C I V I L    M A R R I A G E    I S    A    C I V I L    R I G H T.

A N D N O W I T ' S T H E L A W O F T H E L A N D.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Waitin' for the Weekend

Pete Kuzak

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Westminster Attack

Map from the BBC report; click to enlarge.

A crazed terrorist plowed through pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London today, then tried to enter Parliament.  Your Head Trucker has once upon a time walked across that very bridge, and up and down the Thames embankment there in the shadow of Big Ben, so he feels this as a rather personal affront.  My heart goes out to all the victims and their families, and to the British people.

This grievous outrage, this demonic disregard for human life is beyond horrifying.  I don't know how Western society can ever rid itself of the murderous microbes it is infected with, without suppressing all civil liberties for the rest of the population, but something has to be done.  This cannot go on.

BBC report on the attack.

Telegraph report.

Guardian report.

Prime Minister Theresa May was in Parliament at the time of the attack and was quickly taken to safety by her security guards.  She later made a statement to the press in front of Number 10 Downing Street:

Update, 3/23/17, 4:20 p.m.: I am pleased to see that the old indomitable British spirit is still very much alive, as witness this computer-generated Underground notice now making the rounds of social media over there:

The Prime Minister and others praised it in Parliament, as the Guardian reports here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Turning Point

Your Head Trucker regrets that he just can't keep summarizing all the ghastly, grizzly goings-on in Trumpworld - it's quickly gotten to be such a boatload of ugliness that it overwhelms me, and sours my whole day.  What I see is that Liar-in-Chief Trump and his fascist minions are determined, like a herd of bulls in a china store, to wreck the American government and likewise wreck the international order that has preserved the general peace and stability of the world for the last seventy years - and what can anyone do to stop them?

Probably the world will not grind to a total halt - history records many, many cycles of ruin and recovery in human history - but I fear that the world and this country will be crippled, blighted, altered beyond recognition, and who knows at what cost in lives and treasure and needless suffering.

For the record, the conversation on Morning Joe today nicely sums up much of my own thinking about the Comey-Rogers revelations before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday:

How to Measure a Happy Nation

The World Happiness Report was released yesterday, and Norway is officially number 1 on that scale.  It is of course not a strictly scientific measurement, like the freezing point of water, or the diameter of the moon, but a made-up statistic:  a conglomeration of numbers put together by some bright boys to make a point.  Next year, they might decide to use a totally different scale - so don't put too much faith in a thing like this, fellas.  How on earth could anyone know whether Nils Nilsson in Norway is any happier or sadder than you are, just at this moment?  Still, it is mildly interesting to think about.

The actual report is found here.  Or you can watch a report from CBS Sunday Morning instead:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Are You Ready for Service? (1951)

Like most gay boys of my generation, I utterly despised the unremitting torment of P. E. classes, but this 1951 film recalls to mind certain delightful locker-room scenes.

Note to the young'uns:  at the time this film was made, the Korean War was in full swing, and so was the draft; hence the urgency of preparing the boys about to be snagged into the military.

More jock bods from a decade later, when President Kennedy was promoting his physical fitness program:

Gay artist Paul Cadmus used the locker room's erotic potential in a humorously suggestive drawing:

YMCA Locker Room II, Paul Cadmus, 1934;
click to enlarge.

Monday, March 13, 2017

CBO Report: 52 Million Uninsured by 2026

The Congressional Budget Office today released its estimate of the effects of the assoholic Republican healthcare plan: 14 million Americans would lose their health insurance in the coming year, leading to 52 million being uninsured by 2026, the Washington Post reports.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to the report:

Ezra Klein in Vox, excerpt:
The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the GOP’s American Health Care Act is one of the most singularly devastating documents I’ve seen in American politics. For a thorough explanation of the findings, read Sarah Kliff’s explainer. But here is the one-sentence summary: Under the GOP’s bill, the more help you need, the less you get.

The AHCA would increase the uninsured population by about 24 million people — which is more people than live in New York state. But the raw numbers obscure the cruelty of the choices. The policy is particularly bad for the old, the sick, and the poor. It is particularly good for the rich, the young, and the healthy.

Here, in short, is what the AHCA does. The bill guts Medicaid, halves the value of Obamacare’s insurance subsidies, and allows insurers to charge older Americans 500 percent more than they charge young Americans.

Then it takes the subsidies that are left and reworks them to be worth less to the poor and the old, takes the insurers that are left and lets them change their plans to cover fewer medical expenses for the sick, and rewrites the tax code to offer hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts to the rich. As Dylan Matthews writes, it is an act of class warfare by the rich against the poor.

The result isn’t just 24 million fewer people with insurance: Of those who remain insured, the pool is tilted toward younger, healthier people who need help less, because many of the older, poorer people who need the most help can no longer afford insurance. As German Lopez notes, a 64-year-old making $26,500 would see his premiums rise by 750 percent. 750 percent! And with that 64-year-old gone, premiums are a little bit lower, because the pool is a little bit younger.

Let’s break that down. According to the CBO, the lower premiums Ryan celebrates (which are, mind you, only 10 percent lower after 10 years — and that’s after rising initially) are largely the product of driving older people out of the market and letting insurers offer plans that cover fewer medical expenses and require more out-of-pocket spending. This is not “lower premiums” as most Americans understand the term. . . .

But this is not fine. It is not decent, it is not compassionate, and it is not what Republicans promised. It is a betrayal of Donald Trump’s vow to protect Medicaid from cuts and to pass a health care bill that covers everyone with insurance that has lower deductibles and better coverage. It is a betrayal of Ryan’s promise to give Americans more choices — as it is only when you can afford insurance that you truly have the choice of which plan to buy. It is a betrayal of the older, rural voters who put Republicans in office and who will pay the most for heath insurance under this proposal.
The editorial board of USA Today writes:
The House GOP measure would greatly curtail the financial incentives for individuals to buy insurance on state exchanges while all but eliminating the penalties for not doing so. It would also scale back on Medicaid, the principal form of insurance for those on the bottom rungs of the income ladder.

The result would be bleak, if not horrific. One out of every 14 Americans who now has insurance would lose it over the next decade. The government's red ink would be reduced by $337 billion in the same period, but that would come largely by cutting assistance to poorer people while offering a whopping tax cut for families making more than $250,000 a year.

Given the CBO "scoring" of their bill, House Republicans ought to start over on their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Better yet, they should look for ways to retain and repair the current law. Instead, their initial reaction was to to blame the messenger by bad-mouthing the CBO.

Rep. David Brat, R-Va., for example, claimed that “the CBO has scored everything wrong, forever.” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said "we disagree strenuously" and the CBO estimate is "just not believable."

Estimating the impact over time of any legislation is a Herculean task that does not always lend itself to perfect accuracy. But the CBO has long had a better track record than the Office of Management and Budget, which is under the control of the White House.

Republicans have traditionally been more supportive of the CBO, using it to counter more rosy estimates made by the Clinton and Obama administrations. What's more, when Republicans took control of both chamber of Congress in 2015, they dumped the longtime and well-respected director of the CBO, Douglas Elmendorf, and replaced him with Keith Hall, a proponent of "dynamic" scoring methods that generally see GOP proposals in a more favorable light.

Attacking the CBO now will only strengthen the argument that President Trump and his backers on Capitol Hill live in a world of alternative facts and relative truths. A superior approach would be to come up with a way to actually improve the nation’s health care system.

FYI, last week CNN reported the salaries of the top executives in the health insurance industry:
Aetna (AET) CEO Mark Bertolini received $17.3 million in 2015, the most recent year for which compensation has been reported. Cigna CEO David Cordani made the same amount. UnitedHealth (UNH) CEO Stephen Hemsley had total compensation of $14.5 million, while Anthem (ANTM) CEO Joseph Swedish received $13.6 million. Humana CEO Bruce Broussard received $10.3 million.
This is so wrong.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Health Insurance Is Not a Product

An excerpt from a piece by Egberto Willies in Daily Kos:
One of the biggest problems with health insurance is that we allow Republicans to treat it as if it is a consumer product.

It is not.

Republicans love to talk about leaving health insurance to market forces. Their ideological blindness and callousness leads them to believe that what is good for a capitalist market is always right for the individuals it purports to serve. The reality is that we have made the capital markets our religion, as opposed to treating it as a tool that can make life better for us all.

A company does not sell a product that is not profitable. The fiduciary responsibility of a business in a capitalist market is to its shareholders, not the customer. The client is nothing more than a means to transfer wealth to the shareholder and the executives running the business.

A company cannot make a profit on an unaffordable product. Prices must rise or costs of manufacturing the product must go down, or the product will cease to exist. That’s what is happening to health insurance under Obamacare. Some insurance companies raised their prices, while some just abandoned the health insurance 'product.' Because proper regulations were finally in place, they could not make the product less expensive. In other words, Obamacare did not allow health insurance companies to sell their customers a crappy insurance policy.

Republicans argue that it is a lack of choice that allows these businesses to charge exorbitant premiums. They claim it is overregulation that causes health insurance companies to have to provide services people don't necessarily want. They say that disallowing interstate health insurance purchase reduces competition and competitive pricing.

There is some truth in those statements—but that’s only because as long as health insurance is seen as a product, that abridgment of market forces is detrimental to the company's bottom line, and also to insurance pricing for Americans. . . .

Here is the reality: We do not decide when we get sick. When we get sick, we cannot just shop around for the hospital and doctor that will provide the best price to treat a disease we do not yet know we have. Sickness does not know our socioeconomic condition, so having a ‘choice’ to purchase a plan we can afford means we get wealth-based health care.

Health insurance is not a product. Selling it that way is immoral, un-American, and downright evil.

What I Say: Your Head Trucker, who has endured a great deal of poverty in his life, and watched his loved ones suffer and die with precious little help from the free-market system, believes in a much-expanded and much-improved Medicare for All - by which I mean, a single-payer system, which could be funded and provided by various means, but which would automatically cover every resident of the United States from cradle to grave without limitations, exclusions, or premium payments. Ideally, it should be free at the point of access, though I could support a sliding scale for nominal co-payments, based on income.  Anything less is inexcusable and immoral in this, the richest nation on the face of the earth.

All medically necessary care and services, including preventive exams and treatments, physical therapy, mental health services, prescription drugs, and appliances, as well as hospital and residential care, would be provided under a nationally determined list of allowable benefits to patients. Doctors, clinics, and hospitals could be either government employees or private providers who agree to accept the standard compensation for services. Patients would not be involved in the billing process at all.

The whole program would be funded either out of general taxation, or with the help of a nominal withholding tax on wages. But everyone young and old would be fully covered at all times, regardless of whether they were employed or not.  Private insurers would be forbidden from competing with Medicare on any benefits covered by the national program.

The ultra-rich - like snooty rich-kid pig Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) - who can't bear to sit in ordinary waiting rooms with the commonality could use their gold-plated private doctors and hospitals, who could charge whatever the fat-cat market would bear - but they could not also receive any payments from Medicare.

Or maybe there's a better way than all that to cover everyone - I am no financier, but I do believe in the three principles upon which Britain's National Health Service was founded:

  • That it meet the needs of everyone
  • That it be free at the point of delivery
  • That it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

I see that the total expenditure from all sources on healthcare in the United States in 2015 was $3.2 trillion.  (For comparison, the total annual payroll in the United States, including government employees, was $5.9 trillion in 2014; and total federal spending in 2015 was $3.7 trillion.)  That's a lot of money, but I'll wager at least half of it is wasted on insurance middlemen and their bulging profits, not to mention mindless paperwork and the utterly needless drug advertisements that flood the airwaves and Internet night and day. All other developed countries spend much less per capita on healthcare than the U.S. does, and get better outcomes, too:

Click to enlarge.
And then there is the combined $2.1 trillion net profits of American corporations the year 2015, which benefit immensely from our skilled, educated workforce, high-class infrastructure, and natural resources - your Head Trucker thinks that instead of paying fantastic salaries and bonuses to the execs, the big companies should be doing some substantial good for the general public.

Chart from Statista.com; click to enlarge.

USA Today reported that just 28 big firms, or 6 percent of the total, made fifty percent of those profits in 2015.

I don't know for sure the best way to finance universal coverage, but what I do know is that there is plenty of money circulating around this old world, and the big-money boys in their gold-plated towers can always find a way to finance every whim and extravagance and obscene profit they want, and the public be damned - so they can sure can sure as hell figure out a way to finance Medicare for All if they are made to, and if they don't - may God reward them as He did Dives.

It's instructive to check out this comparison of various national healthcare systems from Wikipedia, with links to many other sources of information. Also enlightening is this comparison of U.S. and Canadian healthcare systems.

Physicians for a National Health Program has a proposal for a single-payer system that seems well thought out to your Head Trucker.

Sunday Drive: This Little Light of Mine

The classic gospel song, as performed by the Plantation Singers of Charleston, South Carolina:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

This Week in Trumpocracy, 3/11/17

A word to my readers:   I have waited, and I have seen. Merely seven weeks or fifty days into the nightmare, the pieces of the puzzle are falling together in plain view.  It has become evident to your Head Trucker that the goal of the Trump regime is nothing less than to destroy the democratic, constitutional system of government of the United States and make this country a mere satellite of Russian tyrant Putin.   And I believe a great many Republicans in Congress are traitors who are in on the secret, and very happy to cooperate in the ruination of the country.  And who knows how many invisible, unelected associates of the Trump cabal are also busily working his wicked will, which is Putin's too, both here and abroad?

(It also occurred to me overnight - you know, we baby boomers have lived our whole lives in apprehension of the next world war - which we imagined would begin and end with a hail of nukes - but suppose it's not like that, in this virtual-reality age?  Suppose World War III is happening right now, and its goal is not to leave our country a glowing, empty desert, but merely a crippled, divided, subservient tributary of a ghastly New Order run by the Russian dictator?  Suppose nobody noticed that that was the Big Plan all along, both here and in Europe, until it was too late?  I'm certainly not a conspiracy theorist normally - but this thought came to me with a chilling sense of perhaps so.)

Well, time will tell.  I do not say these things lightly. I can't prove any of it, of course - that will be up to patriots in the government and in the media, and God only knows how all this can be stopped, and when, or whether blood must be spilt or not - but I tell you what, boys:  even in the dark, you don't have to see a cow patty to know it's there.

Please note, therefore, that in future this blog will refer to Donald Trump as the Liar-in-Chief, or alternatively as the Puppet-in-Chief, and will not denigrate the office of President with his name.

The Trump regime seemed to kick into high gear this week with the rolling-out of Trumpcare and travel ban 2.0, firing of the senior state department staff, firing of 46 U. S. attorneys, and on and on and on.  I can't review all of that, but here's some highlights, for the record:

1.  I was very glad to see that the media did not let up all week on Trump's outrageous "wiretapp" slander against President Obama.  Early in the week, senators called for investigation into the Liar-in-Chief's lies about former President Obama.  And on Thursday, FBI Director James Comey - he who notoriously swayed the election results last October - met with senior Congressional leaders behind closed doors on Thursday, presumably to discuss the matter. House and Senate leaders were tight-lipped after the meeting, but according to Politico, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hinted at what she could not say:
“Theoretically, do I think that a director of the FBI who knows for a fact that something is mythology but misleading to the American people and he should set the record straight?” Pelosi said, responding to a question at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast forum. “Yes, I do think he should say that publicly.” Pelosi treaded gingerly around the topic of Russia's alleged connections to Trump’s associates, emphasizing that she couldn’t disclose information she’d learned in classified briefings. “Maybe in a short period of time much more will be in the public domain,” she said.

2.  The Puppet-in-Chief's full plan came into clearer view this week:  build a useless border wall as a sop to the ignorant masses who voted for him, not to mention an equally pointless travel ban against a few Muslim countries, while at the same time crippling the Department of State, the Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration: in other words, leaving us with no effective diplomacy, and our sea and air borders undefended.  Putin must be jizzing all over himself at the thought.

3.  Trump's clueless lackeys are kept in the dark too, and have had a hell of a time trying to defend the Liar-in-Chief's big mouth this week, but press secretary Sean Spicer was able to laugh about it:

4.  Ominously, it seems that the CIA has unaccountably lost its arsenal of of cyber weapons - again, leaving the country more or less defenseless:

5.  Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) has created a page on his official website dedicated to "connecting the Trump-Russia dots," which is highly informative and a must-read.  Here are two of the helpful charts you can find there:

Click to enlarge.

 Rep. Swalwell says:
I've laid out here why Russia is not our friend, how, despite these facts, President Trump and his associates have cozied up to Russia, and how Russia is attacking the core of our democracy—our elections. It's clear that for the future of our country and the integrity of our democracy, we cannot let these attacks go un-answered.

That is why today I call for every American to stand up for our American ideals, and let your voice be heard that America, and President Trump’s Administration, must be free of Russian influence. We need to start by understanding exactly how deep the relationships go, how far the attacks have penetrated, and how we let this go un-noticed for so long. The potential personal, political, and financial ties between Russia and Trump officials, both on the campaign and in the administration, could be immense and threaten our independence, and thus, they must be investigated and brought to light.

6. The press have frequently told us in the last few months that "the Russians hacked the election," but just what exactly does that mean? Could you explain it to your Aunt Lizzy? Just for the record and for your information, here are the two much-discussed reports on that subject issued by the Director of National Intelligence, who at the time was Lt. General James R. Clapper (USAF, ret.):

Joint Statement from the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security, October 7, 2016

“Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections," January 6, 2017

If you want to consider yourself well-informed on our national crisis, these are two must-read documents.

7.  Former President Dubya has been making the rounds of the chatty-news shows recently, plugging his new book of paintings of wounded vets and basking in a generally warm reception all around.  But as Gary Younge notes in The Nation, a lesser evil is still an evil:
Bush’s moment of redemption came when he was asked how he felt about Donald Trump’s attacks on the media. “I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy,” he replied. “That we need an independent media to hold people like me to account. I mean, power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”

Bush’s comments, and the rush by some liberals to embrace him, illustrate two key trends. The first is the degree to which, in the desperation to mount the broadest possible coalition against Trump, some are prepared to neglect the principles guiding that opposition and, given their form, may yet prove to be unreliable allies.

Bush was never held to account for his own abuses of power. The mainstream media may have found their voice against Trump, but they were virtually mute or, even worse, implicated in peddling lies for the run-up to the Iraq War. This was fake news of some consequence: Hundreds of thousands died, a country was devastated, a region destabilized, innocents tortured, a generation of terrorists spawned. Meanwhile, The New York Times held a story about Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping until after the 2004 election, in part because the editors thought it would be unfair to run it too close to the vote. . . .

Put bluntly, the distinction between Bush and Trump is partly one of etiquette. Bush paid lip service to rights and norms before crushing them underfoot. Trump is more brazen in his language and more candid in his intent. Bush in no small part is how we got where we are today; to line up behind him against Trump is to pit the cause against the symptom without any suggestion of a cure.

This is not to claim that they are equivalent. The absence on Bush’s part of 
open race-baiting and Islamophobia makes a difference. Trump has emboldened bigots to speak out and act out on their hatred in a way that the more coded dog whistles of the Republican Party establishment did not. The Bush administration actively misled and bullied the media (remember how it hounded CBS’s Dan Rather and Mary Mapes for telling the truth about Bush’s draft-dodging?), but at least it didn’t boast about it.

Which brings us to the second trend. The same day that Bush came out to talk about his art and defend a free press, former Conservative prime minister John Major called Brexit a “historic mistake” and bemoaned the “unreal and over-optimistic” hopes that Prime Minister Theresa May had raised for Britain after exiting the European Union. That same week, Fran├žois Fillon, the scandal-plagued center-right candidate in France, struggled to stay in the presidential race, while Marine Le Pen of the hard-right National Front is almost assured of a place in the runoff election. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, the governing center-right party is in a tight race with the bombastic populist Geert Wilders, who has referred to Muslims as “goat-fuckers.” And in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel finds herself squeezed between an insurgent anti-immigration party, Alternative for Germany, and a revived Social Democratic Party.

In short, Bush’s intervention is illustrative of a moment in which mainstream conservatism is struggling to establish its credentials in the face of a hard-right onslaught. Some, like Merkel, are battling to distinguish themselves from their demagogic rivals, while others, like May or the Republicans in Congress, have preferred to join the stampede for fear that they will otherwise be crushed by it.
From Afghanistant, here's one sad reminder of the wickedness, stupidity, and futility of W's swashbuckling nation-building that destroyed much more than it saved:
"We are losing our youths every day in this war," said Mohammad Gul, a retired police officer whose son Jalal died with Qadir. "Our government leaders have their families abroad and they are safe in expensive villas. America is doing nothing to stop this war. How long do we have to die? Why are they killing us? Who is there to answer our question?"
Who indeed?

And just for the record, the views expressed in this blog are those of your Head Trucker only, and nobody else's, except where quoted.  I am not a paid "librul" activist, and nobody tells me what to write.  This old cuss represents no one but his ornery self - like the sainted E. B. White, I am a member of a party of one, in the good old American fashion, and I don't care who knows it.

If you like what I write, feel free to click one of the four response boxes below.  If you don't like it, you can go to hell or Halifax as you please, it makes me no difference.

Related Posts with Thumbnails