Archive for November, 2009

Dead People, Dead Government

November 29, 2009

Bull, bull and more bull.  The United States is dawdling, dithering and avoiding action on health care reform.  We are a nation of cowards.  Oh sure: we can fight endless wars and put our supposed patriotism on the line.  However, we cannot take care of our own here at home.  Cowboy antics like shooting and bombing are worth the costs of billions of dollars and untold American lives, but caring properly or , at all, for our sick citizens just does not have the same panache.

Read this article and weep:

This is about a 23-year-old man, John Brodniak, who was found to have a hemangioma that is killing him.  The only factor in the denial of treating this operable mass is the fact that he no longer has health insurance.  Even though he has been accepted into the Medicaid program, he can not find a participating physician to operate because the reimbursement is ridiculously low.

Wake up, America!  The health care proposal in front of Congress will provide a weak public option that is no option at all.   Because it will attract those who have no insurance, whether due their pre-existing conditions or their lack of ability to afford insurance, this public option will wind up costing people more than would private coverage.  Thus, we are back to what we already have: Medicaid, basically a government-sponsored charity that penalizes the recipients for pre-existing conditions and eliminates provider care by not offering reasonable reimbursement.

My husband used a phrase last night during a discussion on all the wars (over 200) we have participated in since our country’s founding.  Whether formally declared, lost or won, these wars represent America’s ongoing, selfish need for international power and dominance at the expense of our own citizens.  Not only are we sending our young people out to die, but as a result of the huge costs of war, we are denying our citizenry the basic human needs for existence.  My husband’s phrase was “paradigm shift”, moving from one thought system to another.  Our war strategies simply do not work any more, as they are outmoded and more destructive than beneficial.  Also, I believe we need a paradigm shift in our ethical and legislative initiatives as well.  Our need for exerting power internationally should be supplanted by executing proper care on our home turf.  The well-being of our own citizens should not have to take a back seat to often murky causes abroad.

Perhaps this overall health care reform is a step in the right direction.  But the shame of it all is that, number one,  it will not be enough and number two, it will not happen quickly enough.  The current legislation, if passed, is not scheduled to be in force until 2014.  By that time, John Brodniak will be dead, and millions of other citizens will be on the rolls of the uninsured.  Paradigm shift?  You betcha.  To what end?

Perhaps everyone who has serious medical ailments and can not receive care for them, should set up a mass camp on the White House lawn.  This “MASH unit” should not remove themselves from the premises until they are given decent health care.  How embarrassing would it be if photos of all these sick and dying people appeared on the front pages of every newspaper in the world?  “America, the most democratically advanced, richest and supposedly moral country in the world denies their people decent health care” is the headline I would like to see.  Nothing moves a government more, not even the reality of neglect, than shame.  Shame on you, America, for your cowardly inaction on taking care of your own.

So indeed, America: weep your hearts out.  That is, if you have a heart at all.  When a nation disregards its most precious resource, its people, for the glory of economic, political and international gain, we certainly have a lot to weep about.  It is a pathetic statement on our pathetic existence.  Real patriotism is working towards the betterment of each and every American.  We are toiling to avoid that responsibility rather than to fulfill it.

Political masturbation.  Bull, bull and more bull.

Olio: Kudos and Catcalls

November 27, 2009

This Thanksgiving week has brought just as much foolishness to the forefront as any other week.  Hypocrisy and self-interest as well as self-indulgence is rampant.  And the kudos offered isn’t what you would think.    As usual, I use this opportunity to provide you with reading on current issues to expand your intellect.  After all, what else are weekends for?  So let us begin by reviewing the catcalls of the week.

Lo and behold!  Look what popped up the day after my tirade against electronic medical records:

Besides the ominous proposal that our private insurance industry be the gatekeeper of our medical records, in all of their glorious sanctity of human life over profit (ha!), our hospitals are also breaching the confidentiality of our private records.  No surprise there either.  Is the trade off of instant access to our medical histories worth the invasion and unethical use of our own personal information?  Must we sacrifice our privacy to physicians and hospitals just so that they do not have to take the time to do a thorough medical history?  The currently held tenet that electronic records make all of us much less prone to errors does not hold water with me.  Sorry: I do not choose to put my personal medical data out there to assuage the insurance companies and medical providers.  Call me obstructionist, call me overly-suspicious, but everyone and their mother will also have access to my information and Heaven help us all when that data  gets into the wrong hands and is used to evil ends.

Secondly, boos and hisses to that panel in South Carolina that finally has threatened Governor Mark Sanford with impeachment for 37 counts of dereliction of duties and misuse of state funds,   Do you think this was a long time enough in coming?  Do you think the attorney general and legislature in that state will now actually have the moxie to impeach this man?  Come on: it isn’t as if there are only two or three counts pending.  37!

Worrisome lapses by our Secret Service deserve harsh reprehension.  At the White House’s state dinner for the visiting dignitary from India this week, a Virginia couple, uninvited and looking for their own fifteen minutes of fame on the reality TV circuit, passed through the magnetic screening and partook of the festivities.  No, they were not on the list of invitees.  Nevertheless, they were waved through to join the party:

Even though this ambitious couple was screened by the usual metal detectors, shame on the Secret Service, usually considered the jewel of our security agencies, for taking the easy, non-confrontational low road.  What of the possibilities of dangerous substances, lethal biologicals, that could have been the goal of less savory, equally uninvited guests?  It is scary to think what could have happened.  For Heaven’s sake: it is the job of the Secret Service to protect our President, not to avoid uncomfortable social situations.

And no, although many of you, upon reading this story, probably thought these party crashers were Yo Mama and her Honey, they were not.  Perhaps the more severe violation of this incident is that Yo Mama was not on the guest list from the get-go.  That is the true sin of omission that deserves all the catcalls you can muster.

In the category of catcalls, I send scathing criticism out to the New York Times columnist Judith Warner:

She must have experienced quite the writer’s block  to have correlated our Sarah’s Thanksgiving dinner invitation to Levi Johnston as a call for graciousness.  Our Sarah and Levi are both the scum of the earth.  They further dirty up each other’s existence.   Granted, there is a lot of ugliness, rudeness and anger out there in America now.   However, our Sarah is not the epitome of solutions for what ails us.  Quite the opposite is true.  Our Sarah is about creating the hatefulness, the exclusionary social structure and the divisive religious fervor that alienates people.  Her behavior and down-home statements are nothing if they are not destructive.  There is not an iota of conciliation in anything our Sarah has to say.  Her power lies in the ability to mock, separate and deride.  Our Sarah is clearly not the salvo America needs to get out of the economic, political and ethical gutter: she widens those gulches that must be narrowed.

Judith Warner took a good thesis and supported it with terrible, untrue examples, discrediting her initial premise.  By attempting to make a square peg fit in a round hole, she crossed the line of journalistic license.  Maybe the stresses of her Thanksgiving limited the time available for her journalistic  responsibilities.  If that was the case, she should have just not written her column.  But for Warner to have forced this issue by using our Sarah as the model for politeness and true caring  is preposterous.  Our Sarah is who she is and, as a result, everything that comes out of her mouth is suspect.

In my own little world, I, too, was bereft of good ideas for a Thanksgiving post.  If it hadn’t been for the Blog Fairy to bestow upon me the Robin Williams visit on Letterman, I was up the creek for what to write.  However, if that had been the case, I would have simply written “Happy Thanksgiving” and left it at that.

Finally, catcalls (yuk, ptooey) go to my dear children.  Upon mentioning, at our Thanksgiving table, that I had dated (just a few times, mind you) a lacrosse player while in college, my dear, devoted children dared to call me a “lacrosstitute”.  Is that nerve, or what?

Amongst all this foolishness, I do have a number of incidents that have earned kudos.  These items are related to health care reform and the Republican Party.  At first glance, you might think I am off the wall by bestowing kudos upon these people.  Take a deeper look:  these examples were not intended as I interpreted them.

Read Ross Douhat’s column from the New York Times:

Even though his thoughts are directed to the GOP, they make sense, are reasonable and offer perspective for all political entities.

Now I must deal with Mitch McConnell, that venerable Minority Leader in the Senate.  He is so wrapped up in bringing down the administration, that he can no longer speak reasonably on the issues.  His logic has up and left him.  These were his comments at the time the health care debate was brought to the Senate floor:

I think if you have any kind of government insurance program, you’re going to be stuck with it and it will lead us in the direction of the European style, you know, sort of British-style, single payer, government run system. And those systems are known for delays, denial of care and, you know, if your particular malady doesn’t fit the government regulation, you don’t get the medication.

And it may cost you your life. I mean, we don’t want to go down that path.

His thought process is just as convoluted as that of our Sarah.  Why is the Republican platform so rife with inconsistencies?  McConnell is condemning the current health reform proposal as a government program, God forbid, the worst scenario for the GOP.  Yet, they laud the Medicare program (Of course in 1965 when that was passed, the GOP was nowhere to be found on the side of the aisle that supported that.) as the jewel in our government’s crown.  The Republicans just want to obstruct in the hopes of bringing down President Obama.  What about our wonderful state universities?  Should they be blackballed and denigrated because they are government sponsored?  And what about our public education system?  The list goes on and on.

Certainly health care is of that supreme importance, falling into the category of “basic need”, that a government program is EXACTLY  what  is necessary at this time.  The ignoramus McConnell just shot himself in the foot: a state-directed health care program would not, could not, deny us the basic services we need.  Only privately owned and operated, profit-seeking insurance companies can do that.  And they are.  It is untenable to apply the rules of capitalism to basic human rights.  To do so is like comparing apples and oranges.  So I send kudos to McConnell for using his stupidity to drive home the truth, even though he had no idea what he was doing.  Moron.  Let his ignorance and political blundering be our blessing.

Accolades go to Abe Pollin who passed this week.  Pollin was a Washington, D.C. real estate developer who owned and operated the Wizards basketball and Capitals ice hockey franchises.  He also built the Verizon Center in downtown D.C., a process of redevelopment that took a seedy, urban eyesore of an area and revitalized that portion of the city.  Moreover, word has it that he was quite a decent man and his charitable contributions are well-known.  Here is his obituary:

Finally, the space shuttle deserves much praise for being the workhorse of our space program.   The shuttle just landed in Florida today.  This will be one of its last flights.  Over the decades, the shuttle has been not only of untold value to the building and maintenance of the space station, but also an integral part of our space exploration.   As productive as this shuttle has been over the decades, I beg NASA to stop while it is ahead.  The shuttle surely is a technological dinosaur at this point, and I wish they would ground it now before another disaster occurs.  But my hat’s off to all the space shuttle has accomplished over the years.

So yet another week has passed, full of ridiculous and admirable goings-on.  What would our existence be if not for the intrusion of real life?

Thanksgiving With Rockin’ Robin

November 26, 2009

Who better than Robin Williams to provide us with a little Sarah Palin comedy (nothing better) for Thanksgiving?  Ain’t life grand?

May we all be thankful for the special people at our tables today. It’ll be a homecoming for the ages.


Health Care Reform: A Test of Our Values

November 24, 2009

Health care reform is, when push comes to shove, when the fat lady sings, when our history will be written and perhaps a legacy established, the only measure that matters.  Politics be damned: health care reform is a reflection of our moral standards.  It is a verdict on our very values.

Yes: the United States is strapped financially, perhaps even verging on being broke.  However, it is high time for us to pull inwards.  Stop the wars and start the peace.  Cease nation building abroad and make it so here at home.  Aren’t we just about the kindest and most sympathetic country you have ever seen?  Building schools in Asia, providing health care in Africa, and playing the most ridiculous political games here in America to get the same job done.  To place health care reform on the back burner would be a total failure.  Our Congress has never acted fast in response to any emergency, except of course to decide to go to war, and often, those knee-jerk decisions were made as measures of total revenge, without thought as to who the real enemy was, what the right military tactics should be and without consideration of an exit strategy.

Values.  What principles, human beings and costs are worth it?  This health care debate is so much more than the mere words of its proposed legislation.  It is a struggle between our hunger for outer dominance and our vital need for inner morality.  Too bad  we have to choose and play one off against the other.  In the past, the choice was not so “either/or” in nature.  Now it is. As we have neglected our values, the trade-offs have become more severe.

Finally, how can we hope to export values abroad if we do not demonstrate those same values right here at home?  Shall we take care of our own, provide the same basic human needs on our home ground as we do abroad, envelope a value structure that heals rather than harms?  Health care reform is about priorities.  The sacrifice and cost of sending an additional 34,000 troops to Afghanistan must be judged in light of the need at home.  Values must come into play now more than ever because we cannot afford to do it all.  If we do not take care of our own, we will not have a viable country.  So why are we “defending” ourselves against outside forces when the internal pressures just might be the end of us?

I’m Just Wild About Harry

November 21, 2009

Senator Harry Reid delivered.  He got the sixty votes needed to progress on to health care reform debate on the Senate floor.  Mind you, all present thirty nine Republicans voted against this.

Interesting.  An even more difficult vote looming in the near future is that of cloture, i.e. a show of hands to END the debate.  The GOP senators will undoubtedly all vote against that as well.  Pray tell: is there any logic in first voting against discussion on a bill in front of the Senate followed then by the exact same zero number of votes for ending the conversation?  First they want no discussion, then they never want the conversation to end.  Do you think the GOP’s tactics are merely a ploy to stop any kind of solutions to this health care mess?  Could it be that their only intention is to bring defeat, any kind at all, to President Obama?

Damn it.  The end game here is not to trade a pat on your ass for one on mine.  We have thousands of children dying each year due a lack of medical care.  There is a silent majority of Americans who forego filling necessary prescriptions because when they have to choose between the medicine or food on the table, guess which one wins?  Too many Americans have been denied health coverage just because their insurance companies say so.  And how many more Americans are just plain old uninsured?  You call the United States a civilized, enlightened country?  No way, no how.  It is disgusting and hypocritical to choose as your life’s work elective public service, and then place a greater importance on process rather than the substance of what the population needs.  Obstructionism just for the sake of providing a political defeat has no purpose, and in fact, is detrimental to progress of any sort, especially to those issues that are critical to the well-being of Americans.  The health care debate is not a swap meet; we have critical issues to address and mend.  Real lives depend on it.  And I daresay that if our members of Congress did not have such Cadillac health care coverage at the expense of their constituents, they would feel the pain a little more.

If you have never given a piece of yourself for the greater good, start now.  Go view the PBS series, “Unnatural Causes”, a four-hour documentary on the established connection of poverty and sickness and death.  After you have seen the series, then tell me that the Congressmen really have  concern for the Americans who elected them.  Then tell me that the leaders of our great country are not cavalier in their attitudes and actions to those who have less.  Then finally tell me that these hardships are not used as  tokens in political horse trading and deal making.

At any rate, a victory is a victory.  Heaven knows what we will actually wind up with.  Thank you, Senator Reid.

Senator Reid: Bring It On Home To Mama

November 21, 2009

Roses are red,

Blue Cross/Blue Shield are …. well, blue.

Today’s the next step for health reform,

It’s gonna get through!

Count on it.  We will get a health care bill.  Harry Reid has assured us that the bill will have the votes to proceed to the Senate floor for debate.  Mind you, this vote is simply to allow the bill a chance for debate in the Senate.  He announced that it is as good as done.  The vote is scheduled for Saturday, November 21 at 8:oo P.M.  No politician in his right mind would make a statement like that if he didn’t already have the votes.  I do not know whether this legislation will pass with sixty votes on the Senate floor or by reconciliation.  Joe Lieberman has obviously been bought and he says that he no longer will block the bill.

If nothing else, Representative John Boehner’s response to Reid’s bill  has proven to be as void of any intellect or concern for our citizens as were his previous statements.    Once again, Boehner’s loudest and strongest criticism was that the pending legislation is 2074 pages in length.  If this issue of health care reform is not worthy of extensive reading and in-depth discussion, what is?  He has proven yet again to be the personification of an intellectual midget, a rabble rouser and  public official who continues to ignore the needs of his constituents.  Remember: this vote is simply to allow debate on this issue.  What, may I ask, is so detrimental about talking about such a critical policy issue on which Boehner vehemently wants to slam shut the door?  This opportunity to discuss the new reforms would also give the opposition their chance to offer improvements.  Oh, I forgot: the Party of No does not want to make any improvements as they just want to shut down the entire process in the hopes of shutting down President Obama.

Hold on to your hats.  The bill will be far from perfect but it will be a beginning.  For example the public option will be weak and leave many of us wanting.  My astute nephew Joslo had these comments:

A public option is destined to fail if it is not available to most everyone.  It is being set up so that the people who get it will be those people who are more expensive to insure than the general public, which means this narrow public option won’t be able to compete with private insurance.  Private insurance will get the lower risk patients; the public option the higher risk patients.  I think that a trigger for a broad public option is a better choice than the narrow public option that doesn’t need to be triggered.  The irony is that the stronger and more generally available the public option is the cheaper the cost of reform.  Either our elected officials are idiots or there are other issues at play here.  But I would prefer a trigger (one that actually can get pulled fairly easily) for a broadly available public option to what we have now.  Who knows?  It may actually give Olympia Snowe the ability to support the bill and save face.  Then we do not need to worry about Lieberman.  Assuming the rumors are true, maybe there is a  reason that the White House preferred a trigger to an immediate public option.  A narrow public option is destined to fail.  So instead, set up a trigger that would result in a broad public option–one that employers can choose to make available to their employees in competition with other insurance plans.

The trigger is only good if it actually triggers and if what is triggered is a full public option; not the half-assed one in the current legislation before the Senate and the House.

Allow me to add that the proposed weak public option, because it will cover those people who are sicker than the normal population, i.e. those that private insurers have denied coverage, just might wind up being more expensive than private plans.  Ironic, no?  Also, the public option will become the dumping ground for coverage of the poor, i.e. it will be the poor people’s plan, rife with class division and as a result, possibly offering a lesser quality of health care.

Nevertheless, this new legislation will be far from perfect but it is a start in the right direction.  Two items seem particularly relevant in this historic measure.  First as Victor Hugo said, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”  Every advanced, industrialized nation on our planet has universal health coverage.  The time has come for the United States to join the party.  This new legislation is imperative for our own individual well-being and the overall fiscal health.  No one can justify providing universal health coverage for seniors (Medicare) while not providing the same benefits for children and adults.  Even though the GOP was staunchly against the formation of Medicare in 1965, they appear to be its biggest defender today.  Go figure.  Logically, the GOP cannot refuse care for everyone else if they agree to give it to seniors.  That strategy defies logic.  An officeholder would be committing political suicide by voting against the greater good.

Secondly, we have an actual leader in power who is choreographing this bill into passage.  Sure, sometimes President Obama’s behavior seems to lack direction and conviction.  Do not be fooled.  He is the architect of his own agenda and plays his cards exactly as he wishes.  My cousin Roselie, has described so well the President’s style of leadership:

I’ve heard he is a shrewd operator, everything is planned and that he wouldn’t do things haphazardly.   It is said he knows EXACTLY how he wants to play the thing.  He holds his hand close to his vest and is a fantastic player. He is letting the Congress play their role … for now.  Bush made them feel obsolete.  Obama wants to bring them back to a three-tier system.  It’s just what appears as negligence is really strategy, even constitutional strategy which government is supposed to be.

So we currently have an idea that will not go away backed up by a leader with vision and determination.  This is an unbeatable combination.  Health care reform will become reality.


Do I have smart family members, or what?

A Rogue of a Weekend

November 20, 2009

Since you have a lot of serious reading for this weekend, I thought I would provide you with some comic relief.

It is truly amazing that people who aren’t supposed to know certain things, really do know about them.  Thank Heavens we have this back-up!

“Going Rogue” is a many-layered proposition.  Our Sarah has proven that.  Watch this video from Jimmy Fallon:

I will be back tomorrow morning with an optimistic follow-up on health care reform.  Happy weekend!

The Week’s Kudos and Catcalls

November 20, 2009

Once again, real life never ceases to amaze me.  There were lots of catcalls this week accompanied by, alas, fewer kudos.  So let’s get started on the week’s blunders.  I, of course, include many interesting articles for your weekend reading.  It is time to get smart again.  I extend advance apologies for the length of this entry.

Remember those adventurous American hikers in Iraq who inadvertently wandered into the borders of Iran in the beginning of August?  To refresh your memory, please see my post:

Well, these three nature lovers were deemed to be spies this week by the Iranian powers-that-be and will be tried in court.  Here we go again.  For an offense that may be punishable by death, these Americans opted to take a hike in the woods where they were not wanted or welcome.  In all of the entirety of our Mother Earth, could they not have found a more suitable hiking venue?  Their total lack of foresight is so outrageous that perhaps they truly are spies.  Catcalls to these bumbling idiots.

Even stronger catcalls go to the Stupak Amendment.  The inappropriateness of both Republicans and Democrats to attach this provision to health care reform still angers me.  It is outright blackmail using American women as their bargaining chip.  I am not a token to be used to advance the greater good.  I am not a negotiable piece of meat nor are my constitutional rights.  Read Judith Warner:

Catcalls also go out to the geniuses who support electronic medical records.  Right off the bat, no electronic records, whether personal, related to the military, deriving from government agencies, and especially personal and financial corporate data on individuals, have been exempt from technological theft or hacking.  Additionally, having our private insurers in charge of that information could lead only to mayhem.  As long as profit is the motive of insurers, our confidentiality will be violated.  We already know their greedy and corrupt practices in denying health coverage.  Why would we expect anything different from them regarding our medical histories?

Whether electronic records will be eventually hacked into or “lost” is almost a moot point when you consider the gatekeepers of this information are so duplicitous in their intentions.  So right from the get-go then, we know that these electronic records will not be secure and that there is a good chance that they will be used against us in the future.  Once our private medical information is out, Honey, it is out.  No take-backs.  There could be serious consequences to our current employment, future job opportunities, and overall well-being.  Without establishing safeguards and significant fines for said violations before we institute electronic medical record keeping, we will be knowingly subjecting ourselves to much heartache down the road.  Plus, if electronic medical record keeping has been historically so subject to malevolent intervention in the first place, then why we are placing our private insurers in charge of that process and anoint them to be the pirates of  our privacy?   Hello!!  Talk about having the gift of foresight and not using it:

Boos and hisses go out to the overused and under-explained phrase by our politicians and special interest groups “We need to grow the economy”.  Enough of this empty adage.  Bob McDonnell, the Republican who recently won the Virginia gubernatorial election, opened and closed every sentence with that phrase.  Numerous other business and political groups, e.g. the Chamber of Commerce,  also use this meaningless phrase in their advertisements.  Granted: with unemployment at such a high rate and our economy still far from recovery from our most recent recession, the idea seems quite palatable.  However, there is no way we can ever sustain exuberant growth.  It was a fallacy before the recession and still is a fallacy today.  As I have written before, for corporations to constantly expect (and therefore adopt ethically tenuous practices to achieve such ends) higher earnings is not realistic.  The dangerous repercussions can include economic bubbles that ultimately will bust.  Good old America: what’s so wrong about steady economic health?  Why does the “successful” business have to be typified by double-digit growth factors?  It is the same old disease: more equals better.

Finally, tears and jeers go out to our Sarah upon the release of her new book.   As I have said before, what we know about her does not hold a candle to what we do not yet know.  Levi Johnston, equally as scummy as our Sarah, said that our Sarah knows what he has on her.   I do believe that if this “truth” ever is unveiled, our Sarah will defend herself by saying that she did it for her family and kids.  This is just a hypothesis of mine, but nonetheless, that would be pure blasphemy.

Our Sarah is just a vacuous, money- and fame-seeking entity.  However, the reason why we should not just ignore her is because there are too many women in America who identify with her “just a hockey mom” public aura and too many men in America who vote not with their brains but with that other organ.  A week or so ago GOP strategist Mike Murphy asked: “If Sarah Palin looked like Golda Meir, would we even be talking about her today?”  The clear and present danger is not the actual silliness and lack of substance of our Sarah, but the fact that she could use the politics of nothingness to garner electoral support.  Even more criticism is extended to Oprah and Barbara Walters for providing a public launchpad for our Sarah’s ambitions.  They are all equally guilty of participating in a feeding frenzy for their own fame and fortune.  No difference.  Let them all feast upon themselves.  Cannibals.

As for the “record sales” of our Sarah’s book, three weeks ago I said to my son that the book had risen to the top of the bestseller lists because it reflected the huge orders placed by the big box stores and book retailers.  The book was not even released to the public until this week, and guess what?  Just as I thought, the books are not selling well and the best scenario has been the discount bin:

Oh well.  Our Sarah’s literary legend will be good for the earth: we can use the book as firewood and in the process, save our forests and cut down our energy bills.

Now let us review the kudos earned over the last week.  I have a definite affection for Warren Buffett, scion of industry, the vision of investment sanity and an example of honesty and ethics in business.  Yes: he bought an equity position in Goldman Sachs a while back.  Unlike a lot of people who deem this transaction to be cavorting with the devil, I choose to believe that Buffett will bring some amount of ethical behavior to Goldman.  Call me ridiculously optimistic and naive if you will, but I admire and respect Buffett’s long-term investment outlook (versus the instantaneous, immediately gratifying, day-trading outlook by many business types) and constant rosy outlook for America.  He is probably our country’s biggest fan and he puts his money where his mouth is to prove the point.  His company, Berkshire Hathaway, presents itself as probably the best “mutual fund” that any American can buy today.  Further, Berkshire is backed by Buffett himself, and his simple, honest and ethical formula for long-term economic success.

In line with my admiration of Warren Buffett, I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place when I want to make investments in stock shares.  I am so wary of the intentions and business practices of the corporations themselves, along with their executives and Boards of Directors.  I worry about the ethical profile of each company.  I fret over the exorbitant compensation packages offered to employees of these publicly held corporation.  I become totally frustrated when I object to some policies of companies I own shares in and cannot break through the firewall they have set up to protect themselves from public censure.  It was brought to my attention this week that there is a service that actually evaluates corporate ethics.  It is called the Corporate Library and I am so glad it exists:

I cannot vouch for the morality of this business but I can hope they are honest.  Kudos to the Corporate Library for providing  a huge service to the investing public.

Things aren’t always what they seem.  As a followup to my post yesterday, “The Mammogram Wars”, it has come to my attention that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, who introduced the new guidelines this week, is not a fully owned or funded government entity.  I am hoping that you can help me get more information.  I have been told that this task force’s breast health inquiry was funded, at least partially, by the private insurance industry.  If true, that fact would not necessarily invalidate the findings, but it sure would taint their recommendations somewhat.  Please help me uncover who funds this task force and specifically, this particular study on breast health.

After mulling over this breast health controversy, I call for moderation of irrational fear, careful weighing of all factors involved and, above all, an open mind to the scientific developments and technological advancements.  As a corollary to having an open mind to science, one must also realize that information and technology is in a constant state of flux and so our recommendations must adjust accordingly.  For example, based on the majority of mammogram x-ray machines in existence today, the build-up of radiation in our bodies is of consequence.  However, the new digital machines dispense a lesser amount of radiation, but they are very expensive and not a large number of them are in service.  If these new machines should experience wider service, perhaps it would be okay for women to have more frequent scans.

Unless an absolute life-saving option, I have a rule of thumb for new medications: let five to eight years pass before you take that medicine.  The HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) debacle was the classic example of finding that quick fix at the expense of suffering serious medical consequences.  HRT was supposed to reduce a woman’s incidence of heart attack and breast cancer, besides making her look damn good.  Lo and behold, the exact opposite turned out to be fact after a number of years in use.  HRT users experienced a higher amount of heart attacks and breast cancers.  Oh yeah: but they still looked good.

In addition, the standard of measurement in the task force’s new guidelines was “number of lives saved.”  Sometimes, absolutes have to be sacrificed for whatever we can get.  For example, if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer when her child is eight years old and treatment allows the mom to live an additional seven to ten years, surely that is better than succumbing after only two years.  The child will have then had her mother until she was almost grown.  So half measures sometimes are better than nothing, and if mammograms can extend the lives of women through early detection, even though they might not ultimately save their lives, the process was worth it.

Americans love a silver bullet.  However, sometimes life is a crap shoot with only incomplete or premature data available.  We  have to sift through the existing knowledge, integrate it with our own specific histories and needs, and then make a decision, knowing that the information can change tomorrow.  It is the best we can do with what we have.  Yet, I again extend kudos to the mere fact of somebody somewhere, anybody anywhere,  actually conducting research and offering updated guidelines on issues of women’s health.

Finally, a balanced response to an issue that needs a healthy dose of that same balance:


Once again, my readers at DailyKOS have come through for me.  Please go to my diary, the comment section, at that site for a succinct explanation of who exactly the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is, how its members are chosen, and the nature of this organization:

The Mammogram Wars

November 18, 2009

The U. S. Preventive Services Task Force came out this week with new recommendations for women and mammography.  Their new guidelines call for mammograms to be initiated at age fifty (versus age forty), to be repeated every two years (versus every year) and state that breast self-examination is of dubious value.  These new rules, a response to the plethora of false positives, unnecessary exposure to potentially dangerous levels of radiation, way too many mistaken biopsies/surgeries and an incredible amount of anxiety caused by these “preventive” measures,  needed to be updated.  This is not about the insurance companies trying to deny coverage and reduce their costs.  NO.  This measure is about integrating new information into our current practices and was long overdue.

Be cognizant that if a woman has a familial history of breast cancer, if she has the breast cancer gene, if she has dense breast tissue, or if she is a breast cancer survivor, a mammogram will be performed in her forties, or perhaps even earlier.  But my fellow females, please do not block out the reality of x-ray exposure.  It is significant and does build up over the years.  The implication of  a radiation overdose during one’s lifetime should not be ignored and could prove even more dangerous and lethal than any other serious disease.  Just the solar flares and the dissipating ozone layer is cause for concern.  The radiation one is exposed to on an airplane trip is also significant.  Add to that mixture annual mammograms and the picture is not so good.  I personally feel that way about the cumulative effects of dental x-rays.  Even though they entail only a very small amount of radiation, what decay or injury to a tooth was found on x-ray that the dentist did not discover herself upon examination?  Granted I have had a fantastic dentist for the last 25 years, but if your dentist relies solely on x-rays for diagnosis, go get a more competent dentist.  Why is it that Americans automatically believe “more” is always the answer?  More radiation because it is available and easy is a mistake.  Furthermore, doctors should not be using x-rays as a means to routinely “cover their asses”.  The number and severity of disclaimers on a mammogram report is phenomenal.  Likewise, a dentist should not overuse x-rays just to avoid any liability.

The only part of this task force’s recommendations that I object to is the doing away of breast self-examination.  This is usually the way most women discover any suspicious lumps.  Even though the consequences of finding a mass through this process can also produce a false positive, the follow-up of which can lead to unnecessary radiation, surgery and stress, I think that self exams are a responsibility each and every woman should maintain.  Furthermore, this self-screening is a good way for a woman to familiarize herself with her body, a routine that is certainly beneficial to her health status.  By recognizing what is “normal”, she will be able to detect something “abnormal”.  Imagine if we advised young males, who are the population group that experiences the majority of testicular cancers, to stop self-examining themselves.  Not a good scenario.

When I was in my forties, I did have a false positive gleaned from a regular mammogram.  First of all, never have a mammogram on a Friday because you will have a weekend from hell.  No doctor will be present to do his analysis on the test before Monday.  The ensuing tests proved nothing to be amiss.  It was at that point that I began stretching out my mammograms to eighteen months.  The last couple of years I have been waiting two years in-between tests.

A good reference on unnecessary testing is “Matters of Life and Death: Risks vs. Benefits of Medical Care” written by Eugene D. Robin, M.D.  Dr. Robin wrote this in 1984 while employed at Stanford University.  The timeliness and pertinence of this little book has not faded over the years.  Even Dr. William Catalona, who developed the PSA blood test for prostate cancer, admits that the test should have never been invented due to the false positives and often unreliable results of the test.  Risk versus reward, reason over fear.

So my fellow females, the new guidelines for mammography are reasonable and long overdue.  This is not a ploy by the insurance industry to lower their costs to the detriment of their policyholders.  As time and research progresses, of course old rules will be changed to take into consideration what we have learned.  These new guidelines should not be politicized as another slap in the face to women’s rights.  I find it extremely relevant to know the risks of radiation in relation to breast cancer detection.  Perhaps the best tack is for physicians to take a complete history from the patient and actually listen to the patient’s concerns.  Imagine how many unneccessary tests that would obviate.  On the other hand, patients should not demand tests, simply because they exist, to assuage their generalized fears.

The critics of these new guidelines have been quite vocal.  Some say that if even one woman dies from breast cancer in their forties as a result of these new rules, it is too much.  I agree.  But one must also weigh the long-term health and economic effects of the actual testing.  Each case, each person, must decide for themselves on the merit of when and how often they should have these tests.  Of course payment is a big influence in this process.  If a woman can not afford to have a mammogram when she chooses, despite the oppositional recommendations, the test is a moot point anyway.   Can you imagine the economic pressure on our health care system if each person was allowed every test they wanted, often based on a whim, an emotion or irrational fear?  The system would self-implode.  Risks, rewards and costs must all be factored into the equation.

Any woman who has sat in the radiologist’s office waiting for a “yea” or “nay” on their mammogram results knows the feeling in the pit of her stomach that accompanies all the possibilities.  The fear is real and detection is imperative.  Everything has a cost though, and moderation must play into the process.  These new guidelines are  not aimed at rationing; rather, they are tenets of reason based on what we already know and what new information that has come to light.  What good is it if we do not put into practice all the research that has added to our knowledge?  “More” is not automatically better and, in fact, less just might do a better job.  As a woman, I am grateful that attention is finally being paid to the risks and rewards of our breast health and the guidelines have been updated to reflect our current expertise.


Please, please go to my diary site on DailyKOS for more information.  This was a very difficult entry for me to write.  I am not a medical professional nor have I read most of the pertinent research; I can only write from my own limited experience.  The people who commented on this entry can lend a lot of insight into this subject.  Very insightful.


The comments and information on my DailyKOS diary just keep getting better and better.  Go there.

No Afghanistan Envy For Obama

November 13, 2009

He is damned if he does and damned if he does not.  I am grateful that I am not in President Obama’s shoes right now, what with his heavy decision on the troop level and our overall involvement in Afghanistan resting on his shoulders.  The weight of this impending decision must be quite a heavy load to bear.

The eight year war there is a very complicated situation, with many pros and cons for each side of the debate.  My wish, which is not based on any reason or national security considerations, is to get the hell out.  This is pure idealism, nothing more.  I am glad that the President is taking his time on this matter of troop increases, a strategy for which even Colin Powell has expressed support.  This is one of the major reasons I voted for Barack Obama: his intellectual capacity to assess a situation is present and intact.  Plus, he willingly steps into that role of “decider” regardless of his ultimate stance after hearing all sides from the experts.  President Obama does not just delegate important issues; he makes himself part of the process.  He takes responsibility for his policies, which is precisely why he is so deliberate and yes, slow, in making his decisions.

The following article was written by David Brooks of the New York Times on October 29:

Brooks speaks of the President’s tenacity in making and sticking to a decision on Afghanistan.  He questions whether or not President Obama has the will to up the troop level in Afghanistan, thus following up past strategy with additional forces to get the job done.  My response is another question: does President Obama have the tenacity to withdraw from Afghanistan?  Will he use his brain power, common sense and tenacity of purpose to realize that there is no more job to get done there?  We haven’t caught Osama bin Laden in eight years, the Karzai government is a sham in terms of its power and ethics and, as long as Afghanistan’s economy is based on the poppy, we are trying to save a country that does not merit saving in its present form.  As long as Afghanistan is a moral wasteland for its own people, why are we sacrificing American soldiers to preserve that?  So I do hope that President Obama will revisit the other side of the coin, i.e. withdrawing from Afghanistan.  Whatever his decision turns out to be, he will have the tenacity to see it through.

Our President is faced with a tough decision.  With all the intricacies of the war in Afghanistan, I will understand, if he so chooses, a decision to continue there.  I would prefer a withdrawal, or at least a different tack, e.g. influencing the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, instead of using guns and bombs.  Here’s an article by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times from October 28 on using such proactive policies, as schools, in the war against terrorism:

Of course this argument flies in the face of our own country being on not-so-solid economic ground.  Thus, Americans might ask: how and why should we build schools in Afghanistan when  our own education system can use all the help and funds it can get?  As I said, a very complicated, multi-faceted predicament.

Finally, it is worth a couple of minutes of your time to read the following article about one American’s first hand meeting with President Obama on this past Veteran’s day:

With thanks and appreciation to our service people for all they have done (even if they disagree with our purpose) in Iraq and Afghanistan, I urge President Obama to think long and hard on his decision on Afghanistan.  The situation is rife with ambiguity: do we continue to aid the Afghan people a policy that entails putting our own people at risk?  Should we throw good money and lives after bad by supporting a well-documented, corrupt government, tainted further by their ridiculous, most recent election?  Tough choices.  Yet all the while President Obama has had the guts and courage to meet these veterans, some maimed and probably most scarred by their war experiences, to personally console the families of the military personnel we have lost and to put himself in the circle of mourning experienced by these families.  Face to face.  At Dover, Delaware.  At Arlington National Cemetary.  At Fort Hood.  Damn tough choices.

Upon finishing this essay, I found that Andrew Sullivan wrote on exactly this same topic.  And he says it so much better than I ever could:

So yes, folks, we do have a honest-to-goodness President.  But his job is not a cake walk.  All in all, I do not envy our President.  He’s damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t.