Friday, August 31, 2007

Fly the Unfriendly Skies -- courtesy of Big Brother.

I have said it in the past, and I will say it again. Avoid flying into the United States. If you are flying to any country that may require a stop over, or even refueling in the Unites States, don’t take it. You will be treated like a criminal. You may well be manhandled by ill-mannered, arrogant, thugs who work for the Department of Homeland Security. These are the security police. Their authority is boundless and they can make your life a living hell if they wish and periodically these cretins do so just for the entertainment value.

Now many people have no desire to actually travel to the United States but some airlines may stop over to refuel or they may have to catch a connecting flight. Don’t do it. First, you will need to clear passport control and customs. They you will be required to recheck your luggage and reboard. What you could comfortable do in freer times in one hour will now take you four hours or more.

It is is also possible that you may be denied entry to the United States. If that happens you will not be allowed to catch your connecting flight out of the US. You will be deported back to your point of origin and your record will be stamped that you were denied entry into the United States. Depending on where you are from you may need a visa just to change planes. And that is time consuming and costly.

On top of this the United States security police will take your photos and your fingerprints as if you are a common criminal. Your data will go into the Big Brother data base the United States is compiling on every person they can. The reality is that the US government now treats all people as if they are criminals and threats people anyway they wish. I can assure you that the travel industry, the airline employees from flight crew to baggage crew and airport employees mostly despite and hate the petty little thugs that DHS has put in charge of the airports.

I read travel forums to see what visitors to the United States are saying about their experiences. They aren’t selling a story, merely reporting their own experiences. An Australian tells of traveling with his family. At the US airport the “security” people were screaming at tourists. His youngest child was “selected” for additional security -- might be bin Laden in disguise you know. The child is afraid and the security thugs refused to allow the mother or the father to be near the child to comfort him. The terrified child started crying. I know how he feels. He tried to complain and was lectured that America is different now and get used to it. He said: “What the hell has happened to the country lately? I love the US, I love traveling there, I love the people, but where did they dig up these security people?”

Now I see that airline pilot Patrick Smith, at Salon is complaining. He says: “When it comes to airport security, we've been sheep from the very beginning, but this emerging pattern of willing submission to vague, unconfirmable threats from invisible "terrorists" is pushing things to a new level.”

He recounts a story where there was some sort of altercation on a plane with Clay Aiken the singer. Passengers were kept in their seats until DHS officials could interview individuals. One passenger wrote that a cabin crew member said: “This is 2007, and you need to watch what you say on a plane.” This sort of thing, when I was growing up, you only heard in films set behind the Iron Curtain or in Nazi Germany. Not anymore. Welcome to the Unfriendly Skies of Homeland Security.

This sort of authoritarianism is impacting travel to the United States as travelers now try to avoid transit through the country. And I don’t blame them. Unfortunately, when America was a free country, it prospered and airlines there blossomed. As a result many connecting flights still travel through the United States.

But capitalism sees a need and starts to fill it. I know a lot of Kiwis were shocked when they discovered that flights to London, via the United States, meant they would be subjected to interrogations, fingerprinting, hours of hassles, and rude actions by arrogant little people in uniforms. Now Air New Zealand has responded.

For years it flew to London, from Auckland, with Los Angeles as the stopover. They have now dropped LA airport and divert planes to Vancouver instead. Air New Zealand is letting people know that their flights will allow people to never set foot inside the United States. Gee, George isn’t that just great for the reputation of the country?

They aren’t alone. Air Canada used to fly to Sydney with a stopover in Hawaii. That meant stopovers required all the problems that Bush has inflicted on world travelers. Air Canada is dropping the Hawaii stopover and advertising to travelers this “will enable global travelers to avoid the United States.”

Wikitravel has a page of information on how travelers can reach various parts of the world, from other parts of the world, without ever setting foot behind the Iron Curtain. This is what has happened to America in the last few years. People are now going out of their way to avoid American soil. Airlines are now advertising flights with routes which are created to avoid US territory.

I suspect it is only a matter of time, if it doesn’t already exist, that some entrepreneurial travel agency will establish a web site to help travelers, anywhere in the world, book flights that will take them where they need to go without stopovers or refueling stops within US territory. The US government has made life at airports so unpleasant that people are willing to pay extra just to stay out of the country.

Not long ago I spoke with an old friend who lives in Canada with her American husband. They recently traveled to China. In conservative jargon that would be “Communist China” or “Red China” said with an appropriate sneer. She said that getting into China was easier than traveling the United States. When a communist dictatorship makes traveling easier than does the United States government you know that something has gone terribly wrong.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Greenpeace poisons hungry crowd. Or not?

Greenpeace activists in Thailand recently tried a publicity stunt to emphasize the imaginary threat of genetically engineered papaya. They were upset, as usual, about an suggestion by the Agriculture ministry to allow open field testing of GM crops.

So the Greenpeace scare mongers decided to take some GM papaya, eleven tons of it, and dump it in front of the Ministry blocking three of their gates.

The protest ran into a problem. It didn’t last long. A large crowd of onlookers rushed the pile of fruit and started packing it up and carting it off thrilled at the “free lunch” that Greenpeace had inadvertently provided them. Even officials from the Ministry grabbed some of the free food, apparently unconcerned about any supposed danger.

Greenpeace activists who tried to convince the crowd of the fictional dangers of the fruit were ignored as the happy recipients of the unintended largess took all they could carry.

On man who was sitting in his car at a stop light jumped out of the car to stock up on fruit. He told the Bangkok Post: “I’m ot scared of GM papayas. I’m scared I won’t have any to eat.”

The head doomsday prophet for the Greenpeace cult, Thailand diocese, complained that the reason people carted off the supposedly dangerous fruit was the government’s fault. Ms. Natwipha Ewasakul whined that this proves “the failure of government agencies to educate people about the possible health risks of genetically-engineered crops.”

Oh! In related news Mr. I.M. Twit bitched that the prevalence of radio signals is proof that government has not sufficiently warned the public that such signals disturb the alien life force that keeps the planet in harmony. “Continued use of radio signals could unbalance the whole planet,” said Twit, “This would lead to the eradication of gravity and we’d all die of thirst as the rain would fall upwards.” Mr. Twit showed how umbrellas could be used to catch the rising water to stave off dehydration.

And now back to the real twits.

Here is an interesting legal problem for Greenpeace. They argue that GM papaya is dangerous. So I suggest that some one in Thailand, who ate this supposedly dangerous papaya, which Greenpeace publicly dumped in front of hungry people, now sue Greenpeace for a significant amount of damages. They could go to court with Greenpeace’s own scare propaganda as evidence that the fruit is supposedly dangerous and that Greenpeace put their live at risk.

Could Greenpeace then argue the fruit was not dangerous and that it posed no risk to the happy consumers blessed with this windfall? If Greenpeace contends in court that the fruit is as dangerous as they pretend then they should have taken much stronger precautions to prevent hungry people from eating the “dangerous” fruit. As I see it Greenpeace can either say the fruit was safe and thus they were not negligent. Or they can say that their propaganda is correct, the fruit is dangerous, and they were negligent in putting it on public display when it was highly likely that it would lead to people consuming the fruit.

So the Thai people who got that fruit appear to be in line for being very lucky again, if they follow this tactic. Not only did they get a free meal out of the witless Greenpeace twits but if they play their cards right they can now demand compensation from Greenpeace for putting their lives at risk through the negligent distribution of “dangerous” food products. Oh, that would be juicy. I don’t see how Greenpeace can win a situation like that. Either they admit they lie about dangers or they admit they took no precaution regarding the danger and put the public at risk. I hope the litigants ask for lots of damages.

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Tragedy and bigotry: the wounding of Larry Craig.

The Larry Craig incident is taking on the air of a tragedy. The indications that Mr. Craig is gay are, in my opinion, rather strong. There are just too many “misunderstandings” in his past to overlook. And the more he continues to deny it the more people come forward to confirm it. It certainly looked bad for him when he jumped to the forefront, denying he had sex with male pages in Congress--when his name had not been mentioned in that case. He was then in his 40s and said the rumors were due to his being single. He then married conveniently proposing to his wife only six months after the scandal.

The first stories of his dalliances with men come from his college days. He was in a fraternity and a pledge in that fraternity says that Craig tried to have sex with him. Craig says the man was lying. Another “lying” individual was a man in Washington who says that Craig picked him up in the toilet at Union Station. Another “lying” man said that Craig had tried to pick him up in Boise.

And one woman who dated Craig said he never as much held her hand and that she felt “like I was an accessory. I might as well have been his briefcase.”

Then there is the little matter of the police officer who was trying to entrap gay men in a toilet and ended up with a Senator. Craig stupidly put in a guilty plea. I say stupidly because it is relatively apparent that he had not actually violated the law. Merely indicating a willingness to have sex with someone is not a crime. And, since the location of said sex was not discussed prior to the arrest, he couldn’t be charged with trying to have sex in a public place. His desire to sweep the arrest under the rug actually made matters worse.

The Idaho Statesman newspaper has been looking into these rumours for the last year, long before Craig’s tap dance in the toilet. And they interviewed Craig about this. He sat and listened to an interview tape with some of the men who had said they had sex with him, his wife at his side. Suzanne Craig started crying as she heard the tape.

None of this is conclusive proof. But the cumulative impact of the evidence indicates a problem with Craig’s denials. They don’t seem to ring true.

The great sadness here is that Craig could be one of the more decent Republicans. The same was true for Mark Foley. Both were better than the party they represented. And I suspect both were pushed into more extreme moralistic positions, to satisfy the American Taliban, than they would have preferred. The harm done to the Republican Party by the Religious Right is astounding if you start to add it up.

But the harm done to individuals like Craig is even more shocking. The reality is that the fundamentalist view on homosexuality is about as realistic and rational as the the Holy Inquisition was on witches. It is not science, it is not reason. It is mythology and superstition.

Of course, just because there were no witches doesn’t mean there were no witch hunts and that real people weren’t harmed. And today the primitive, authoritarian beliefs of the Religious Right have real victims as well. I’ve seen them, talked to them and even, during times when I worked the weekend shift on a peer counseling hotline, I’ve listened to their stories and tried to offer help.

Ted Haggard was caught with a male prostitute. He lied about it. Then he confessed his sins and said he had been dealing with his homosexuality his entire life. He goes off to be prayed over, and counseled for a couple of weeks, and announces a total “cure”. Right! It took only a short period of time to go right back into the same denial he was in for years before. As a former born-again Christian I know where this comes from. Many believe that one must claim a “healing” even when the evidence for it is not there. It is a “faith statement” which shows you trust God. And the more evidence that exists to prove that this is not the case, the more you must insist that a real healing took place.

I remember one weekend on the counseling hotline with a call coming in from a student at Moody Bible Institute. He was gay and couldn’t cope with it. Everything he was told at home, at church, at school, branded him. Yet his family, his church and his school didn’t know he was gay. He suffered in silence until that evening when he spoke to me. Messages of hate had been seared into his brain from childhood and he believed them.

It was at around this time that I was to give a paper at the national convention of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies dealing with counseling homosexuals. My views, to say the least, were out of the mainstream. As a result of that speech and other work I did on the topic, including co-authoring a pro-gay article in a major evangelical magazine --anonymously since I was then employed by an evangelical organization and the co-author was a minister at a Wheaton church--I was in touch with lots of individuals.

I listened to the stories of women who discovered their husbands were gay. They had been unknowingly turned into therapeutic tools in the hopes of “healing” a gay man. These women were not treated as whole individuals with a right to their own happiness, but merely as a means to “cure” gay men. And when it didn’t work out the way it was supposed to, these women were the ones dealing with shattered lives. In at least one case a husband infected his wife with HIV.

I was given a copy of a letter, the text of which I have kept now for many years. It broke my heart. A young man wrote this letter trying to explain decisions he made in his life. He was gay and a fundamentalist Christian. And as hard as he tried to stop being gay, he couldn’t do it. He went to the counseling programs. He sought out the “exgay ministries” and followed their instructions and over and over he found that he was still gay. No matter how much he tried to purge his mind things didn’t change.

He wrote a moving letter about his love for the wonderful life he had, his job, his family and, but he also wrote about his inability to “gain control” “no matter how much I prayed and tried to avoid the temptation, I continually failed.” He loved his faith so much he prefered to die at his own hands than ever be tempted with homosexuality again. He killed himself and begged his family and friends to understand that, no matter how much he loved his life, he loved God more. He wrote” "I regret if I bring sorrow to those that are left behind. If you get your hearts in tune with the word of God you will be as happy about my 'transfer' as I am. I also hope that this answers sufficiently the question, why? May God Have Mercy On My Soul.”

I remember driving through the streets of Chicago one evening. I was riding in a car though I can’t tell who was driving, or where I was going at the time. I can tell you about our approximate location. It wason the near north side of the city heading further north. We passed a gay bar surrounded by cop cars. I remember looking out the window as we drove by. The police were pulling men out the bar, one by one, and pushing them into the paddy wagon. It was a police raid for no other reason than the bar catered to gay men.

I have to wonder what Mr. Craig remembers of the series of arrests of gay men in Boise, Idaho, in 1955 when he was ten years old. Certainly the witch hunt there was widely discussed at the time and Mr. Craig would have felt his first same-sex attractions within a couple of years of that crusade to stamp out vice. Even today there are people in Idaho who still speak of that campaign. What impressions would that inflict on the mind of a young man growing up in Idaho grappling with his own sexuality? Certainly one gay man I knew, who grew up in the same area as Senator Craig, told me that he always knew of the anti-gay hysteria as a boy. (See a clip of a documentary on this case here.)

I have seen the tragedies inflicted on gay men and women by oppressive attitudes and false ideas. And I could see that many of the worst forms of oppression were self-inflicted. Ayn Rand wrote insightfully of a concept she called “the sanction of the victim.” This takes place when those who are victimized embrace the very beliefs that make their victimization possible. It is a form of treason, a betrayal of one’s own being.

I can't, however, comprehend the reason for such beliefs but I know patiently absurd beliefs can live a very long time. After all, there are still people who believe in Marxism. Like Marxism, the results of these beliefs have been almost entirely destructive yet they persist.

Craig’s actions are typical of the man trapped in the closet. They are destructive to himself and to those around him. His wife is suffering because of it. Even the conservatives, who love the moralistic campaigns, are being hurt by it.

The young man who took his life, rather than “sin” again, was not a victory for morality. A life was snuffed out needlessly because of false beliefs. I’ve met the young people thrown out of their homes by parents who won’t accept a gay child. I’ve listened to the pleas of individuals trapped in a conflict between their religion and their deepest character traits. I have talked to the wives who have experience grief and misery because a gay man was pushed into marrying.

Over and over tragedies are created. They are needless, wasteful, and destructive. They are evil. Larry Craig is one of those tragedies. Ted Haggard is another. So is Mark Foley. Families have been ripped apart, homes rent asunder, lives snuffed out, these are the results. Pain, misery, suffering, conflict, hate, violence; all are the fruits that grow on this tree of intolerance.

A couple of years ago I pledged to myself that I would never again ignore hate or accept intolerance. I will fight it because it is an evil that is wholly negative. I don’t care if it dressed up in religion or clothed in the semantics of morality or nationalism. I don’t care if “family values” or God are the excuses for it. I can’t stand to see this sort of pain. If anything I can do helps end this misery, or causes one person to change their mind, or one individual to learn self-acceptance, than I will be well pleased.

Some who visit this blog don’t understand my motivation. How could they? They didn’t see the things I saw nor hear the stories I heard. They were not witnesses to what I witnessed. They think I go over board. That’s fine, at the worst I only compensate for the many who do nothing when they see the ugly face of bigotry. I just reached the point where I decided I was too old to endure it one day more. And if it kills me in the process I will continue on.

I can’t stomach the misery these beliefs inflict. And Larry Craig’s sad story is just another example of that bigotry and what it does to people. His wife sat in that newspaper office crying because of it. He sought his companionship in secret places because of it. His career may end because of it.

It’s time to end the suffering. It’s time to stand up to hate every time it rears its head. And maybe, at some point in our humanity the need to hide in closets and to tell lies will disappear.

There are lyrics from two songs that, at different points in my life, have meant much to me. As music often does, they expressed things deep within myself at the time -- and they still do. One is the song Lonely Voices. The third stanza is one I think of most in this sad story.
Lonely eyes--I see them in the subway;
Burdened by the worries of the day.
Men at leisure, but they're so unhappy;
Tired of foolish roles they try to play.
Lonely people do I see;
Lonely people haunt my memory.
And while I cannot accept the religious values expressed in the last stanza of that song there are other lyrics that, to me, offer the answer to the needs expressed in Lonely Voices. These lyrics are written by a man who I thought was a musical genius and a poet: Jacque Brel, the Flemish singer. And while I am tempted to quote his entire song I have gone on far too long already. So instead, I will end with just a few words from Brel’s song If We Only Have Love:
If we only have love
For the hymn that we shout

For the song that we sing
Then we'll have a way out

If we only have love
We can reach those in pain
We can heal all our wounds
We can use our own names
I am adding below three versions of the Brel song. One is by Diane Warwick, the second is the original by Brel himself and the third is a duet performed by Celine Dion and Maurane. Unfortunately the version I love most couldn't be located -- the one done by the cast of the 1966 stage show, Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Pick which version you prefer, or all three. I actually listened to about a half dozen versions and was surprised to see how few are available in English.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Republicans and sex: the lethal combination

Larry Craig is a top Right-wing, Theopublican Senator from Idaho. He is also one of those Theopublicans who happily joined the villagers with the pitchforks and torches who were out chasing the gay monster. Now, Mr. Craig has been arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer in a toilet at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Actually, I should say he was arrested in June and had managed, until now, to keep his arrest quiet. Craig says his actions were misconstrued and that police had misunderstood him. He did, however, plead guilty to the charges at the time but says he did this to keep things quiet, and to handle them as quickly as possible. He paid a fine and is on a suspended jail sentence.

This is not the first time that Senator Craig has had issues of this type. In 1982 a former Congressional page claimed that various member of Congress plied male pages with drugs and alcohol and solicited sex from them. Please note that while the news report below claims the pages are “under age” this is not necessarily true. The media stupidly and incorrectly uses “under age” to mean anyone under 18 years of age. While 18 is the age of majority, age of consent for sexual activity is 16 in Washington, D.C., as it is in many states.

It should be noted that today the minimum age to become a page is 16 which is why, despite the media hype, Republican Congressman Mark Foley was not involved in sexual misconduct with minors. Actually, one of the main incidents took place with a former page who was 18 years of age and the only sexual liaison that is known took place with an ex-page who was 21 years old at the time.

But this change was instituted in 1983, after the first scandal. In the following report you will see that, while no names were specifically mentioned, that Larry Craig held a press conference to deny it was him. So it is possible that in 1982 under aged pages were involved. However, given the media’s sloppy reporting it could mean either under 18 years of age, or under the age of consent, which is 16.

What was shocking in the 1982 case is that the hypocrites in Congress were using illegal drugs. Yet, none of these Senators or Congressman are willing to legalize the drugs they used. And many bash gays while secretly having gay sex -- or in some cases, not so secretly having gay sex.

Last year one blogger specifically named Larry Craig as a Senator who regularly sought out male companionship. This year old article from USA Today notes covers that. (This report also incorrectly claims that the two congressman who admitted having sex with pages in 1982 did so with under aged pages. That is false. Both pages were over the age of consent and one of them, the male page who had an affair with Congressman Gerry Studds, publicly defended Studds and stated that they were both consenting adults. But the media still prefers the sensationalism of exaggerating the facts. The media doesn’t mind a little gay bashing by distorting the facts to sell papers or up their ratings.)

USA Today noted that a “gay rights” blogger exposed Craig last year. The blogger, Michael Rogers, did so because Craig had an antigay agenda. However, Rogers uses the term very broadly to mean any view contrary to that of the Left agenda of some gay political pressure groups. In some cases the label applies, and in others it does not. Unfortunately the Left can’t distinguish between the two and conflates them into one category. Most Leftist, like most Rightists, have no coherent theory of rights. Rights are whatever they like. That said, Senator Craig did support legislation that denied equal citizenship to gay people.

Craig has bought into the Theopublican Religious-Right agenda and proclaimed himself a defender of “traditional family values”. The media reports he is married and has three children. It is usually left out that this marriage took place rather late in Craig’s life and that none of the children are his own but were born to his wife during her first marriage. Rumors regarding Craig’s sexual life were floating around long before the marriage. The film clips above make clear that Craig only married after he was publicly denying any involvement with male pages since he mentions that he came forward because he was single and suspected he would be implicated.

The question for the media is when does a private life become a matter of public interest. Bill Clinton’s sexual unfaithfulness to Hillary (which may have been mutual) was private except that Clinton was charged with sexual harassment. He was supporter of the very laws which netted him -- as was Foley, by the way. In both their cases they were harmed by legislation they endorsed.

Clinton, however, also lied while under oath. And it appeared that he was easily blackmailed by Monica Lewinsky, who was able to use her affair to pressure him into giving her positions apparently in exchange for the positions she gave him or, by implication, for her silence. Once Clinton lied in court, and was open to this sort of improper pressure, the matter took on a more ominous nature. At that point his private live became public concern. Unfortunately the Republicans were so horrified over sex that they never got to anything of substance.

Foley’s problem was that he was stupid and he proposed legislation that he was happily violating himself. In addition he was supporting political policies that denied equal rights to gay people. That doesn’t change the fact that Democrats used crude gay stereotypes to hype the Foley incident for their own benefit and that they falsely accused him of being a pedophile even though the rude messages he sent were to sexually mature individuals above the age of consent. I thought the Foley incident showed how seamy the Democrats could be and how they would use antigay stereotypes just as quickly as the Republicans, if they see a clear benefit in doing so.

My view is that a politician who doesn’t make himself out to be some defender of “traditional values” or isn’t legislating the sex lives of others, ought to have his private, sexual life respected and kept private. Larry Craig was willing to make the sex lives of others a matter of public concern. He was caught soliciting a male police officer in a toilet -- the cruising spot of the closeted, something which the Theopublican agenda of pushing gays into the closet encourages. Craig also denied gay people equality before the law. I would not have outed him myself, as did the one blogger, but I can’t be too upset he was caught either.

His actual arrest changed the facts sufficiently that it is worth reporting. And it should be noted that this is not the last Theopublican moralist who will be hoisted with their own petard. Their desire to regulate the sex lives of others means they are willing to turn the private affairs of people into public business. How they expect their own sexual lives to stay private I don’t know. If the sex lives of the citizenry are the affairs of legislators then the sex lives of legislators are the affair of the voters. But political officials who haven’t tried to make private sexual activity a focus of state intervention ought to have their privacy respected. Larry Craig was not that kind of elected official. And his party represents the organized forces of state control of sexuality.

According to the police report, which I have read, Craig appears to have attempted to use his political office to avoid arrest. After his arrest he was asked for his driver’s license. Craig, however, handed the officer his U.S. Senate business card instead. He said: “What do you think of that?”

I should also note that there is no clear indication that Craig was planning on engaging in sexual activity in a public location. He supposedly used gestures to indicate that he was willing to engage in sex. The location was never indicated or discussed. If indication of willingness to engage in voluntary sexual conduct is “lewd conduct” than 99% of the American people would have been arrested at some point in their life and the other 1% are lying about it.

If a man had indicated to a woman that he was interested in sexual activity, I suspect that it would not normally be considered a criminal matter unless he did so in an especially graphic, offensive, or aggressive manner. Craig seems to have been a victim of the double standard -- one standards for straight activity and another for gay activity. But then Craig has done a great deal to encourage that sort of standard of inequality before the law. Anti-gay fundamentalist minister Lonnie Latham had been arrested for exactly the same thing -- suggesting to a police officer they go to his hotel room for sex. The officer was hanging around a hotel where gay men sometimes meet other men. Latham didn't offer money nor did he suggest sex in public. But he was arrested anyway -- this is not an unusual way for police to harass gay people. Latham, was acquitted because the sex act itself was legal as was his suggestion to the officer. Chances are good that Sen. Craig would have been acquitted had he fought the charges. But he, like many gay men, copped a plea to try to avoid the trauma of being publicly outed in a culture where being gay is still a social handicap.

I should note that one way Senator Craig differs from many on the far Right of the Republican Party is that he doesn’t engage in the shameless, racist attacks on immigrants. His analysis of immigration has been sound. And his knowledge of the economic benefits of immigration can’t be disputed. So, at least, on that issue, Senator Craig is heads above the many fake “free market” advocates who want to restrict immigration and bash immigrants. On that front, at least, he was not a bigot though he did pander to the Religious Right on the antigay campaign.

Craig was a victim in some ways. The worst he did was indicated a willingness to engage in sex and that is not “lewd conduct” except to the homophobes who think anything that indicates sexuality, especially homosexual sexuality, is automatically lewd. Craig did not offer money so it wasn’t solicitation for prostitution. He merely indicated a willingness to engage in legal, sexual activity. And since the issue of where one would have sex was never raised it was not a matter of public lewdness either.

So Craig was arrested on charges that normally are not applied to people other than to gay men. He was the victim of the uneven view of rights that permeates the law when it comes to homosexuality. But he was also a victim of the Religious Right ideology that he willingly promoted -- one that required him to be closeted and seek out such activity in a manner that was meant to be furtive and secretive, one that relied on “cruising spots” with hand gestures or foot tapping to indicate willingness. His own ideology, and that of his political party, made it impossible for him to be open about who he was. And that sort of closeted attitude distorts one’s sexuality.

What happened to Senator Craig was, to a large extent, self inflicted. The fault lies in a legal system which Craig endorsed and promoted. It lies in a belief system that is based on mythology, lies and wishful thinking and opposed to the facts of reality. As long as the Republicans continue to embrace the destructive values of religious fundamentalism they will churn out the tortured examples of people like Ted Haggard, Senator Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Rev. Coy Privette, Rev. Lonnie Latham, State Rep. Bob Allen, Senator David Vitter, or Young Republicans leader Glenn Murphy.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An apology to the readers.

I want to apologize for neglecting the blog in the last couple of days. As someone who travels more than he wishes the time came to pack up house and move to new quarters. And in my case that usually means a new country. So with the packing and moving there was long distance travel -- about 10 hours this time, little sleep and the joy of passport control and customs. That put me out of touch with the blog for a few days. And I got in late last night and only barely managed to reset the computer for the new format to access the net when exhaustion took over and I had to sleep. I'm getting settled and hope to begin posting again in a few hours.

I didn't forget and managed to work on some new material along the way. Thanks for reading what I have to say and my apologies for not being here.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Will nationalized health care increase life expectancy?

If I were to tell you that the life expectancy of a group of people had dropped dramatically in the last few years what do you actually know? Not a lot.

You don’t know, for instance, why life expectancy dropped. And it could be for dozens of reasons. Life expectancy dropped in Jonestown because the fanatics living there committed mass suicide. Life expectancy, in parts of Africa, dropped due to AIDS. In Zimbabwe it dropped due to the disastrous economic policies of dictator Robert Mugabe.

Life expectancy is the result of dozens of factors. At best it is a general indicator of life in a specific area. In and of itself, it does not tell you much about any specific policy.

I am convinced that life expectancy is only tangentially connected to health care with the exception of birth. Once an infant survives the first year or so of life health care is almost secondary. Prime factors include diet, safety, clean water and sanitary conditions, and lifestyle choices.

If you look at the history of the rise of life expectancy it was basic improvements in life that caused much of the increase. The problems our ancestors had was to survive birth and the first year or two of life and then to have food to eat, clean water and to avoid disease. Get that out of the way and life expectancy shot up.

The second great advance in life expectancy was when we discovered how to immunize people against diseases like flu, polio, measles, small pox, etc. It should be noted that the great advances in this field predated nationalized health care systems for the most part.

Most of the major medical expenses in the world today actually have little impact on life expectancy. While for some people we are talking about adding a few years to the life of a person, for most we are talking of adding weeks or months at best.

I think of the last years of my grandmother’s life. She was 95 when she went into the hospital for the last time. And she was there for a few months. In reality her life had ended shortly after admission. A series of small strokes had taken away her ability to recognize the life she had lived. The last time I spoke to her she had no idea who I was. The care she received was costly, and would be costly no matter who paid for it, or how they did so. And it gave her a few more weeks of existence though she had truly ceased living long before that. Were those few months worth it?

I do think Americans over spend on health care. They buy far more care than they need and buy care which has little impact on the quality of life or their life expectancy. They might spend $50,000 to extend life, in a miserable state, for a few weeks. Other care, however, makes sense. The 50 year old who needs bypass surgery may well live another 25 years. In the end I figure that people are spending their own money and that the choice ought to be theirs to make.

The reality is that spending a bit less on expensive care, and a bit more on basic, preventative care and check ups, will do a lot more good. Americans could reduce their health spending dramatically without having much, if any, of a negative impact on their life. Individuals could easily repriortize their concerns. It isn’t that health care is too expensive as much as it is that Americans are over buying expensive care and under consuming basic, preventative care. A major factor that puts US spending, per capita, above that of Europe is that Americans tend to prefer to solve problems with expensive care rather than taking cheaper precautions in advance. That is a problem of individual choice, not health care systems.

When it comes to the expensive care I’d rather let nature takes its course for the most part. If I’m 80 years old and can have care that will leave me bedridden but surviving for another six months I see no reason to bother. I would rather let go. But the choice can only be made by the individual. One of the problems I have with nationalized care is that the individual is usually stripped of say-so in these matters. Bureaucrats and politicians determine what treatments they may have and who may have it. Individual choice is normally, intentionally restricted.

Americans, no doubt, do overspend on health care for the benefits they receive. On the other hand the nationalized systems intentionally under spend on care. They brag they are cheaper but they are cheaper because they deny care that people want and often need. Cheaper is not necessarily the determinate of good care any more than more expensive is. Both could be serious misallocation of resources.

This said I should get back to the main point, which is the role of health care in life expectancy. Life expectancy is only a general indicator regarding the qualify of life. It is not an indicator that says much about specific policies. And that is where some advocates of nationalize care get dishonest. They will argue that Americans have a slightly lower life expectancy than do people living in nations with nationalized health care.

Normally they are very selected as to which countries they choose. The truth is that Americans live, on average, longer than people in many countries with socialized care but not as long as people in some countries. If one were to compare the EU average life expectancy to that of the average American the difference is really a matter of weeks.

But that small difference is used to champion socialized care. Somehow turning health care over to the people who run the post office is supposed to add a few weeks to our life expectancy and this is supposed to be a vast improvement.

But are the differences in life expectancy between the US and some European countries (and not others), actually the result of different health care systems? Or are their other factors that directly lower US life expectancy?

Everyone knows that obesity, a result of affluence, is rampant in the United States. And this problem is worse in the US than in Europe. Having lived on both continents I can verify that observations personally. The size of some Americans is astounding to me. Micheal Moore is becoming far more the norm than the exception. This is having a major impact on life expectancy. Americans are still living longer than ever but the rate of improvement has slowed allowing less obese nations to surpass the US average. But this is a personal choice issue not a health system issue.

Another cause for lower life expectancy can be crime. This is especially true for one group of American - black males. The average life expectancy of black Americans is five years shorter than that of white Americans. And crime is a major reason. One study showed that a white male of 15 years of age had a 1-in-345 chance of being murdered before he turned 45. For black males those odds were 1-in-45. And in Washington, DC, the city in America with more politicians than any other, the odds were 1-in-12.

This study says that ending the criminal carnage in the black community would bring the average life expectancy of black males up by three years. This is not a health system issue. Yet, it severely impacts US life expectancy rates which is then used to “prove” nationalized care is better. In addition, the African-American community has higher rates of various unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as drug use, smoking and consumption of alcohol. All these factors drag down the life expectancy in that community and reduce US rates as well. While some European countries have similar communities with similar problems they are a smaller percentage of the population and thus have less impact on the life expectancy average.

A study out of Harvard says: “young black men living in poor, high-crime urban America have death risks similar to people living in Russia or sub-Saharan Africa.”

One study I looked at recently, from the Commonwealth Fund, showed that if you reach the age of 60 that your life expectancy, in the US is another 17 years. Under the nationalized health systems in the UK and New Zealand the remaining years are also 17 years. No difference. Canada was higher at 18 years but there are still various factors that impact this which are outside the health system -- as already mentioned.

MSNBC repeated an Associated Press report stating that “A relatively high percentage of babies born in the U.S. die before their first birthday, compared with other industrialized nations.” What they refer to is the infant mortality rates. Again this is slightly dishonest since different nations define infant mortality differently.

The U.S. has a much broader definition of live birth than does other nations. They aren’t measuring the same thing. US News & World Report explained the differences:
First, it's shaky ground to compare U.S. infant mortality with reports from other countries. The United States counts all births as live if they show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity or size. This includes what many other countries report as stillbirths. In Austria and Germany, fetal weight must be at least 500 grams (1 pound) to count as a live birth; in other parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, the fetus must be at least 30 centimeters (12 inches) long. In Belgium and France, births at less than 26 weeks of pregnancy are registered as lifeless. And some countries don't reliably register babies who die within the first 24 hours of birth. Thus, the United States is sure to report higher infant mortality rates. For this very reason, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which collects the European numbers, warns of head-to-head comparisons by country.

Infant mortality in developed countries is not about healthy babies dying of treatable conditions as in the past. Most of the infants we lose today are born critically ill, and 40 percent die within the first day of life. The major causes are low birth weight and prematurity, and congenital malformations. As Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, points out, Norway, which has one of the lowest infant mortality rates, shows no better infant survival than the United States when you factor in weight at birth.
Infant mortality rates are also connected to many factors not related to health care. For instance, teen mothers are more likely to have give birth to sick infants. Mothers who smoke, or are obese, or simply lack education, have riskier pregnancies. And the U.S. has more of these problems than other nations, yet these are not directly linked to the health system.

Nationalized health care won’t reduce crime rates. It won’t reduce obesity. The Harvard study indicates this. The main reason some communities, in the U.S., have lower life expectancy is due to injuries and some chronic diseases “including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. These killers, in turn, are a consequence of well-known and largely controllable risk factors such as smoking, alcohol use, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. In high-risk urban black communities, male mortality is increased by homicides and exposure to AIDS.” These are “largely controllable risk factors”. Controlled by whom? By the individual at risk, not by the health system.

The Harvard study looked at eight distinct groups of Americans and concluded: “"The variation in health plan coverage across the eight Americas is small relative to the very large difference in health outcome. It is likely that expanding insurance coverage alone would still leave huge disparities in young and middle-aged adults." Universal coverage, as envisioned by advocates of socialized care, will have little direct impact on U.S. life expectancy. But cheaper, if not free, individual changes in life style can have a major impact.

Another Harvard study found that Americans could add 6.7 years to their life expectancy by following healthier guidelines for living. Europeans could add only 5.5 years, implying that 1.2 years of the current difference in life expectancy rates between the US and Europe is due to lifestyle factors, not to health care systems. That difference would put US life expectancy on par with the UK and Germany, indicating that the differences in life expectancy rates is due to lifestyle choices not health systems.

Another indicator that health systems are not the main issue is that Hong Kong, not known for socialized health care, or much of a welfare state at all, has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, at 80.2 years. That exceeds all the European socialized states. Switzerland also has a high life expectancy, yet most health care is provided privately and covered by private, individual insurance policies. Recently, Swiss voters rejected a single-payer health proposal.

Singapore also has a high life expectancy yet they have little in the way of nationalized health care. Individuals in Singapore are expected to establish their own private, health accounts which belong to them or their heirs when they die. These private accounts pay for most care in the country. Out of these accounts citizens purchase catastrophic insurance to cover major problems and draw down the account for minor problems. About 10% of the population is deemed impoverished and are directly helped in health care by the state, but the bulk of the population pays for their care out of their own resources. They also have health care expenditures that are far lower than any of the nationalized systems.

Some countries, often with very little in the way private or public health care, have life expectancy rates that are still rather impressive. Costa Rica has a higher life expectancy than Luxembourg. And two U.S. territories, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, have higher life expectancies than the U.S. mainland. Yet, I know of no one who attributes this to greater access to health care, socialized or not.

Another indication that life expectancy is only tangentially tied to health systems is that every nation in the world, no matter their health care system, sees dramatic differences in life spans between men and women. And much of that is due to life style differences tied to biology. Men are more violent, on average, than women. That means they get killed more often. They also tend to be more risk takers than women and that also means they are more likely to die young.

In most socialized health systems the women live five to seven years longer than men, on average. Yet this is not because women receive superior health care. At least I’ve yet to hear that claim.

Life expectancy is primarily a matter of factors outside the health care systems. As such it can not be considered evidence, one way or the other, that nationalized care is superior to private health care.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

DC Schools spends millions for people with no work to do.

Here is a perfect example of the point I was making yesterday about the problems of having schools run by unions and politicians.

Washington, DC, has one of the most expensive state run school systems in the world. And the more money it gets the worse it seems to run. People wonder why that is. First, remember that politicians tend to throw money at problems. The worse a school does the more “in need” it becomes and thus the more funds it requires.

Markets reward solutions with profits. Politics is used to address “problems”. The more problems you have the more programs and subsidies that you qualify for. The nature of political financing is perverse. It rewards dysfunctionality far more than efficiency.

Now we learn that the cash rich, results poor, DC school district is going to spend $5.4 million on staff who have no actual function under another set of reforms they are pushing.

These individuals actually have no job to perform at all. But the school district says that union contracts require them to keep these people employed. If they must fire someone they have to fire someone they need in order to keep someone they don’t need. As the morons at the union see it the only qualification for employment is seniority.

Chancellor Michelle Rhee says she could fire newer teachers who are needed but that sends the wrong message to people applying for work with the District. She says that tells other teachers that are thinking of working for the district to think a second time before actually taking the job. So the school will waste $5.4 million to keep people who have no work to actually do. That is union mandated efficiency.

And the problem becomes worse. This report notes that the DC mayor was “swept to power thanks in part to the legwork of activist unions, such as the Washington Teachers’ Union” and that the unions expect him to give them what they want -- screw those whining kids.

So we have a school district flushing $5.4 million down the toilet to employ people they don’t need because the coalition of unions and politicians demand such inefficiency.

The school budget in DC comes to about $20,000 per student. So, how do private schools do in comparison? St. Gabriel School has a tuition of $4,500. The more prestigious German School in the suburbs charges $10,000 per year. The most expensive, elite private school in the city, St. Albans charges $26,500 per year, not that far above what DC residents are paying for a school system that is in perpetual crisis.

The Washington Post reports that there are 300 private schools in the DC and that most “cost far less than St. Albans”. I have no doubts that is the case. That would mean that most private schools in DC are far cheaper than the DC schools themselves. In fact I suspect that most private schools in this area would be around $5000 to $6000 per year.

Strictly speaking the DC city council could send every child in the District to a private school and pay the full tuition and still save $14,000 to $15,000 per pupil in the process.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Male prostitute moonlights as cop.

Police in Pennsylvania were out protecting the public from the rampaging prostitutes that pillage and plunder the public. You might assume that I mean the police set up a roadblock to prevent any presidential candidate from visiting the state. But in this case I mean real prostitutes -- the honest kind. The ones who don’t actually violate anyone’s rights and who exchange a little sex for a little money. The one’s with willing customers.

What I clearly mean is that the bloody police were out wasting taxpayers resources to arrest people for exchanging a legal act for some cash. Sex is legal. Money is legal. How combining the two makes it illegal is beyond me. But the blue nose types get out of joint if someone suggests the practice ought to be legal. I guess it removes all the “danger thrill” these types get when they sneak off to visit a hooker after their Tuesday revival service.

Since Pennsylvania is blessed, in that there are no outstanding, unsolved crimes and no criminal acts being conducted anywhere, the police had a lot of free time on their hands. So they decided to go after anyone giving another person one kind of pleasure in exchange for receiving a different kind of pleasure.

And they set up headquarters (pardon the pun) at the Wilkes-Barre Lodge. They then contacted escort agencies and lied to them about being in need of some relief. And one undercover officer was waiting in the room while others hid nearby to make a TV-like dramatic entrance -- cops can be such drama queens.

The “escort” arrived on time, punctuality is important for the entrepreneurs of the world. The escort was one Levi Gibbons. And he charged $200 for his services. Now, you have to give Levi some credit (though he prefers cash). Levi is 40 and still able to sell his service for $200.

The male undercover officer handed over the money to Levi who then discusses what sort of activities they would engage in during their male bonding session. Levi then tried to dress, I should say undress, for the job. That is when the waiting drama queens made their big entrance and arrested Levi for violating the rights of absolutely no one.

This is where life gets messy. Levi Gibbon was a willing participant to a financial exchange where he got something he valued highly for something he didn’t value as highly. He admits he was selling the stimulation of nerve endings for cash. Levi doesn’t do this sort of work exclusively. And, as he moves into his 40s, that may be a wise decision as demand for his services will probably drop off. When Levi isn't helping people one way he is trying to help them another way. Levi was a member of the Newport Township Police.

Levi’s prostitution work wasn’t undercover though, no doubt, it was often under the covers. It was supplemental income. And now the police are all in shock, wondering what to do.

The police chief says he was “extremely shocked”. He says they never had complaints about Gibbon that he did his work as expected. A member of the fire department said that everyone liked Gibbons and that “he did a good job.” He too was shocked.

What shocks me is not that Gibbons was willing to exchange some pleasure for cash. What shocks me is that there are still laws on the books wasting everyone’s time to arrest people for this.

Sure Gibbons didn’t make the most moral choice in earning a living, but most of us are willing to overlook his police work. And at 40 years of age he couldn’t continue to earn $200 for some slap and tickle much longer. He needed to think about his future so one can understand the moral trade off he made when going into police work.

There is nothing that says people have to like prostitution but the reality is that it is an offense that doesn’t violate the rights of others. And it really ought not be the laws business.

The reality is that Levi Gibbons has had his life turned upside-down. And it is not because he was willing to exchange some sex for cash. It is because the law doesn’t stay within its proper boundaries. Police have a duty to protect us from those who would violate our rights. When the police arrest people for making these sorts of exchanges it is they who are they criminals. They are the ones violating the rights of peaceful individuals. And they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

In the morality wars it is those who use force against peaceful individuals who are the immoral criminals. A crime is that which violates another’s life, liberty or property. Mr. Gibbon’s evening job didn’t do that. His daytime job, unfortunately did. Perhaps he ought to apologize for his career decisions but it’s the day time job that is more morally questionably these days.

Oh, Levi, Ted Haggard called. He said give him a call sometime.


Monopolists and politicians band together against students.

One of my earliest memories of school days, most of which were just a blur, was the time the teachers went on strike. Of course, we students were enthusiastic supporters of the teachers. It wasn’t that we cared one twaddle about their contract. But when they were on strike we were off from school. Our self-interest happened to coincide with their self-interest. But I learned, over the years, that the self-interest of the teachers and that of the students often do not coincide. And when they conflict the teachers, with some notable exceptions, will screw over the students.

The teacher’s unions are powerful lobbies for a special interest group -- their members. And teachers will use emotive language about the “good” of the children while lobbying for their own financial well being. Now, the optimal situation for the teachers themselves, for setting teacher benefits, is to have a monopolistic provider of education negotiating with a labor monopoly. And if the monopolistic provider is a bunch of third rate politicians more the better.

The union knows it can pour money into campaigns, in the name of the children of course, to unseat recalcitrant politicians who don’t obey the orders of the union to fleece the taxpayer for more benefits for teachers. Unions love it when politicians are the providers because Big Labor are experts at manipulating the political system for their own self-interest, no matter the actual consequences to the students.

For instance, the unions frequently have pushed through regulations which make it almost impossible to fire lousy teachers. Bad teachers harm generations of students. But the unions lobby to defend those crappy teachers from any discipline. And perhaps it ought to be that way. The union’s job is not to provide a quality education to students. It is to give teachers as much as possible out of the public purse. They do their job and they do it well. Teachers benefit and students get screwed over. Politicians get rewards and taxpayers pay the bills.

Politicians tend to line up to kiss ass when the teacher’s union comes along because it is powerful. Some years ago, in a previous existence, I ran for office. And our campaign headquarters was calling voters. I, like the campaign volunteers, was on the phone as well. I hated campaigning with a passion. But we had a bank of phones and I was on one calling around.

We would ask people what they thought about five different issues. If they agreed with my position on 3 or more of those issues we would inform them and ask them if we could send them campaign literature. The only call I remember was when I got a teacher on the line. She outrightly stated: “When it comes to voting I just follow the instructions of the union.” Well, no wonder so many students turn out to be independent thinkers. But lots of teachers act the same way. They obey orders and do what the union tells them to do. And that means they vote according to union dictaates and fund campaigns according to union preferences.

The teacher’s unions hate non-political education -- that is any education provided outside the direct control of the politicians. It makes it much harder, if not impossible, to manipulate the system in order to pick the pockets of taxpayers while providing mediocre education, if one is lucky. To maximize the profit of its members the union has to do what it can to protect a state educational near-monopoly. And that means smashing, when possible, alternative education.

I previously reported on a successful alternative school in Dayton, Ohio. Most the students were African-American and the students came from mostly impoverished families. Yet all the graduates had been accepted into university. The teachers at this school are dedicated to helping the students. And most are union members and the school was a state funded alternative school. It was rare in that it worked well.

But when the budget for the school district required cutting the union demanded that teachers be fired according to seniority not their teaching skills. Good teachers were to be fired, if only recently hired, while crappy teachers had job security merely for hanging on for so long. That is how the union puts the needs of students first.

Utah recently passed a universal voucher system for students. Each student, who prefers an alternative school, will receive a fraction of the funding that would have gone to the school and that funding will follow the student to the alternative school. It cuts education costs because no student receives the full amount that would have paid their state schooling. The students and their parents have more choice and are happier. State education has a little less income but a lot less expenses. And their classrooms aren’t as crowded -- they used to say that was a problem.

I thought that the progressive and political Left community ought to embrace this and open alternative schools themselves. Utah is pretty much a Republican monopoly and I felt that humanist, secularists, such as myself, would prefer to have schools teaching “our” values as opposed to those which push a Theopublican agenda. I urged non-Republicans to embrace the voucher system in order to create real diversity in Utah by opening alternative schools.

But the Utah Education Association, the big labour front for the teachers, is pushing to eradicate vouchers. There must be no choice for students. The ability to manipulate the political system for the benefit of teachers, at the expense of taxpayers and students, must not be threatened. Big Labour is throwing in millions to push for a referendum so that they can spend more millions in order to scare voters with false claims about the evils of chose in education. And the Democrats are lining up with the labor monopoly. There is no surprise there.

With money from the unions, a front group has gathered signatures to strip choice from the system. Now the battle goes to the voters directly and you can bet that the teacher labor monopoly will inundate little Utah with cash in order to protect their self-interest. They will use every myth and lie they can muster.

They will say it strips money from public education, ignoring the fact that it increases funding per remaining student in the state system since departing students remove all their direct costs but only a portion of their financing. They will say it creates segregation even though private schools tend to be more ethnically and economically diverse than most state schools. What they won’t say is that this threatens the perks of the unions. And the Democrats won’t say that they are in bed with this labor monopoly.

The more secure the educational monopoly the more the teachers can receive in benefits. They, in turn, have to give a fair percentage of those funds to the union as a protection racket. And the racketeers have to buy off the politicians to keep the vicious cycle going. The politicians find it easiest to purchase support from the Democrats. So the Democrats are loyal to the unions -- and well they should be, a dog should always obey the master who feeds him.

The sad thing is that the students may well end up stripped of choice to placate the greed of the members of Big Labour. And the chance to build decent, secular schools that promote basic liberal values will be destroyed to protect the self interest of teachers, their unions, and some politicians.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

If survival rates matter consider this.

Sure, I know that just one mention of why I dislike nationalized health care sends some of my left-of-center readers into a frenzy. It seems that the cause d’jour on the Left is the implementation of a state run system of health care in America. It is the public policy version of the Holy Grail.

Questioning nationalized health care is, to them, a similar sort of heresy as questioning the necessity of baptism by immersion at a Baptist tent revival. Alas, I’m used to the role of village atheist so I don’t mind.

Of the various state systems of health care the National Health Service in England holds a special place in the pantheon of state system -- mainly because it one of the first and one of the most pervasive. It has gone through a process of beatification in some circles. And I think it qualifies. And like anyone who is beatified that means it is declared holy on insufficient grounds and it is dead. Maybe it's not clinically dead but it certainly is on life support with the struggle more and more difficult each year.

Ask any member of the nationalize health sects where they would rather be sick, America or the U.K., and they will dutifully tell you how the British system is more fair and gives more health care to more people. That is the argument I generally hear. Giving out lots of care is easy and can be done cheaply. But the real issue is not what you give out but what are the results of the actual care given?

So ask yourself what you want to do if you had cancer. Would you prefer to get “equal” care or more effective care? Would you rather have a system that equalizes the treatment rate or one that maximizes survival rates?

A research team for The Lancet Oncology has looked at the survival rates for individuals diagnosed with cancer. This rate is determined by the number of patients who are still alive five years after being diagnosed with cancer. They ranked the various nations of Europe and then compared the survival rate to that of cancer patients in the United States -- the Great Satan of Health Care.

National Health Care covers England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales.

If you are a female in Scotland, your chances of surviving five years after a cancer diagnosis is 48%. In Northern Ireland it is slightly better at 51% and even better in England at 52.7%. Wales comes out tops there with 54.1%. The percentage of American women who survive more than five years after a cancer diagnosis was 62.9%. This, by the way, is a higher survival rate than any of the European countries that were surveyed. And the survey included all the major European health system except France, where the statistics were not made available.

Male cancer survival rates show that 40.2% of Scottish men live five or more years after diagnosis. In Northern Ireland it is 42%, England is 44.8% and and Wales is 47.9%. The United States has a male survival rate of 66.3%.

If 100 English women are diagnosed this month with cancer, then 47 will, on average, die in the next five years. In the United States, with all the problems the health systems does have, an extra 16 women per 100, will live. Sure, its just statistics, unless you happen to be one of those 16 women. And for every 100 English men diagnosed this month 55 will die in the next five years. If the same 100 men lived in the United States an extra 21 of them would live.

One of the researchers from Scotland, Prof. Ian Kunkler saays that one reason for the low survival rate in the U.K is partially due to the long waiting periods before treatment. He says that there is “good evidence that survival for lung cancer has been compromised by long waiting lists for radiotherapy treatment.”

Oddly the BBC managed to report this story without once mentioning the higher survival rate in the United States. But they do publish the European mean survival rate for men and women. They have a graph showing the survival rates but it is not calibrated too finely. My best estimate from the chart is that mean average survival rate for women appears to be around 51% about 11 points behind the U.S. And for men it appears to be 47% or about 19 points behind the U.S.

Lung cancer survival rates in England and Wales are very depressing. Only 6% of either sex survive. The U.S. survival rate is between two to three times higher, or up to about 16%. However, one relatively new regimen of care developed in the U.S. has shown survival rates of up to 29%.

Perhaps there are arguments as to why one might prefer to live in England versus the US (I spend more time in the UK than I do the US myself) but certainly if survival rates count for something -- and they do those who are trying to survive -- I know which I would pick.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Four innocent men, one dead woman and a bad cop.

The New York Times Magazine has an incredible story and a frightening one. Many people, perhaps most, have no idea how easy it is to convict an innocent man of murder. Not just to convict but to get him to confess to it, especially in death penalty states.

Anyone who has investigated how police botch up murder investigations and coerce suspects will know this is possible. Not only is it possible but I would say it is inevitable. Certainly not in every case but in many of them.

Let us start with the basics in this case. In 1997 Michelle Moore-Bosko was raped and murdered. Her husband, a Navy enlistee, returned to their apartment to find her body. He ran across the hall to a neighbor pleading with him to call the police. The neighbor, Daniel Williams, did as requested. Williams, also a Navy recruit, and his wife, shared an apartment with another sailor, Joseph Dick, Jr.

Police detective Robert Ford suspected that Williams was the perpetrator because a female friend of the victim said that Williams had been looking at her. Ford grilled and threatened Williams. And he used the tactics of brainwashing and coercion. He also made it clear to him that he would be convicted and that he would be executed unless he confessed. If he confessed the death penalty was off the table. Confess or die. Williams was told he was seen going into the apartment, that was a lie. Williams had willingly taken a polygraph test and the results said he was telling the truth. But Ford lied to Williams and told him he had failed the test.

Williams said he started to believe the accusations himself. It is also known that some individuals can be easily convinced to confess to anything.

Dr. Richard Ofshe is one of the world’s leading experts on false confessions and the ease with which they can be obtained. He has a full report on this incident here.

The police did not look for DNA evidence on Williams, or in his apartment, or at least there is no record of them doing so. Detective Ford was convinced he had the right man. Then DNA recovered on the dead woman’s body threw a monkey wrench into the neat little scenario that Ford had invented for himself. It didn’t match Williams. A rational man would conclude that contradictory evidence to his thesis has to be explored. Ford, instead, concluded it proved that Williams was not alone. Now his attention turned to Joe Dick, who shared the Williams’ apartment. He must be the "second" suspect.

Dick told Ford he was on duty aboard the U.S.S. Saipan when the crime had been committed. He couldn’t have been involved. Dick’s supervisor, Michael Ziegler, confirms that. Ziegler also double checked ship records which showed that Dick was aboard. And he said that the ship had very rigorous security measures and that Dick couldn’t leave without it being noted and Ziegler being informed. The alibi was never checked out. Dicks’ lawyer, who seems to have done a piss-poor job, claims the Navy had records that Dick was not on board and that the prosecutor confirmed this. But the prosecutor, Damian Hansen, says he never checked out the alibi and that he assumed the lawyer had done so. He hadn’t. Detective Ford did not investigate the alibi either. But he did lied to Dick and claimed that he had checked into it and that the alibi didn’t hold up.

Ford continued working on Dick, who Ziegler says, is mentally slow. When Dick started confessing Ford was pleased. Except for one problem: the two confessions were very different. Williams had confessed, after his interrogation, that he, and he alone, killed the woman. He said he did it between 9 pm and 11 pm. But the victim was not home during those hours. She was out with a friend from around noon to 11:30 pm. Williams remembered beating the woman in the face. But there was no sign of a beating. He was asked if he choked her and he said no. But the autopsy showed she had been chocked and stabbed. He thought the murder took place in the living room, it took place in the bedroom. Williams didn’t have any memory that corresponded with the facts. When these contradictions were presented to Williams his memories changed again to correspond with what he was told.

However, Dick was confessing to a different crime. He says he and Williams were arguing and that Moore-Bosko grabbed a kitchen knife and attacked him. He then stabbed her in response. But he had no recollection of what the knife looked like. He claimed he had ejaculated in the woman’s mouth but no semen was found there. He said that he threw a blanket over the woman after she died. And a blanket was found over her body but the husband says he did that when he came home and found her. Dick only “remembered” the blanket after he saw police photos of the crime scene. He didn’t know the blanket was added by the husband.

So, now Ford had two suspects, both of whom had confessed. And he had DNA evidence from the victim. Except the DNA didn’t belong to either of the suspects. Instead of questioning his theory Ford concluded that this meant there was a third suspect. So he goes after the mentally-slow Dick again. Now Dick remembers that there was third man there; his confession changes again. The third man, Eric Wilson, he said washed the blood from the knife. And they had moved the body from the bedroom, where it was found, to the living room, but then they were startled by a noise and moved it back. There was no indication the body had ever left the bedroom -- no blood residues or traces outside the bedroom. Dick said the murder took place between 7:00 and 8:00 but the victim didn’t return home that evening until 11:30. And that is before Williams said it took place.

And the knife was supposedly washed in the Williams apartment by a new suspect. Yet it was found in the victim’s apartment. Nothing fit but Ford ignored it all. He knew what he knew and wasn’t going to let something like evidence convince him otherwise.

Wilson was arrested and went through hours of similar police interrogation tactics. He started confessing but says this was because he was beaten and threatened by Ford. Yet again the DNA didn’t match. So, once again Ford concludes that this means there was a fourth suspect. And he returns to Dick who complies with a new confession. Dick said the man who helped in the murder was named George but he couldn’t remember more. He was shown photos of local sailors and picked out “George” from the photos.

The fourth suspect was not named George but was Dereck Tice. Ford arrested him and spent 14 hours interrogating him. Again Ford told Tice that he would get the death penalty unless he confessed. Tice requested an attorney and Ford refused! Tice said that some information he used in his “confession” had to be supplied to him by Ford and what wasn’t supplied didn’t fit the crime. Tice said the men used a claw hammer to pry open the apartment door of the victim. The door showed no signs of it. And he remember there being seven attackers not the four who were now the target of Ford’s “investigation”. Ford conveniently didn’t record any of the interrogations.

So, now three more men were arrested. And still none of the seven “suspects” matched the DNA evidence that was found! Astoundingly Ford continues with his case against these men. Williams and Dick had confessed to the crime and never stood trial. But their testimony was sufficient to convict Tice and Wilson who were arguing they were intimidated and coerced into false confessions. But it was too late for them to retract.

Then the Innocence Project got involved in the case (they are good people!). And they brought in a DNA expert. Under the police theory there were now seven men supposedly involved in the attack. All seven men took turns raping the victim. And supposedly they each took turns stabbing her. There were three knife wounds and one attempted wound on the victim. If all seven men stabbed her why were there only four wounds? And one forensics expert noted the stab wounds were all close together. He says that indicated a single attacker stabbing the victim in rapid succession. Seven different men taking turns wouldn't stab so closely together. In addition no DNA from any of the men was found on the victim or in the room.

Supposedly this gang of men attacked the victim in her apartment yet the apartment was immaculate. There was no sign of a gang rape or of seven men having burst in to violently attack the woman. And the new three suspects were not cooperating and not confessing. Two had evidence supporting alibis for the night of the crime. Charges were dropped against these three men but the Detective Ford insists they were guilty in spite of air tight alibis to the contrary.

And the Times notes that innocent people confess to crimes all the time, something the prosecutor told the jury doesn’t happen.
That is certainly the conventional wisdom. But consider, for example, the case of Billy Gene Davis, who, after twice failing a polygraph test, confessed to killing his girlfriend in Austin, Tex., in 1990. She later turned up alive in Tucson. According to the Innocence Project, 49 people whose convictions relied on false confessions have been proved innocent and released from prison based on DNA evidence. Last September, Jeffrey Deskovic — who, now 32, spent half his life in a New York prison for raping and killing a classmate in 1989 — was freed after DNA found on the victim was matched to an incarcerated murderer. Deskovic, like many false confessors, said he believed his life was in danger and that his interrogation wouldn’t stop unless he told the police what they wanted to hear. In Virginia, Earl Washington Jr., a mentally retarded man, spent 17 years in prison after falsely confessing to the rape and murder of a 19-year-old mother of three. He was pardoned after DNA established his innocence.
Remember that in this case there is still no DNA match. None of the four imprisoned men, or the three other alleged suspects, matched the actual DNA evidence that was found. And that fact didn’t seem to impact on Ford’s mind. He had coerced confessions out of four innocent men. (This ought to tell you something about the usefulness of “enhanced interrogation” tactics to get accurate information from “enemy combatants”. That's Bushspeak for torture.)

Now things come full circle. Police were approached by a woman, Karen Stover, who gave them a threatening letter she received from one Omar Abdul Ballard, who was then in prison. In that letter he also says he was the one who killed Moore-Bosko. Also, the woman who was with Moore-Bosko the day of the murder was Tamika Taylor. She was allegedly the one who suggested police investigate Williams. It turns out she was friends with Ballard. And she had introduced him to the victim. In addition Ballard has a history of violence against women including rape and attempted murder.

One of those attacks took place just down the street from where this murder had taken place. Ballard had been identified in that attack. In fact, he had fled to the Bosko apartment for refuge when some men intervened and went after him for attacking the woman. Two weeks after that incident he was arrested for raping another woman. Police already knew he was wanted for violent attacks on women in that very neighborhood and never put two and two together. Instead they followed they fanciful theory of the expanding gang of men.

Finally the police compared Ballard to the DNA evidence. It was a match. He also freely confessed to the crime and accurately described the knife that he used. He told police when the crime had happened and it matched the events, unlike the other “confessions”. And he told police he committed the crime by himself. So the innocent men walked? Not on your life.

Police now concocted a new theory. They pretended that Ballard was protecting the other seven men who were also allegedly involved. They reasoned that Ballard was protecting them because he didn’t want to be labeled a snitch in prison. They also figured that since Ballard was black, and the others were white, that Ballard didn't want his friends knowing he was hanging around with whites. And supposedly the other men, four of whom were happy to point fingers at others, didn’t mention Ballard because they were afraid of him.

It gets worse. Detective Ford then threatened Ballard telling him he would face the death penalty unless he signed a new confession which implicated the men that Ford had already arrested. Ballard, who had never met any of the seven other alleged killers, said he did just that. After he signed the confession the police needed, the death penalty was taken off the table in his case. Four innocent men were threatened with death unless they confessed. And the one guilty man is offered his life if he lies for the police.

For Ballard the choice was to sign a false confession or face the death penalty. (This is one major reason the death penalty is a pernicious force in the justice system. It can be used to intimidate and force false confessions and accusations.)

Over and over Detective Ford used the death penalty as a means of forcing people to sign false statements. When Joe Dick was willing to admit that he falsely accused Tice and Wilson, it was Ford who stopped him. Ford told Dick that any change in his testimony would result in the death penalty and Dick says he was trying to save his own life. He had no choice.

Read the story in the New York Times Magazine. It is a fascinating account of a blatant miscarriage of justice. You will also find reams of information on this case here. You can also contact Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine, who has been petitioned to grant clemency in this case, by email here.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Real ID are "travel documents". Internal passports in disguise.

I have argued that the Bush regime is intent on forcing internal passports to control the movement of the American people, or to make it easier to monitor them. Bush, like his former protégée Tony Blair, is anti-liberty at the core. He wishes to expand state power in order to impose control on private citizens.

I have received no small amount of criticism, especially from big government conservatives, who believe this was an exaggerated fear. They say there is no attempt to force internal passports, as the socialists in Russia used, on the American people. Oh, really?

First, the Bushites pushed through the Real ID law, it basically established a form of national identification which would be administered by the states. But under the federalist system, or what is left of it, the states can opt out. But what happens if a state opts out? Then Big Brother pulls out his big stick and starts hitting people over the head.

Homeland Security brownshirts are getting nasty. The creepy looking Michael Chertoff, who himself ought to be tried for conspiracy to undermine the Constitution, has threatened the states that are opting out. He is basically saying that he will get nasty to all citizens of these states unless their legislatures fall into line and obey the Fuhrer. Chertoff warned a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures that unless they follow his orders their citizens will be required to show passports for “federal purposes”.

What is a “federal purpose”? One, you won’t be able to board a US plane without producing a US passport even if you are flying within the US. Federal buildings will be off limit to you. If you want to file a suit in federal court you won’t be able to exercise your right to do so without first producing a passport to gain entry. Don’t bother visiting Yellowstone, its a federal park. Considering the states saying no to this measure the Bush Administration is basically taking 19 million Americans hostage in order to FORCE compliance, in violation of the Constitution.

It is important to realize that "federal purpose" is in fact an undefined and limitless term. It can be used anyway the Department of Homeland Security wants. It has no precise definition. This is not defined by the law but gives unelected bureaucrats at DHS the power to expand the definition as they choose. They say: "DHS may consider expanding these official purposes through future rulemakings to maximize the security benefits of REAL ID." Congress is not involved. New rules expanding the purpose of the ID can be established anytime DHS feels like doing so.

Every US citizen will be required by law to register with the government. You will be mandated to go to the local DMV office (how lovely in itself) and secure a federally approved ID which then allows you to travel. Without it, no driving. Without it no airplane trips. And no doubt they will be able to demand it without notice anywhere, anytime.

Seven states have passed laws against Real ID. Another six have passed resolutions against the program. Another 15 are considering such legislation. That won’t stop these individuals.

The conservative Heritage Foundation, a sham organization pretending to support limited government, has a spokeswhore out pimping for the Bush administration. Bill Walsh, from Heritage, has sold out loyalty to the Constitution and federalist principles, to further the security state of Bush. Shame on Walsh and I hope funders of Heritage start withdrawing their funds to these political whores.

While Chertoff sounds like some Reichmarshall for 1930s Germany he looks frighteningly like Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Show. But Riff Raff wasn’t as creepy or dangerous.

Chertoff has given the whole game away with a comment he made trying to scare legislators into supporting these new draconian ID regulations. He said: “For terrorists, travel documents are like weapons. We do have a right and an obligation to see that those licenses reflect the identity of the person who’s presenting it.” Read that one more time just to be sure you have what he said.

These licenses are “travel documents”. There was a time you had a driver’s license only to show you could supposedly drive NOT to allow you to travel per se. But Chertoff sees Real ID as much more than that. It is a travel document -- something which you must present in order to travel. These are permits to travel. They are internal passports. And without the travel documents that Chertoff is imposing on you then your ability to travel as a free citizen within the borders of your own country will be severely restricted. This is a dramatic reversal of a basic freedom. Free nations has assumed citizens have the right to travel and that right can only be infringed if the individual in question has committed a crime. The presumption has been freedom to travel. This law presumes you have no right to travel unless you hold a government travel document. It is a measure meant, not to control terrorists -- the catch-all excuse for every exercise in tyranny engaged in by this pathetic, dangerous and traitorous administration--it is a measure meant to control you.

Please note that little has been done to actually try and capture bin Laden. He is out there free while you are being penned in bit by bit. Bin Laden is not the target. You are.

DHS pretends this is not national ID because the federal government "is not issuing the licenses". If it is not federal than why are they coercing the states to comply? Chertoff wants it both ways. He wants to force states to implement this federal regulation while pretending the federal government isn't doing it. He says they are not creating a federal data base just having the states create such collections. Yet once established it is a simple step to link the data centers into one national network.

Riff Raff has been very clear that you won’t be permitted to fly without a federal passport or Real ID. You won’t be able to enter federal property without it. That would include federal buildings and parks. And it may well include federal highways as well. To show the stupidity of this administration please note that Comrade Chertoff says you must have a passport to enter a federal building (which would include post offices) but to get a passport you must enter a federal building! It's hard to figure out if Chertoff is as stupid as his boss or even dumber. How can one apply for a passport to enter a federal building if one must first have the passport to enter the federal building?

Chertoff is using the nasty tactics of the Bush regime to try to force states into issuing what amounts to a national ID card that doubles as an internal passport. He knows that if every citizen in a state is banned from flying without going through passport control that the states will eventually cave in. And given the impossibility of obtaining a passport under the Catch-22 by the Moron Administration the only way out is Real ID.

The good news is that the Republicans are going into the dung heap with this election. The bad news is that not one of the leading Democrats appears willing to unravel the fascistic intertwining laws that are making a mocker of American freedom. Every Democrat ought to be demanding a few concessions from their candidates.

1. Repeal the Patriot Act.
2. Abolish the Department of Homeland Security.
3. Repeal Real ID.
4. Pull out of Iraq.

But don’t expect Hillary to do any this. Or Obama for that matter. That’s the bad news. Just as the Bush Party stabbed the principles of small government conservatism in the back the Democratic contended are intending to do the same thing to their followers. Unfortunately by the time you figure that out it will be too late. Here is what you can do.

Join the Privacy Coalition now. Put pressure on the local politicians to pass resolutions (at the city and county levels) against these measures. And lobby the state legislature to pass laws forbidding state compliance with this law. Lobby the candidates of the party you support to oppose these measures and make them pledge to the four part program to restore basic liberties in America. Finally, don't delay. Do it today.

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