Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pat Tillman and Conspiracy

Pat Tillman was an NFL football player who walked away from a lucrative contract to serve his country after 9/11. An Army Ranger, he expected to be sent to Afghanistan, but his first deployment was to Iraq. Apparently at some point Tillman, an educated and thoughtful guy, came to the conclusion that the invasion of Iraq was "fucking illegal," in his words. He was re-deployed to Afghanistan (any connection to the fact that he was a well-known guy and had some strong opinions?)and while there, he was killed.

The first story that was presented to the public was that he had died as a hero in combat against the enemy. He was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart and a story was created to support the belief that he had died from enemy fire That story was a fabrication. Within a few weeks, it was revealed that in fact he had died in a "friendly fire accident," caused by the fog of war. However, his own family did not believe that it was an accident, and continued to push for answers. The President claimed "executive privilege" on further details of the incident, which is surpassing strange if it was simply an accident.

Now more details have been released. The AP is reporting that he was killed by 3 bullets to the forehead, and that Army medical examiners believed that it appeared to be a crime rather than an accident since the bullets were fired from as close as 10 yards. They also reveal that there is no evidence that there was any enemy fire at all in connection with his death, and that the Lt. General who was questioned about the incident contradicted himself and others as well as claiming to have "no recollection" more than 70 times.

It has also been revealed that Tillman was opposed to the Iraq war and opposed to Bush, urging comrades to vote for Kerry. He also was an admirer of Noam Chomsky, who opposes U. S. Imperialism, and had made plans to meet with Chomsky when he returned home. (Chomsky has confirmed this, as has Tillman's mother.) He never did return home for that meeting.

So questions have been raised, questions I am inclined to credit, as to whether there could have been an order from above to silence this guy. We know for absolute sure that there was a conspiracy involved in covering up the actual facts of his death. Would military leaders risk their own careers in order to cover up their men's mistakes? Or is there something far more sinister here? If it is simply a mistake that is being covered up, why would the president need "executive privilege"?

This is a very disturbing story.

AP report.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sexual morality

Christian ideas of sexual morality are based upon standards set down somewhere between 1500 BC and 50 AD. A lot has changed since then, to put it mildly. The Old Testament seems to me to have echoes of a conflict between pastoralists and agriculturalists (see Cain and Abel, and some comments about how Egyptians hated shepherds, for example.) It is also set in a time when patriarchy was just coming into its own, perhaps as a consequence of the transition away from a herding economy to a settled agricultural one. So the standards of morality were based on the need to pass land on from father to son, to have clear lines of patrimony, and to maximize fertility in order to "subdue the land." Women are treated as useful chattel.

Catholic teaching also reflects an overwhelming concern with making sure that people have the maximum number of children. Thus birth control, abortion, masturbation, and homosexuality all seem immoral because they detract from the imperative to have children. (Of course celibacy is a possibility, but actually priestly celibacy was imposed in order to prevent church property from being passed down to sons.)

Interestingly, Protestants and even people with no religious concern at all also had felt a moral imperative to have lots of children until fairly recently. Some American presidents had 8 or 9 or more. It was a sign of wealth and success. It was a sign of manliness to father large broods, and a sign of womanly competence to mother themn to adulthood. People viscerally wanted large families. The moral rules actually coincided with their inner moral sense that childlessness was selfish and immature and irresponsible. People needed children economically.

In the United States in particular (and no doubt Canada and Australia as well) the sense of a large unpeopled land made people uneasy. The idea that wilderness is attractive and appealing is very recent indeed. "A howling wilderness" is how people in the 1700s and 1800s perceived unsettled land. So having as many children as possible made instinctive sense to people.

But clearly both our reality and our inner sense of things have changed. We instinctively know that having more children is not economically necessary or helpful and that the world doesn't need as many more people as possible.

So our feelings about sexual morality no longer coincide with what we read in ancient documents. It takes real mental energy to explain why it's wrong to masturbate or to use birth control. (Protestants only became comfortable with birth control witin the past 60 years or so. In the past everyone knew that only a man having extramarital sex would have need for a condom.) The availability of safe and effective birth control makes pre-marital sex an attractive choice, whereas in the past pre-marital sex meant a child without the necessary support and a disaster for the "unwed mother" economically and thus socially. Now it doesn't mean any such thing.

If the spirit of God were moving among people today, leading them to look for the most loving and considerate answers to questions of sexual morality, would S/He not react to society as it actually is, rather than as it was 3000 years ago? Catholics in their millions have felt led by the most moral of considerations to use birth control and limit their families, and it's only the leadership which is stuck on old mores from old conditions. Most Christians who think much about it see the sense in allowing 2 men who love each other to form a family and adopt children. Surely this is more moral than condemning them to a life of shame and furtive unttached sexual encounters. Most Christians have already thrown in the towel on birth control, and pre-marital sex is condemned only in the faintest of ways. It is obvious to me that the hardline on abortion and homosexual relatinships are a rear-guard action that will whimper to an end within the next 30 or 40 years.

God in times past spoke through the prophets, but today His spirit resides within us, and we know that it is moral to have sex only with a person you are lovingly committed to and to only have as many children as you can provide with a strong start in life, and that they are not workers to help you but dependents whom you must nurture for 20 or more years.

Sensitive and thoughtful unbelievers probably have a keener sense of what today's sexual morality really entails than do people with their heads in an ancient book looking for rules. They hear what the Spirit has to say right now.

Let the Generals decide?

One of Bush's frequent statements is that he doesn't believe that "politicians in Washington" ought to be running the war, and that he prefers to let the military decide what ought to be done.

He is completely wrong, both constitutionally and common-sensically (again!)

The Constitution very wisely puts the decision to declare war in the hands of "politicians in Washington," ie Congress. Congresspersons have to stand for election and they have to be able to face their constituents and explain to them why their sons and daughters should die in this war. The principle of civilian leadership is the difference between military dictatorships and democratic societies. The Constitution also makes the President, a civilian, a politician in Washington, the commander in chief. The military answers to a civilain leader, not the other way around.

From a practical point of view, it is also foolish to ask the military to decide what should be done. There's an old daying that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Similarly, if you ask a surgeon what to do about cancer, what do you think she will suggest? The military has a very specific job: to fight wars using military might. Every problem they face will have to be answered by the only tools they have--soldiers, tanks, bombs, bullets and so on. The military cannot negotiate or conduct diplomacy. It can retreat but it can't end a war on its own. So if you ask a general what he needs, what will his answer be? More troops, more weapons, more fighting. What else could he possibly say?

The fact that Americans have been swallowing the propaganda coming from the politician-in-chief in washington is extremely worrisome.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Health insurance

I've been thinking about the concept of "health insurance" in America, and it seems to me that "insurance" is the wrong model. In the past, ordinary health care (which was mostly ineffective) was rather inexpensive as well. Back in the early 60's when I was a child, it cost $3 or $5 to see the doctor. Minimum wage was around $1, so this was 3 to 5 hours work for a very low-end worker. Nowadays, the co-pay is between $5 to $20, which is 1 to 4 hours pay for that same low-end worker. But insurance is paying quite a bit more. So even for ordinary doctors visits, most people feel the need for insurance.

And even more than doctors visits, many people, including me, need several prescription drugs to maintain their quality of life, whereas 40 years ago there were very few effective drugs for things like asthma (ask me how I know!)

So for many people, health expenses are not some imponderable possibility that might strike like a tornado or earthquake without warning. They are a predictable cost of living. And needing checkups and screening tests are not random events that may or may not occur. They are as inevitable as brushing your teeth.

I understand the libertarian/economic argument that one of the reasons health care costs have risen so fast is that the ordinary consumer is sheltered from feeling the full effect of them, and thus market pressures are somewhat absent. If you received food without paying for it item by item, but rather through some employer-paid benefit, and if it didn't matter whether you bought ground beef or sirloin steak as far as your own costs, then food prices would probably become unmanageable too.

But it does seem to me that the insurance model is misplaced. It made sense in a time when you could pay for a doctor visit and still pay your mortgage that month, and when insurance was for unexpected catastrophes such as cancer or a car accident. But most people who are insured these days are covered for all sorts of ordinary predictable expenses. And that means that the price of those predictable expenses are far higher than they would otherwise be, because billing the insurance and getting reimbursed are big expenses for doctors, which they must add to their prices (I remember when a doctor's wife could handle the bookkeeping and the cost of the visit was tossed in a drawer of $1 and $5 bills, to be simply counted up at the end of the week.) And the insurance companies must also make a profit.

So although some claim that governmental bureaucracies are inevitably wasteful and inefficient, I don't see how they could possibly be worse than medical costs that must build in a profit for the drug companies, the doctors' corporations, the insurance company, and the hospital. There are vast inefficiencies and tons of paperwork in coding and billing and processing payments and invoices that no one can understand. And it is a simple fact that Americans, by one means or another, manage to spend more per capita on health care costs than any other country, and yet not have any better results or even as good a life expectancy or infant mortality rate as countries spending less.

Also, or current "system" (if it even deserves the name), redistributes some of the costs of health care, but it does so very unevenly. Employers are expected to pick up a large share of insurance costs, but doing so makes them seem uncompetitive. Those companies that don't do their "fair share" of this unwritten agreement can cut their costs and pass them along to taxpayers (I'm thinking WalMart for example) but a company like Ford Motor has a long tradition of good benefits and so looks like a bad investment, since they are now stuck paying retiree benefits. Meanwhile Japanese and other carmakers don't have to add that to the cost of their cars, since it is already part of the tax burden shared by the entire country.

So I could ask the question like this: is health care expense more like a tornado, which might hit at random and from which you need to be protected, or is it more like public education, something that benefits everyone and which can be done effectively by spreading the costs across the entire community in order to make sure that no one goes without?

My conclusion is that it is an expense that will fall on almost everyone and which is vital to us as a community and a nation, and so the costs should be shared evenly. No company should be able to shift its share onto others, and no one should be denied coverage because they might need to use it!

If health care were provided to all at minimal cost and supported by taxes, there would be fewer millionaire CEOs and more middle-level government employees. People who wanted to start a business or quit their day job for something a bit risky would be able to do so with far less anxiety, and this alone might trigger a wave of creativity and entrepreneurship. Small employers would not be competing with larger employers or foreign companies on an uneven playing field. And since everyone would be covered, the idea that a pre-existing condition makes you uninsurable would come to a well-deserved end.

(It strikes me as criminal that insurance companies treat individuals who need insurance as if they were lone rangers--the insurance company is spreading the risk among the millions they insure, so why do they single the individual out and make them pay far more than if they were part of a "group.")

I don't see any reason why under a government run system, there couldn't also be private doctors for those who could pay, and for those who wanted things like face lifts or breast augmentation. I don't see how a not-for-profit system of covering everyone could cost more than one that also has to provide huge executive salaries, and advertising costs, and all sorts of clerical inefficiency, and dividends for shareholders. How could it? Do private colleges cost less than public ones? The idea that things done privately are cheaper is just a dogma put forth by conservatives, with no real evidence. Compare Blackwater to the Army and see which one costs more. The private companies pay their soldiers of fortune $100,000 a year. How can that be cheaper?

Could there be problems and bureaucracies to deal with? Sure, but there already are the same problems with insurers. And we leave working people with no means to pay their medical bills. And it's not like this has never been tried. Most developed countries already do this, and life has not fallen to sub-Saharan levels in Canada or England or Japan. The current system is a millstone around the neck of American productivity. It's time to create a real system of health care, not health insurance.

Let's see how this goes

So I made myself a blog to talk about my knitting. But I spend a fair amount of time posting comments on various political and theology boards, and I thought maybe it would be fun to have a place where I can initiate my own posts and try my hand at writing about my thoughts, mostly to clarify them for myself. If it's boring, I can stop. If no one reads it, but if it's fun, that'll be ok. So off we go.