Archive for September, 2009

Conservatives waste money on abstinence-only ed

No matter how much members of Congress swear they’ll be fiscal conservatives, no matter how many times they promise they’ll be wise stewards of taxpayers’ money, you can always count on them to waste money to please a few of their constituents. So, it can’t come as a great surprise that members of the Senate Finance Committee voted to fund abstinence-only education to the tune of $50 million per year through 2014.

Every Republican on the committee — fiscal conservatives, all — voted for the amendment yesterday. They were joined by two Democrats who also claim to be fiscal conservatives. Yet, here they were, wasting tens of millions of dollars.

Tons of research has shown that abstinence-only education does not work to prevent teen pregnancy. And if research doesn’t persuade you, there is the anecdotal testimony of Bristol Palin, teen mom, who says abstinence doesn’t work for teens. She should know.

A lot of health care subsidies could be covered with that money. Let’s hope …

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A controversy over mandatory flu shots

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, Americans were grateful for immunizations. I remember standing in line at my elementary school to get my oral polio vaccine, brought to us by private foundations and government-sponsored (gasp!) health clinics. No one complained. My parents’ generation remembered polio, which crippled and killed.
But times have changed. Few alive today remember the devastation of an epidemic; mistrust of big institutions, including government, has grown; and the Internet and 24/7 cable news casts have brought us more rumors and half-truths than reliable information. So some health care workers are in a tizzy because their employers are requiring them to get vaccinated against either seasonal flu, swine flu or both.

(Before any of you get hysterical, let’s be clear: Vaccines are mandatory for some health care workers, not for all individuals.  And it’s not the federal government who is ordering the vaccines. The state of New York has ordered all …

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Roman Polanski hasn’t paid for his crime

Sometimes it’s easier to get your head around a distant controversy if you personalize it. So engage in a little thought experiment with me: You have a daughter or niece or sister who was raped by a wealthy, powerful and glamorous 43-year-old man when she was just 13.
He says the sex was “consensual,” but he had plied her with champagne and drugs before he took advantage of her. In any event, she was a child whom the law regards as too immature to “consent” to sexual intercourse. Would you want that man to be held to account for his crimes, although the episode occurred some three decades ago?
You’d want justice. Indeed, it shouldn’t matter whether the child was someone you knew. Criminals should be forced to pay for their crimes, especially those as ugly and predatory as this.
So the arrest last week of Roman Polanski, who fled the United States in 1978, after he pled guilty to having sex with a minor, may lead, finally, to a satisfactory resolution of the case. Polanski has …

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More trouble for U.S. in Pakistan

Here’s news that highlights the difficulty that President Obama will have making a decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan: U.S. intelligence sources are reporting that the Taliban has established a safe haven in Pakistan, from which they are planning attacks on Afghanistan.

The Washington Post reports:

As a result, Pakistani and foreign analysts here said, Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, has suddenly emerged as an urgent but elusive new target as Washington grapples with the Taliban’s rapidly spreading arc of influence and terror across Afghanistan.

Obviously, the U.S. doesn’t have enough troops to “clear and hold” both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The report also reinforces the view of Vice-President Joe Biden, who believes that Pakistan represents a greater threat to U.S. interests than Afghanistan does. After all, Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And if that country should fall to the Taliban, then nukes would easily end up in the hands of …

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Hypocrisy on abortions and health care

Conservative critics of Obama’s health care reform plans claim that his proposals will intrude on the relationship between a patient and his/her physician. They also claim that Obama will force you to give up the insurance you have now, even if you’re satisfied.  The conservatives wouldn’t dream of intruding on the private doctor/patient relationship or disrupting your current insurance.

Unless the subject of abortion comes up. Then, they’re all for getting between a woman and her doctor and disrupting her health insurance coverage. Republicans in Congress and their allies among anti-abortion Democrats are threatening to blow up health care reform negotiations over the prospect of coverage for abortions.

First, some background. 1) Federal law forbids using taxpayer money to pay for abortions. 2) Some private health insurance plans offer coverage for abortions, which, after all, are legal medical procedures.  The New York Times says: Nearly  half of those with …

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States follow Georgia off the “no mandates” cliff

There are very good reasons for health insurance mandates — or requiring every American adult to  have insurance. One reason is simple finances: Insurance companies need a huge risk pool that spreads costs out among the healthy and the not-so-healthy. Getting more people into the risk pool, especially relatively healthy young adults, helps balance out costs, so that insurance premiums won’t become even more expensive.

The other reason is this: Those of us with insurance subsidize those who don’t have it, which makes our costs go up. No healthy adult knows for sure that he or she won’t suddenly become ill or have a terrible accident that results in emergency room care or hospitalization. Because emergency room care is guaranteed, the rest of us must pay for it through our insurance premiums. (Even if hospitals take a loss, they still try to make up the difference.)

But ultra-conservative lawmakers around the country are following Georgia’s lead, determined to challenge the …

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Meg Whitman’s excellent adventure

You may never have heard of Meg Whitman, but you’ve probably heard of the company she ran quite successfully: eBay, the online auction house. After taking eBay public and launching it into a worldwide Internet behemoth, Whitman decided she was qualified to be governor of a large state. So she’s running in the GOP primary for governor of California.

(Let’s leave aside, for a moment, why anyone would want to be governor of California. From a fiscal standpoint, the state is very nearly ungovernable. That’s largely due to its public initiatives, which allow citizens to vote laws onto the books without any thought as to how those initiatives will be paid for. Arnold  Schwarzenegger is struggling to keep the state out of bankruptcy.)

There is a long and storied tradition in this country of wealthy business executives who decide their business experience qualifies them to hold public office. (Heck, as California demonstrates, there’s even a tradition of actors deciding the public …

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Johnny Isakson joins the un-truthers

For most of his 30 or so years in public office, Johnny Isakson has been a gentleman —  thoughtful, prudent, conservative but eminently reasonable. Lately, though, as his party has shifted to a confrontational, hard-right stance, led by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to oppose everything President Obama proposes, Isakson has shown signs of joining the know-nothing naysayers. In his Saturday response to the president’s weekly radio address, Isakson went all the way over to the dark side, distorting, misinforming and outright fabricating about the president’s health are reform plans.

Much of Isakson’s response (which wasn’t really a “response” since Obama discussed international affairs in his talk) was the typical deceitful blather — “government takeover,” etc. etc. If the government is taking over health care, why are private insurance companies so happy about millions of new customers?

But the fabrication Isakson added to the usual litany was this:

And it would still …

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Deserving elderly vs. not-so-deserving kids

For generations, the elderly poor were consigned to misery, spent after a lifetime of backbreaking labor yet with little security to show for it. Their plight led Franklin Roosevelt to institute Social Security (over the objections of conservatives, who denounced it as “socialism”) and Lyndon Johnson to press for Medicare (over the objections of conservatives, who denounced it as “socialism”).

Those government programs worked so well that they virtually wiped out entrenched poverty among the elderly, who get guaranteed pensions and medical care. But our culture retains an outdated view of  senior citizens as vulnerable and needy, so they command an outsized share of public compassion and political attention.

Contrast that with the well-being of children and young adults. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, health care spending (from all sources) for the 65 and older population was about $14, 797 per person in 2004, while the spending per child was about …

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Yes, we can (close Guantanamo)

One of the most principled stands that President Obama made during his campaign was his pledge to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since its very existence violates cherished American ideals, chafes our allies and increases our alienation from much of the world. But his pledge to close the facility by Jan. 22, 2010,  has run into political and practical difficulties, and Obama hadn’t said much about it lately.

So I was heartened to hear the president reiterate the pledge during his speech Tuesday at the United Nations.

“On my first day in office, I prohibited — without exception or equivocation — the use of torture by the United States of America. I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat exremism within the rule of law. Every nation must know: America will live its values, and we will lead by example.”

The president’s prominent mention shows that, despite the political difficulties …

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