Monday, August 31, 2009

Obama's Eulogy For Kennedy

MJ has been busy lately, but can't let much more time pass without posting a tribute to a flawed yet genuine hero, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Here is President Barack Obama's eulogy to, arguably, the most effective lawmaker of our era.

Click here.

RIP, Ted. -- MJ

Monday, August 24, 2009

From Joe's Vault: 'Great' American Health Care System Isn't Cutting It On Life Span

By Manifesto Joe

Since health stats seem to be a hot topic now, it looks like a good time to dredge up a post from a couple of years ago. This was published on this blog Aug. 12, 2007.

This just in -- the U.S. is now ranked 42nd among the world's nations in life span. How can this be happening in a country that spends so much on medicine, the most worldwide per capita? It's a paradox: When it comes to insurance, less isn't more; but when it comes to medication, less can indeed be more. And, we need news media that will actually report on the problem rather than essentially shill for the medical/drug establishment.

To get the stats out of the way, this is from the Associated Press report:

Countries that surpass the U.S. include Japan and most of Europe, as well as Jordan, Guam and the Cayman Islands. ...

A baby born in the United States in 2004 will live an average of 77.9 years. That life expectancy ranks 42nd, down from 11th two decades earlier, according to international numbers provided by the Census Bureau and domestic numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Andorra, a tiny country ... between France and Spain, had the longest life expectancy, at 83.5 years ... It was followed by Japan, Macau, San Marino and Singapore. ...

Researchers said several factors have contributed to the United States falling behind other industrialized nations. A major one is that 45 million Americans lack health insurance, while Canada and many European countries have universal health care, they say.

OK, so far, so good. At least someone is observing that the number of uninsured Americans may have a lot to do with this. But wait, there's more. This Mainstream Media report lapses into whitewash and absurdity.

But "it's not as simple as saying we don't have national health insurance," said Sam Harper, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal. "It's not that easy."

Among the other factors:

• Adults in the United States have one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Nearly a third of U.S. adults 20 years and older are obese, while about two-thirds are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

"The U.S. has the resources that allow people to get fat and lazy," said Paul Terry, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta. "We have the luxury of choosing a bad lifestyle as opposed to having one imposed on us by hard times."

• Racial disparities. Black Americans have an average life expectancy of 73.3 years, five years shorter than white Americans.

Black American males have a life expectancy of 69.8 years, slightly longer than the averages for Iran and Syria and slightly shorter than in Nicaragua and Morocco.

• A relatively high percentage of babies born in the U.S. die before their first birthday, compared with other industrialized nations.

Forty countries, including Cuba, Taiwan and most of Europe had lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. in 2004. The U.S. rate was 6.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births. It was 13.7 for Black Americans, the same as Saudi Arabia.

"It really reflects the social conditions in which African American women grow up and have children," said Dr. Marie C. McCormick, professor of maternal and child health at the Harvard School of Public Health. "We haven't done anything to eliminate those disparities."

Most of the above displays an astonishing lack of critical thinking by this MSM reporter, or perhaps by editors who got hold of the piece later. The story attempts to drive some wedge between the absence of universal coverage in the U.S. and (1) racial disparities, and (2) infant mortality. A national health insurance system would do a vast amount to address these two problems. Our current system is the precise reason why many minorities do not or cannot get adequate care, when they are either old or newborn. It's the lack of insurance, stupid.

The passage points out that Cuba and most European countries have lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. Guess what those countries have that we don't.

Obesity is certainly a problem in America, and one for which individuals can largely be blamed. Or can they? As decades of my life have passed, I have witnessed a socially irresponsible advertising culture that graduated from making people into two-pack-a-day cigarette addicts into junk-food junkies who wash it all down with sugary soft drinks. If one ate a steady diet of what one sees every day on TV ads, billboards, and in the urban sprawl of any given U.S. city, it's the superhighway to diabetes and heart disease.

A thing I find quite revealing and disturbing is that although the Japanese smoke twice as much as Americans -- they light up the way we did in the '60s, back when my childhood senses were ablaze with TV cigarette commercials -- they don't have nearly as much heart disease as we do, and they're living longer than us. A simple observation is that they don't have quite the same advertising culture as we do, and so they're more likely to eat fish, tofu and veggies than a bacon cheeseburger. A decent diet can actually compensate some for other kinds of vices.

Something else to consider is that, for the poor in America, a good diet is actually hard to afford. It's cheap for our poor and working class to consume a lot of starch and sugar. Even the simplest staple items like rice and pasta -- not good for diabetics -- are much cheaper than the more healthful choices. We've had a reversal of roles between rich and poor in modern America: In the bad old days, the poor were skinny because they went hungry, and the rich were plump because they had all they could eat. Now the poor eat, but it's the wrong foods, sold cheap. The rich can afford the sauteed vegetables and the catch of the day.

But, I'm recalling that Emory University professor's remarks about Americans being so soft, not having a tough lifestyle imposed on them by adversity. This seems like an absurd contradiction as well. During hard times, people have trouble eating -- at all. Good food, or bad. And life spans were much shorter then. Something tells me the professor hasn't missed many meals.

Now for an unintended consequence of living in an "affluent" society -- affluent for some, anyway. The U.S. is the most overmedicated nation ever. Our "health care system" is largely driven by the pharmaceutical companies' greed, and they are hooking people on meds every day with the same foresight and scruples as the corner dope dealer.

Statin drugs are being pushed as though half the adult population should be on them. They may do a lot for people with severe cholesterol problems, but they can have very serious side effects. I have known a number of people who have given them up, despite warnings, because they complained that they always felt like they had the flu. My mother passed out and had to be hospitalized after three days on Zocor. I took Lipitor for three days, and I think my supervisor at work suspected that I was drunk.

I have been hospitalized twice in recent years after having adverse reactions to medications. Doctors who aren't into this dope craze describe patients coming to them looking pale and wan. And wait, there's more, from a site called Health and DNA:

ADRs are the fourth to sixth greatest killer in US with more than 100,000 deaths per year; and 2.2 million serious adverse reactions per year according to a 1998 Journal of the American Medical Association report. (JAMA 279:1200 1998) This study is a meta analysis of 39 research reports published from 1966 to 1996.

21.3% of the 548 most recently FDA approved medications were subsequently withdrawn from the market or given a black box warning. JAMA 287:2215 2002
The GAO reports that 51% of new drugs have serious, undetected adverse effects at the time of approval.

Of the best selling prescription drugs, 148 can cause depression, 133 hallucinations or psychoses, 105 constipation, 76 dementia, 27 insomnia and 36 parkinsonism. "Worst Pills Best Pills: A Consumers Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness," third edition, 1999.

I know from the experience of being overmedicated that it's hard some days just to get out of bed under those conditions, let alone get one's regular exercise for general health and weight control.

I have yet to see Michael Moore's Sicko, but I anticipate seeing it this week. It shouldn't be hard for him to win me over. This "health care system," coupled with a predatory advertising culture, looks likely to make either my generation or the next one the first to have a lower life expectancy than our parents had. As my fellow baby boomers age and become more dependent on this broken system to get decent and well-considered care, this is clearly one of the crucial battles that Americans must win.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care And Infant Mortality: When It Comes To A Population's Health, Statistics Don't Lie

By Manifesto Joe

A commenter on my previous post brought up something often raised in defense of America's indefensible health care status quo. That is the alleged wait time for specialists in Canada. The commenter mentioned, in particular, OB-GYN wait times alleged to be 10 to 12 months.

I rather doubt that as something typical, although I have heard from less biased sources that wait times for Canadian specialists can be up to six months. But regarding OB-GYN wait times, statistics about infant mortality should be revealing. Here are some, courtesy of the United Nations World Populations Prospect report revision of 2006:

Countries with "socialized" medicine:

Japan: 3.2 per 1,000 live births
Sweden: 3.2 per 1,000 live births
Norway: 3.3 """
France: 4.2
Germany: 4.3
Denmark: 4.4
Australia: 4.4
U.K.: 4.8
Canada: 4.8
Cuba: (Those godless commies!) 5.1

And then we have:
United States: 6.3
The U.S. ranks below Brunei (5.5), Cyprus (5.9), and New Caledonia (6.1).

I guess now we know why so many long-suffering Canadians, and so many other people in countries with "socialized" medicine, are clamoring to trade in their government-run systems for the private U.S. monopoly/oligopoly model. Ours is clearly so superior.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care: When Americans Voted For Obama And Democrats, What Were They Voting For?

By Manifesto Joe

A recent (Aug. 3-6) nationwide telephone poll by the Marist Institute of Public Opinion found that 45 percent of Americans disapprove of President Obama's handling of health care reform, while 43 percent approved. Here's a link.

Obama won the popular vote last year with 53 percent. This begs the question: What did the "swing" voters, the independents, think they were voting for when they cast ballots for Obama and other Democrats?

And, as for those who are wavering on the issue, did they not expect yet another disinformation barrage, perhaps even worse that the "Harry and Louise" campaign of 1993-94? There are many interest groups -- insurers, pharmaceutical companies, stockholders, doctors and other health care "professionals" -- who have a big stake in the status quo and fear they will lose money if a public option comes to pass. Wasn't a propaganda flood, financed by the vested interests, expected?

My disapproval of Obama's handling of this would be purely idealistic: I favor a single-payer model similar to the ones in Canada and Germany. Even the English, whose National Health Service is often vilified here, are getting highly pissed and coming to the defense of the NHS. Here's another link. No less than renowned scientist Stephen Hawking has asserted that, contrary to U.S. right-wing demagoguery, the NHS saved his life from the longtime ravages of ALS. (Yet another link.)

The idealist in me says, if "socialism" is what they have in Norway and Sweden, where do I sign up? They live longer than Americans do; their babies don't die nearly as often; and their middle class doesn't have to live in fear of bankruptcy if someone comes down with a catastrophic illness.

You don't even have to look at Scandinavian countries with hyperactive welfare states. Australia, perhaps the closest nation to the U.S. ideologically, has something resembling "socialized" medicine.

Among other developed countries in the world, you don't see any of them battling to trade in their government-run programs for the U.S. "Land of the Fee" model, do you?
Their way looks much more like the right path to me.

But -- living in America, and especially in Texas, made me stop being an idealist long ago. It's clear by now that Obama and his "allies" are going to have a hard time just putting over a public option, so single-payer will have to wait, probably until after I'm dead.

Back to the American public -- that 45 percent who disapprove. I'd wager that few of them ever had to actually USE their underperforming health insurance to battle a chronic illness. I have allergies so severe that I depend on multiple medications just to live, and the co-payments and deductibles eat up much of my income. This was not something I did to myself; I was born with allergies.

Let's talk about "death panels." I have the impression that among that 45 percent, their answer for me would be, "Just die and get out of the way." Such people protest loudly at being called Nazilike, but it sounds a lot like eugenics to me.

That 45 percent probably never had to battle cancer, as my wife did in 1992, on one of those swell 80-20 private insurance plans, with a deductible. That experience hurled us into debt that we've never gotten out of to this day. Bankruptcy was actually on the table for us a couple of years ago -- fortunately, we found an alternative.

But we are like many other middle-class Americans in that, even with both of us insured, another major illness could very well plunge us into so much debt that bankruptcy would be certain. And, the insurance companies would have the complete prerogative to drop either or both of us.

That 45 percent: I shudder to think that there are so many profoundly misguided Americans. One can go back to relatively recent history and witness the fickleness of the electorate. In 1992, Clinton pulled off a plurality win, and the Democrats took both houses of Congress solidly. Two years later, the Republicans and their "Contract With America" turned the tables utterly, though not for long.

Back a bit further, in 1974 the Republican Party seemed repudiated and in tatters after Watergate. It only took six years for the Reagan right wing to turn that completely around.

I hope that Obama can stand his ground, and that the electorate doesn't prove to be that fickle in 2010. If my insurance company decides to kick me to the curb, I'd like that public option, or at least something that keeps me from going broke.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Postscript: CNN reports that at 1:03 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, at a presidential event in Phoenix, a reporter saw a man in the anti-Obama camp carrying an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. (Arizona has an open-carry law.) Are those mean-spirited lib'ruls gonna call him a Nazi?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Classical Change Of Pace: The Most Magnificent Howard Hanson (1896-1981)

Mr. Hanson was one of the most underrated classical/symphonic composers of his time, mainly because he did not follow the trends of his era, between the world wars. The American concert hall was filled with much Stravinsky and Copland during that time. I have absolutely no problem with either of them. But Mr. Hanson, a Scandanavian-American from the Midwest, was a bit neglected because of his unabashed romanticism.

Some film buffs might recognize this as the piece that was played at the end of the 1979 Ridley Scott film Alien. By the way, this symphony, No. 2, "Romantic," debuted in Boston in 1930.

This one has moved me to tears. -- MJ

1993 ISSMA State Champion Carmel High School Symphony Orchestra performing Hanson's Symphony No. 2, 3rd Movement. Conducted by Thomas Dick at Valparaiso, IN.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Palin Steps Up To Lead Nazilike Campaign Against Health Care Reform

By Manifesto Joe

It's a departure from historical norms, but nobody ever demonstrated that a fascist movement couldn't be led by a pretty middle-aged woman. (She's not my type, but Sarah Palin has what could be described as generic good looks.) And it's happening -- I don't think she can ever legitimately vie for high elective office again, but sundry Brown Shirt types, jackbooted thugs and brainwashed hillbillies may be lining up behind Sarah Palin.

Maybe this is why Palin resigned her Alaska governorship. It's kind of hard to lead a Nazilike movement when you've got a full-time job in Juneau.

True, she's not as articulate (or bellicose) as Limbaugh. Hell, she's not even Father Coughlin. But Klondike Hottie seems to speak for a lot of manure-headed people out there, and now I think I dig where she aims to go.

Dean Baker of Truthout is on the money when he blames what's left of our "news media" for a lot of this. Palin was given a huge pass when she publicly conjured up fictions about a "death panel" and rationing of health care while denouncing Obama administration policy plans. Traditionally, media are supposed to function as a "truth squad" and shoot down pig dung like this. Here's a link to Baker's article.

Palin apparently has enough gutter political savvy to see a movement in the making. Nazilike hooligans have been showing up at "town hall" meetings to intimidate anyone who favors health care reform, up to and including the Congress creatures themselves.

There have been some scenes that recall the fascist thuggery of Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s. On Friday, Justin Rubin of MoveOn recorded a few nuggets that show a sampling of what's been happening to members of Congress, and continues, from coast to coast:

-- Last night in Tampa, Florida, a town hall meeting erupted into violence, with the police being called to break up fist fights and shoving matches.

-- A Texas Democrat was shouted down by right-wing hecklers, many of whom admitted they didn't even live in his district.

-- One North Carolina representative announced he wouldn't be holding any town-hall meetings after his office began receiving death threats.

-- And in Maryland, protesters hung a Democratic congressman in effigy to oppose health-care reform.

The Associated Press filed a more detailed account of the right-wing marauding in a Saturday story. Here's a link to that one.

Back to Sarah Palin, I realize that Klondike Hottie has plenty of competition for leadership of the GOP's gaping primate squad. Limbaugh has been whipping them up for 20 years, and Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are most decidedly in the running.

But Klondike Hottie has them beaten in one crucial area -- sex appeal. To me, her appeal is very limited -- she reminds me too much those Young Republican college women who always seemed to belong to a sorority that was called "Betas" for short.

But, Bubba apparently digs it. And he may be willing to misdirect some of his testosterone toward neo-fascist asskicking, if she gives the word. Stay tuned.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Birthers," Wingnuts Who Think Obama Was Born In Kenya, Make Me Ashamed To Be From The South

By Manifesto Joe

This has become the Whitewater of the Obama era. Despite evidence and still more evidence that Barack Hussein Obama was born Aug. 4, 1961, in Hawaii (a belated happy birthday to a fellow Leo, Mr. President), a large number of Americans, almost all Republicans, don't believe that he's an American citizen. And they are heavily concentrated among white Republicans in the South.

This reminds me a lot of Whitewater in the '90s and the "questions" that dogged Bill Clinton throughout his eight-year presidency. I was not quite as intolerant of right-wing kooks back then as I am now. I suffered through a litany of conspiracy theories from acquaintances.

Bill and Hillary were not only dogged by the specter of an investment in which they lost money. Bill Clinton, I was told by these crazies, was directly involved in over 100 murders back in Arkansas, during his governorship. We went through various "Troopergates," "Tailgates," and so forth. A special prosecutor was appointed, and spent over $40 million to eventually find out that Clinton apparently got a couple of blowjobs from an White House intern and lied about them. And then he wasted a lot of time and money getting Clinton impeached, and without a conviction, over the likes of that.

Now we have the same raving lunatics sizing up Barack Hussein Obama. Clinton was indeed a wheeler-dealer and a Falstaffian figure who had a hard time keeping his pants zipped. Obama admits that he sampled a few drugs while he was in his twenties, mostly pot. Now it's a big deal for him to have a beer, and there's much ado about trouble giving up his smokes. Other than that, he's a model father and husband, a regular Mr. Cleanhands.

So, the rubber-room refugees zero in on this citizenship horseshit. And they're mostly, though not exclusively, Republicans in the South. To wit, a recent column from

According to a new poll from Research 2000 (commissioned by Daily Kos), a majority of Southerners either believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States (23 percent) or are not sure (30 percent). Only 47 percent of Southern respondents believe Obama was born in the USA. By contrast, 93 percent of Northeastern[er]s said yes, he was born here, 90 percent of Midwesterners did and 87 percent of Westerners.

Here's a link to the whole column.

I have been argumentive and contrarian quite often with people who characterize Southerners as stupid. Why? I have encountered my share of dumbass Jersey-talking Yankees, and my one visit to Southern California was quite an eye-opener. There, I learned that there's just a marginal difference between a philistine who sips Chardonnay and wears designer jeans and a philistine who chugs Miller High Life and got his or her jeans at Wal-Mart.

But after seeing the results of this poll, I don't know if I can muster a defense for fellow Southerners anymore. Forrest Gump was only partially right -- stupid is not merely what stupid does. It's also what it says. Words can be poison, and this notion is utterly toxic.

I stand ashamed to be a native Southerner, with deep roots in states other than Texas (Alabama, North and South Carolina, Arkansas). I hope I can consider myself an exception, but we seem to have de-evolved from the rest of Western culture.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.