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.