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Apparently some “tea party” protesters hurled derogatory and hateful language at some African-American and gay Democratic representatives on Saturday. The only surprising part of this is how unsurprised I was to hear it. It’s been transparently obvious that some (not all, of course) of these so-called protesters were “…more opposed to the skin color of the man in the White House than they were to the president’s political ideology.”. Frankly, this isn’t that interesting a story, and I wasn’t going to write about it at all until I read this quote from Fox News, “A gay congressman was called a slur. Yet he was accused of swearing at someone in the crowd before that.” See, obviously Barney Frank brought this hatred upon himself. Seriously, this contorted rationalization isn’t from some random right-wing blog – it’s a “news” story on the Fox “Fair and Balanced” News site. It’s no wonder some of these protesters have such a distorted view of reality if they’re getting all their “news” from these kinds of media outlets.

I’ve again been neglecting this blog, but two recent events caught my eye. The first is that a high school in Mississippi canceled its senior prom rather than let a lesbian couple attend. Evidently the school district has an official policy against same-sex couples at dances. I think the ACLU explains better than I could the blatant discrimination of such a policy, so I won’t dwell on that. But I do want to comment on the school board’s stated reason for canceling the event, “due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events.” I’d say the only distraction has come from the administration itself. With this policy and decision, the district is teaching discrimination and hatred, which I certainly hope isn’t their intended educational mission. As I’ve written previously, gay marriage and full-fledged gay rights are inevitable. This school district and others of its ilk around the country should give up their antediluvian battles and set aside their discriminatory policies.

The second incident is possibly even worse. Apparently a private Catholic school in Boulder has decided “not to re-enroll” two children whose parents are lesbian. Now, whatever you think about homosexuality, how could you find it reasonable to punish the pre-school and kindergarten aged children? They are not responsible for their parents’ sexuality, anymore than is a child whose parents divorce, have affairs, marry people of other faiths, or terminate a pregnancy, to name a few issues with which I suspect the Catholic church might also have objections. Would this same school reject children of those families? I find that difficult to believe. I understand that the school, as a private sectarian institution, may have the legal right to discriminate in this way, but they should reconsider the morality of their actions, and the example it sets for the children they’re trying to educate.

Security Theater

I haven’t posted for a while, but I feel compelled to point out the inanity of the TSA’s response to the latest airline bombing attempt. As usual, Bruce Schneier says it far better than I could in an article on CNN.com. If you prefer, you can also watch an interview with him on Rachel Maddow’s show. Schneier has coined the term “security theater” to describe security that looks good and might make us feel safer, but isn’t actually useful.

We Need Tort Reform, Too

There seem to be two groups that benefit most from maintaining the status quo in our health care system: for-profit insurance companies and lawyers. To address the former, it’s fairly clear that we need a government-run, non-profit, insurance option in order to guarantee coverage for all Americans. Understandably, this solution has been the focus of the Democrats’ proposal for health-care reform.

However, when considering health care reform, it’s worth considering the medical malpractice mess as well. Although the true cost of malpractice litigation may be less than people think, the threat of litigation leads to “defensive medicine”, which incurs additional costs. .

While I don’t usually agree with Charles Krauthammer, I actually think his proposal for tort reform makes sense (just ignore the second half of his column — his health-insurance reform proposal wouldn’t come close to solving the problem).

Democrats, however, have been largely silent on the subject of tort reform. I wrote previously about the effect of insurance industry donations on politicians’ support for the public option. I’m afraid a similar effect might be occurring here, with the legal industry favoring the Democrats with 73% of their donations.

I can’t believe I’m even writing about such a ridiculous situation, but the discourse on this topic seems to be out of hand. Barack Obama, the president of the United States, will give an address to schoolchildren next Tuesday, “to encourage them to work hard, set goals and take responsibility for their learning.”. Apparently, in the minds of some, that should be controversial. For example, Michelle Malkin has been making ridiculous claims like, “Nor can the Democrats’ strategy of using kiddie human shields to advance their legislative agenda be overlooked in the context and timing of Obama’s speech.”

Unfortunately, this overheated irrational rhetoric has actually convinced many schools not to show the speech to children. Frankly, this is one of the most ridiculous manufactured controversies in recent memory. Obama is the President of the United States. Yes, he’s a Democrat. Get over it and let your kids listen to him for a few minutes. If you’re that worried that he can turn them into bleeding-heart liberals in that amount of time, maybe you need to reassess the relevance and logic of your own political views.

The polls continue the trend I wrote about last week, in showing that a majority of Americans support, “a health insurance plan administered by the federal government that would compete with private health insurers”.

So why is Republican Representative John Boehner still saying things like, “House Republicans want to hear what the president has to say, but after the public outcry this August, it’s clear the American people don’t want a new speech. They want a new plan”? Why is commentator David Brooks writing, “Driven by this general anxiety, and by specific concerns, public opposition to health care reform is now steady and stable. Independents once solidly supported reform. Now they have swung against it…. You can’t pass the most important domestic reform in a generation when the majority of voters think you are on the wrong path”?

And why is the Obama administration continuing to kowtow to the Republicans and conservative Democrats, as exhibited by the following, “”It’s so important to get a deal,” a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid about strategy. “He will do almost anything it takes to get one.”"

It should be clear by now that the Republicans don’t want a deal; they want to block reform. As Senator Enzi, one of the supposed “gang of six” working on a deal in the Senate said recently, “It’s not where I get them to compromise, it’s what I get them to leave out,… If I hadn’t been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care,…”

In Obama’s address to Congress next week, he should stop trying to compromise with people who have no interest in compromising, and encourage Congress to pass a bill of real reform, by reconciliation if necessary.

Although I’m a registered Democrat and would love to see a progressive replacement for Ted Kennedy in the senate as soon as possible, I feel obligated to comment on the current hypocrisy of Democrats in Massachusetts. The state legislature seems likely to change the state law to allow Democratic Governor Deval Patrick to appoint an interim Senator until a special election can be held. While the argument is valid that the appointment is, “the only way to make sure Massachusetts is fully represented until the voters of the state elect our next senator in January,” it ignores the history of the legislation in question. The current system was put in place by a Democratic-led state legislature in 2004 to prevent Republican Governor Mitt Romney from appointing an interim senator if John Kerry were to win the presidential election. Now, five years later, Democrats are reversing themselves, with the only obvious difference being the political party of the governor. I realize that it’s difficult for the politicians to restrain themselves when they have the power to implement this change. But I would have hoped that the election or appointment of senators is too important to be so crassly political.

Based on media coverage of town hall meetings and the rest of the health care “debate”, you’d think that most Americans are against a government-run insurance option in health care reform. But it turns out that’s not the case.

As Nate Silver points out, it’s been surprisingly difficult to accurately gauge public opinion on this topic. The reason, according to Silver, is that many polls seem to be having a hard time phrasing their questions about health care reform correctly. For example, some polls fail to explain that the “public option” is an option for government-run insurance, not government-run health care itself. This problem is probably exacerbated by the misinformation about health care reform propagated by Fox News and its ilk.

However, there are two recent polls that, according to Silver, get it right. The first is the Quinnipiac poll from August 5, in which the crucial question (number 23) was, “Do you support or oppose giving people the option of being covered by a government health insurance plan that would compete with private plans?” The results show 62% support and 32% opposed. Note that there was majority support for the public option across all demographics analyzed except for Republicans. But even Republicans had 40% in favor.

The second recent poll that Silver considers to have accurately phrased questions was from Time/SRBI. This poll asked, “Would you favor or oppose a healthcare bill that creates a government sponsored public health insurance option to compete with private health insurance plans?” And the results were similar to the Quinnipiac poll results, showing 56% support for the public option and 36% opposition.

Based on these numbers, it appears that the opponents of health care reform making noise at town hall meetings are really just a vocal minority. When people are given a correct description of the actual public option, without all the hyperbolic screaming about Socialism and such, they actually favor it.

Although I support a single-payer system, or at least a public option, in health care reform, I admit that there are probably reasonable arguments against them. So why aren’t we hearing any? Instead, we’re inundated by ludicrous claims that Obama will institute “death panels” and so on. Sharon Begley at Newsweek provides some interesting analysis about why this kind of fear mongering is working. Some key quotes from her article:

The power of “death panels” as a phrase and a scare tactic also works because Americans are deeply uncomfortable with death… As a result of that discomfort, reminding people of death sends them off the deep end, into the part of the neuronal pool where reason cowers behind existential terror. And we’re particularly vulnerable to scaremongering in the atmosphere of dread created by the economic meltdown. When people are already scared about losing their jobs and their homes and paying for health care, it doesn’t take a lot to make them afraid of one more thing. We’re living with “free-floating anxiety” every day, says psychiatrist Louann Brizendine of the University of California, San Francisco. “The brain is signaling ‘danger’ right now. Whenever that happens, the brain typically loses its logical reasoning power.”…

Health care stirs powerful emotions, and because the subject is so complicated, people are unable to balance their emotional reactions with rational ones. Moreover, appeals to fear, anger, and hate really gain traction when ignorance is wide and deep.

What kind of ignorance does she mean? This kind:

At a recent town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

As Daniel Gross points out:

This is a something of a Churchillian moment. Never before have so many known so little about so much. The meme… about Medicare not being a government program has two sources: ignorance and mendacity. Some people may really not know that Medicare is taxpayer-funded health care. That’s ignorance. Many more people know it—and know the degree to which taxpayers are already funding lots of health care for them and their loved ones—and argue otherwise. That’s mendacity.

There are two ways to counter this ignorance and fear mongering. First, with facts such as those found here and here. Second, and perhaps more important, supporters of health care reform need better rhetoric. To this end, I was happy to hear the following quote from Obama this morning:

“These are fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation and that is that we look out for one another,” he said. “That I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper and in the wealthiest nation on Earth right now, we are neglecting to live up to that call.”

More and more, I’m hearing that the public option in health care reform is dead. While I’m not giving up hope yet, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight provides some interesting insight into why that might be the case:

Why doesn’t the public option have the votes for passage? You’d think that a provision that is both fairly popular and money-saving was a good bet for passage. But the insurance industry really, really does not like the public option. We’d previously estimated that its lobbying influence has cost the public option something like nine (9) votes in the Senate.

Unlike most political commentators, Nate Silver has numbers to back up most of claims, and this one is no exception. His detailed statistical analysis of the effect of insurance industry lobbying on senators’ votes is well worth reading.

P.S. I realize I’ve neglected this blog more or less since the election. I’ll try not to do that again.

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