Monday, November 16, 2009

This Is Part of What We're Up Against

From the NYT: Drug Makers Raising Prices Before Reform
Even as drug makers promise to support Washington’s health care overhaul by shaving $8 billion a year off the nation’s drug costs after the legislation takes effect, the industry has been raising its prices at the fastest rate in years.

In the last year, the industry has raised the wholesale prices of brand-name prescription drugs by about 9 percent, according to industry analysts. That will add more than $10 billion to the nation’s drug bill, which is on track to exceed $300 billion this year. By at least one analysis, it is the highest annual rate of inflation for drug prices since 1992.
So the trick seems to be this: promise $80 billion in cuts over 10 years, then raise prices before the legislation takes effect. That way the whole first year "savings" is really just getting us back to where we started. A retailer I used to work for had a similar practice. They'd raise prices right before a sale so that the "sale" prices we'd mark with colorful stickers were the regular prices of just a few days before.

It's weasely with consumer goods -- and borderline immoral for pharmaceuticals.

Yes, companies are allowed to make profits. But considering that the Consumer Price Index has decreaed by 1.3% in the past year AND similar drug price increases were seen just before Medicare added drug benefits a few years ago, I'd say it's highly likely we're dealing with weasels here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Church's All or Nothing Stance Against Healthcare Reform

My interest was piqued this past Sunday when the lector at mass pointed out that we should pay special attention to the insert in this week's bulletin about healthcare from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). In years past I've liked these guys because they've compiled some very helpful statistics about Congressional voting records on issues of social justice that are so important to the Church (and me), but I was a bit weary about this insert given the Church's recent inaction during the current healthcare debate.

Specifically, I wondered how many paragraphs it would take for them to mention abortion. As it turns out, the answer was zero -- they mentioned it in the title!

The Church places great importance on the availability of healthcare to all, regardless of their citizenship* or ability to pay. For these reasons they should be a champion of the reform efforts underway. Even if they don't want to become bogged down by the details and support any specific plan, I would think this would be a prime opportunity for the USCCB -- and the Church as a whole -- to make their social justice teachings widely known and promote the reform movement's work towards providing universal (or near-universal) healthcare.

Instead, the Church has been a huge disappointment, choosing not to help the reform process along but threatening to derail it.

Rather than seizing this opportunity to educate the public on its long-time beliefs on this issue, the USCCB -- and the Church as a whole -- has chosen to follow months of silence (really -- where was the Church back in August when townhall meetings were on the news every night and people were making up stories about "death panels?") by tying the healthcare debate to the anti-abortion movement. While I personally take more of a pro-choice stance, I cannot fault the Church for its consistent stance calling for the protection of all life. However, it disappoints me to no end that the Church would be willing to give up tremendous progress towards helping millions of people based on its position on an issue that is only circumstantially related to healthcare reform.

There is already a Federal law on the books that prevents Federal funds to be used to provide abortions, but the thinking here is that people who would receive Federal subsidies to purchase private health insurance could buy it from private insurers who cover abortion as a medical procedure. Again, I have no problem with the Church's opposition to that in theory, but it really angers me that they'd throw away all the gains in the reform bills simply because somebody could possibly use their subsidy to have an abortion.

Sure, argue against that possibility, but don't block the passage of the entire bill based on a theoretical situation. Is the bill perfect? No -- far from it. But as White House staffers are fond of saying these days, don't let perfect be the enemy of the possible. And why pick this issue now? Federal funds currently go -- directly and indirectly -- towards other issues that the Church is against. For instance, this past Tuesday night a prisoner was executed for his crime, using taxpayer money to pay for the act. Did the Church actively oppose the last Virginia spending bill that authorized funding for prisons? Did they threaten to derail the entire state budget process to end taxpayer support for a practice that violates its clear and consistent stance of protecting all life? (And did they do the same in Congress, which likely provides some indirect funding to Virginia's penal system?)

As it turns out, an amendment was added to the House bill that mandates the creation of identical healthcare policies -- without coverage for abortions -- to be offered to consumers using Federal subsidies to buy private insurance. While many pro-choicers are lamenting that amendment, I find it an acceptable, if not complicated, way to solve this problem. But why couldn't the Church have supported the main goals of the bill while working towards passing this amendment?

Instead, in this Sunday's flier and elsewhere the USCCB actively opposed the House bill and any other healthcare reform measure that didn't have specific protections against abortion funding. (Clearly the flier was printed before the vote on Saturday, because it gave no mention to the amendment.) Again, while I respect the desire to protect life, I strongly believe that they did more harm than good by taking this position.

If healthcare reform fails, millions will remain uninsured and vulnerable -- and abortion will still be legal. Why not at least take a big step forward in solving one of those problems?

*A second Church criticism of the House bill was it's exclusion of illegal aliens from being covered. Again the USCCB's stance was to oppose the entire bill rather than lobbying for this part to be changed. This at least keeps the Church from appearing partisan. While some Democrats are against the abortion funding amendment, covering illegals is an unpopular issue on both sides of the aisle.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank You

Image from the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Debunking Health Care Scare Tactics

Ruth Marcus has a solid column in today's Washington Post where she lists some of the outright lies and misinformation presented by opponents of the health care reform legislation that passed last week in the House. It's bad enough that this BS is out there, but the fact that these outrageous comments were made during the House debate on the bill is disrespectful to the members of the House and the institution itself.

Health scare tactics

She ends with this:
Are the Republican arguments against the bill so weak that they have to resort to these misrepresentations and distortions?
Allow me to answer: Yes. Yes they are.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Politicizing the Bible

Sadly this doesn't seem to be a joke. The website Conservapedia (tag line: "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia") has taken upon itself to start a project to revise the Bible to remove what it describes as "liberal bias." Their Conservative Bible Project starts out:
Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations.
Personally I wasn't aware that Biblical scholars were operating with any political bias when translating Greek to English. Silly me thought they were more concerned with things like accuracy and providing historical context. But I guess now I've been enlightened to the previously secret scandal that most modern Bible translations were made by people wearing Yes We Can! buttons.

So what is Conservapedia's goal? They want a "modern" translation that meets 10 guidelines:

1. Framework against Liberal Bias
2. Not Emasculated
3. Not Dumbed Down
4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms
5. Combat Harmful Addiction
6. Accept the Logic of Hell
7. Express Free Market Parables
8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages
9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples
10. Prefer Conciseness of Liberal Wordiness

Now let me state that I'm not against revising translations from time-to-time. Language can be modernized, scholars can update translations based on new findings, better understanding of historical context can lead to new thinking, etc (in fact, Catholic books of worship were revised a few years ago to reflect some minor translation differences in the Sunday readings from the previous editions). But liberal bias? "Powerful Conservative Terms?" Free market parables? Liberal "wordiness?" Please.

They are actually complaining that the use of the word "comrade" comes from "defective translations" and should be replaced with "volunteer." Personally I thought a synonym for comrade was "friend," but I guess the fact that those leftist pinko Commies used it makes it a bad word.

Also according to Conservapedia, the story of the adulteress (John 8: 1-11) contains the "liberal message" of not judging someone else's conduct when you yourself are not perfect. Personally I'm not familiar with the history of that passage, and if biblical scholars judge it to not be authentic, then I won't argue with its removal from John. But to claim that its inclusion by Liberals undermines the rule of Mosaic law calling for the "God-ordained government" to impose the death penalty is going more than a bit too far.

It seems to me that the Bible's messages don't fit within some people's narrow world view, and rather than re-examining their own values they'd rather change the Bible to better reflect those (sorely misguided) beliefs. It wouldn't surprise me if their finished "Conservative Bible" made Jesus a lot tougher on crime, less likely to turn the other cheek, and a lot more like a vengeful Old Testament God.

Maybe when these guys are finished they can take a look at that pesky U.S. Constitution, too. There are some amendments in particular that were inserted by Liberals (whose idea was it to let women vote, anyway?), and the whole thing is just too wordy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Government Ownership

A pie chart shown recently on Real Time with Bill Maher. Kind of speaks for itself.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bruce Schneier on the NY Terrorist Arrests

Bruce, a well-known security expert, has some excellent points about the recent arrest of four men for plotting to blow up synagogues:
One: There was little danger of an actual terrorist attack...

Two, they were caught by traditional investigation and intelligence. Not airport security. Not warrantless eavesdropping. But old fashioned investigation and intelligence. This is what works...

Three, they were idiots...

Four, an "informant" helped this group a lot.
The big picture: law enforcement did its job (and should be congratulated), so don't let anyone try to convince you that our personal freedoms must be sacrificed to keep us safe. And don't live in fear. I'd recommend reading Bruce's entire entry for more detail and context.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Good Article on Reaction to the Obama Notre Dame Speech

This article shows that, despite the noise made by some, most people -- Notre Dame students, Catholics, and Americans at large -- don't have a problem with Obama giving the commencement address at Notre Dame.

The media's habit of taking provocative stories and running with them often gives a disproportionate amount of coverage to groups, no matter how small, that make the most noise. It appears that this is another one of those cases. While there is opposition among many in the church to Obama's stance on abortion rights, many of those same people also feel that his efforts to reduce the number of abortions (rather than outlawing the procedure), along with his work to decrease poverty and end the wars, is more in line with Church teaching than those who take a hard line against abortion while ignoring other areas of social justice.