Thursday, November 8, 2012

By the numbers

The recent flap over Nate Silver and his election model that dared to predict Obama the winner got me thinking about the right-wing aversion to math and science. Via Ezra Klein, I liked this synopsis best:
To the surprise of pundits, numbers continue to be the best system for determining which of two things is larger.
In this particular case, the right-wing aversion to Silver's election model just makes them look stupid. No real harm done. However, that's not always the case. Paul Krugman's economic model predicted the housing bubble and the expected slow recovery. Keynesian economic models showed the necessity of a lot more stimulus than we got.  These models were rejected, not because the right-wing had a contrary model, but a contrary mindset. They just do not accept math and science that challenges their beliefs. The result has been a prolonged recession -- real pain for real people. Even worse is the right-wing dismissal of scientific models predicting global warming and climate change. We already see more intense storms and erratic weather, but it's only going to get worse. This is fate of the world stuff. How many times do they have to be wrong before the default approach is to ignore them and to listen to the numbers guys?

More Ugly...

While I'm railing on Carrie Duncan of The Gringo Gazette, I should rail about her partner in journalistic crime, David Flores. I won't have to say much--I can just let him demonstrate his own stupidity. Here he is talking about the discovery of a new species of fish, which of course means an opportunity to take a swipe at environmentalists and feminists -- all in a mere two paragraphs! Paragraph 1:
New fish! Why don't the eco freaks ever hail a new species, but they carry on like its(sic) the end of Earth as we know it if a little desert mouse goes extinct? A new species of freshwater fish has been found in Mexico and this one is more interesting than most. There are four treacherous and painful looking hooks on the male genitalia. 
Flores treats the discovery of a new species as if it's the equal and opposite of a species going extinct. What a moron. This is not a case where polluting our waterways gave birth to a brand new life form. It's also not like this fish was extinct, but came back to life. Just because we humans just discovered it doesn't mean it hasn't been around for eons, as Flores cites, but apparently can't comprehend, in paragraph 2:
A research paper describing the new species, which lives in a diversity hotspot in east-central Mexico and seemingly branched off from its closest relative more than one million years ago [bold mine :c], appears in the Journal of Fish Biology. Brian Langerhas, assistant professor of biology at NC State and the lead author of the paper, says that its unusual genitalia may play important roles in mating control and success. Well, yeah, if he can keep it in his pants until he's got the lady fish cornered. If not, this might be a distinct disadvantage in dating. You wonder just how many times the lady fish gets caught before she gets wise. And has Gloria Steinem been advised of this? Surely she'll start a protest. 
Flores' focus on the genitalia of the fish may make you think he's 14. His nonsequitur reference to Gloria Steinem might make you think he's 90. From his picture in the Gringo Gazette, prominently featuring his fake shiny white Baja teeth, I'd say he's pushing 70. In any case, his brain is clearly stuck in adolescence--a perfect partner for Carrie Duncan.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

By Ugly Americans For Ugly Americans

That should be the tagline for The Gringo Gazette, which bills itself as "Baja's Only English Language Newspaper." The Gringo Gazette is a longtime vanity project of right-winger Carrie Duncan. Her primary focus seems to be pimping real estate and tourism in Cabo, but she never misses an opportunity to attack liberals, environmentalists, regulations, taxes, and government (except when government spends money on projects she supports).

One article about the growth of the middle class in Mexico, written by "Edna Middle", used the example of a prosperous young Mexican living south of Mexico city who had a Spanish translation of Ayn Rand's "Fountainhead" on his table -- a book Edna* deemed "essential reading for Mexico's middle class." I'm quite sure that this example was pulled entirely from Edna's fictional ass. It is extremely rare for The Gringo Gazette to cover anything in Baja north of La Paz, but I'm supposed to believe that they sent a reporter to Mexico City? And that intrepid reported just happened to find the perfect example of Duncan's Randian fantasy among 20+ million people? Yeah, right.

Duncan frequently complains about those protesting the planned mega-resort near Cabo Pulmo Marine Park. She calls them eco-freaks. At the same time, she claims that tourists have saved the Cabo Pulmo Reef from destructive fishermen. That is ridiculous. Government regulation and enforcement of no-fishing zones -- policies advocated by the eco-freaks -- saved Cabo Pulmo. The tourists only arrived after the reef started recovering, and their snorkeling really doesn't do anything beneficial for the fish. Of course, like the right winger she is, Duncan can't possibly admit that the eco-freaks were right, and that government regulation has succeeded, so she gives credit to the developers and tourists instead.

In one of her always painful op eds, Duncan says that her next project after The Gringo Gazette will be to partner with an American ag school graduate to become a share cropper in Central America. She thinks buying land and hiring locals to farm it will help them escape poverty. What a big heart she has. That is the typical historical experience of share cropping, right?

Duncan specifically argues that share cropping would be much better for the locals than teaching them to read. What makes this hilariously stupid is Duncan's inspiration for becoming a share cropper in the first place. In the opening paragraph of the very same op ed, she recalled one of her first trips to Central America.

She met a young American college graduate who was very successful growing snow peas as a share cropper. To her surprise, the young American graduated from business school, not ag school. He knew nothing about agriculture, but he had a book on farming, which he translated for the locals.    

Do you follow Duncan's logic? The local people couldn't read, so they had to rely on an American, who himself didn't know how to farm. He taught them how to farm, by reading and translating from a book about farming. Therefore, teaching the locals to read would never help them escape poverty. Instead, what they really need is an American capitalist to buy up the land and tell them what to do.

How thick is Carrie Duncan's skull that it can contain the energy released by the collision of these awesome contradictions? You'd think by now the walls of her office would be coated with a slimy mixture of fake blond hair and botox, but no, she keeps writing.


*Duncan is such a serious journalist that she frequently writes under not-so-clever pseudonyms. For example, articles about transportation projects are written by "Dusty Rhodes". Always. Every week. Over and over.

What is a Wonk?

A Los Angeles radio host recently referred to Paul Ryan as a "wonk of wonks", but immediately added that "his numbers don't add up". To which I say, how can you be a wonk, let alone a wonk of wonks, if you're numbers don't add up? A wonk is someone who is an expert in their field. Someone who knows the details. Someone who can do the math. Ryan is not a wonk. He pretends to be a wonk, but Ryan is a fraud.

Biden pushed this angle in the debate by asking for details on which tax credits Romney/Ryan would eliminate to offset their 20% across-the-board tax interest rate deductions? child tax credits? charitable deductions? Ryan responded that those details would have to be worked out with congress. Those are the words of a weasel, not a wonk. Of course, the details will have to be worked out, but Ryan must at least provide an existence proof. Give us some scenarios congress could consider to make the numbers add up.

Scenario 1. Cut A by X%, B by Y%, and C by Z%
Scenario 2. Cut A by I%, B by J%, and C by K%
Scenario 3. Cut A by P%, B by Q%, and C by R%

Ryan doesn't do this because any scenario where the numbers add up would be rejected by voters impacted by cuts to A, B, and/or C. Hand waving on the details is an evasive and fraudulent strategy--exactly what we should expect from Ryan and Romney.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Referees and Regulation

Usually, I hate the use of sports metaphors in politics, but the recent fiasco in the NFL provided a great opportunity to highlight the importance of regulation in a way that the average Joe can understand. To ensure that the best team wins, the NFL has rules. Those rules are supposed to be enforced by the referees (known as job-killing bureaucratic regulators per the Republicans). When the referees don't do their job, or do their job poorly, the wrong people win. The same thing happens when we deregulate businesses or depower the regulators. That shouldn't be hard to understand, but we still have a presidential candidate arguing that business would be booming if we just throw out the rule books.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Clinton's DNC Speech & Media Coverage

I feel dirty after reading the blogs - both left and right - and listening to NPR reporters give Bill Clinton a tongue bath after his speech at the DNC. If the media was wearing a giant blue dress, it would be permanently stained.

I am no fan of Bill Clinton. He makes good speeches, but not good policy. David Frum is correct here:
As Bill Clinton collects his accolades, let's recall: the key decisions that inflated the housing bubble of the 2000s - and that laid waste to the US economy in 2008 -- were taken under Bill Clinton's administration: the decision to leave derivative trading unregulated, the decision to allow deposit-taking institutions to engage in proprietary trading, the pressure on banks to relax mortgage lending standards, the decision to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to grow enormously large thanks to the implicit subsidy of the government guarantee of their bonds and borrowing.
In addition, I'd add that Bill Clinton reappointed, and thus legitimized, Alan Greenspan - in itself a tragedy. However, Frum is wrong in the very next sentence:
If President Obama inherited a mess not of his own making, it should be remembered of whose making the mess was.
If it was Clinton's mess, Bush had 8 years to clean it up, and in 6 of those years, Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. They didn't fix it because they didn't think it was a problem.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Props to Daniel Larison

Because even I am getting sick of my constant complaining, I thought I should document a bright spot. David Frum turned me on to 33-year old Daniel Larison at The American Conservative. Unlike Frum, Larison never publishes someone else's work with a non-commital "hey, this is interesting" introduction. Larison takes a stand and backs it up. Here he is talking about the GOP campaigning as the national security party.
The modern GOP inherited a reserve of public trust on national security and foreign policy that had been built up over decades, and they managed to squander it in the space of three or four years. By all rights, they shouldn’t be entrusted with these responsibilities for at least another decade until they have recognized their failures and worked to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. On these issues, they haven’t regained the public’s trust, because most of them still don’t know that they lost it and have to try to win it back [bold-sturgeonmouth].
Very insightful. His last sentence could be applied to more than just national defense. I hope it takes the GOP a long time to figure that out.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mother Rucker

Is The Washington Post now doing satire? Suddenly, it seems everyone wants to be Stephen Colbert. David Frum, David Brooks, and now Philip Rucker:
In a campaign organization that has grown exponentially, it's speechwriting in which Romney's inner micro-manager reveals itself. An English major in college, Romney is a voracious reader and is particular about the words he utters, advisers say. He obsesses and fine-tunes, for speeches consequential and trivial, on airplanes and in hotel suites.
Seriously? Mitt Romney is particular about the words he utters? He obsessed about how to describe his love for Michigan trees that are just the right height? About his NASCAR owner friends? His wife's multiple Cadillacs? About how to give a shout out to the birthers by saying no one has ever asked for his birth certificate? OK. I'll give him that one.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Frum Fail (and Romney's a Loser)

As the election nears, David Frum seems to be ramping up the stupid. Here he is talking about Ann Romney's convention speech:
To my ear, Michelle Obama often missed that mark in 2008, talking too much about how her husband had never let her down, which was not the ballot question for most voters. Ann Romney did much better, with her hard-hitting theme: Mitt Romney does not fail at what he undertakes. And he really doesn't.
What? Romney does not fail at what he undertakes? I guess Frum forgot that Romney lost to McCain in the 2008 primary, and then lost to Palin for the VP slot. In 1994, he lost to Ted Kennedy in the Senate race. He followed up his big victory as Governor of Massachusetts by deciding not to run for a second term, thus avoiding a likely loss that may have killed his presidential prospects.

Meet the New Condi

More convention stupidity. Responding to Condoleeza Rice's speech, Bill Keller in The New York Times says:
She is also an out-of-Republican-fashion moderate on social issues like abortion…Rice has the pedigree and the chastening experience to present a more sophisticated and more temperate Republican take on the world. And Wednesday night she did so.
She did? I must have missed it. I don't recall her talking about her views on abortion. I do recall her talking about a return to her aggressive with-us-or-against-us foreign policy. She clearly has learned about as much from her chastening experience as Dick Cheney.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

David Frum is a Privileged White Racist

In a good faith effort to consider viewpoints of the right wing, I've been reading David Frum for the last couple months. It took a while for me to figure out how he could claim to be a moderate. He eventually revealed that he supports gay marriage, higher inflation, and universal health care. That's pretty good for a Republican.  Of course, like other self-proclaimed moderates before him, I expected Frum to eventually write something so over the top that he would destroy his credibility with me. That day was yesterday.

What Frum wrote was so unbelievable that I checked multiple times to verify that the author was indeed David Frum and not one of his minions. The only way fore to tackle this is to go through his post paragraph by paragraph. Bear with me.
Much is being said about the overwhelming whiteness of the delegate mix at the Republican National Convention. But many political movements in this country draw more from some ethnicities than others. It would be no surprise if Republicans felt that this unique criticism of their delegate mix was one sided. How might a Republican respond? Here is one imaginative guess:
Notice Frum's technique here. By saying, "Here is one imaginative guess" at what some hypothetical Republican might say, Frum is trying to preemptively distance himself from what he's about to say. Nice try.
So now I'm reading all this criticism of us for being too white. That's nerve. This convention is no whiter than the conventions that nominated the libs' precious Franklin Roosevelt - or John F. Kennedy for that matter. And we have a damn sight more women.
Frum is proud of the Republican Party for being no whiter and having more women than the Democratic Party had -- prior to signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964! Could he set the bar any lower?
Anyway, when did it become a crime to be white? Who built this country? Not people from Kenya, I can tell you that.
Wow. Did he really write that? This is the start of Frum going off the rails. He's right though. It was white people that built this country. They built this country by enslaving black people, exterminating red people, abusing yellow people, and going to war with brown people. He's also right about the slaves not being from Kenya. They were from East Africa, but why does Frum even bring up Kenya? Is this "moderate" Republican a birther, or does he just like to use birtherism as a political tool?
The polls tell me that something like 100% of black Americans will vote for Barack Obama. Are they bigots because they rally to their guy? So why are we supposed to be bigots because maybe 60% of us rally to our guy?
Blacks have been voting for white Democrats for decades. It's not surprising that they support an incumbent black Democrat in large numbers, especially when the Republicans are using racist dog whistles (much like those in Frum's post) and disenfranchising black voters via dubious voting restrictions.
Like all white Americans, I'm a mutt: a little English, a little Irish, a little German. Probably got some Cherokee up there too, but you don't hear me making a big whoop out of it for an affirmative action board, unlike some Democrats I can mention. My wife's half-Italian. My son's married to a Chinese girl, and my grandkids will be half Chinese. Doesn't bother me. I just want us all to be Americans.
Frum blows his cover with this paragraph. He's been pretending that he's expressing the views of some hypothetical Republican, but now, he's talking specifically about himself. Frum claims he is a mutt because he's got white blood from England, white blood from Ireland, and white blood from Germany? Wow. It's a miracle that he even looks white! And Frum can't possibly be racist against blacks because he's OK with the Italians and the Chinese!? And how about that last sentence for a finale?  "I just want us all to be Americans." Translation: you're either with me or you're not an American.
But let's face it: this president has no idea what it means to be American, and I don't care whether he was born in Hawaii or Kenya or Indonesia or Uzbeky-beky-beky-stan. To be an American means to work for everything you get. When's he ever worked for anything? It was all handed to him! And now he wants to hand my work over to somebody else.
This is rich. Frum claims that Obama has no idea what it means to be an American, even when he knows, despite his nod to the birthers, that Obama was born in America. You know who wasn't born in America? David Frum! He was born in Canada, and he didn't even bother to become an American citizen until September 11, 2007! Surely, that was driven by Frum's love of America and not by his career move from George W. Bush's economic speech writer to a political pundit.

Frum says, "To be an American means to work for everything you get".  This is supposed to be an argument against Obama and in favor of Romney? Mitt Romney!? Obama was born into a middle-class single-parent family. Romney's father was the CEO of American Motors, the Governor of Michigan, and a Presidential candidate.  Frum himself is the son wealthy parents, his mother was an acclaimed journalist at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, but I'm sure he's a self-made man than never benefited from her connections.
This whole thing about us not being "diverse" enough - can we cut the crap on that? You suddenly load up the country with millions of newcomers, put them on food stamps and unemployment insurance and Medicaid and what all, put them on the voting rolls without any ID - invite them to help themselves to everything that was earned before they showed up - and what do you expect the original Americans to do?
Frum rips of his moderate mask and goes full-tilt Tea Party here. Does he think there aren't white people on food stamps, unemployment, and Medicaid? Does he know the voter fraud doesn't really exist? The Republicans who are implementing the voter ID laws have acknowledged that it doesn't. Republican officials in Ohio and Pennsylvania have even admitted that it's about disenfranchising those likely to vote for Democrats. Finally, when he talks about "the original Americans" does he include his Canadian-born self?
You think we're not diverse? This is what diversity looks like: the newcomers bunching up in one party, the old stock inhabitations bunching up in the other. It's the same in Britain and in France and in Germany, and just about everywhere. You don't like it? Maybe you should have thought of that before you invited half of Mexico to move here.
The so-called "newcomers" might be drawn to the Democratic Party, but the "old stock inhabitations" are not bunching up in the Republican Party, unless that means elderly and/or less-educated white people.  I'm not sure what "old stock inhabitations" are. Maybe he meant inhabitants? Seems rude to call the elderly old stock. In any case, there are still a large number of white people in the Democratic Party -- even elderly white people. It's not just the "newcomers". That's called diversity.
Nothing against Mexican people! Or black people! Or any kind of people! So long as they pull their weight. Maybe instead of asking us why all these so-called diverse people are not Republicans, maybe you should ask them why they don't support the party for the people who do the work and pay the bills. Maybe it's their problem, not ours, that they identify with a president who is tearing down everything I grew up with.
Frum's implied message: Mexicans (Mexican-Americans?) and black people are not pulling their weight, but hey, nothing against them! And he wonders why they don't support his party. Maybe it has something to do with his party's determination to exploit the poor to service the rich.
Whoever you blame, I don't see why I should change my beliefs just because somebody with a different color skin doesn't like them. I don't like Barack Obama's beliefs, but he won't change them on my account. Why is it that the guy with the white skin has to change his mind, not the guy with the other kind of skin? Or why can't we just respect the fact that some of us have one set of beliefs - others have different beliefs - and let us all compete on voting day and may the best team win? Why do you liberals always have to be dragging race into it? Makes me think that it's you guys, who are always blaming just one race for everything that's wrong with America, who are the real racists.
More Tea Party talk. Why should I stop being racist just because black people don't like it? In fact,  it's actually rich white males like me, David Frum, that are the victims of racism. Poor me. Of course, he's very sincere about respecting different beliefs. That's why he implied in a previous paragraph that anyone that disagrees with him is not American. As far as liberals dragging race into it, it wasn't the liberals that have been asking for birth certificates, talking about Kenyan Muslim socialism, and claiming that Obama's life experience is not a real American experience. That was the Republicans, including Romney, and you yourself, David Frum (refer to your writing above).
What you want is a country where everybody looks different, and everybody thinks the same. That's what you call diversity. No thanks. You work hard, you pay your way, you quit asking for handouts, and you're American enough for me - and you'll be up there on the podium with Bobby Jindal, Allen West, Herman Cain, and Nikki Haley as a leader of the one party in this country that isn't hung up on race.
No, what I want is a country where everybody has the same opportunities regardless of what they look like, what they think, or who there parents are. I want a country not run on the philosophy of  David Frum, Bobby Jindal, Allen West, Herman Cain, and Nikki Haley -- a philosophy that says I'm above average and everyone else should be too.

For those that think I'm being unfair to Frum because his post was satire, well then, my post is satire too! Double satire! Isn't that hilarious? Especially when the subject is racism! Good times.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

I haven't written anything in a long while. I'm inspired to do so after reading Thomas Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again." I guess I'm what he would have called a "futilitarian". I love that term, and wear the label proudly, even though he meant it derogatively. He describes the main character as a pessimist with hope, while his mentor in the story is a pessimist without hope. Wolfe argues that with or without hope, you have to keep trying. Ironically, when I read the following passages, and consider that they were written ~70 years ago, Wolfe himself makes the effort seem futile.

About the pre-depression real estate boom in the main character's home town:

The real estate men were everywhere. Their motors and buses roared through the streets of town and out into the country, carrying crowds of prospective clients. One could see them on the porches of houses unfolding blueprints and prospectuses as they shouted enticements and promises of sudden wealth into the ears of deaf old women. Everyone was fair game for them--the lame, the halt, and the blind, Civil War veterans or their decrepit pensioned widows, as well as high school boys and girls, Negro truck drivers, soda jerkers, elevator boys, and bootblacks.
Everyone bought real estate; and everyone was a "real estate man" either in name or practice. The barbers, the lawyers, the grocers, the butchers, the builders, the clothiers--all were engaged now in this single interest and obsession. And there seemed to be only one rule, universal and infallible--to buy, always to buy, to pay whatever price was asked, and to sell again within two days at any price one chose to fix. It was fantastic. Along all the streets in town the ownership of the land was constantly changing; and when the supply of streets was exhausted, new streets were feverishly created in the surrounding wilderness; and even before these streets were paved or a house had been built upon them, the land was being sold, and then resold, by the acre, by the lot, by the foot, for hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

About the pre-depression financiers:

...these men were all victims of an occupational disease--a kind of mass hypnosis that denied to them the evidence of their senses. It was a monstrous and ironic fact that the very men who had created this world in which every value was false and theatrical saw themselves, not as creatures tranced by fatal illusions, but rather as the most knowing, practical, and hard-headed men alive. They did not think of themselves as gamblers, obsessed by their own fictions of speculation, but as brilliant executives of great affairs who at every moment of the day "had their fingers on "the pulse of the nation." 

From a discussion between the main character and his maid, who was far more concerned about the welfare of the rich than the welfare of the poor:

"...good Lord...why should you worry so much about it. Those people aren't going to starve. ...Yet you come in here day after day and read me this if you were afraid the whole lot of them would have to go on the dole. You're the one who will have to go on the dole if you get out of work. Those people are not going to suffer, not really, as the way you'll have to."

"Ah-h, yes, but then, we're used to it, aren't we? And they, poor things, they're not."

It was appalling. He couldn't fathom it. He just felt as if he'd come up smack against an impregnable wall. You could call it what you liked--servile snobbishness, blind ignorance, imbecilic stupidity--but there it was. You couldn't shatter it, you couldn't even shake it. It was the most formidible example of devotion and loyalty he had ever known. 

On the true motives and lies of our leaders:

The politician, for example, would never have us think that it is love of office, the desire for the notorious elevation of public place, that drives him on. No, the thing that governs him is his pure devotion to the common wealth, his selfless and high-minded statesmanship, his love of his fellow man, and his burning idealism to turn out the rascal who usurps the office and betrays the public trust which he himself, as he assures us, would so gloriously and devotedly maintain.  

So, too, the soldier. It is never love of glory that inspires him to his profession. It is never love of battle, love of war, love of all the resounding titles and the proud emoluments of the heroic conqueror. Oh, no. It is devotion to duty that makes him a soldier. There is no personal motive in it. He is inspired simply by the selfless ardor of his patriotic abnegation. He regrets that he has but one life to give for his country. 

So it goes through every walk of life. The lawyer assures us that he is the defender of the weak, the guardian of the oppressed, the champion of the rights of defrauded widows and beleagured orphans, the upholder of justice, the unrelenting enemy, at no matter what cost to himself, of all forms of chicanery, fraud, theft, violence, and crime. Even the businessman will not admit to selfish motive in his money-getting. On the contrary, he is the developer of the nation's resources. He is the benevolent employer of thousands of working men who would be on the dole without the organizing genius of his great intelligence. He is the defender of the Amercan ideal of rugged individualism, the shining exemplar to youth of what a poor country boy may achieve in this nation through a devotion to the national virtures of thrift, industry, obedience to duty, and business integrity. He is, he assures us, the backbone of the country, the man who makes the wheels go round, the leading citizen, Public Friend No.1.

All these people lie, of course. They know they lie, and everyone who hears them also knows they lie. The lie, however, has become a part of the convention of American life. People listen to it patiently, and if they smile at it, the smile is weary, touched with resignation and the indifferent dismissals of fatigue. 

Finally, at the end of the book, Wolfe describes the Enemy of America as the one who says:

"See, I am one of you--I am one of your children, your son, your brother, and your friend. Behold how sleek and fat I have become--and all because I am just one of you, and your friend. Behold how rich and powerful I am--and all because I am one of you--shaped in your way of life, of thinking, of accomplishment. What I am, I am because I am one of you, your humble brother, and your friend. Behold, the man I am, the man I have become, the thing I have accomplished--and reflect. Will you destroy this thing? I assure you that it is the most precious thing you have. It is yourselves, the projection of each of you, the triumph of your individual lives, the thing that is rooted in your blood, and native to your stock, and inherent in the traditions of America. It is the thing that all of you may hope to be, for am I not just one of you? Am I not just your brother and your son? Am I not the living image of what each of you may hope to be, would wish to be, would desire for his own son? Would you destroy this incarnation of your own heroic self? If you do then, you destroy yourselves--you kill the thing that is most gloriously American, and in so killing, kill yourselves."

He lies! And now we know he lies! He is not gloriously, or in any other way, ourselves. He is not our friend, our son, our brother. And he is not American! For although he has a thousand familiar and convenient faces, his own true face is old as Hell. 

Look about you and see what he has done. 

I'll conclude with a passage that rang a eary on in the book that rang a bell of self-awareness:

"Oh, Hank's all right when you get to know him. You know how a guy is when he gets all burned up about somethin'--he gets too serious about it--he thinks everybody else in the world ought to be like he is. But he's O.K. He's not a bad guy when you get him talkin' about somethin' else."

OK, I'm Hank, but good luck getting me to talk about somethin' else.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bad Journalist Feels Sympathy for Bad Doctors

This CNN Money article about doctors going broke
has been making the rounds online. Even from the little snippet on Facebook, the story seemed dubious. After reading the whole thing, I'm reassured that my bullshit detector is still well calibrated. I'm not sure which is more disturbing--the shoddy journalism or the shady doctors.

The article starts out with this:
Doctors in America are harboring an embarrassing secret: Many of them are going broke. This quiet reality, which is spreading nationwide, is claiming a wide range of casualties, including family physicians, cardiologists and oncologists.
At this point, a competent journalist would include some sort of data to back up those rather extraordinary claims. A competent editor would demand such evidence before publishing the story. Exactly how many doctors are going broke? How are you measuring this nationwide spread? Unfortunately, Parija Kavilanz is not a competent journalist, and CNN Money is lacking competent editors, so I'll have to step in.

Based on the evidence presented, the number of doctors in America who are going broke is 3. The claim that this "quiet reality" is spreading nationwide is because those 3 are comprised of 1 doctor in Pennsylvania + 1 doctor in Minnesota + 1 doctor in Nevada. The claim that this quiet reality "is claiming a wide range of casualties, including family physicians, cardiologists and oncologists" is because those 3 are comprised of 1 family physician + 1 cardiologist + 1 oncologist. No wonder their reality is so quiet.

The article is clearly aimed at generating sympathy for doctors whose Medicare reimbursement rates have fallen, yet CNN Money does a piss-poor job of this by their selection of doctors. Far from making me sympathetic, the thought of these so-called professionals going broke makes me rejoice.

One of the three doctors is an oncologist. His problem:
He owes drug companies $1.6 million, which he wasn't reimbursed for.
What? That seems strange. Why would the oncologist owe money to the drug companies?
Until the mid-2000's, drugs sales were big profit generators for oncologists. In oncology, doctors were allowed to profit from drug sales. So doctors would buy expensive cancer drugs at bulk prices from drugmakers and then sell them at much higher prices to their patients. In 2005, Medicare revised the reimbursement guidelines for cancer drugs, which effectively made reimbursements for many expensive cancer drugs fall to less than the actual cost of the drugs.
Oh. Who knew that oncologists were allowed to profit from the drugs they prescribed to cancer patients? No conflict of interest there. For example, surely a doctor wouldn't prescribe a Pfizer drug over a Merck drug just because he had a warehouse full of bulk-rate Pfizer drugs. After all, medicine is a noble and honorable profession.

Now, after years of gouging his cancer patients...his CANCER patients!...he's complaining because he got stuck with a warehouse full of drugs whose street value dropped.
"I grew up in that system. I was spending $1.5 million a month on buying treatment drugs."
Notice the sense of entitlement. He grew up in a corrupt system, so it's just unfair to change it now -- as if the unethical conflict of interest was forced upon him, rather than greedily embraced.

The family practice doctor from rural Nevada is nearly as bad. His solution to his financial problem, in his own words, is to intentionally compromise the level of service provided to his patients.
"I will see more patients, but I won't check all of their complaints at one time," he explained. "If I do, insurance will bundle my reimbursement into one payment." Patients will have to make repeat visits -- an arrangement that he acknowledges is "inconvenient." "This system pits doctor against patient," he said. "But it's the only way to beat the system and get paid."
He admits it's "inconvenient" for the patient, but beating the system and getting paid--that's what it's about.

These two are perfect examples of why our health care system needs massive reform. If doctors like these are going bankrupt, we just might be making progress. If we ever see drug company profits merely approaching single digits, we'll really be getting somewhere.