Monday, August 31, 2009

The Horror of the Dinner Plate

NOW interviews the director of Food, Inc.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why I am NOT boycotting Whole Foods

John Mackey the founder and CEO of Whole Foods is a free-market libertarian about health care reform. He recently pinned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal arguing that any "public-option" and all heavy government regulation of health care must be resisted.

I have often argued against such a view on this blog and I continue to think it is both false and very dangerous. That said, I fail to see why Mackey's having such views would lead to a large-scale movement to boycott whole foods. But such a movement exists, and it is large - check it out on facebook.

Admittedly Mackey's views reflect the "pro-rich" and "pro-corporate" outlook that is doing so much harm to so many people. But most places we shop are run and founded by people who share these views. Mackey is also, to some degree at least, anti-union ... but again, is this cause for a boycott? I am pro-union. But I don't care about trying to change the minds of people like Mackey, I care about fighting for legislation that will make it easier for people to form unions and give unions greater legal protection.

As CEOs go Mackey is actually not too bad. Whole Foods is a big supporter of animal rights - even PETA likes them! - and environmental ethics - Mackey himself donates an impressive amount to such causes. And Whole Foods treatment of its employees is better than most. Honest. Mackey actually has a pretty responsible view of the social role of business and wrote a good article on it I have used his ideas when teaching business ethics. I don't agree with Mackey's views, but he is far from the poster child for corporate greed and irresponsibility. If we must boycott Whole Foods, then we must boycott far more companies than we might be willing or capable of boycotting.

The real problem, however, is that a boycott of Whole Foods misses the heart of the problem. It is relatively easy to wag our fingers at "greedy CEOs" and even to refuse to shop at their stores. But such actions do NOTHING to actually repair our damaged political system. Our system is designed to put profits over people, to favor corporations above the public good, and to subsidize big business with tax-payer dollars. It is this system we must change.

We need to work toward changing the political system so that it no longer favors the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the rest of us. We need to work hard - not to let Mackey know we hate his views on health care coverage - but to actually make viable and effective health care reform law.

Rather than boycott Whole Foods I intend to work hard to change the political system that screws people. Boycotting Whole Foods is, in the end, pointless. Mackey may have whatever views he would like ... who cares?! Let's change the system, we won't change Mackey's mind.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Faith and Health Care reform

A while back I wrote a blog post in which I asked my readers to imagine how Jesus would have treated people who came to him to be cured if he operated like a Health Insurance Company (See "If Jesus were a Health Insurance CEO." I think that the question of religious faith and universal health care is an important one.

On that note, I am going to refer the reader to two pieces from the Washington Post "On Faith Panel"

First, Jim Wallis explains the rules for Health Care found in Leviticus, the basic idea was that everyone in Israel must have health care whether they could afford it or not.

See Wallis' piece here

Second, Aana Marie Vigen argues that anyone who follows Jesus is committed to making sure that all people have access to health care. In other words, Health care is a right. Furthermore, Vigen argues that a strong public option is the best way currently under discussion to ensure the christian duty to provide affordable and universal coverage.

See Vigen's piece here

I confess that I cannot understand how anyone could claim to be a follower of Jesus and think it is acceptable to live in a world where anyone is denied care, or even in a world where people regularly fall into debt and go bankrupt because of their medical bills. This seems utterly wrong for those who follow a man who preached "good news to the poor" and spent all his time healing the sick (without asking for a premium by the way).

As for the public option? A public option is a proposal that if passed would simply be a government funded insurance option that would force private insurance companies to provide better coverage at lower costs. The CBO estimates that no more than 12 million people would enroll in said public option. The bills that include have crafted in a way that it can't have an unfair advantage over private plans, and public plans work well in other countries and even in our own (Medicare) without any of the horrors that its opponents fear. Nor is it too expensive, simply reversing the Bush tax cuts, or cutting unnecessary subsidies by medicare to private insurance companies, or curbing unnecessary military spending, or not invading another country like Iraq, would provide far more than enough money to pay for the change. All a public plan will do is cut costs, and improve quality of care.

And people who follow the healer from Nazareth oppose this?!

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

The United Methodist Church supports a strong Public Option

From the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church:


In the United States, 45.7 million people were uninsured according to the U.S. Census report in 2008. However, a closer look at more recent data points to a much larger figure, 1 in 3 Americans or 86.7 million people who were uninsured at some point in the last 3 years. Yet, the United States has lacked significant health reform since Medicare and Medicaid were adopted in 1964. To address the growing crisis in health care which affects every American through inadequate or declining health care coverage, major gaps in the health care system which lead to life-threatening and costly mistakes, and spiraling costs-- a major contributor to the economic instability of individuals, families and U.S. businesses. Congress has an opportunity to address the the crisis in health care and the gross inequities caused by a profit-driven health care system. We call upon them to make enacting health care reform a top priority now.

The faith community has a particularly important role to play in this conversation because our concern is for the entirety of God’s creation. As United Methodists, we believe health care is a right. We have learned that when lives are at stake we cannot and must not walk away from the dialogue until every person has access to needed health care. That's where voices of faith are so very important to major reform in the U.S. and across the globe.

Achieving comprehensive health reform in the U.S. illustrates that our priorities are firmly fixed on the welfare of all of humanity and rejects the notion that health care is a commodity available only to those who can afford it. We call upon Members of Congress to consider the common good for the entirety of people in the U.S. and enact health care reform that covers everyone regardless of their ability to pay. Thus, a public option is essential to covering those who are unable to pay for health insurance. “Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities.” (United Methodist Social Principle 162V)

I have never been more proud to call myself a United Methodist.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

An Open Letter to "the gang of six"

I have long believed that even in the most corrupt among us an ember of real concern for what is right sill burns. I believe this also of each of you who are now in talks to write a bill for health care reform.

I do not intend to play dress up and disguise the truth: those of you who do not support a robust government option oppose it for one reason and one alone. Quite frankly you oppose the public option because you have been given large sums of money by the private health insurance industry and are beholden to your corporate masters.

You know the facts. You know very well how private insurance companies destroy people’s lives. They deny care to make their investors and CEOs and those like you who take their lobbying money very rich. Because of this, millions of people die and millions more go bankrupt or become buried in debt.

You also know very well that only a strong public option can stop the destruction and abuse heaped on people by private insurance. Cooperatives will do nothing. Of course you already know this, which is why you proposed them instead of a public option.

I am not writing to give you the facts. You know the facts. You know why the American People need a robust public option. I am writing to ask you to remember that you are not only politicians but human beings. Does the money you receive from your corporate masters really matter more to you than the lives and prosperity of millions of your fellow citizens?

Our lives upon this earth are very brief and in that brief span of time we all know pain, sorrow, grief, loss, and despair. It has long seemed to me that is the part of every man and woman to alleviate as much of the pain and loss and grief of others as we can. To actually do what is right for our fellow human beings, to help rather than hurt them ... this alone makes life truly rewarding and worthwhile.

As elected officials with the power of shaping a Health care bill you are each in a unique position to either help or harm your fellow human beings; your fellow Americans.

I urge you in the name of all that is decent, of all that is sacred; in the name of what is right and good and beneficial to your fellows ... PLEASE when forming this bill do what in your heart and soul you know is right. Do not do what will make you and your corporate masters even more wealthy.

Include a robust public option in your bill. You owe it to the people you were elected to serve, you owe to your own humanity.


Matthew D. Wion

Note: here is a little video poscript for some factual background on the Public Option -

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

A more intelligent debate on Health care reform

If, like me, you are tired of the discussions regarding health care reform revolving around absurd and foolish claims about "Nazis," "Hitler," "Death Panels," "Socialism," "publicly funded abortion," and numerous other very ignorant and dishonest claims, you might enjoy this calm and rational discussion between Howard Dean and Bill Frist.

This is from an Episode of Charlie Rose at the end of July. Frist represents a fiscally conservative approach, Dean the standard progressive approach to reform.

I think both men are worth listening to. This is very refreshing. It's nice to hear two sensible people discussing reform without firearms, shouting, and lying. Of course I think Frist is wrong about the public option - he does, however, say some very sensible things about cost containment - and that we have solid evidence and argument to show that he is wrong, but he is not stupid nor irrational.

I also want to stress that not every conservative opponent of democratic health care reform is a "town-hall lunatic." This is important. Too often critics of the "deathers" and their like are told we are snobs who intolerantly dismiss all critics of our progressive goals. That is flatly not true. And this discussion on Charlie rose nicely illustrates that not all critics are of the same breed as the woman who called Barney Frank a Nazi

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

British Politician Tony Benn Condemns Escalation of War in Afghanistan & Defends Britain's Socialized Healthcare System

British Politician Tony Benn Condemns Escalation of War in Afghanistan & Defends Britain's Socialized Healthcare System

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So you think you hate "socialized medicine" and Single Payer

This video clip from Rachel Maddow is one of the finest explanations of the problems with our health care system and one of the best debunkings of lies about "single payer" and "socialized medicine" I've seen from the mainstream media:

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Sick for Profit

I have written before of the basic argument against leaving the health care system in the hands of private insurers. To maximize profits a private insurance company MUST raise premiums all the time while at the same time denying care whenever they can. Profits cannot be maximized if sick people are actually cared for. This is really basic, it's not rocket science. The basic economics of this are well known.

Sadly the Obama Administration is now signaling that it is willing to drop a public option from health care reform. This would leave the private insurance companies in charge of the system. Some will be happy to hear this.

Very well then, if you want to champion the current health care system that we have, watch this video and know just what it is you are in fact defending:

After watching this can one really dare to say that our system is perfectly acceptable? That private insurance is really so good? Now let's take a look at a government funded system - one we don't normally look to: Sweden:

the most interesting thing about Sweden, is that it is a hybrid of public and private options and hospitals. This is precisely what the most progressive bills in congress right now propose, and it seems to work well.

No more lies please. Just look at the facts. Then sit an think for a moment. Medicare is government funded health care. Is it really so bad? Do you want your grandparents to lose their medicare?

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Just the facts ma'am

We need to take the advice of old Joe Friday: where health care is concerned we must stick with "just the facts ma'am." (ironically, Joe Friday never actually said this!)

Here are the facts as presented by Howard Dean on Saturday:

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Obama in Montana

I think this is a particularly good town hall. Obama's discussions with the people are rather informative. Pay special attention to one "Randy" a "proud member of the NRA" who gets his news from "them cable news stations." Obama's answers to this man's loaded question are especially interesting:

46 minutes in, Obama clarifies what the "public option" is. He makes it clear here both what that option is and why it is not the "government takeover" its critics fear. Obama's basic argument is that the public option will not exclude or eliminate private plans, but rather help to foster fair competition.

The one problem that remains for me is that the public option might be too weak. Obama says it must pay for itself and will not be subsidized. But then, will the public option be too weak to fairly compete with private insurance? Remember, the goal of the public option is to create a system that reduces costs for people .. can it do this with a limited pool of money?

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Town Hall "Angry Mobs" undermine Democracy

The Town Hall protesters are all over the news. They are scary, irrational, and loaded with false and misleading information.

We are, nevertheless, told that they are simply expressing their opinion and are allowed to do so by the first amendment. Well .... it is certainly true that these protesters have a right to speak. They should not be legally forced to shut up.

But please, let us call nonsense for what it is. Talk of "socialism," fears that Obama will "kill Grandma," or screams that the government must "leave medicare alone," and other far worse and even more ignorant remarks cannot and should not be taken seriously.

These "protesters" are ignorant folk who are duped by advertisements and think tanks. They are truly sorry and pitiful specimens. They don't have a "point of view" or a "position," they just have irrational, unfounded, and stupid fears. I'm not sure if we should cry for them or laugh at them or perhaps suggest a medication for them, but we must not pretend their views are worth taking seriously.

These people are ignorant and should be called ignorant. And some of them have gone beyond "free speech." Some protesters are now bringing guns, and shouting death threats. And even when these protesters don't go so far as to actually threaten life and limb, they shout down congressmen and opponents, effectively silencing debate, discussion and discourse. This spectacle is neither civility nor democracy, but an angry mob - wielding its torches to pursue the creature.

Here is a sampling of the hatred, irrationality, and ignorance of these mobs:

This is not a debate. The town hall protesters are ranting, raving, factually inaccurate, angry people. They do not have evidence and argument. They do not have a "point of view." These people have nothing more than rage and ignorance.

By all means let them rant and rave. But don't pretend they represent anything more than ignorant people who irrationally hate Obama and fear "liberals." Nothing more.

NPR has covered the issue of "health care mis-information" quite well:

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

History of Baseball

Just found this on the web. It's a Charlie Rose 1994 interview with Ken Burns about his 9 part documentary on the history of Baseball.

Very interesting.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Casa Beach: Seals are citizens too

I have just returned from a week long trip to my home town of San Diego California. Well there, I took my fiancee (who was meeting my family for the first time) to see a spot well-known to locals and frequented by tourists: Casa Beach.

Casa beach is a very tiny beach in the beautiful La Jolla cove area of San Diego. This beach was originally built as a natural "pool" for children to swim in - as a child I swam in it myself. Over time - through the natural processes of the Ocean - the pool was replaced by sand and a beach was formed. In the early 1990s Harbor seals begin to populate the beach in large numbers. Today a Colony of over 200 of these seals rest, and give birth on this tiny beach.

Here is a brief video of the seals at Casa Beach:

Most people enjoy the fact the seals have made Casa Beach their home. But some locals in La Jolla wish to "reclaim" the beach for human beings. Here is the story (via CBS news):

A judge has delayed his order to remove a harbor seal colony from a sheltered beach cove after the governor signed a bill that could let them remain.

Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann on Thursday stayed his order just before the deadline expired, pending an October hearing. Earlier this week the judge gave San Diego 72 hours to begin dispersing hundreds of federally protected harbor seals from a beach in La Jolla.

But the city asked the judge to stay his order after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger signed a bill permitting the cove to be used as a marine mammal park.

The city has been in a years-long battle over whether the cove known as Children's Pool must be reserved for children.

A seawall was built in 1931 by a local philanthropist, Ellen Browning Scripps, to create a cove where children could safely play in the surf. The Children's Pool (a.k.a. Casa beach) was used for years by kids until harbor seals took over the site in the 1990s.

The seals use the sheltered area to sleep, nurse pups and molt. Though the beach is closed to people, the seawall provides visitors a vantage point for observing seal behavior.
It seems to me the case is very simple. There are plenty of beaches for people but few for seals. The story of human expansion is the story of animal displacement and extinction. Can't we for once let another species alone? The Beach is public and not private land, it is no longer swimable water for young children as the tides have changed it. For what reason then should people wish to remove the seals? Simply to enforce human dominance? That is a lousy and cruel reason indeed.

The reason some people want the seals gone is, quite frankly, that they are annoyed by having to share "their" beach with wildlife. The original order to evacuate the seals came from a law suit filed by a swimmer. This swimmer was disturbed because she was fined $100 for swimming too close to the seals. This swimmer - and some wealthy La Jolla residents - have decided to respond to this "inconvenience" by ridding the beach of the seals.

It will be sad indeed of the La Jolla harbor seals are forced to leave. It will be a crime against these seals, a disappointment to the many people who come to admire them in their natural habitat, and another sad tale of human beings forcing other creatures to "get out of our way."

The La Jolla harbor seals have everything to lose and humans nothing to gain, we must support the seals' right to stay at Casa beach. If you are inclined to save the seals: Please sign the following petition:

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Friday, August 7, 2009

A Needed Break

I see I have now gone an entire week without a post. This is the longest span since I started my blog. The explanation? I'm on vacation in my home town of San Diego. I've meditated in a Japanese tea garden, spent a day at Catalina Island boating and swimming in the sea, read Dean Koontz, gone to a baseball game, and dined at the new Bing Crosby Restaurant. Good stuff!

The advantage of all of this is that for an entire week I paid no attention to politics, and neither watched nor read the news - not even The Daily Show!

Today I looked over a few headlines and video clips. The same old things: Blue Dogs attempting to undermine the public health care option, Obama too prone to compromise, etc, etc, etc.....

But the week off, besides being a good cleanser for my soul, has added some perspective. I noticed today - not for the first time, but with added clarity - just how odd our media is. Take for example, a term they use: "centrist." I've often wondered what this means. I've finally got it.

A centrist simply means "a democrat who always votes as his corporate masters require him to." That's it. That's the whole definition. A Republican who operates the same way will be called simply a Republican.

I don't know why this is so, but such are our terms.

Another odd term: Moderate. For years I wondered what this meant. I get it now. Our media wishes to appear moderate. What this means is that they propose Barack Obama (who is to the right of most genuine progressives and self-proclaimed liberals) as the far left, and Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and the rest of the far right lunatic fringe as the "conservatives." Then, our media presents both these options (excluding a dozen or so others that are out there) as equally valid and refuse to take a side for one or the other. Oddly, this media is thought of as "liberal" because it does not champion the far right.

There is one more use of the term moderate. Sometimes a Republican is called moderate because, although he or she is right wing in almost every respect, he or she is "pro-choice," in favor of same-sex marriage, or not particularly religious. All in all this is a bizarre use of language.

To see this, look to the birthers. Obscene lunatics who, despite repeated and complete demonstrations to the contrary, insist on believing that Obama was not born in the United States. Such people should be ignored by our media. But they are mentioned almost every night. Why, in the name of all reason and sanity, are Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sean Hannitty, the tea-baggers, the birthers, and others of their brood carted out every night as if they actually had legitimate, rational, or even sane views?!

In short, my message tonight is: (a) our media is a joke; and (b) the terms "moderate" and "centrist" are meaningless, let's please stop using them.

Now I return to my vacation for the rest of the weekend.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009


Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life by Robert B. Reich

Robert Reich is sometimes categorized as a standard liberal idealogue. This book should put that characture to rest. Reich sees himself as pro-capitalism. The market is needed, Reich argues (echoing Milton Friedman) because dissent is undermined if one cannot dissent and also buy bread without government funds. There is, however, a difference between democratic capitalism and supercaptilism. And we have gone from one to the other, with terrible results.

Simply put, Reich's thesis is that following the great depression and the second world war a set of regulations and the existence of strong unions kept capitalism democratic. Wages were good, the economy prospered, and the gap between rich and poor was small. What happened, as everyone knows, is that all this was undone. Since the 1970s unions have been crippled, corporate lobbyists have bought off most of washington, and the gap between rich and poor has grown beyond anyone's wildest imagination. why this has happened, however, is something Reich thinks has not been fully understood.

The Standard liberal critique is that Ronald Reagan and the Neo-cons reversed and destroyed the new deal, corporations sacrificied social responsibility to seek profit alone, and cogressmen were bought off by their corporate masters. There is truth in these claims, but they are not, Reich argues the root of the problem.

Democratic capitalism was transformed to supercapitalism because the consumer and investor in us has won out over the citizen. This is Reich's cetral claim. We pay lower prices for our goods. This satisfies the consumer and reaps profits for the investor. But how can companies charge such lower prices? By pushng the costs onto employees, who recieve fewer and fewer benefits and lower and lower wages.

We attempt to fix this problem, Reich argues, in a very poor way. We appeal to personal responbility alone. We think it's all a matter of individuals "behaving decently" We wag our fingers at corrupt CEOs and demand corporations "act responsibly." But this is not what corporations do. They exist to make profits. We should not simply protest and scold, we must change the system.

Reich argues that the only way to fix our system is to regulate it. Corporations will not serve the public good; they are not desinged to. Nor should they be. A corporation exists to make money. Money is often made by harming the environment, hurting employees, and deceiving the consumer. It's only simple pragmatism to realize this. Therefore, Reich concludes, the time has come to subject the system to a radical revision. We must regulate our corporations, and find ways to keep corporate money out of washington pockets (perhaps by insisting on public campaign financing).

This is really an original an intersting book. Filled with pertinent sources ad arguments, this book forces us to consider what we must do to make capitalist serve democracy, rather than - as is our present system - make the people serve capitalism.

View all my reviews >>

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