucher for anything from education to housing to health care.

I somehow doubt these individuals will be rushing to set up health savings accounts, even with vouchers in their hands.

But they are a handy target for an administration looking for ways to slash the social safety net and for those who don't know the meaning of There but for the grace of God go I.


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