Daily Archives: 15 Nov 2014

Anti-Life Philosophy of the “Pro-Life” Movement

Bush's Fringe GovernmentYet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the “pro-life” movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance…

[I]n the United States, where abortion is legal and sex education is broader, the abortion rate reached a twenty-four-year low during the 1990s. Yet the ironically named “pro-life” movement would return the United States to the condition of Chile or Colombia. And not only that, the fundamentalists try to impose the anti-life program in other countries by refusing foreign aid to programs that teach family planning, safe sex, and contraceptive knowledge. They also oppose life-saving advances through the use of stem cell research. With friends like these, “life” is in thrall to death.

—Garry Wills
Jimmy Carter & the Culture of Death
in Bush’s Fringe Government

America’s Iron Age Culture

Lethal InjectionI know that I have fairly negative feelings about the following list of countries: China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. It’s not that I hate them — not at all. But I think a whole lot worse of them than I do, say: Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. I’m sure there are a lot of things that go into this. I associate all of these countries with authoritarian governments, even if Iraq is now technically a democracy. But mostly, they strike was as kind of Old Testament in their outlook on life. This isn’t necessarily fair, but certainly a case can be made.

So I wasn’t terribly pleased when I saw this recent Amnesty International report, Death Sentences and Executions 2013 (pdf). You see, the top five countries for the death penalty are these Abrahamic countries and, of course, the “enlightened” United States of America. It makes me want to break out in song, “Oh, say can you see: all the people we kill?!” But I guess we can take some comfort that we are fifth on the list! For once we aren’t “Number one!” on a list of bad things.

Here is a great graph that Business Insider put together to illustrate the situation, China Executes More People Than The Rest of the World Combined:

Executions Worldwide 2013

There is good and bad news about this. The good news is that executions are down in the United States. Fifteen years ago, we executed 98 people. The bad news is that maybe we would have ranked higher before. But even with our reduction in executions, we are still a major outlier. We are the only nation in North or South America to carry out executions. Think about that. All those supposed backward people down south still manage to avoid executing anyone. We make up roughly one-third of the population of the two continents, but we killed 39 and they killed zero. Also, “The USA was the only country of the 56 member states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to have carried out executions.” Are we not proud?

One interesting statistic is that between 2012 and 2013, the number of nations executing people went down slightly. But the number of executions went way up: by 12%. I think executions can be seen as a kind of contagion. Clearly, executions are not a rational response to violence or crime. It reminds me of the response to “Typhoid” Mary Mallon. She was locked up even while other typhoid carriers were not. She was locked up as a kind of public relations effort — to make people feel better about the disease. And that’s largely how the death penalty in the United States works: it doesn’t make anyone safer, but it shows that the government takes murder seriously — even if the government doesn’t take it seriously.

It’s all pathetic. But it does drive home an important point. When we think about our country, we shouldn’t compare it to other advanced economies with democratic governments. We should think of our real peers: China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Next to them, we really do stand out like a shining city on a hill. Compared to Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, we really don’t. So let’s embrace our Iron Age culture. We’re one of the best!

Fox News Continues Obamacare Distortion

Fox Not NewsI was talking to my father the other day about Obamacare. He is a fairly typical conservative in that his opinions change like a pinball. Sometimes he is quite liberal, but let Fox News work on him for a few minutes and he’ll reverse course. In fact, I can generally determine what it is that Fox News is pushing by the changes in his opinions. About a year ago, out of the blue, he decided that Obamacare was too complicated. Why oh why couldn’t we just have had a simple law like Medicare for all?! He didn’t put it quite that way, but that was the substance of it. I told him the truth: because conservatives like him wouldn’t stand for such a law; Obamacare was an attempt for liberals to get along with conservatives; and the liberals got paid back with fake outrage about the bill being some kind of socialist plot. I did not mention that liberals also got paid back by conservatives like him complaining that the law was too complicated and claiming that they would have been just find with a single-payer system.

Up until last week, my father seemed to have made peace with the new healthcare law. But such acceptance could not withstand the 57 segments that Fox News did this week on Jonathan Gruber’s statement about the law being designed so the CBO didn’t score it as tax. According to Fox News that meant that the Democrats had lied to the American people. It’s very annoying, because the entire right wing echo chamber is being disingenuous. Did we not talk for years about the tax penalties for people not getting insurance? What exactly did the Democrats slip by us?

So Fox News is all over this and now my father thinks that Obamacare is some kind of secret plot to get everyone dependent upon the government. I find the whole thing exhausting. And this is why I don’t much talk to my father about politics. It isn’t that I can’t convince him of things. But the one hour of Fox News he watches each day would require that I spend at least two hours every day to counter. The truth of the matter is that Fox News is very good at what it does. The hosts and producers know all my father’s prejudices and they feed him disinformation based on it. Watching Fox News is the intellectual and emotional equivalent of slipping into a warm bath.

Meanwhile, there are actual facts about Obamacare. In addition to all the active disinformation, Fox News acts as a kind of information filter. If there is bad news about the law, it will be reported on Fox News — and often. But if there is good news about it, it simply won’t be reported except in passing at the beginning of Special Report with Bret Baier (the show my father watches). It certainly won’t be discussed by the “Fox All-Star Panel.” And we had some good news on Obamacare yesterday.

Frank Newport at Gallup reported, Newly Insured Through Exchanges Give Coverage Good Marks. A recent poll found that people getting insurance on the new exchanges are roughly as happy with their coverage and price as people getting it through their employers. Of the newly insured, 71% rated their coverage good or excellent — compared to 72% of everyone who is insured. But you won’t be hearing about that on Fox News.

It is much easier to rant about how the American people were lied to and that the evil liberals are trying to make everyone dependent upon the government. My father is almost 82 years old. You know: the typical Fox News viewer. And he sees himself as fiercely independent. Of course, he is entirely dependent on the government. He is on Social Security, with very little personal savings. And he gets his healthcare from the VA who take amazingly good care of him. But government dependence is terrible! For other people. Apparently. Because that’s what Charles Krauthammer and George Will and Fred Barnes tell him on Fox News.

AP Pushes Anti-Government Propaganda

Scandal?!Last year, I wrote about a 60 Minutes segment that investigated disability fraud. It was an amazing thing to watch, because in the old days, the show went after powerful people. Now it is primarily a rage program. It ought to be on Fox News. The segment focused on poor people living in economically devastated areas using the program to make ends meet. Certainly we don’t want them doing this but it is a sign of the desperation of the times. But apparently the oligarch apologists can’t be bothered to do stories about government officials at every level doing everything they can to stifle the economy.

I noted at the time that the bad thing about the fraud hysteria is that by making it harder to get disability, more people who ought to get it will be denied. So just how big a problem is disability fraud? According to Associated Press, there has been $2 billion of fraud in the last seven years. That sounds like a lot of money, but it really isn’t. Dean Baker noted this morning that it represents just over 0.2% of the entire outlay of benefits.

Dean BakerConservatives, of course, will claim that no level of fraud is acceptable. But that’s just stupid. There will always be crime — the vast majority of it never solved. Does that mean we should just stop living? Baker pointed out that it would make no sense to spend $10 billion to stop $2 billion in fraud. As long as fraud is minor, it is acceptable.

One of the annoying things about these reports is that they imply that such fraud doesn’t exist in the “perfect” private sector. But that just isn’t true. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield, fraud may cost the healthcare industry $200 billion per year. This number is almost certainly greatly inflated. But it shows that the private sector deals with fraud and some level of fraud is acceptable. It is all about the costs of fighting it.

Another example is shoplifting at Walmart. The company supposedly loses $3 billion per year from theft. They do what they can to minimize theft. But what they don’t do is try to completely eliminate it. They could, for example, require that everyone leaving the store submit to a strip-search. Clearly that would be both effective in eliminating theft and catastrophic to the company’s bottom line.

But none of this kind of reasoning seems to come up in discussions about fraud in government programs. Part of the problem is that private companies don’t make that big a deal out of the theft that effects them. But more important, when it is the government, the press makes it out as a big deal. You know: because it is our money that is getting stolen. But that’s also true of private sector healthcare fraud and shoplifting at Walmart. That theft causes prices to go up. So this razor focus on the minor imperfections of government programs is just an anti-government double standard.

Dean Baker is right that Associated Press never would have written such a story with the relative values. “Disability Program Defrauded of 0.2% of Outlays” just isn’t an exciting headline. But it’s another matter with, “IG: $2B in Disability Claims Approved by Mistake.” As noted, that $2 billion figure is for seven years, so even it is deceptive. Why not a big headline, “Walmart Losses $21 Billion to Theft Increasing Price of Toilet Paper”?

What’s most frustrating is that the article is presented as simple objective reporting. But it is rich in political significance. Like the 60 Minutes segment last year, the implication is that the disability program is rotten to the core. But neither report made any mention of the size of the program nor the relative size of the problem. Although the reporters involved probably have little idea, they are working as propagandists for anti-government activists who want to destroy the program for entirely different reasons.

And the result will be that poor people get harmed. According to the Associated Press article, “The average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $1,146.” This is from a media establishment that can’t get worked up about billions of dollars in fraud committed by the world’s largest banks. But when a poor person is getting less than $14,000 per year, well, that’s an outrage!

Ed Asner

Ed AsnerToday, the great actor Ed Asner is 85 years old. It is very easy to call him “Lou Grant.” He played the character for seven seasons on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then for another five seasons on the drama Lou Grant. That switch from a supporting character on a comedy to a primary character on a drama has always struck me as one of the great television stories. I’m a little young for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and I didn’t especially like it. But I was crazy for Lou Grant in junior high (they call it “middle school” now, I’m told) and high school. I’ve always had a thing about writers and reporters.

One interesting thing about the show is that it had good ratings all the way through its fifth season. Asner thinks the show was canceled because of his liberal politics and, to a lesser extent, of the show itself. I’m not sure I agree. I think it is at least as likely that the show was canceled due to pure incompetence by the CBS executives. That is what happened at CBS with Gilligan’s Island. But you can’t underestimate just how small minded executives can be in general, but most especially in Hollywood.

There are lots of whole episodes on YouTube. The following one is from the first season, “Aftershock.” In an absolute sense, it isn’t great. But for its time, it is pretty good. This was the year of Three’s Company and CHiPs and Charlie’s Angels. This episode tries a little too hard to be funny, but the whole thing about a Minnesotan freaking out about earthquakes while Californians do their lackadaisical thing is very good. The bets were a nice touch.

At this point, Asner is known more for his liberal politics. The only issue I disagree with him about is 9/11; he seems to think there is more there than meets the eye. But otherwise, he is a good right-thinking American. In 2012, he created a bit of a stir doing the narration for a video for the California Federation of Teachers. (I wrote about it at the time: Tax the Rich Fairy Tale.)

Happy birthday Ed Asner!