Monday, January 31, 2005

The Election In Iraq

It appears that the election in Iraq went better than had been expected. Of course there was loss of life, including a British plane being shot down. And, the Sunni didn't vote in number sufficient to indicate their presence (it would have been foolhardy to vote in a Sunni area and risk you life for naught.)

However, the anticipation that real control in Iraq will be passed to the Iraqi is proably destined to be squashed. For one thing, it is known that most people there want the US to leave. Yet, it is probably true that we are building permanent bases:

Chicago Tribune March 23, 2004
14 `enduring bases' set in Iraq Long-term military presence planned

In-Depth Coverage
By Christine Spolar

From the ashes of abandoned Iraqi army bases, U.S. military engineers are overseeing the building of an enhanced system of American bases designed to last for years.

It will be interesting to see how these two opposing ideas: the US leaving Iraq and the US building permanent bases will work out in the short and long run.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Nuremberg Precedent (II)

I was wrong in a previous post. The Nazi organizations were indicted at Nuremberg. However, it was not possible to convict the subordinates under this indictment and the principal actors (Goering, etc.) were all tried as individuals.

The Indictment of Nazi Organizations
The indictment of Nazi organizations was designed to deal with the problem of what to do about the hundreds of thousands of people who had been members of organizations such as the SS and the Gestapo. The idea was to find them to have been criminal organizations, then hold hearings to determine the extent to which a member was guilty.

At the conclusion of the trial against the 21 individuals, the International Military Tribunal spent a month hearing testimony about the organizations.

The indictment of the organizations, however, raised a fundamental legal question: the legitimacy of creating a system of guilt by association. Although members of the criminal organizations were later tried by German denazification courts set up by the U.S. occupation government, no one was ever punished solely on the basis of the tribunal convictions.
Three of the six indicted organizations were found guilty. They were: the SS, the Gestapo and the Corps of the Political Leaders of the Nazi Party.

Three of the organizations were not convicted. They were: the SA (Hitler's street thugs, known as brownshirts, whose power had dwindled in the 1930s); the Reichsregierung (Reich Cabinet) and General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces. The latter two organizations were determined to cover relatively few members so that it was deemed better to deal with them as individuals.

In spite of this, it raises serious questions about what we, as citzens of a democracy and thus responsible for our leaders, may be held accountable for vis a vis the War in Iraq. It is no secret that the German people, to this day, are held to blame for Hitler and his terrorism.
Through the years Germany has been desperate in its desire to be forgiven. To some extent it has a point. No nation has undergone greater self-examination about its direct role and complicity in mass murder than Germany has. There have been endless acknowledgments and meaningful gestures of restitution. Germany has been in an arrested state of moral inquiry, continually examining its character, seeking some clarity about the madness it once mindlessly saluted.

Given their good faith, the Germans are understandably left wondering: Is forgiveness ever forthcoming, or is our guilt eternal?

What we in America have done is to abandon this sense of responsibility that pervaded the world after the horror of WWII.

There was much discussion of the War in Iraq as a "just" war. This has a long history in the Catholic Church and is discussed here. It is my firm belief and that of many others that, at this time, there can be no justification for the War in Iraq under the Just War rubric.

If the War in Iraq is not "justified", then it is a war of aggression. Nuremberg addressed this next:

Count Two: Waging Aggressive War, or "Crimes Against Peace"
This evidence was presented by the British prosecutors and was defined in the indictment as "the planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances."

This charge created problems for the prosecutors. Although Hitler had clearly waged an aggressive war, beginning with the invasion of Poland in 1939, Count Two was based on allegations that the Germans had violated international agreements such as the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. Signatories to that agreement had renounced war as an instrument of national policy (as opposed, say, to defensive war), but the pact did not define "aggressive war" and did not spell out the penalties for its violation.

(The Anschluss and the invasion of Czechoslovakia were not held to be aggressive wars because Hitler had manipulated the political situation in each nation in order to avoid an invasion.)

The Soviet Union also had broken the Kellogg-Briand Pact by invading Finland, Poland and the Baltics, and had schemed with Hitler to sign the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in 1939 (which secretly divided Poland).

Robert Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor, wanted the International Military Tribunal to create new international law that would outlaw aggressive war. Clearly, the premise that it is possible to outlaw war is a questionable one

This is potent stuff. The United States was the founding member of the United Nations. The United Nations did not vote to approve the War in Iraq and, in addition to the aforementioned Kellog-Briand pact, it seems to me that we have violated the spirit if not the letter of international law.

The question comes down to "what did George W. Bush know and when did he know it." For months after the invasion, the administration continued to spout the contention that weapons of mass destruction existed. If they are now say, as Condelezza Rice did at her confirmation hearings, that they really didn't feel that, one simply has to go to this link at the White House web page to see how disrespectful of the truth that is (link courtesy of loyopp).

What I am trying to do here, and it is an impossible task, is to remove myself from history and look on the current situation as if it had happened 50 years ago and the Bush Administration had been hauled before an International Court for the crime of an aggressive war. And I had been implicated because I was an American Citizen and sat by and did nothing.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Friday Crab Blogging

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Faster than a Speeding Bullet:

This was in our local paper yesterday, but I don't have a link. You can find this link here:

HMOs pass on new tax to public
By Robert Redding Jr.and Marguerite Higgins

Health maintenance organizations in Maryland have begun passing onto their customers a 2 percent tax on their premiums, just two weeks after the Democrat-controlled General Assembly enacted the HMO tax.

Now, excuse me. I paid my malpractice premium for the first quarter at the 35% increased rate. I haven't gotten a refund. I am not ever sure I am going to get a refund. Isn't this just jumping the gun a little, you greedy bastards? (got to make that 35 million)

The Nuremberg Precedent

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on where we stand, there is a precedent for judging the current actions of the highest officials of the US Government with respect to their decisions in regard to other human beings, namely those captured in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is important to note that Nuremberg, the trials for war crimes, was not against the organization to which the Nazi officials belonged, (in 1945-46, that no longer existed), but against individuals. Perforce, the individuals were judged vis a vis their actions as human beings with the criteria for judgment being the generally assumed laws of humanity. Most of the defendants were hung.

There are a number of web sites devoted to the Nuremberg Trials. I will be perusing these in the coming days to extract relevant information. Let me start with the following quote from here:

SIR DAVID MAXWELL-FYFE: You know what Aktion Kugel was: That escaped officers and noncommissioned officers, other than British and American, were to be handed over to the police and taken to Mauthausen, where they were shot by the device of having a gun concealed in the measuring equipment when they thought they were getting their prison clothes. You know what "Aktion Kugel" is, don't you?

GOERING: I heard of it here

Here the practice of taking prisoners to another facility to suffer a fate which the primary facility would not be responsible for is exposed. Is this not what happens to prisoners which we send to other countries via the "special airplane" which seems to ply its way between Guantanamo and countries that may use torture as a first resort?

Is not Goering here trying to escape responsibility by saying "I first heard of it here?"

Think about this. Is it not possible that some larger force might in the future have US government officials in the docket questioning them in this manner about our own extra legal maneuvers? Certainly the Nazi officials were doing what they felt they needed to do to guarantee their "security." Yet they were held for a personal, not institutional, responsibility.

The responsibility of the German people as a whole was not, to the best of my knowledge, addressed at Nuremberg. But that does not exonerate us. What responsibility do we now hold to confront injustices that may be similar to those existed in 1945?

I will answer that. I, you and the rest of America hold that responsibility and we had best get on with it in any way that we can.

Our Senate did not adequately confront either Condelezza Rice or Alberto Gonzales for the part that they have played in, if reports can be believed, the ongoing torture of captives.

This will not go away. It happened. It has to be addressed. Either now or later.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

That Silly old UN

There they go again:
U.N. Report Calls for Help to Ease U.S. Budget and Trade Deficits
By Elizabeth Becker
The New York Times

Wednesday 26 January 2005

WASHINGTON - The United Nations on Tuesday urged all the major industrial countries, especially Japan and the nations of Europe, to help the United States reduce its deficits by spurring their own economies to grow faster.

In a report, "World Economic Situation and Prospects 2005," the United Nations said that the budget and trade deficits of the United States were putting the global economy off balance.

It echoed warnings by the International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions in saying the United States cannot continue to carry its huge debts.

I have only one response to give for my country:

(and don't forget that we can always cut Medicaid)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Wait a minute!

Carlos Delgado OKs $52M Deal With Marlins

And we can't fund Medicaid?

I give up.


Ennui Stopper

Trust me, just go here.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Calling Senator Santorum; Red Alert; I repeat; Red Alert


What should one make of this report that appeared the day after the inaugural address?

Bush to Seek Cuts in Medicaid, Benefits

Fri Jan 21, 6:59 PM ET White House - AP

By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) is readying a new budget that would carve savings from Medicaid and other benefit programs, congressional aides and lobbyists say, but it is unclear if he will be able to push the plan through the Republican-run Congress.

White House officials are not saying what Bush's $2.5 trillion 2006 budget will propose saving from such programs, which comprise the biggest and fastest growing part.

This is a man who instigated two rounds of tax cuts to the tune of $2.2 to $3.2 Trillion. He is a man who has involved us in a massively costly war ($150 Billion at last count, this would go a long way towards helping children in America rather than Haliburton in Iraq.)

But mostly, it is the mark of a coward to go after children. If this is an expression of his much vaunted "values," I'd say he wouldn't know a value if it smacked him in the face.

Shame, shame, shame on you George W. Bush.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Good Points

EG (who we still wish would do a political blog in MD) and Corndog have good points:

I don't consider nuclear weapons treaties to be an issue these days. Not with the ability to make dirty bombs, a weapon agreement isn't necessary and will be ignored by terrorists. The scare in Boston (and who says the 'informant' got the right city? Could it really be Boise or Baltimore or Birmingham?) with a potential dirty bomb shows how our enemies can use home-made bombs and destroy our way of life. If the right 'informant' said there are dirty bombs in fifty U.S. cities at this moment, the country would go into utter hysteria.

I really must strongly disagree with this. It is true that a dirty bomb will induce hysteria, because the American people have absolutely no tolerance for inconvenience. If they had to live one day in Baghdad the Iraq problem would be solved in an instant. But the reality is that dirty bombs will kill very few people. So, they are not a very good terrorist ploy. I'm pissed off at Kerry for a lot of reasons, but his concept that we can eventually come to live with terrorism contained is, to me, a valid one. It is a little like someone who lives with cancer by getting chemotherapy.

The biggest threat is nuclear weapons. The comparison of a dirty bomb to a nuclear bomb is like a pea shooter to, well, a nuclear bomb. Detonation of a nuclear bomb anywhere will mean the end of civilization as we know it. You can't live with nuclear weapons going off. They are just too terrible.

At the present time, force as in the US Army will never, under any circumstances, rid the world of nuclear weapons. Iraq is, in spite of its horror, an excellent example of the limits of overwhelming force. The US Military could wipe Iraq off the face of the earth several times over (and some people want to do this), but it can't subdue an indigenous rebellion. And, I can guarantee you, this rebellion will very soon have nuclear weapons. And they will use them.

The only course, in my mind, is the one that was agonizingly successful for so long during the Cold War. Diplomacy. The above ground test ban treaty in 1963 was the hallmark of postwar (WWII) diplomacy. The ABM treaty was another (and jerkhead abrogated it). If we could fully implement the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) we could move to eliminating nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. As it is, they will soon be available to terrorists. I am as sure of this as I am that the sun will rise and set.

Corndog says:
Can you answer one question? Whenever free-market conservatives discuss why we can't go to a single-payer system, they claim that such a system would be less efficient financially than the current hodge-podge. Given the executive salaries you've given an example of, can this possibly be true? Aren't the administrative costs of Medicare and Medicaid a tiny fraction of those like United HealthCare or MAMSI? Am I missing something? Or are they? Like honesty.

Good point. Let me talk about MAMSI. Back in the dark ages (1995-1996) MAMSI was on the dock. They were up for certification by the organization that does HMO's. They flunked. Immediately before this was announced (and their stocks took a dive) many on the Board of Directors sold off large amounts of stocks. This was about as clear a case of insider trading as you could want. Although some other stockholders took them to court, the big boys got off with a mild hand tap.

At that time, one could find out a lot about MAMSI on the InterNet. They were required to post their 10K's and a lot of information about their financials. It turned out that much of the stock was owned by about 40 guys (and gals), most of who were on the BOD. At that time, they set up a "Stockholders Compensation Fund." Interestingly enough, this was in New York, not Maryland. The last time I heard (1997) they had $300,000,000 in the fund. After about this time, they suddenly became very reluctant to post information on the web and only gave the minimal numbers to satisfy the SEC requirements. I gave up following it. Suffice it to say that "fund" grew, and grew. Remember, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland had an $800,000,000 fund amassed to "capitalize" a transition to for-profit. They still have it after getting slapped down by the Maryland Insurance Commissioner when they tried to pull a fast one (see my previous posts on this).

One has to assume that the "fund" disappeared into the pockets of the stockholders of MAMSI when it was bought by United HealthCare. I can guarantee you it didn't come to doctors and it certainly didn't go to those poor suckers that buy UHC insurance. What is important here is the magnitude of the numbers. $300,000,000 would completely solve all the problems of health insurance in the state of Maryland. Instead, it went into the pockets of a few jerks who, in addition, got massive tax breaks in the last four years.

You are certainly correct. In spite of the fact that Medicaid and Medicare are government programs and fraught with bureaucracy, they have traditionally had a low overhead. One of the best run government programs of all time was the Tennessee Valley Authority back when it was started in the 30's. I know because my father worked for it then. Now, of course, it has gotten into deep water (see the frequent posts on South Knox Bubba for this).

Thus, what we are seeing is what happens to any ideological and economic system in the long run. Because of human nature, i.e. Greed, humans will drive any system to its limits. This happened to Roman Imperialism, Feudalism, British Imperialism (particularly in India; read the Raj Quartet), Communism and now Capitalism. It is a fact of life.

The question, of course, is "What do we do now?"

Friday, January 21, 2005

Did he see the next picture? He's responsible, you know.

An Iraqi child screams after her parents were killed in the car they were riding in at a roadblock. The children survived.

Getting Serious

After the non-event of yesterday, we should face the reality of what is America with no reservations. It is true that we all have our own view of reality. However, there is enough of a correspondence in that view so that we participate in a social contract. It is my opinion that that social contract is frayed and in danger of tearing with momentous consequences for our polity. Here are my reasons:

1. The War in Iraq: It is very telling that George Bush did not mention Iraq in his inaugural speech yesterday. This would be tantamount to Lincoln not mentioning the Civil War, Wilson WWI or Roosevelt WWII. It is just incomprehensible. It shows a disconnect with reality. The War in Iraq is the defining event of these years and we must extricate ourselves from there as quickly as possible. It is clear that there will be a civil war in Iraq after the attempt at elections on 30, January (in 9 days). What we will do then is unknown. There will be four sides: the US and Britain, the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds. Standing in the wings will be Iran and Syria. It will only be because of exhaustion if a more terrible bloodbath than the present one does not ensue.

There is only one solution. That is for the US and Britain to relinquish control to the United Nations who would then deploy troops from Arab nations as security. What other option is open?

2. Social Security: This is a non-issue. It is solvent at 100% until 2042, at least. Let us move on from this attempt to line the pockets of the investment bankers.

3. Health Care: At this point, we need a national health plan. The current mess will just get worse if we do not radically alter the system. At the crux of this is the insurance companies. They have grown from the benign, not-for-profit organizations when I was young (principally Blue Cross and Blue Shield) to the voracious megacompanies of today. It is telling that in Maryland there are only two companies that account for 80% of the private coverage. This is not competition in the free market, it is unchecked greed. While America is not ready for the Canada solution (though it would be the best), we need to take the possibility of fabulous wealth for a few out of the system. As I have pointed out before, the CEO of United HealthCare, one of the two companies mentioned above, makes $38,000,000 a year CASH, with $500,000,000 in stock options. This just can't continue to be the case when people around me are suffering from lack of medical care.

4. The Environment: The current course will not even get us to 2042. The contention that science is invalid by those who are not scientists (our President) reminds one of the Ludites. Science is science and not open to opinion. The overwhelming consensus amongst environmental scientists is that we need to do something and do it fast. Our inability to deal with emissions, our reliance on oil, our rape of forests (including the Amazon) is about as shortsighted as a people could be. I realize that it is radical, but I am of the opinion that natural resources belong to everyone. Of course if that ownership is administered but the current cabal in Washington, they will continue to deteriorate. Achieving a coalition in Congress of Democrats and Republicans who care for the environment is the only solution.

5. Nuclear weapons: All of the above is made trivial by the possibility that rouge nations, ourselves or Israel will start using nuclear weapons. Our efforts to stop the proliferation of weapons has received a severe setback in recent years. We have abrogated treaties (the ABM treaty in particular) and refused to sign treaties (the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty). We have sent the signal to the rest of the world that it is o.k for ourselves (and Israel) to develop these weapons of mass destruction but not for anyone else. Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn't buying it. In addition to Pakistan and India, it is pretty certain that North Korea has them. It is only a matter of time before others start pitching them at one another.

We should immediately forswear first use of WMD. We should sign the treaties an negotiate new ones. The only thing that I can think of that might force us to do so is if Israel launches a weapon at its Arab neighbors. This will wake up the world.

6. Education: I am sorry, No Child Left Behind is a disaster. We need to immediately stop this foolishness of testing and begin to really address the problem of education. As long as we have a President that laughs at intellectual achievement (and science) this won't happen. But perhaps a more understanding Congress will be able to turn the tide.

It doesn't sound good for the U.S.A. I suspect we are facing even worse straits than in 1778, 1861, 1917, 1941 or the Vietnam war.

But, we must survive. I'm going to work for it.

Friday Crab Blogging; "doe see doe and allamand left"

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Soft Target

Our Dear Leader

He never mentioned the 600 pound gorilla sitting on his shoulder in the speech. He used the word "freedom" 27 times.

What Jenna Heard

According to TTBogg, the chochlear cells of Our Dear Jenna were shocked, shocked I say, by hearing the "F" word at the inaugural kiddy prom. The offending agent was a cad named Brett Scallions (faint wiffs of halatosis cued here) who has the cheek to also mouth the following lyrics (his hit tune "Hemorrhage (In My Hands)"):

Don't fall away and leave me to myself
Don't fall away and leave love bleeding in my hands, in my hands again
And leave love bleeding in my hands, in my hands
Love lies bleeding

Oh hold me now I feel contagious
Am I the only place that you've left to go?
She cries her life is like
Some movie in black and white
Dead actors faking lines, over and over and over again she cries

Now, what are we hematologists to make of this? That this dude took a box cutter to his nymphette and now has a transplant candidate in hando that he can't get rid of? (Oh Montezuma, where are you when we need you). And, plus that, it is soooo tacky. He doesn't even mention gloves (that the stews wear now to serve your pretzels). Oops, he feels "contagious." Must have got that virus that is going around. Didn't get his flu shot like uncle Dick. So sad.

I know a dead actor who liked to fake his lines.

Its going to be a long, long, long four years.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Hee, Hee, Hee

Find it here:

The White House has been mum on Jenna’s job search (odd since they’re usually so forthcoming), but the Post believes Jenna has started work not as a teacher, but as a teacher’s aide because she doesn’t have the qualifications necessary to take over a classroom under the stringent requirements of No Child Left Behind

Kinda Sleazy - Fried Rice in the pan

In the clearing stands a Boxer.......

From Transcript of remarks between Senator Boxer and Doctor Strangel..., sorry, Rice....

Fried Rice in November, 2002 (with mushrooms):
Sen. Boxer: "Now, perhaps the most well-known statement you've made was the one about Saddam Hussein launching a nuclear weapon on America with the image of, quote, quoting you, "a mushroom cloud." That image had to frighten every American into believing that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of annihilating them if he was not stopped."

Bush in November, 2002:
"If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly-enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year."

Fried Rice on July 30th, 2003:
"It was a case that said he was trying to reconstitute. He's trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody ever said that it was going to be the next year."

Fried Rice on October 10th, 2004:
"The intelligence assessment was that he was reconstituting his nuclear program; that, left unchecked, he would have a nuclear weapon by the end of the year."

Now Dr. Rice didn't like all this veracity:
Senator, I have to say that I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything. It is not my nature. It is not my character. And I would hope that we can have this conversation and discuss what happened before and what went on before and what I said without impugning my credibility or my integrity.

I'm sorry Dr. Rice, you clearly have no credibility or integrity to impugn. But, you got confirmed anyway. So, I guess we've got four more years of you and General Tso's Chicken.

And Senator Boxer, You Go Girl!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Utterly fascinating

Deep Doo Doo

We be in Deep Doo Doo (D to the three) when we look at what is going to happen to medical care for a lot of Marylanders, those with Medicaid. Of course, Our Dear Gov (Ehrlichiosis) doesn't really give a damn about all these citizens, since they didn't cough up a single centavo for his campaign coffer.

Item 1: What happened in Tennessee on 10 January.
As reported in the Washington Post:

Tenn.'s Retreat On Medicaid Points to Struggle
Planned Cuts May Signal National Trend

In a nutshell, a Democratic governor who was elected on a platform to "reform" Medicaid, has taken the ax to it in a big way. While he promises to protect kids, he has "announced he is cutting 323,000 low-income adults from the program and limiting services for 400,000 others." There is much more for the interested reader in this article that is directly related to Maryland but we will...

Fast forward to Maryland....

Item 2: While campaigning on a platform of strengthing Medicaid (see the Maryland Health Care for All site here) and stating: "And Maryland's health care for the poor -- once a model for other states -- must be rebuilt and adequately funded." -- Candidate Ehrlich, (on his website), Oct. 2002, ODG has demanded that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene cut 12% of its budget so that the State can balance the 2006 budget as required by law. There is no doubt in my mind that ODG will use the example of Tennessee to press for cuts in all healthcare, including Medicaid, to accomplish this.

Item 3: What's on the table.
Well, just about the whole health program is "on the table." (why isn't the rest of the Maryland government "on the table?" I'll tell you, you can go after Medicaid because children don't vote, and poor people don't stock the campaign chest.)

1. Reduce local Health Care Funds: $7,300,000 (our local Health Department has already been cut to the bone)
2. Eliminate various microbiolgy and other tests: $133,000 (sometimes the state lab is the ONLY place that runs a vital test)
3. Eliminate Chesapeake Bay Tests: $327,000
Eliminate Lead Poisoning Prevention Program: $180,000
(Yessssireee! What's our State doing in Public Health anyway???)
4. Eliminate Medical Day Care: $18,000,000
Eliminate Kidney Disease Program: $10,700,000
Eliminate REM (Rare and Expensive Disease): $3,150,000
Eliminate MCHP Program: $46,959,000
Eliminate coverage for pregnant women over 185%: $3,000,000
(ODG is running for the title of "The Great Eliminator")

And so on..

Let me repeat: The CEO of United HealthCare made $38,000,000 (Yes, that is 38 MILLION) in cash (plus millions more in stock options) in 2002. One man. One of many CEO;'s

Let me repeat: Maryland has spent close to $3,000,000,000 (Yes, that is 3 BILLION)for the War in Iraq; about $530 for every man woman and child.

And to administer the coup de grace (as if anything they did was at all graceful) ODG has hired the man who is responsible for the problem in the first place! As reported in the WaPo last fall, ODG hired S. Anthony McCann to replace Nelson Sabatini, the Secretary of Health since 2002. This guy McCann overseered (and I use that word tightly) the transfer of the Medicaid program to the individual States during the Reagan Administration (1988) where it got farmed out to the MCO's whose CEO's make such small salaries. Damn.

So, tell me Our Dear Gov, why are you trying to balance your budget on the backs of the poor and children?? Didn't I hear the words "Compassionate Conservative" wafting up the Northeast Corridor from the Blanca Casa?

Eh? What did you say? I'm waiting....

Monday, January 17, 2005

Our Pres

The Post: Why do you think bin Laden has not been caught?
W : Because he's hiding.

Eeeeeeeeeeow! My brain is splitting into 10 to the 29 pieces.

Bill Clinton at his best

There is probably no more fitting a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. than Bill Clinton's speech of 1998 that Digby has published. It is pretty moving, even for an old curmudgeon like me.
Most of us who are old enough remember exactly where we were on Aug. 28, 1963 I was in my living room in Hot Springs, Ark.
(the day of MLK's "I have a dream" speech. ed)
I remember weeping uncontrollably during Martin Luther King's speech. And I remember thinking, when it was over, my country would never be the same and neither would I.

There are people all across this country who made a more intense commitment to the idea of racial equality and justice that day than they had ever made before. And so in very personal ways, all of us became better and bigger because of the work of those who brought that great day about.
And the words continue to echo down to the present day, spoken to us today by children who were not even alive then. And, God willing, their grandchildren will also be inspired and moved and become better and bigger because of what happened on that increasingly distant summer day.
Even if you're not a pacifist, whenever possible, peace and nonviolence is always the right thing to do.
The night before we took action against the terrorist operations in Afghanistan and Sudan, I was here on this island up till 2:30 in the morning trying to make absolutely sure that at that chemical plant there was no night shift. I believed I had to take the action I did, but I didn't want some person who was a nobody to me, but who may have a family to feed and a life to live, and probably had no earthly idea what else was going on there, to die needlessly. I learned that, and it's another reason we ought to pay our debt to the United Nations, because if we can work together, together we can find more peaceful solutions. Now I didn't learn that when I became President; I learned it from John Lewis and the civil rights movement a long time ago.

And the last thing I learned from them on which all these other things depend, without which we cannot build a world of peace or one America in an increasingly peaceful world bound together in this web of mutuality, is that you can't get there unless you're willing to forgive your enemies.
All of you know I'm having to become quite an expert in this business of asking for forgiveness. And I ----. It gets a little easier the more you do it. And if you have a family, an Administration, a Congress and a whole country to ask, you're going to get a lot of practice.

But I have to tell that in these last days it has come home to me again, something I first learned as President, but it wasn't burned in my bones -- and that is that in order to get it, you have to be willing to give it. And all of us -- the anger, the resentment, the bitterness, the desire for recrimination against people you believe have wronged you -- they harden the heart and deaden the spirit and lead to self-inflicted wounds.
And so it is important that we are able to forgive those we believe have wronged us, even as we ask for forgiveness from people we have wronged.

And I heard that first -- first -- in the civil rights movement. "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

It is almost inconceivable what 6 1/2 years have brought.


Torture in any form is evil. It is not, and cannot, be justified. The prohibition on torture emerges from the Judeo-Christian belief in the sanctity of the human being. In should be one of the Commandments of our civilization. But then there's this:
The Normalization of Horror

American Gulags Become Permanent

by Ted Rall

01/12/05 "ICH" A new documentary, "Hitler's Hit Parade," runs 76 minutes without narration. Comprised entirely of archival footage, the film prompts its reviewers to remark upon Hannah Arendt's famous observation about the banality of evil. German troops subjugated Europe and shoved millions of people into ovens; German civilians went to the movies, attended concerts, and gossiped about their neighbors. People lived mundane, normal lives while their government carried out unspeakable monstrosities.
Sound familiar?

And this:
A Justice Department memo from August of 2002 leaked to the Washington Post and published by that newspaper on June 13 constitutes prima facie evidence that the US government adopted a policy of torture in connection with its so-called “war on terrorism” and its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The memo gives the lie to the official claim that responsibility for the use of torture against Iraqi prisoners held by the US at Abu Ghraib prison rests with a few “bad apples” among rank-and-file military guards. The torture of prisoners has been carried out with the knowledge and approval of officials at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

White House officials decided to employ torture with full knowledge that they were violating longstanding and specific prohibitions against such methods under both international and US law.

The memo was written for Alberto Gonzales, the counsel for the president, and prepared by officials in the Justice Department. On Sunday night the Washington Post posted on its web site a draft version dated August 1, 2002 and entitled “Re: Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 USC Sections 2340-2340A.” It is signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee. According to the Post, it was commissioned by the CIA. But the fact that it is addressed to Gonzales links it directly to President George W. Bush.

The defining link in this, of course is Alberto Gonzales. He apparently will be confirmed as Attorney General in the near future (after the coronation).

This is an insult to me, to the world and to all the people who have ever been affected by torture including those in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Iraq. It also may be the final step in going over the line. The last straw. And any other cliche that you can think of.

But mostly, it is evil.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

What Howard Hughes saw

Friday, January 14, 2005

Thanks George, I knew you could do it:

The Women, Infants and Children nutrition program was funded at $4.7 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October, enough to serve the 7.9 million people expected to be eligible. But in 2006, the program would be cut by $122 million. Head Start, the early-childhood education program for the poor, would lose $177 million, or 2.5 percent of its budget, in fiscal 2006.

Friday Night Crab Blogging

Maryland Politics

Lets support EG in his desire to have a political blog for Marylanders (of the proper sort, of course,.... smile!). Actually, I would suggest South Knox Bubba as a model for such a blog. We could have Friday Night Crab Blogging (instead of those damn kittens, dogs and birds).
And, instead of the Rocky Top Brigade we could have the Marshy Bottom Watermen.

Oh, Well.

Fact: Did you know that the cost to Marylander's of the debacle in Iraq was approaching 3 BILLION dollars? And our gov can't even find a few cents for the schools. Damn.

Finally, EG says:
I suspect the Democrats to fight over who will challenge Erhlich in 2006 and then lose the race. Erhlich is still popular in the state (I don't know why) and the Democrats will pit candidates frm Baltimore against Montgomery County with PG County as the deciding vote

Of course this is true. The definition of a Democrat is "One Who Shoots Oneself In the Foot." Who knows, maybe we won't!

What can one say?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

EG has some questions and deserves some answers, if I can:

EG says:
I have some questions about this (I must admit that I didn't follow the entire stream of events regarding this topic but I realize this has been simmering for years):

1. Did Ehrlich propose an alternate measure that was acceptable to the medical establishment?
2. I thought Doctors gave to the Republicans and Lawyers to the Democrats. How is it the Republicans couldn't come up with a plan that was suitable to the entire medical community?
3. Do you think the Doctors will make an issue of this in the 2006 elections?

1. Interestingly enough, the differences between the two sides was not too far except for (a) the amount of tort reform and (b) how to finance the malpractice "fix." The gov wanted to finance the "fix" (a slush fund) out of general revenues including some fly-by-night sources. (One idea that was floated was to levy a new tax on drunk drivers. However, this would have been $30,000 per arrest; not an idea that has a lot of oomph.) The Legislature decided to remove the exemption on a tax that certain medical insurance companies enjoyed. They had that exemption ostensibly so that they would offer insurance to people at a lower cost. As I pointed out in my blog, this is pretty bogus. The insurance companies are not hurting. Remember, the CEO of the second largest in Maryland (United HealthCare) makes $38,000,000 in cash per year. So, the conclusion is that the gov is in political debt to the insurance companies via his commissioner.

I'll be honest, I think we only see a very small piece of the iceberg that is politics in Maryland. There is so much behind what is done that we never know that my comments are probably 180 degrees off. Its fun to blog, though.

As for true tort reform, i.e. a significant limit on the amount that people (and lawyers) make from the malpractice game, this will never come about as long as we have a legislative process. The simple reason is that almost all of the representatives and senators are lawyers! In fact, the law office of the leader of the house of representatives brings malpractice suits against doctors (talk about a conflict of interest). They are not going to vote against themselves no matter how much their constituents holler and scream.

2. Many in the medical community liked the Republican plan; it just didn't have a chance because of what I just said. It is true that docs usually support the Republicans and lawyers support dems; I'm not sure of why this is since it is the lawyers who are now rich and the docs are increasingly poor (relatively speaking, of course). Actually, the docs are mostly foreign. My friend tells me half the medical school class at GW in D.C. is from India! Ironically, the best medical school in the world is now in Bombay.

3. Docs are a miniscule voting block. Patients don't understand the politics any better than we do. I'm a dem because my father was a Roosevelt dem. I'm not sure I would listen to my doctor on how to vote. Very few people listen to me when I talk politics.

Thanks for the comments and keep up the fight.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


There are several developments that deserve comment:

1. In the current Maryland Malpractice Saga, the Governor has vetoed the bill passed by the Maryland legislature in a special session. It wasn't a good bill; but it was something. Apparently the orthopedic surgeons and the neurosurgeons joined the governor in support while the Medical Society (Med Chi), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a host of others supported the bill. This is irony, since one of the provisions of the bill is to provide more money for orthopods to see Medicaid patients. Not that they don't make enough money as it is (10 times what I make). The legislature may or may not have enough votes to override the veto. I can assure you that, if its not overridden, all hell will break loose in Maryland medicine. Stay tuned.

2. Bush continues to push for a privatized Social Security. This is one of the stupidest things that I have ever read about. Not only is any worry about the program not coming around for about 40 years, but even then it is solvent. The only winners in the program live on Wall Street.

3. If Bush is able to get his tax cuts made permanent, the country will go down the drain even farther than it is (we are currently at that little curve the drain makes at the bottom of the sink). This is another exercise in greed. How do all those people out there justify their vote for this idiot? Values? Ha Ha x 10 to the 29th power.

4. It is almost certain the Ehrlich, our governor, will start to cut Medicaid since he can't seem to find money any place else. This is just peachy. Doesn't anyone else see the irony of a governor of Maryland named Ehrlich as in Ehrlichia chaffeensis, carried by ticks and the cause of a brain fever. He causes brain fever in me.

5. The citizens of Washington, D.C., will have to pay 11 million dollars out of their collective pockets for security during the inaugural celebration (for which the Bushites are putting out 50 million). First of all, the citizens of Washington, D.C., voted overwhelmingly against this jerk (about 90%). Therefore, it is highly unlikely that any of them have been invited to the festivities. In addition, it is one of the poorest cities in the country for its size and, even if they were invited, they couldn't afford it. So, why do they have to pay for security?

In addition, why doesn't Bush win some friends in the world and cancel the parties and donate the money to the Tsunami Relief? Why, because he seems to think that the world exists as his playtoy.

6. Which brings up Iraq. Iraq is has been spiraling out of control now for almost a year. Every day brings new atrocities and the death of innocent people and children. But, Bush is still sponsoring elections on January 30. With the amount of carnage that occurs on a daily basis escalating, one would have to be foolhardy to go to the polls on that date. There is not one chance in 10 to the 29th power that the election will be meaningful. But, of course, as Ohio demonstrated, no one gives a crock about whether elections are meaningful (or fair; or valid) except the Ukrainians. Face it. We should pack our bags and leave. This will precipitate a civil war and we will be the cause. Anyone who collaborated with us will be killed. Don't we remember France after WWII? Or worse, what the Russians did to the Rumanians.

Ah, well. Can't say that life doesn't have its ups and downs.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Malpractice Crisis in Maryland

We are in the deep throes of politics concerning the malpractice crisis in Maryland. I know for a fact that there are physicians that are adversely affected and who are leaving practice. Others are restricting their practice to patients that don't present such a risk. For example, why deliver babies when you can just do gynecology and make a living. Delivering babies puts you at substantial risk; enough to make your malpractice premiums $120,000 a year. This is a lot of money. But, not that much. Why:

NEW YORK - Randy Johnson and the Yankees reached a preliminary agreement Thursday on a $32 million, two-year contract extension, leaving a physical as the last step needed to finalize Arizona's trade to send him to New York.

In some scenarios, it is just $32 million that is needed to avert the malpractice crisis in Maryland.

The politicians just don't get it. Our local representative suggests that we increase the fine on drunk drivers. Sounds like a good idea until one reads that it would have to be $30,000 per arrest to help with the crisis.

The current funding mechanism is the cancelling of an exemption that HMO's enjoy. What's wrong with that? According to our representative, this is a regressive tax on the poor. As I tried to point out previously, this is the baloney argument.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

United Health Group Stock for the last year (referred to in a post below)

This is referred to in a post below; the data for United Health may be understated

I wish my retirement account looked like the blue line

Malpractice Reform

The Maryland Legislature had an emergency session last week and passed a malpractice reform bill. The main provision was to hold the increase in malpractice insurance premiums for physicians to 5% (down from 35%). Medicaid reimbursements are also going to go up, but I'm not holding my breath. (This affects me more than just about any physician in Maryland since about 40% of my practice is Medicaid.)

Our local legislative representatives Haddaway and Eckardt, along with state senator Colburn all voted against the bill. The reason, which is the same reason that the governor is going to veto it, is because the mechanism of financing the cost of the two major provisions is to cancel the exemption HMO's (Health Maintenance Organizations) and MCO's (Managed Care Organizations) have of a 2% tax. The Republican governor and the Republican senator and representatives claim that this will increase the cost of health insurance on poor people.


First of all, let's disabuse ourselves of the fantasy that HMO's and MCO's can't afford a 2% tax. There are two large MCO's that cover probably 80% of the private insurance in Maryland. These are Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which is a publicly owned company, and United Health Group, traded on the NYSE (UNH). As you can see from the graph above, United Health Group's stock has gone from about $60 a share to $88 a share in one year. Not bad. In addition, the CEO is getting his hand on the goodies:

William W. McGuire
Chairman and CEO
United Health Group Inc.

In 2002, William W. McGuire raked in $37,888,157 in total compensation including stock option grants from United Health Group Inc..

And William W. McGuire has another $501,556,217 in unexercised stock options from previous years.

As for BCBS of Maryland, they tried to convert to a for profit entity and the CEO, a Mr. William Jews, would have obtained a massive bonus in the $20 million range. As it is:

Maryland's CareFirst CEO William Jews made a base salary of $1 million when the company filed its conversion application. He also received perks such as health, disability and life insurance, a leased car, and a country club membership.

[Actually, this whole article,Who Benefits? The Role of Executive Compensation in Health Care Conversions, is worth reading and I have reproduced one of the graphs above.]

This whole thing has been an exercise in politics as usual. The Governor knew going into it that the only source of funds was the tax if he didn't want to dip into the general revenues. As it is, he is threatening to shut down many services that benefit the poor in order to achieve his mandatory balanced budget. He was going to take the money from the general funds which pay for Medicaid. The old rob Peter to pay Paul trick.

What really comes out of this, though, is that our state Senator and Representatives are deep in the pocket of the rich. They think it is more important for United Health Care to make its billions than for the poor kids in Maryland to get decent health insurance. This is irony to the extreme since Colburn and Eckardt come from Dorchester County, one of the poorest counties in Maryland.

You know, if doctors disappeared tomorrow, we would not have medicine.
If politicians disappeared, we would have World Peace.
If insurance companies disappeared, we would think we had died and gone to heaven (complete with 77 virgins or their equal).

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year!

Here's wishing the best for everyone and their own.

All we can do is work harder for what's best in all of us: our children.

Dr. C.