Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Epic Map Fail

So Glenn Greenwald and Arianna Huffington were on MSNBC's Morning Meeting with host Dylan Ratigan on Tuesday, but that's not what's important here. Go to the 0:46 mark of this video.

Notice that Mr. Ratigan's staff labeled a country "Turkmenistan." Note also that the country in question is actually Turkey.

Point. Laugh. Continue.

Honestly though, how did they screw that up? It's not like they mislabeled some little country and got it confused with its neighbor. I have trouble remembering which one's Tajikstan and which one's Kyrgyzstan, personally. I get it. But this isn't some little country they screwed up. This is Turkey. Kind of a major country. And it's not like some blogger made a proofread error. This is a multi-billion-dollar news network - you'd think they could afford someone to double-check the freakin' map.

Funny side story - I woke up from wisdom tooth surgery a few years ago absolutely demanding to know the capital of Turkmenistan. It's Ashgabat, by the way. Yes, I did that from memory.

That's all I got. Enjoy your obligatory Yeah Yeah Yeahs video.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Love The Smell Of Schadenfreude In The Morning

You know that bill that was supposed to defund ACORN? The one that was passed with veto-proof Congressional majorities? The one that was called the "Defund ACORN Act"? Seems that the bill, in order to avoid bill-of-attainder status, was written so that it not only defunds ACORN but almost all major defense contractors! Good job, guys!

Here's the text of the bill. Note that it forbids federal funding to any organization who filed an incorrect form with the government. And that if it employs anyone who has ever defrauded the government, it can't get funding. That's quite a standard to meet.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is helpfully trying to compile a list of companies who should get defunded by the bill here. The list includes a few false positives (Grayson himself calls it an "unverified list") but the documentation is pretty good for the most part. He needs to get his list into the record by Friday - help him out here. Greenwald has an interview with Grayson up here.

Oh look, here's an even more helpful list of all federal contractors, defense and otherwise, how many times they've defrauded the government, and how much money they've effectively stolen from the taxpayer. I'm sure they're being a bit pessimistic (I think they include alleged fraud as well as proven fraud, but hey, so does the "Defund ACORN Act"), but it's a stunning list. Considering the size of our deficit, we could really use that $26 billion right now, I think. Oh, and of the top 20 contractors, only one - MacAndrews AMG (who makes humvees for the military) - would be able to continue receiving federal funds.

Not just that. Note the bill prohibits federal funding "in any form." So ExxonMobil (39 instances of fraud or alleged fraud) can kiss its precious subsidies goodbye. Royal Dutch Shell (20 instances) can too. General Motors (12 instances) isn't getting any more bailout cash. Corrections Corporation of America (5 instances, including tax fraud) wouldn't be able to be paid for operating jails anymore. I could go on.

While it would be hilarious, I don't foresee a sudden defunding of our entire military-industrial complex, not to mention cessation of a few subsidies here and there. Rather, it'll hopefully force Congress to re-evaluate how government contracts are awarded and overseen. These instances of fraud happen because the government lets these big companies get away with it - fraud can be stopped by ensuring competitive bidding, strengthening cost oversight, and requiring proof of completion for a contract to be paid.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Last Chance to Lose Control

One of the best articles on sex crime hysteria I've read (via Balko, of course).

The hysteria over sex doesn't exist in a vacuum, of course. Previous generations didn't have this hysteria because sex was hidden from view. We didn't allow ourselves to think of children as sexual beings, even though starting with puberty (about age 11 for most kids) that's exactly what they are. (And studies have even shown that even younger children have sexual thoughts.)

Now? There's been a growing movement since about the mid-60s to view sex positively. And there's been one hell of a backlash to said movement from the puritan Right. When the puritans started losing the battle against positive views of sexuality, they decided to embrace big government and attempt to force others to have their views on sex. In the conservative mind, adolescent sexual exploration is not a natural urge to be explained and guided by adults but a "sinful nature" (to invoke my least favorite philosopher of all time) to be controlled and subdued by adults. But that's not all - as the puritans lost the battle even more, they looked at the changing culture and concluded that more mature reactions to adolescent sexuality were destroying America. So why did the government get involved? Well, if people wouldn't adopt conservative views anymore, and liberal views were destroying American culture, conservative views had to be imposed. Hysteria over children's sexuality is a way of using government to convince kids that sex is evil and dirty and should be avoided at all costs, because in the conservative mindset, the stakes are too great to not invoke Big Government. It's a combination of cranky get-off-my-lawnism and apocalyptic nuttery - imagine if the old man became convinced that his house would blow up because kids kept cutting across his yard.

If anyone wonders why I tend to scoff at crisis/emergency language in political discussion, this is why. Such talk leads to destroyed lives.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lost in the ACORN Shuffle

You know what is happening right now? A former Secretary of the Interior is being investigated for steering oil shale leases to a favored company. A current House member (sadly, one I really like) may have done the same with bailout funds. One defense contractor may have gotten a little help from a Congressional friend so they coulddefraud the Navy out of millions. And it's old news, but I still don't think anything has been done about the defense contractor whomay have tried to cover up the rape of their own employee.

But oh, by all means, obsess over a couple of low-level ACORN staffers playing along with a stupid joke. (I mean, look at this video. It should be clear within 30 seconds to everyone with a brain that the employee in the video is screwing with the filmmakers. She claims to have shot her ex-husband for fuck's sake. And this moron O'Keefe takes her seriously? That oughta destroy any credibility he has right there.)

So yeah. Actual, honest to God corruption abounds in our system, and it's being ignored for this horseshit.


OK, there, I'm done. Sorry about the outburst, it happens sometimes. Frustration, you know. (One more. Why aren't conservatives going after Murtha? He's high up in the Dem leadership and the bastard practically oozes corruption. And that's corruption that's stealing from the armed forces and, by extension, our troops. "Democratic leader steals from troops and gives to his rich well-connected friends"... isn't that practically Glenn Beck's wet dream?)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Race for the Stupid

This sets world records for stupidity:
Catholic dioceses across the U.S. and organizations like STOPP International, an affiliate of the American Life League, disagree and have dubbed Komen [that's Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer research fundraising organization - ed.] a menace to women. They’ve also launched a boycott of SGK’s Race for the Cure.
It's unclear what the imagined wrong committed by SGK is, but it apparently has something to do with abortion. Apparently, SGK gives money for mammograms to women's health giant Planned Parenthood, an organization which a lot of the less-perceptive pro-lifers mistakenly believe is only about abortions. The boycotters also cite a link (which has since been debunked by pretty much every reputable scientist on the planet) between abortion and breast cancer, which apparently means that everyone who gets breast cancer is a baby-killing slut who has it coming. Also, this site seems to imply that the Diocese of Little Rock thinks SGK supports embryonic stem cell research, though it's unclear how much of SGK's money actually goes to a research avenue that is not really related to breast cancer. As best as I can tell from SGK's site, the research is currently being done on cancer stem cells (which come from tumors).

I seriously don't get it. Why would pro-life organizations care about an organization that fights breast cancer by encouraging early detection and research? This makes absolutely no sense. The abortion issue has nothing to do with SGK's activities. Did someone's wires get crossed somewhere to create some sort of "Susan G. Komen Kills Babies" hysteria? The stem cell criticism might have the most truth behind it, but it's still tenuous - as far as I can tell, the research is only obliquely related to embryonic stem cells and is only a very small part of what SGK actually funds. Fortunately, most people (even most pro-lifers, from what I understand) think this is a bit beyond the pale. But if the hysteria doesn't stop, it could have real consequences for breast cancer research and detection...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Meet the New Boss, Iraq Edition

Increasingly similar to the old boss:
Old habits from Saddam Hussein’s era are becoming familiar again. Torture is routine in government detention centres. “Things are bad and getting worse, even by regional standards,” says Samer Muscati, who works for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby. His outfit reports that, with American oversight gone (albeit that the Americans committed their own shameful abuses in such places as Abu Ghraib prison), Iraqi police and security people are again pulling out fingernails and beating detainees, even those who have already made confessions. A limping former prison inmate tells how he realised, after a bout of torture in a government ministry that lasted for five days, that he had been relatively lucky. When he was reunited with fellow prisoners, he said he saw that many had lost limbs and organs.
Conservatives will almost certainly take this as evidence that Americans should have stayed in Iraq longer and not agreed to the withdrawal timeline mandated by the Iraqi government. But realistically, what did we think was going to happen? We weren't going to turn Iraq into Puerto Rico East. At some point, we had to leave Iraqis in charge if Iraqi affairs. The Iraqis themselves told us that they wanted us out. Our choices were stay and start battling the inevitable insurgency all over again, or leave and watch as Iraq reverts to a police state, just with a different guy in charge.

So now we all know what we should have known back in 2003: spreading democracy at the point of a gun doesn't work. You have to make people want democracy first, and you can't do that by bombing their country.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Borlaug

Agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug, one of my personal heroes, died over the weekend at age 95. He is most famous for developing high-yield semi-dwarf strains of wheat that resist decimation from disease; this work increased crop yields in the developing world dramatically and likely saved hundreds of millions of South Asians from starvation. His life is a testament to the power of science to help people and save lives.

Borlaug was sort of a pioneer of biotechnology, in some respects. His breeding experiments were done the old-fashioned way - via cross-pollination rather than by genetic engineering. However, the difference between the two methods is one of efficiency, not result - genetic engineering of crops is essentially a way to cross-breed varieties of plants with desired characteristics more reliably. Borlaug wanted to breed certain characteristics into his plants - genetic engineers merely find those characteristics in the DNA and splice them into a new seed.

So I'm going to commit an act of environmentalist heresy here and say that I don't see the problem with genetically modified organisms, at least when it comes to plants. And it's bizarre that this is a heresy among environmentalists, because from an enviromental perspective GMOs are an undoubtedly good thing. Scientists are designing strains of crops that are disease- and pest-resistant and that produce more on less land. What's the problem with that? The hardier a crop is, the less chemical pesticides have to be used. That's a good thing, right? If more food gets produced on the same plot of land, that's less forest that has to be torn down to plant crops. That's good too, right? And the more food that gets produced, the less people starve. Also good, right?

What's baffling about the debate over GMOs is that the opposition to GMO food makes little to no sense to me. One one hand, you get fanatics complaining about "Frankenfood," as if genetic engineering would produce wheat crops that will get up out of the ground and eat your babies or something. What these critics don't realize is that they're already eating GMO food. Researchers have tested modern GMO food and found that it poses no health risk, but they miss the point - people have been eating GMOs for thousands of years. Take corn, for example. You know those little baby corn cobs that come in your Chinese takeout? Did you know that used to be about the size of all corn crops, and that the only way corn became the corn-on-the-cob you're familiar with nowadays is through human-influenced breeding (which, as I mentioned earlier, is genetic engineering by far less efficient means)? That's right, your "organic" corn is actually genetically modified. Same with your "organic" navel oranges. And all those tomatoes. And... you get the picture. Crops have always been bred for certain characteristics - genetic engineering just makes the breeding process more efficient and reliable. The end result is the same.

On the other hand, more thoughtful critics cite the use of farming methods that encourage monoculture and benefit agribusiness at the economic expense of small farmers, and that use unsustainable high-input practices. These critics have merit, but one might notice that none of these criticisms are of GMOs per se. The two criticisms are linked - high-input farming methods require capital that only large businesses possess. Fair enough, but that's a good reason to expand biotechnology research into developing high-yield crops that don't require high-input farming, and to develop high-yield cover crops that can be used in an efficient, sustainable crop rotation. Science is the way out of this, people. And finally, an agribusiness oligarchy and high-input farming methods, while not ideal, are certainly preferable to the starvation and land degradation wrought by low-yield crops.

Look, I like buying local, organic food as much as the next guy. I like my beef grass-fed, my apples wax-free, and my tomatoes... well, I don't like tomatoes, but you get my point. It's nice to live in a relatively less-densely populated country where such things are possible. But organic, "natural" farming methods where Farmer Tom down the street can sell you veggies that were in the ground an hour ago so you can have them for supper are a luxury that many densely-populated poor countries can't afford. They rely on the high-yield methods pioneered by Borlaug simply to survive. Organic, low-yield methods just wouldn't cut it in India - you'd have to plow under the whole country or let people starve to adopt such methods.

Borlaug referred to critics of GMOs as elitists who don't understand hunger. I don't think the E-word is fair - elitism implies a disdain for those suffering from hunger, and I don't believe the average environmentalist looks down on the average starving African. But I think the second half of that statement is right: environmentalists simply don't understand the gravity of the hunger situation. While we Americans have the luxury to choose between "organic" and "conventional" methods (as the labels at Whole Foods proudly proclaim), poor countries don't have that option. They need the high-yield of genetically engineered crops and high-input farming practices to simply produce enough food to exist. We can disdain GMOs all we want - for the average Indian or Pakistani, "Frankenfood" is literally a lifesaver.

Update: Here's a fascinating (if long and kinda wonky) read - Borlaug's 2000 lecture to the Nobel Prize people where he describes many of the problems facing food production and the possible way out of them. His discussion of the need to conserve water by designing more water-efficient ways to use land is especially interesting. He also discusses rather frankly a lot of the problems that have arisen in the wake of the Green Revolution and what he thinks can be done about them.

A side note: I think a lot of people have a distorted view of scientists - that is, they think scientists believe that their work is perfect and will cure all evils. Thus, by pointing out a problem that the scientist didn't solve or that arose as a result of the scientist's last solution, the critic believes he is "discrediting" the scientist and their research. Scientists, of course, realize that research is never complete, and that constantly dealing with new questions and confronting new problems is what science is all about.

Update 2: Penn and Teller skewer the anti-GMO crowd. It's a bit harsh on the protestors even for me, but worth a watch. Also fixed a few goofy issues with the main post.

Friday, September 11, 2009

All That Needs To Be Said

From Mike's Facebook status:
8 years later, we're still laughing, loving, working hard, playing harder, and rocking out. Because we're Americans, dammit. That's just how we roll. And that's why the terrorists will never win.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Joe Wilson's War

OK, let's get this straight. Joe Wilson (R-SC) made himself look like an idiot when he shouted "You lie!" in the middle of Obama's speech last night. For one thing, it's a rule of Washington etiquette to not interrupt the President when he's speaking. For another, the section he chose to yell at - a part of Obama's speech in which he said that his health-care bill does not include benefits for undocumented immigrants - was not an opinion or a stretched truth but an absolute fact. It'd be like a kindergartener shouting "You lie!" at the teacher who just said that two plus two equals four.

But somehow I just can't bring myself to be anything more than amused at the whole thing. See, if this had occurred in Britain, it wouldn't have even been remarkable. I mean, have you ever seen question time? Heckling is a way of life there.

Here's the thing. In the name of "civility" we have condemned anyone who dares speak a contrarian point of view in a somewhat unorthodox manner. Journalists love calling partisans on both sides uncivil. Problem is, those partisans frequently have a point, and by condemning protests we narrow the range of debate so much that we start to crowd out alternative viewpoints. The fact that Wilson's outburst was just plain wrong is not the point. Anyone with an Internet connection and the slightest ability to do research can ferret that out. But by forcing artificial rules of "civility" on people, we allow actual honest-to-God lies and distortions from the powerful to go unquestioned and unpunished.

Let's look at it this way. What if a Democratic Congressperson had yelled out "You lie!" in response to Bush's claim that Saddam had WMDs, or that he was responsible for 9/11? Wouldn't we on the left consider that a good thing? It would have been a challenge to Bush's obvious lie, whereas Democrats keeping to these artificial rules of civility allowed Bush to say these things pretty much unchallenged.

So while I'll condemn Wilson for being stupid and wrong, I just can't condemn Wilson for speaking his mind in a manner that contradicts established rules of etiquette, which seems to be the consensus condemnation of the day. He didn't prevent Obama from finishing his thought or actively prevent others from hearing what Obama had to say (unlike, say, the town-hall protestors who have frequently done just that to their Congresspeople). In his mind, he saw bullshit and called it. While Wilson's bullshit meter is apparently broken, I just don't think we ought to be too hard on someone for using theirs.

Of course, this doesn't make Wilson immune from mockery. Such is the lot of the protestor whose position is ill-thought-out...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Freak of the Week #3

It's tempting to give the award this week's Freak of the Week award to the Pope, for this unintentionally hilarious bit of pablum:
Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where his existence is denied? If the human creature's relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the "final authority," and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.
An attempt to blame atheists for environmental degradation is so absurd that, in any other week, it's a clear winner. Well, Holy Father, you would have taken it, but you had the misfortune of having to go up against this guy:
“If you’re African American, you’re six, seven or eight times more likely to have a violent history,” Keith said. “I didn’t go out there and put a gun in your hand and say, ‘You commit eight crimes, and I’m a white man, I’ll commit one.’ That’s just instincts, that’s just how it is.”
Yup. Black people have an "instinct" to commit more crime than white people. Forsyth County (NC) District Attorney Tom Keith, step right up, you're this week's winner!

Some of those who work forces are the same that burn crosses, indeed.

Hat tip to @Jerimee for pointing me to the story.

Update: Your lucky day, Holy Father. Seems like we have to disqualify Mr. Keith in light of this: it looks like Mr. Keith was misquoted. He actually said "statistics," not "instincts." This doesn't make his argument less intellectually bankrupt (the debate is over racial disparity in the application of the death penalty, not over disparity in actual convictions or arrests), but it does remove the bigotry from the equation. Which means he's not the Freak of the Week anymore. I thus declare Pope Benedict XVI the winner by default.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Obama Screws Up Honduras

According to the Washington Post, Obama is threatening not to recognize the winner of Honduras' constitutionally mandated democratic election in November if the interim Micheletti government doesn't step down and allow Manuel Zelaya to step down.

I've written before on this mess, and later tried to clarify that there was no coup here. Rather, the whole saga is an attempt to deal with the impeachment of a president who should, according to the constitution, clearly be impeached, but unfortunately also dealing with a constitution that doesn't provide a means for impeachment. It's an internal affair that, if we quit our ridiculous posturing, would all work itself out in November when Honduras elects a new democratically elected president and neither Zelaya nor Micheletti have a claim to anything.

I honestly don't understand what Obama thinks he's accomplishing. There's no strategic gain to supporting an unpopular leader who should have been impeached. There's no moral imperative here - no one's imperiling Honduras' democracy here (and if anyone was doing so in the first place, it was Zelaya, who started this whole kerfuffle by trying to unconstitutionally extend his own time in office). So Obama should leave Honduras alone, let Costa Rica President Oscar Arias deal with the negotiations, and see what happens in November.

Unless this is an attempt by Obama to kneecap Honduras in advance of our important World Cup qualifier there on October 10. In which case... interfere away.

The John Rockefeller Code

Brayton posts some hilarious shit from Glenn Beck that honest-to-God feels like it was written by Dan Brown. Rockefeller! Communism! Fascism! It's all in the art!


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Tired of the Same Old Story

There's a lot to unpack in this article that details the insane practice of coercing single pregnant women into giving up their children, something that most people thought went out with the '60s but is apparently still around. I don't share Joyce's concern that the problem is a systemic one involving all crisis pregnancy centers or even the entire organizations that run them - I think there's more evidence to suggest that a significant minority of rogue CPCs are doing the damage. Joyce portrays the issue as a supply/demand thing - the concept is to funnel babies from "bad" unwed mothers to "good" Christian families.

And that sheds a little light on Arkansas' odious Amendment 1, forbidding unmarried couples (including same-sex couples) from adopting children. (I need a stronger word than "odious," but I can't think of one right now.) On its face this seems foolish - why would you want to limit the potential pool of adoptive parents? - but when you read Joyce's article it falls in place. A majority of Arkansans, it seems, want to funnel babies into "good" Christian families, so it makes sense to get rid of the competition by putting such a law in place. The Constitution would forbid a religious test for adoptive parents, else I'm sure Arkansas would have a ban on adoptive parents who aren't either Jewish or Christian.

So why the social engineering from the so-called "leave us alone" crowd? Let's look at a couple of other things I've been reading...

Oh look, here's an article by Kay Hymowitz arguing that feminism and the subsequent treatment of women as people with individual, often conflicting desires is driving a mass frustration on the part of men. Men are "going Galt," as it were, to protest the evil evil evil feminist encroachment on their world. I won't deal with this argument further - Will Wilkinson demolishes it and Amanda Marcotte pisses on the ruins, and they say all that needs to be said. But keep that in mind.

And here's Marcotte celebrating her birthday by writing about the bullshit notion that people are not "growing up," incidentally something parroted by Hymowitz in the first paragraph of the article I just linked to. She cites a commenter's insight, which ties it all together, for me:
I’m beginning to think that maybe what I thought defined being grown up was the shedding of uncertainty. Frankly, I’m pretty good with uncertainty. It keeps me honest, grounded, and skeptical. By that definition, I hope I never grow up.
Marcotte goes on to explain further:
Giving up the illusion of adulthood gives you a certain ability to be flexible, intelligent, forward-moving, and not calcified. Which is good for your health, you know.
(She also comments, towards the end: "Be goofy. Who gives a shit?" That's a worthwhile philosophy, there.)

See what's going on here? Conservative ideas are about certainty, and social change threatens that certainty. No great insight, I know, but one that's worth reemphasizing in this context. Conservatives have a certain idea of what the family is, and the growth of single motherhood (and fatherhood) doesn't fit with that vision. So they fight against it. Gay and lesbian people starting a family doesn't fit into that vision, so they fight against it. Women who desire something besides a family life don't fit into that vision, so they fight against that too. And people in general who want to pursue something else? Widespread panic.

Conservatives remind me, somewhat, of the goofy anthropologists who condescendingly insist on "preserving" some native culture. But guess what? As Hank Williams might say, "time marches on." Things change. Cultures change. People begin to want different things. And society isn't gonna collapse because of it. So give it a break and embrace change. You can live your life the way you want, and that's great. I'm not gonna tell you how to live your life. But trying to calcify something as dynamic as culture is a path to never-ending frustration and - in the case of the forced adoptions I linked to above - outright cruelty. Change is okay.

In short, conservatives, quit whining about cultural change and... well... grow up.

Take it away, Kevin Cronin (incidentally, I forgot how badass this song was until I started the search for this post... really, if you want to view this entire post as an excuse to put up this video I won't blame you):

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Behind the "Oligarhy"

By now, everyone on Earth has seen the video of Glenn Beck forgetting a letter in the word "oligarchy" and has probably had a good chuckle or two. I know I have. Brayton has a good embed if you haven't seen it.

But what struck me is the fact that Beck used the word "oligarchy" to describe Obama. See, I'm so used to right-wingers calling Obama a Communist or a Marxist or whatever that the use of the word confused me. Mainly because "oligarchy" is, from an ideological standpoint, the polar opposite of Communism. Oligarchy describes a country ruled by a small group of elites - in a Communist society, power is supposed to rest with the "proletariat" - i.e. everyone who isn't one of the elites.

Of course, in every large-scale Communist society* that's been implemented, Communism has turned into an oligarchy as the revolutionary band that seized power essentially installed themselves as the new elites. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. And I think this understanding is what is driving a lot of the opposition to the health care reform initiative currently on the table.

Sure, the notion that meaningful health care reform will turn America into Stalinist Russia is nutty and deserves to be treated as such. But look closer and you'll see the legitimate fear that government interference in the marketplace will lead to the concentration of power in the hands of a few, instead of the diffusion of power among the many participants in the health care process.

This fear is not without its merits. One need only look at the sordid recent history of the 2008 toy manufacturing act to see that even the best-intentioned government regulations can lead to a concentration of power in the hands of a few large companies who pay off the regulators. It's not insane to think that the well-connected politically would benefit from a government-run health care plan at the expense of the non-connected. And if you think about it, even the most batshit-crazy rumors about this reform - the death panels and such - come from the fear that the non-politically connected will be screwed.

It's a legitimate fear, but I think it's somewhat ill-placed when it comes to health care. What we have to realize is that we already live in what is essentially a health-care oligarchy, where a small group of elites (insurance companies) chooses who gets care and those not favored by the insurance companies get screwed. A lot of the rhetoric flying around from more traditional conservative sources talks about giving government power over your health decisions and taking it away from physicians and patients. Wrong - the power right now lies with insurance companies. Whatever power physicians and patients have under the new health care plan will be an improvement. Meet the new boss, marginally better than the old boss.

So if we're going to have an oligarchy, why should it be run by government rather than by private insurance companies? The answer is responsibility - who is more responsible to the people. In a traditional market, companies are responsible to their customers. Provide bad service at a high cost, and you're out of business. However, it's clear that health insurance doesn't function like a normal market. For one, insurance in general makes profits by providing as little service as possible to customers who have already paid for said services. Furthermore, health insurance includes so many variables that it's far easier to deny a claim than it is for, say, car insurance. For another, the actual consumer doesn't participate in the competition to select a provider. Most people with health insurance don't have any real choice in the matter - their employer chooses their insurer for them. There are so many levels between the consumer and the service provider that poor service on the part of the provider lead to no consequences. In such a situation, the insurance company, freed from responsibility to its consumers, is now only responsible to its investors. So while usually, disgruntled consumers are a major threat to a company's profits, in the current health care system disgruntled consumers are a mere annoyance. Government faces a greater threat from disgruntled voters than the health insurance companies face from disgruntled policyholders, so it's a little more likely to respond to public pressure when it screws up. Again, meet the new boss, marginally better than the old boss.

In an ideal world, we'd be able to nuke the entire health-care system and start from scratch, possibly adopting a model like the one proposed by David Goldhill in his excellent Atlantic piece. Unfortunately, the American political system is set up specifically to thwart radical reform, so we'll have to make do with incremental band-aid solutions until the political will for reform reaches the tipping point. Implementation of a public option and public subsidies for people who buy their own health insurance are steps toward the first, and most obvious, goal of any meaningful reform - breaking the employment-health insurance link. But it'll be a while before people are the consumers of their own health care - we're stuck with an oligarchy into the forseeable future, reform or no.

Which, I'm afraid, is what Glenn Beck doesn't "c". (GROAN)

*I say large-scale because Communism has worked well on a very small scale, most notably on Israeli kibbutzim.

Bachmann Joins Judean People's Front

Am I wrong if I read this from Michelle Bachmann:
“What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass.”
and think this?

Always look on the bright side of life, Michelle.