Sunday, December 22, 2013

Duck Dynasty: Religion is no excuse for bigotry

"Duck Dynasty" patriarch and reality TV star Phil Robertson recently said in response to a question during a magazine interview about what, in his mind, is sinful, "Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."  Mr. Robertson ignores the fact that bestiality is certainly possible and probably more prevalent among heterosexuals than homosexuals; he simply equates homosexuality with perversion without offering any evidence or ethical reasoning other than his own admittedly bible-based moral code. 

This blind obedience to a primitive moral code is not unique or rare; many religious fundamentalists such as Sarah Palin, a former candidate for Vice President, voiced their support for Mr. Robertson.

Palin wrote, "Free speech is endangered species; those 'intolerants' hatin' & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all."

This is pure hypocrisy; Ms. Palin has no problem criticizing others with whom she disagrees.  She offers no First Amendment excuse for them when she does so.

Palin and Robertson are both also under the misconception that religious belief allows one to be unethical towards others, in this case, homosexuals.  Religion is no excuse, however. If your religion condones unjustified bigotry, it is a bigoted religion.  Also, the First Amendment does not shield one from criticism of one's religious beliefs - indeed, the First Amendment protects the rights of all to criticize religion or anything else.

Hopefully, at some point, enough in society will come to choose an ethical approach in their lifestance as opposed to merely hiding behind belief and obedience; that is when real moral progress will be made.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Art Fraud or Fraud Art?

Earlier this week, on Monday, August 19, 2013, numerous new sources reported the case of a Long Island art dealer gone bad. "A "disposition" of fraud charges against wealthy Sands Point art dealer Glafira Rosales, which could include a guilty plea, is likely soon." (Go to

Although the case is interesting enough just for the sake of the intrigue, greed and gullibility of various art dealers, brokers and galleries, and for the various duped buyers who have nothing better to do with their money than to conspicuously spend their money, I thought there was a deeper and even more interesting story involved.

Exactly how does one sell art work that is fraudulent and ultimately, so it is claimed by some, worthless, for $80,000,000?  How does art go from being worth millions to worth nothing when its appearance remains unchanged?  Is the "Mona Lisa" priceless only because DaVinci painted it or because it is a infinitely impressive work of art?  If the paintings of DaVinci, Picasso, Rembrandt, VanGogh, and others were not stunning in the first place, would their paintings be so valuable?  The answer is: they wouldn't be.

Fraudulent paintings are detectable by their lack of the evidence of genius that true paintings by these great artists do reveal.  The brush strokes, the shadings, the vibrancy, the realism or even surrealism, cannot be faked well.  VanGogh's technique was remarkable and unique; DaVinci's attention to detail, unbelievable. Have you seen a Rembrandt painting in person?  You cannot forget it.

Mimicry, however, often reveals itself in noticeable ways and although fraud does occur on occasion, it is difficult to get away with.  I  have read about paintings identified as created by a master when it was, in fact, a student of the master who created it.  The thing is, the painting probably had great merit on its own. $80,000,000 for this supposedly fraudulent artwork, however, seems to be an unbelievable lapse in value judgment by so many people.  How was this possible?

In this case the artwork being sold was not by a great past master; the artwork was of Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and other modernist or Postmodernist painters.  And this is the "problem."  Take a look below.

Which of these are the authentic Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock and which are not?

Well, what does it really matter?  This style of painting is beyond criticism, I guess, when experts, art galleries and "serious" collectors lavish $80,000,000 on paintings that turn out to be "worthless."  If some of these paintings are indeed fraudulent, and therefore "valueless," it must mean that their appearance has nothing to do with their value.  But then, what did their appearance have to do with their value previously, when, one would think, their appearance is the basis upon which you should value them?

Here is the answer to the question about which are which of the above paintings: The third painting is the authentic Jackson Pollock, the fourth is the Robert Motherwell and the fifth is the authentic Mark Rothko. Number 2 is a probable fraudulent Rothko and the first one - was painted by an elephant.  Which would you want on your home's wall?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chad Curtis: Once Again, Proof That Faith Means Nothing

Chad Curtis was probably a slightly better than average outfielder who was  member of several major league teams including the 1998 & 1999 World Champion New York Yankees.  He was best known for a walk-off game winning homer in the 1999 World Series and for being very, very outspoken regarding his Christian religious beliefs and the moralities that flowed from his beliefs.  As you will see, here is the crux of what it seems to an outside observer such as me that Chad Curtis had to say: "You need to believe as I do so that you can be as good as someone like me."  Of course, Mr. Curtis believed that Jesus was his Lord and Savior and that obedience to Mr. Curtis' interpretation of Christian moral code was the key to being good.

In a column by Yahoo writer Harold Friend, Curtis was defended regarding a dispute he had with Derek Jeter, the Yankee Captain and leader.  Friend wrote, "What should not be forgotten is that after he hit his game winning home run, he refused to be interviewed by sportscaster Jim Gray. Curtis felt, as did most players, that Gray's interview of future Hall of Famer Pete Rose following the All-Century Team ceremony prior to the second game of the Series was too aggressive and in poor taste.   Curtis is a deeply religious individual who led the Yankees prayer group and religious study. When he approached Derek Jeter, the Yankees captain politely declined.  Curtis approached Jeter a second time, and according to Buster Olney, Jeter commented that Chad can do what he wants and I'll do what I want to do."   Curtis and Jeter went on to have other disputes.  Curtis was traded a couple of months after the season ended.  Some believed that Curtis was traded because of his outspokenness and his religious beliefs.  (

Curtis was once interviewed by Dick Schaap on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" for a report on religion in sports. From the report:

"Schaap on Camera: On the world champion New York Yankees the last two seasons, as many as twenty-two of twenty-five players attended weekly chapels services or daily prayer sessions. The chapel leader, Chad Curtis, now a Texas Ranger, was the Yankee most vocal about his beliefs.

Chad Curtis (Texas Rangers Outfielder): If I have something that I believe is the truth and it's necessary for other people to come to some type of a recognition or grip of that truth then I want to share it.

Schaap: As more players, like Curtis, have publicly embraced religion, they sometimes urge their teammates to find religion, creating the potential for clubhouse conflict.

Chad Curtis: Some people are heading down wrong roads and I'm trying to say hey man what are you doing I care about yah. Let's try and go a different direction and ah somebody takes ah get out of my life don't mess with me, but what I'm trying to do is help.

O'Neill: Chad, he's a vocal person and I think his intent was always right. I think sometimes his avenues-and he'll admit it-weren't the right way to take things.

Schaap: Did he divide the team in any way?

O'Neill: No, absolutely not.

Schaap: But Curtis says his religious zeal may be one of the reasons the Yankees traded him.
Curtis: It definitely came into my mind that maybe they weren't too crazy about some of the things that I was doing-you know talking to my teammates about religion...

Schaap: This month, however, Curtis and his Rangers teammate Royce Clayton had what both described as a heated discussion concerning the music Clayton was playing in the clubhouse.

Curtis: It was some music being played and there was a lot of foul language and I'm a guy that just you know I don't really care to hear that and I know there's other guys that are the same way and we have some kids in our clubhouse, too, and I said, you know what, this isn't right, it's not good.

Royce Clayton (Texas Rangers Shortstop): I don't try to force my beliefs on anybody, nor should I feel that anybody should force their beliefs upon me, and once you start to do that, then you're stepping into foul territory...

Schaap: But Curtis says nothing-not even team harmony-is as important as the message.

Curtis: To me it's not so much religion and baseball as baseball and religion. Religion first, baseball somewhere down the road..."  (

As you might guess, Chad Curtis did not seem to be particularly gay friendly.  Buster Olney reported:

"Scott Sanders was apparently the first of Billy Bean's former teammates to read Bean's public acknowledgment of his homosexuality this summer. Sanders, who was a teammate of Bean's in San Diego and now pitches for the Chicago Cubs, called Trevor Hoffman, who then phoned Brad Ausmus, who told Randy Smith.  None of them were upset or bothered or shocked; Ausmus, a close friend of Bean's who roomed with him for two seasons in the mid-1990's, said he wondered all along if Bean might be gay.  They knew Bean as a great teammate, well liked by all the Padres, and as word passed from one to the next this summer, Smith said, it was as if they were talking about just another of life's transitions. Rather than speak of somebody's marriage or the birth of a child, they shared the news that Bean is gay. ''It wouldn't have made a difference to me then,'' said Ausmus, an All-Star catcher for the Detroit Tigers, ''and it doesn't bother me now.''

But some of his former teammates, as well as players with the Yankees, said an openly gay player would have difficulty within the culture of the clubhouse, even at a time when homosexuality has gained greater acceptance in society.  Some of what the players said echoed many of the arguments in the debate over whether gays should be allowed in the military. ''If you polled every player in this room,'' said Chad Curtis, the Yankees outfielder who was asked to comment on an article about Bean in The New York Times yesterday, ''they would tell you they wouldn't want to even have the thought another guy on the team might be checking them out. You have a lot of guys in this room who are fairly uncomfortable with the idea of women in the media coming in here -- even just the notion they're being looked at.''"

Here is the currently final entry on Chad Curtis' Wikipedia entry: Curtis was hired as the Head Varsity Football coach at Lakewood Public Schools in the winter of 2012.  In May 2012 Curtis resigned from the coaching position after several female students accused him of "inappropriate touching".  In June 2012 Curtis was ordered to stand trial on five counts of criminal sexual conduct that ranged from misdemeanors to 15-year felonies . Curtis was charged with an additional sixth count of criminal sexual conduct in August 2012.  The criminal trial of Chad Curtis began on August 12, 2013.  Three alleged victims testified on the opening days of the trial and two more are expected to testify on August 14, 2013.  Curtis was found guilty on August 16, 2013, of all six counts of criminal sexual conduct, and could go to prison for up to 15 years.

The M (Michigan) Live web site reports, "Moments after Chad Curtis allegedly molested her, a 16-year-old girl was leaving the windowless high school weight room where she said the assault occurred, but stopped when the former major leaguer asked her to pray with him.  “I didn’t want to say ‘No, I don’t want to pray,’” the now 18-year-old said Monday, Aug. 12 during testimony in Barry County Circuit Court. “Prayer is always good.”  The girl testified that she was alone with 44-year-old Curtis in the secluded Lakewood High School weight room on Labor Day of 2011 when a training session to work on hip flexor exercises turned into him suddenly kissing her breast and molesting her.  It was the second time he had allegedly molested her. Earlier in the summer of 2011, she said he grabbed her breasts in the guise of a massage.  She said each time she believed the man she looked up to as a former professional athlete and Christian role model, when he said he would never do it again...

But the alleged victim testifying Monday said there is no justification for the way Curtis used his hands on her, even though she initially tried to convince herself there was.

She said after praying with Curtis, she once again started to leave and he then asked her if she was virgin and “Did you enjoy any of that?” When she said she did not, he told her it was good because then she will know what to do if she ever got in a similar situation with a boy."

Most people probably can only wonder what goes through the mind of someone like Chad Curtis who is so publicly pious and so eager to point out the moral deficiencies in others (who are harming no one) while being personally totally creepy and disgusting.  But there is one other thing that should disturb the zealously religious in particular about this whole episode.

What Chad Curtis needs to do is to STOP believing that his faith confers even the slightest patina of morality upon him.  Chad Curtis needs to STOP believing that he is somehow saved because he believes in Jesus.  If he does not stop believing, exactly what penalty does he expect to pay for, ultimately?  If he believes that we're ALL sinners anyway and that only faith will gain him grace, other than a few years in jail, what has he lost? What are a few years compared to an eternity in heaven?  And that is a problem for us in the real world who have to live with the Chad Curtis's of the world.  They have no real reason to behave.  If they sin, they merely need to repent later on (if they're not part of the chosen in the first place.)  This seems to happen all the time.

Let's all observe the Chad Curtis experiment; will he simply say he did not believe enough in the Lord Jesus or will he confess that belief means nothing and that he is responsible for his actions?  Will he take action to change or will he go back to the religiosity that failed him so utterly in the past?  I will not be holding my breath on this one.

FOLLOW UP 9/8/15:  NY Daily News, 7/18/15: Former Yankees outfielder Chad Curtis, deemed a “predator” by the Michigan judge who sent him to prison on criminal sexual conduct charges in 2013, wants to publicly identify three women who say he assaulted them when they were high school students.  Curtis, acting as his own attorney, filed a brief in Grand Rapids federal court earlier this month that says the women should be named in court papers because courts frown upon plaintiffs filing civil lawsuits anonymously and because the plaintiffs are no longer minors.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Benghazi - What We Should Do About It

Benghazi - the "scandal" that won't go away or be explained in any way that makes sense.  Exactly what is being "covered up" and why was there a so-called "cover up"?

As far as I can tell, the "scandal" consists of the Obama Administration claiming through statements made by then UN representative Susan Rice shortly after the tragic events of September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, that the cause of the killing of our envoy and other US Embassy employees was possibly a spontaneous attack on the Embassy as a response to an inflammatory amateur video made in the US that questioned the Islamic religion.  The attack instead turned out to be a planned attack by a local Al Qaeda group that just happened to coincide with riots then taking place in other Islamic countries that were indeed in response to this film.

The scandalous story line asserts that the Administration made this false claim to deflect criticism that they should have supplied more security to the Embassy staff beforehand.  If the attack were spontaneous, such security needs could not have been anticipated but an Al Qaeda threat should have been anticipated.  Or so the story line goes.

Or perhaps the Administration made their claim to avoid some other line of criticism.  I really am not clear on  what advantage the Administration had to gain by offering a misleading explanation for the attack knowing that the actual truth would inevitably come out and fairly soon at that.  Indeed, it came out within the week and that should have been that. The original explanation could have been taken as a mistake.

If there was any scandal, it lay in the decision about security before the attack; this is a decision that should now be scrutinized fully, keeping in mind, however, that hindsight is 20-20.  But it does seem that a cover up would be pointless; there is no way that if this was an Al Qaeda related attack that the truth would never come out, nor does it seem possible that the Administration would be motivated to not let the blame fall on an Al Qaeda related group if that was where the blame should lay.

Whether this was a spontaneous attack inspired by religious fanaticism or a planned attack inspired by religious fanaticism, the attack was inspired by religious fanaticism.  Planned or spontaneous, who really cares?  What difference does it make?  It would seem that security would be a concern in any country that either harbors religiously fanatical regular people in the streets or religiously fanatical people in terrorist cells.

A constructive exploration of this tragedy would consist of a true examination of the role of religious extremism in the so-called "Arab Spring."  Can anything good come from any change in governments unless the resulting new regime is a secular, free democratic republic where the rights of the individual are protected fully or at least somewhat?   Is it really better to be governed by a democratically elected majority of religious fanatics as opposed to being ruled by a more secular dictator who did not oppress women and/or non-believers as much as the clerics or fanatics that would replace him?  The goal is individual freedom of which democracy is an indispensable aspect but not the sole factor.  This is the conversation that needs to be had.

Instead, all we have is politics.  I mean that in the worst way.

There is a way to address the poisonous political discourse.  It's called term limits.  If Congressional members did not have to constantly worry about raising money and getting re-elected, perhaps they might have time to consider the welfare of the citizens of the US.  As I've written before in this blog, Job One is re-gaining control of our democracy.  Campaign finance reform, an end to voter suppression, outlawing Gerrymandering, reforming the electoral college and term limits for all branches of government may not solve all our political problems, but it is a guarantee that they would be a great help.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Obamacare vs. Anarchy-care

Exactly what did Obamacare try to accomplish?  It really only tried to widen access to affordable health care insurance.  It was a reform that was long past overdue despite the fact that it falls short of accomplishing what is actually needed, which is the control of health care costs.

I should know. After my wife's permanent layoff from her job at a large company, I needed to purchase health care insurance as a very small business owner for my family. Since my company had way fewer than 50 employees, the choices were not abundant despite living on Long Island, NY.  I had 3 insurance companies in  total to choose from.  All the policies were odious.

The first year, 2002 or 2003, the cost of insurance was a shock to the system after being covered for relatively little out of pocket cost under my spouse's coverage from her job. But it got worse - much worse.  By 2009, health care was costing before taxes $25,000 per year counting premiums, deductibles and co-pays.  Unbelievable!

Fortunately, in 2010, my wife found a job with good benefits but the damage was done - we had spent about $175,000 on health care over about 7 or 8 years even though we were relatively healthy.  Boy do we miss that $175,000!

The loss of this money to health care costs is particularly bothersome to me because I am all too well aware that our "system" of health care is so idiotic; it's the most expensive in the world and it's not close to being the best.  In Canada, our neighbor to the north, the costs are a fraction of ours, yet Canadians live longer than we do.  There is no way to justify what we do compared to what the Canadians do; they simply have it better.  Anecdotal stories aside, the fact remains that Canadians are not clamoring to change their "Medicare for All" system.  In fact, they probably would rebel if their system was changed into OUR system.  Who wouldn't rebel?  Our system is nothing more than anarchy.

Is that too strong a word?

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has released an enormous data file containing the secret "Chargemaster" price lists of hospitals from around the country revealing an almost completely random, arbitrary and capricious pricing of various hospital services that vary wildly from hospital to hospital.  Truly the prices are inexplicable!

Steven Brill, who wrote the masterful article "Bitter Pill" highlighted in an earlier blog post, wrote on 5/8/2013, "For example, the first line in the more than 163,072 lines of data in the CMS file released May 8 covers the treatment of “extra cranial procedures” (“without complications”) at the Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan, Ala. When Medicare reviewed the list prices on bills it received for 91 patients getting that treatment at the Dothan hospital in 2011, the average Chargemaster bill claimed by the hospital was $32,963. Medicare paid only an average of $5,777...

Helpfully, Sebelius points out in her announcement that “average inpatient charges for services a hospital may provide in connection with a joint replacement range from a low of $5,300 at a hospital in Ada, Oklahoma, to a high of $223,000 at a hospital in Monterey Park, California. Even within the same geographic area,” she notes, “hospital charges for similar services can vary significantly. For example, average inpatient hospital charges for services that may be provided to treat heart failure range from a low of $21,000 to a high of $46,000 in Denver, Colorado, and from a low of $9,000 to a high of $51,000 in Jackson, Mississippi.”

"  Go to .

Please note that the hospital, which makes a profit at the payment level that Medicare pays, would try to charge the uncovered about 600% more than it charges Medicare.  Those persons would most likely be lower income persons.  Furthermore, the Chargemaster price lists are the basis for their negotiations with health care insurers, none of whom have anywhere near the bargaining power of Medicare which has a monopoly on older health care consumers.  It is Medicare's bargaining power that is the key to lowering health care costs.  The only times Medicare is ineffective in bargaining is when its hands are tied legislatively; Congress prevents it from bargaining fully with medical equipment companies and drug companies.  Why?  Because these companies are the biggest lobbyists in Washington DC and spend huge amounts supporting their political candidates.  What a shock!

Is this crazy or not?  Why would we all not want Medicare for all?  If you think your taxes would go up, think again - the money saved in insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays would be far greater than any tax increase since the total cost of health care expenses would decrease - a lot!  That decrease ends up in our pockets and it comes out of the pockets of hospitals, medical equipment companies and Big Pharma.  Do not cry for them, they will not starve.  But if we do not adopt some form of Medicare for All, perhaps we, the American taxpayer and consumer, will starve.

Kidnapped and Raped in Cleveland; Other Victims Ignored in Colorado City

The 24 hour a day cable news channels are currently offering wall-to-wall coverage of the case of three young girls, missing for about 9 years who were rescued earlier this week in Cleveland.  The girls, abducted as teenagers, are believed to have endured unspeakable horrors at the hands of their kidnapper, a school bus driver.  How could such a person do such things to young innocent girls?  The whole country is properly aghast.  Who is not asking whether there was some way we could have stopped the horror sooner?

But exactly why are we asking this question of ourselves when we actually know of similar though not identical crimes being committed against young girls on a regular basis in our own country while we are doing so little about it?

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) ( is a church with about 10,000 member families that encourages plural marriage.  One of  the larger communities is located in Colorado City, TX.  They routinely indoctrinate young girls and boys into the belief system that then completely dictates the future course of their lives.  This is the community that is headed by the now imprisoned Warren Jeffs.  He is  currently serving a life sentence for aggravated sexual assault and rape.  However, he remains the church leader, and the practices of the church continue despite his physical absence from the community.

According to a report by the Attorney General of the State of Utah, "In this community, the “law of placement” purportedly permits the leader to “reassign”  a man’s wives and children to other “more worthy” men in the community. Women may be re-married because they are sealed “to the priesthood” and not to the priesthood-holder. In the case of an excommunication, a polygamous man and his family may be told that he no longer holds the priesthood and that he, therefore, cannot exalt them in heaven. His family is often given the choice to remarry or stay with the husband and father, which may entail excommunication of all family members...  

Of all fundamentalist groups, this community is seen as embracing the most restrictive and isolated lifestyle.  Women dress modestly with their entire body covered. They wear long dresses with opaque stockings underneath, and their hair is worn long but not free-flowing. Men wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts with collars.  Those who have left the community have reported that popular music, radios and television are considered “worldly” and are thus inappropriate and forbidden in this community. Children are usually home-schooled or attend a church school until junior high, after which time they are assigned “work missions” or they get married. Former members state that they did not receive sex education, they were taught the Holocaust never occurred and that the government fabricated the story of man’s landing on the moon. It is alleged that some girls are married in their early teens, since they have been taught that their loftiest goal in life is to become a wife and bear children. 

Young men are reportedly taught not to date or become interested in girls of similar age, since dating or courting is forbidden. Parents are expected to govern their teenagers appropriately, even if this might require the removal of rebellious or “worldly” teens from the community."  Go to .

Here is the difference between the isolated Cleveland case and the alleged rampant sexual abuse in Colorado City; the poor young girls in Cleveland were abducted by their rapist; the poor young girls in Colorado City were born into a community and church that will indoctrinate them into believing that their only route to eternal salvation is to marry have sex with the person that their church leader says they must marry have sex with. In Cleveland, the young girls feared for their lives if they rebelled; in  Colorado City, the young girls feared for their eternal souls they if rebelled.

Although there are indeed many who are trying to take on the FLDS, such as various attorney generals, CNN, etc., the fact remains that many young girls, in fear, continue to have sex with much older men for no reason other than they were ordered to do so.   In America.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The First Thing We Have to Do BEFORE We Solve Our Problems - Job One

It sure does seem that it is near impossible for our dear country, the US, to address and solve its many problems; the deficit, unemployment, immigration, gun violence, the cost of health care, and so on, seem unsolvable when politics enters the picture.  The gridlock is worse than ever and seems to get only worse with time.

How do we get out of this cycle of governing from crisis to crisis, most of our own making?  The central problem is the system; our broken down democracy is barely democratic anymore.  Laws end up not being made based on the well being of the citizenry.

Many elections are decided by the money one candidate or another can attract, usually by "selling" their legislative votes to the wealthiest special interest donors, such as health care businesses, defense contractors, unions and so on.  Other elections are basically rigged by gerrymandered electoral districts; the election is over after the primary votes are counted - the victimized political party has no chance in the general election because of the gerrymandering.  Voter suppression is even making a comeback, typically targeting certain classes of voters and the net result of all these undemocratic practices is dysfunction.  What a shock!

We will NOT solve our deficit problem when legislators are beholding to large donors who may have not care about what is best for the country but instead what is best for themselves and have a disproportionate share of the wealth with which to pursue their selfish interests.  Exactly how does one determine the point when a donation is no different than a bribe?
The solutions are simple and cheap.  There should be very low limits for campaign contributions, such as $100 or $200, depending on the level of the election, and it must apply to people and corporations.  Furthermore, if a candidate obtains a certain level of low donation support, they can qualify for public campaign financing, and be able to compete with the Romneys, Bloomburgs, Bushes, Obamas and Clintons of the world financially.

Furthermore, Political Action Committees must no longer have a free ride; if they cannot be constitutionally eradicated then they must be held accountable for falsehoods, frauds and outright lies told in order to affect elections via fines, lawsuits and prison.  It is outrageous that almost any amount can be raised, anything can then be said, affecting any election, all without the slightest consequence for the most blatant lies and misleading statements that, after all, could change our nation's history for the worse!  Yes we have free speech, but fraud and libel are illegal; why is fraudulent political speech by non-candidates an exception?

Gerrymandering must be outlawed; it truly is no problem to devise objective methods of creating voting districts.  Computers could do it without regard to ethnicity, political affiliation, age or anything other than population and geography.  What is the problem?;

The Electoral College?  It must be amended so that the President is elected by popular vote.  Politicians are currently plotting to institute different electoral college schemes in different states that would favor one party over the other.  How could subverting true democracy be good for us?  The President must be elected by popular vote.

Filibuster? It has devolved into the Senate needing 60% in favor in order to pass a law; this is nowhere in the Constitution.  It must be ended.

Finally, term limits must be instituted at all levels of government; 8 years for executives, 12 years for lawmakers and 20 years for judges.  Public office must return to being a service, not a career.

Until we create a system that is truly democratic and makes political office a service and not a job to be bought and sold, we will solve nothing.  It is Job One.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Ever since the massacre of children in Newton, Ct., the debate about what to do to limit future carnage has been raging.  It is truly amazing that even though there is wide consensus in some areas among Americans about what to do, there is almost no chance of anything being done.

Exactly what is the problem with background checks?  Some polls have indicated that up to 90% of Americans agree that all buyers of guns should undergo a background check.  Exactly how would we get a handle on preventing criminals, the mentally unstable or those who have orders of protection against them from obtaining guns without a background check?  Just because background checks are not yet perfected or instantaneous, it does not mean it should not be instituted.   Just because there will continue to be illegal guns sales does not mean that selling a gun to a person with a criminal record should be legal.  We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Those politicians who argue that background checks are too "onerous" to buyers are obviously not responding to their constituents but they are responding to gun lobbyists.

Besides, we can limit illegal gun sales with tougher laws against such illegal sales; if a person sells a gun illegally to someone else, and that buyer commits a crime with that gun, the seller should be held as an accomplice. If the buyer commits murder, the illegal gun seller should be charged as an accomplice to murder.

Other actions that could be taken include outlawing certain assault type weapons and large capacity magazines.  These are NOT weapons that are used by hunters and sportsman; there is little or no evidence of their successful use in real-life self-defense situations.  

In testimony before Congress "Independent" Women's Forum's Gayle Trotter testified that assault weapons should not be outlawed because they were the "weapon of choice" for young mothers who need a "scary-looking gun."  She later appeared on MSNBC, and when asked, she was unable to supply even one instance where an assault weapon was used to deter a crime by a woman or any other person.

Here is a video of that appearance:

Did an assault weapons ban work to reduce crime the first time it was instituted?  The answer here is difficult to quantify, though the evidence seems clear it was reducing gun crime somewhat. The problem with the original ban is that there were exemptions and the fact that large capacity magazines (LCMs) were then becoming popular offsetting some of the gains made by outlawing assault weapons.  If both assault weapons and LCMs were regulated, perhaps the effect would be profound.  Here is a link to three well known studies on the subject: and also .

The Second  Amendment is no defense against regulating guns; regulating guns has long been considered constitutional.  But does anyone seriously argue that no weapon is too dangerous for your neighbor to own?  The arguments against prohibiting criminals and the mentally unstable from legally purchasing guns are ludicrous and there is little or no evidence that assault weapons or large capacity magazines are a factor in personal self-defense or in sporting or hunting.  What is left to argue for are the profits of gun manufacturers and their paid lobbyists.

For this we must let the carnage continue?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Beating a Dead Horse - Cutting Defense Saves Money

Just to make sure the point has been made, Defense is where the U.S. can cut costs safely and without causing human misery.

As an example, one can take a look at the most expensive weapon ever contemplated if you exclude those weapons contemplated by Darth Vader (and Dick Cheney as well.)  It's called the F-35 and it's made, sort of, by Lockheed Martin.

How much does it cost? Oh, just about $134,000,000 per plane.  The whole program?  It will cost about $1.51TRILLION.  Go to .

I guess if the damned thing worked, it might be worth it, maybe, possibly, somehow.  But it does not work just yet.  Other NATO countries have also been potential customers for the plane, but things are turning sour.  For example, in Canada, opponents of purchasing the F-35 point out that perhaps operational planes should be considered over the non-operational F-35.  Go to .

Who says the F-35 doesn't work?  A report from the Defense Department prepared by Michael Gilmore.  Go to: .

Oh well, we could always gut Medicare to pay for this non-operational weapon.

Don't Take My Word For It: Cutting Medicare Does Not Save Money

My last blog post was on the topic of whether cutting Medicare benefits saves any money; the answer was it does not save money unless you do not mind getting sicker or dying outright.  At about the same time a highly publicized article was published by Time Magazine entitled, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us."  This outstanding article was written by Steven Brill and should be required reading for all Americans.  Here is the key nugget; Americans are paying about $750million more per year in health care costs than they would almost anywhere else but do not receive better health care for it.

In the article Mr. Brill takes 6 case studies of incredibly expensive and outrageous medical bills incurred by ordinary Americans, some with health care insurance, some without.  The analyses of these bills should make you livid.  You can and should read the article at:  

Mr. Brill does not go deeply into solutions; he does note where the major problems are, however.  First, hospitals and hospital chains, including non-profits, have pretty much cornered markets to the point where they can charge fees in incredible excess of their costs.  Since most people are not able to use just any hospital in the country because of distance and the limitations of their health insurance, there is no free market operating in this area.  For hospitals, its a seller's market, period.

Even large health insurance companies do not have enough clout, which means customers, to negotiate favorable rates.  Only one insurer does have enough clout to get a decent rate - the government, in the form of Medicare and Medicaid.

Yes, Medicare pays only a fraction of what private insurers pay, and they do it with less overhead as well.  It's simply a function of market share.  Since Medicare covers all older Americans they have enormous clout and can force hospitals to negotiate more reasonable deals on service costs.  Even though hospitals are paid only a fraction of what hospitals are paid  by private insurers or individuals, they still make money on Medicare patients.  In other words, Medicare is working.

The other area where we bleed money in health care is in drug costs.  Medicare is legally prevented by Congress from negotiating drug prices with drug companies.  Instead Medicare must pay 6% more than the average cost of any specific drug.  The rest of the world pays less, far less, than do Americans for many of the same drugs, yet drug companies are still making money on those other less excessive sales in foreign countries just the same.  With America's buying power, we should be paying the least of anyone in the world.  We can thank those in Congress who give lip service to a "free market" but either have no idea of what is going on in the real world, or if they actually do have an idea, have been corrupted by campaign contributions.

As I have written in the past, it is now time for us to catch up to numerous other countries and adopt a universal health care system that either controls health care costs via government regulations or is a single payer plan such as in a "Medicare for All" plan.  By simply instituting a "Medicare for All' system in this country, along with taming defense spending, we could go a long way towards solving our debt problems. 

Some would claim that such a system would be socialism or some form of tyranny.  The answer to these claims is this; the most free nations on earth have universal single payer or highly regulated systems.  Canada has not succumbed to tyranny because of their "Medicare for All" system.  Neither would we.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Why Cutting Medicare Does Not Save Money; Why Cutting Defense DOES Save Money

My daughter has decided that she will be saving some money.  From now on, she will not spend any more money she gets from the allowance that I give her on lunches at school.  No, from now on, I will simply deposit via the online web site the appropriate amount of money into her lunch account at school which she can then automatically access via her school ID card.  And of course, her allowance and appetite will remain otherwise unchanged.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but according to my math, I think that although she may be saving some money, I will be spending at least that much more.

In reality this story is not quite accurate.  My daughter hasn't really tried to attempt this crass ploy on me - she would know better.  In reality this ploy is being foisted on all of us - all Americans - by those who claim that cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits actually would actually save us - Americans - money.  No it would not, that is, not unless you don't mind being unwell, sick or dead.

In the example I began with, it becomes obvious nothing is saved overall if the spending is merely shifted.  In the case of Medicare or Medicaid, a benefit cut by the Government means health care expenses are merely being shifted from the government to the individuals needing the health care services.  True, the person could forgo the health care expense and then money would truly then be saved; that is, of course, unless the sick get sicker and then need even more expensive emergency care, which, it would follow, if we really want to save  money, the sick person would also have to forgo.  Ultimately the greatest savings would occur if the person needing the health care would simply just die in the first place.

Here is another irony; due to its enormous buying power, health care purchased and paid for by government is less expensive than that purchased by individuals.   The rate of increase in Medicare costs is less than the rate of increase in private health care plans. Wow, a double whammy!

May I submit that this is no way to save money.

This does not mean that we cannot save money in the general field of health care.  In fact, it is well-known that the United States spends more money per person and more money as a percentage of GDP on health care than any other country in the world while having fairly mediocre results to show for it.  Do not take my word on this; go to the World Bank for extensive data on the subject:

At this point in the development of our country there really is no excuse for the U.S. not having a coherent health care system such as those that exist in Canada, Germany, France, Singapore or the Netherlands, to name a few examples.  All of the above countries spend less and live longer and better.

Yes they SPEND LESS overall on health care via the various universal health care system solutions that they employ than we do in the U.S. for our non-universal chaotic system.  There is simply no excuse for this. I suggest that our budget woes could be partially cured by studying these various systems used around the developed world, identifying the best one in practice, tweak it to mitigate its weaknesses, and then implement it here.  It might be no more traumatic than extending, more or less, Medicare, or some modification of it, to include everyone.

Now contrast the cutting of Medicare with the cutting of the Defense Budget.  If there ever were a part of government that is rife with fraud and waste, the Defense Department would be it.  There are whole billion dollar weapons systems that the Defense Department does not want that exist only to create jobs in the districts of various elected politicians.  This is known as "pork."  Yes, the Defense Department, if cut judiciously and with a sincere eye on America's security, could yield enormous "true" savings.

Why would they be true?  If a useless weapons program is cut, American citizens would not be reaching into their pockets to replace the benefit.  We would not be personally chipping in to fund the latest billion dollar stealth fighter out of our savings accounts. The money would really be saved.  The useless fighter would not get built.

Now you may argue that cutting defense would mean that jobs would be lost.  The same argument, however, applies to all spending cuts made by the government.  Health care jobs would be lost if Medicare or Medicaid were cut; educational jobs are lost when school funding is cut, and so on.  This argument does not only apply to Defense jobs.  Government spending/cutting affects jobs in both directions.

But there is one other thing; Defense Spending that is not vital to maintaining our security or freedom does us no other good.  It does not create housing, food, entertainment, health care, clothing or anything else of any use.  It does nothing to increase the wealth of America and in fact only decreases it by wasting precious resources.  When someone is employed to build a house, a house results. Someone uses it.  When someone builds a bomb, it either explodes and destroys itself or is stored away and never used.  No one benefits unless its use was vital to the maintenance of our freedom and way of life.  In other words, most of the expense goes to waste.

Cutting Defense then truly saves money; cutting health care benefits truly does not.  The solution is to cut Defense spending that does not compromise our ability to defend our security and freedoms and to institute a health care system that is at least as efficient as that used in many other other developed nations.  What are we waiting for?