WC is deeply skeptical about the claim that the United States is “exceptional” in some magic way, and above reproach in all ways. The outrageously expensive cost of medical treatment would be one way in which the neocons claims of U.S. “exceptionalism” are only true in a bitterly ironic way.
The International Federation of Health Plans released its 2012 Comparative Price Report, showing the costs of identical medical treatments and prescription medicines across a selection of developed countries. The United States is always multiple times more expensive than the next most expensive country. For example, an appendectomy:
Why is a simple, complication-free appendectomy more than five times as expensive in the United States as in Australia, the next highest country? Is the complication rate five times higher in Australia? No, it’s actually lower.
Or how about a coronary bypass?
Switzerland has some of the best health care in the world, reflected in low infant mortality, long life spans and high quality of life. All the better than the United States’. So why does a coronary bypass procedure cost 8.5 times more in the United States than in Switzerland?
Or even the basic costs of hospitalization?
Why does a basic hospital room cost more than 8.5 times as much in the United States as in Australia?
If you read the report, the same kinds of ridiculous over-pricing is present for all procedure and all pharma described in that Report. The neocons need to answer these kinds of questions before anyone should seriously listen to their whinging about Obamacare. There is no good reason for these kinds of price differentials. The cost of a laptop computer, for example, in Australia is about 25% higher than in the United States.
Obamacare – the Affordable Care Act, if you prefer – at least carries the potential for reducing these grotesquely high prices. The Teabagger-dominated U.S. House has voted to repeal Obamacare something like thirty-seven times now. But not once in those 37 efforts has the House chosen to offer a useful solution to the economic and financial catastrophe that is the U.S. health care system. (WC can’t find a comparison for the cost of treating obsessive-compulsive disorder, but cautions neocons it is likely to be comparable.)
Because the current level of expense is wounding our economy.
Almost 18% of the U.S. gross domestic product – almost twice the average for OECD countries – is going to health care. It’s not sustainable. The neocon “solution” is to deny federal health care benefits to the poor. But unless Speaker Boehner and his teabagger coalition are prepared to turn away the poor and uninsured at the door, all that does is shift the cost of treating the poor and uninsured to those who have a little money or, better still, some insurance, driving up the costs for all.
And if John Boehner does intend to lock the hospital doors to the uninsured, so much for “exceptional.”
President Obama is criticized and mocked as the “teleprompter president.” Jay Leno, who is suffering from hardening of the punchlines as he gets older, mocked the President Thursday night, with the line, “It is not looking good for President Obama. Today his teleprompter took the fifth.” The anti-Obamma crowd was all over the joke.
The meme is patently untrue. And WC can prove it.
Yesterday, in his speech on the prison on Guantanamo Bay and the AUMF (the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists) the President was interrupted by a Code Pink protester. Instead of the usual platitudes about the virtues of the First Amendment, after a full minute or more of her interruption in one of the most important speeches of his second term, the President responded: “the voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.” Can you imagine any other president or the chief of state of any other country extemporizing with that line in those circumstances? He acknowledged the power of her concerns and even honored them? Can we agree that wasn’t on the teleprompter?
And then in his conclusion, President Obama incorporated the incident again, while still speaking, because he realized it helped him make his point:
Now, we need a strategy – and a politics – that reflects this resilient spirit. Our victory against terrorism won’t be measured in a surrender ceremony on a battleship, or a statue being pulled to the ground. Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school; immigrants coming to our shores; fans taking in a ballgame; a veteran starting a business; a bustling city street; a citizen shouting her concerns to her President.
That’s a remarkably effective incorporation of what could have been an awkward moment into a peroration that turned the interruption to the President’s advantage. That’s great public speaking. That’s adapting to the circumstances. That’s turning your critics own words against them in mid-speech.
It wasn’t on the teleprompter. So can we lose this ridiculous meme?
The Republicans have worked themselves into a furious froth over the IRS’s alleged misconduct in tax treatment of Teabaggers. Some have gone so far as to conclude it is irrefutable evidence of impeachable misconduct by President Obama. WC will deal with the IRS “scandal” in a separate post, but for now let’s examine the thinking – for the loosest possible use of that term – behind the right wing’s screams for impeachment.
WC’s Teabagger acquaintances have a conclusion: that President Obama should be impeached. But they haven’t a shred of evidence that the President knew of any IRS misconduct, let alone directed it to happen. They are working from their conclusion to their premise. They are using their conclusion to establish their premise. They are saying, the President should be impeached, therefore he is evil. In the absence of any evidence of misconduct.
It’s a logical fallacy. It’s probably most commonly known as the Mind Projection Fallacy. It comes in two flavors. In one variety, a person’s subjective judgments are “projected” to be inherent properties of an object, rather than being matters of personal perception. One effect of this variety of fallacy is that others are assumed to share the same view, and that they are irrational or misinformed if they do not. The right wingers’ subjective judgment that President Obama is corrupt is applied to all aspects of his presidency, rather than being viewed by the right wingers as their personal perceptions. All events are filtered through that perception. Anyone who disagrees is nuts.
(The second variety is when someone assumes that their own lack of knowledge about a phenomenon (which is, in fact, about their state of mind) as meaning that the phenomenon is not or cannot be understood (a fact about reality). This is global warming and climate change denial territory, though, and less relevant to the IRS scandal debates.)
Once you recognize the logical fallacy that underlies the neocon efforts to attack the President, their tactics in the seemingly unending, pointless committee hearings start to make a kind of distorted sense. They aren’t out to find evidence of presidential misconduct, because in their minds the evidence is already there. No, it’s not logical. By definition, it’s illogical. But they’ve already projected their conclusions to establish their premise.
Under this kind of irrationality, there’s nothing that President Obama can do to prove the “scandal” involved only a small group of unthinking IRS employees. The President stayed away from the IRS Inspector General’s investigation and report? The president is uninvolved and failing to manage government. The President involved himself in the IG’s investigation and report? He’s covering things up. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t. Until you pop the Mind Projection Fallacy bubble, it’s an Alice in Wonderland situation.
True, they hope to ride the issue to a power grab in the U.S. Senate in the 2014 election. But that assumes that a majority of the the voters are illogical and irrational as the House majority. The 2012 elections would suggest otherwise. WC is cautiously optimistic.
(WC is indebted to Andrew Sullivan for the title to this post. But paranoia doesn’t really enter into it, Andrew.)
What’s most striking about an examination of the political activities of Bob Gillam, the richest man in Alaska, is the carnage that he’s left in his wake. The rich really are different: they don’t have to care about the consequences.
The Anchorage Daily News has a recent partial summary of a small part of the chaos created by Gillam and his associates. Assuming the Daily News has it right, it’s safe to say that no one in the story emerges unsplattered by the mud and blood generated by Gillam’s obsessions.
Gillam famously paid the largest Alaska Public Office Commission fine ever, $25,000. It turns out that the complaint that led to that fine was based upon records that a fundraiser named Robert Kaplan sold to the enemy for $50,000. Kaplan was unhappy because he hadn’t been paid by Gillam. So he sold Gillam’s donor list to Pebble’s lawyer.
Department of Free Advice: Here’s a tip to nonprofits everywhere. Be careful who you trust with your donor list. The donor list is the crown jewels of any nonprofit. You transfer it to someone else at your grave peril.
Art Hackney, of Hackney & Hackney, is probably the best known political flack in Alaska. Apparently, it was Hackney who trusted Kaplan with the anti-Pebble donor list. Hackney claims his business was decimated by Kaplan’s betrayal. WC is trying to work up a tear for Hackney; no luck so far, Art. Karma can be a bitch.
Kaplan’s ill-advised claims against Hackney and Gillam backfired. Partly it appears to have been Gillam’s deeper pockets, partly karmic retribution and partly a deeply unsympathetic claimant. Kaplan had some big judgments entered against him. He’s in bankruptcy. Bad news, Kaplan: not all of those big judgments will get discharged in bankruptcy. WC can’t work up a tear for you, either.
So the APOC case went ahead, based in substantial part on the stuff Kaplan sold to Pebble’s lawyer. Gillam had to pay a $25,000 fine under a settlement agreement in which he did not admit misconduct. Gillam proably paid the fine out of petty cash; he invested at least $2 million in the underlying election. A $25,000 fine is chicken feed in comparison.
Paul Dauphinais, the executive director of the Alaska Public Offices Commission, didn’t like the settlement, and didn’t mind saying so. Dauphinais thinks Gillam is a scofflaw and a serial violator of Alaska campaign finance laws. There’s evidence to support Dauphinais’s position; Gillam has subsequently been nailed for failing to report free air travel to candidates he supported. But APOC has also ruled in Gillam’s favor, including opining that Citizen’s United applied to Alaska state and municipal elections, for example.
And then Pebble Attorney Matt Singer, acting for Joel Natwick, filed another APOC complaint against Gillam in August 2012, claiming that Gillam grossly underreported his total expenditures on behalf of Gillam’s Save Our Salmon Initiative in Lake and Peninsula Borough. The facts are particularly egregious, because it is the same misconduct that led to an earlier fine. But APOC has done nothing with that case in the nine months since it was filed.
Because Gillam is now suing Dauphinais and APOC. For picking on him. Gillam claims that Dauphinais is out to get him. A more … objective … viewer might think that Dauphinais and APOC are simply doing their jobs. A more objective viewer might think that Gillam, a multi-millionaire, who owns a palatial quasi-lodge on Lake Clark, simply has the worst case of NIMBY in the history of the State of Alaska. And Gillam has plainly demonstrated he’s willing to violate the law in indulging his NIMBYism.
In the meantime, as we all wait for Anchorage Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby to rule on Gillam’s claims of harrassment, APOC appears to be two-blocked by Gillam’s lawsuit. There’s nothing WC can find in either the superior court file or the APOC file to indicate there’s a formal order stopping Natwick’s APOC complaint from going forward. But nothing is happening in the case. So by the simple, if slightly expensive, expedient of a lawsuit Gillam has apparently immunized himself from Alaska’s campaign finance laws. Impressive. And depressing.
The really ironic part of all this is that WC is personally strongly opposed to the proposed Pebble Mine, too. But is seriously embarrassed whenever anyone suggests WC and Bob Gillam are on the same side.
Department of Free Advice: The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.
Don’t misunderstand, the Pebble Partnership isn’t a choir of angels, either. But the ends don’t justify the means. That’s a path to chaos. Being rich shouldn’t excuse you from playing by the rules. No matter which side you are on. Any other policy leads to chaos and carnage. Q.E.D.
While the gulls arrived some days ago, the shorebirds have arrived more recently. And there’s a problem. Their habitat is still frozen. It’s been interesting to see how the birds coped – or failed to cope – with the adverse conditions.
Bonaparte’s Gulls, the black-headed gull of Interior Alaska, are surface feeders, bobbing on the surface of the water and delicately dabbing at emerging insects. But there’s a problem. Ponds are still frozen. This Bonaparte’s coped with the problem this way:
If you look carefully, you can see that he has punched a series of holes in the ice, using his feet and his bill, to get at prey under the ice. You can see the series of four fishing holes behind him. It helped that the ice was only a quarter inch thick or so. An interesting and apparently successful strategy.
Long-billed Dowitchers under ordinary conditions look a bit like sewing machines, their heads rapidly going up and down, probing with their long bills in the soft mud of the shore for prey. The problem for the Dowitchers is that ground is still frozen about half an inch down. This fellow coped with the challenge by adopting a strategy used by sandpipers: pond scum sucking.
Readers may recall that pond scum is surprisingly nutritious. It’s a primary food source for Sandpipers. The much larger Dowitcher can apparently make do with the alternate food, too. Actually, Dowitchers are much too handsome to make do with this rather plain view. Here’s a better shot of one of Alaska’s prettiest shorebirds.
The Whimbrel, a slightly larger shorebird with an even longer, more specialized bill, probes even deeper into the shoreline mud than the Dowitcher. Whether because its bill won’t let it, or because there isn’t enough energy to make it worthwhile, the Wimbrels weren’t sucking scum. Most, as this fellow, were wandering somewhat disconsolately across the solid ice, probing occasionally, and somewhat half-heartedly, at stuff blown out onto the surface.
The Whimbrels were being surprisingly territorial over their chosen ice areas, so perhaps there was some kind of food out there. But it can’t have been their usual diet.
WC has no idea whether the late spring will affect shorebird survival, reproduction success or populations. We may not know for a couple of years. It’s not like we get any of these species on Christmas Bird Counts. But it’s unlikely to be good news.
(All photos May 19 and 20, 2013)
WC offers a guest blog today, full of Bird Nerd jokes and sarcasm from The Birdist. Used with permission (thanks, Nick Lund).
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I drove over a bridge from Maryland into Virginia today and on the big “Welcome to Virginia” sign was an image of their state bird, the Northern Cardinal – with a yellow bill. I should have scoffed – another Birds at Large on tap! – but it hardly registered. Everyone knows that state birds are a big damn joke. There are a million Cardinals, a scattering a Robins, and just a general lack of thought being put into the whole thing.
States should have to put more thought into their state bird than I put into picking my socks in the morning. “Ugh, state bird? I dunno, what’re the guys next to us doing? Cardinal? OK, let’s do that too. Yeah put it on all the signs. Nah no time to research the bill color let’s just go.” It’s the official state bird! Well, since all these jackanape states are too busy passing laws requiring everyone to own guns or whatever to consider what their state bird should be, I guess I’ll have to do it.
1. Alabama. Official state bird: Yellowhammer.
Right out of the gate with this thing. Yellowhammer? C’mon. I Asked Jeeves and it told me that Yellowhammer is some backwoods name for a Yellow-shafted Flicker. Sorry, but that’s dumb. If you want a woodpecker, go for something with a little more cache, something that’s at least a full species.
What it should be: Red-cockaded Woodpecker
2. Alaska. Official state bird: Willow Ptarmigan
Willow Ptarmigans are the dumbest sounding birds on earth, sorry. They sound like rejected Star Wars aliens, angrily standing outside the Mos Eisley cantina because their ID’s were rejected. Why go with these dopes, Alaska, when you’re the best state to see the most awesome falcon on earth?
What it should be: Gyrfalcon
3. Arizona. Official state bird: Cactus Wren
Cactus Wren is like the only boring bird in the entire state. I can’t believe it.
What it should be: Red-faced Warbler
4. Arkansas. Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird
Christ. What makes this even less funny is that there are like 8 other states with Mockingbird as their official bird. I’m convinced that the guy whose job it was to report to the state’s legislature on what the official bird should be forgot until the day it was due and he was in line for a breakfast sandwich at Burger King. In a panic he walked outside and selected the first bird he could find, a dirty Mockingbird singing its stupid head off on top of a dumpster.
What it should be: Painted Bunting
5. California. Official state bird: California Quail
…Or the largest most radical bird on the continent?
What it should be: California Condor
6. Colorado. Official state bird: Lark Bunting
I’m actually OK with this. A nice choice. But why not go with the only bird that is (or is pretty much) endemic in your state?
What it should be: Brown-capped Rosy-finch or Gunnison Sage-grouse
7. Connecticut. Official state bird: American Robin
Look, this isn’t even that hard. American Robin is American, not special to Connecticut at all. Is there perhaps another choice? One that inspires some more local pride?
What it should be: Connecticut Warbler
8. Delaware. Official state bird: Blue Hen chicken
You know what? I’m not so mad about this. Whatever, it seems to have some connection to you, even though “blue chicken” plugged into a thesaurus means “sad wuss.”
What it should be: Red Knot
9. Florida. Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird
I am finishing this post the next day because I had to go buy a new computer after I threw my last one out the window when I read that Florida’s state bird was the Northern Mockingbird. I cannot think of a lamer choice. What’s their state beverage, A Half Glass of Warm Tapwater?
What it should be: American Flamingo
10. Georgia. Official state bird: Brown Thrasher
I’ve always liked this. Way to go, Georgia.
What it should be: Brown Thrasher
11. Hawaii. Official state bird: Nene
What it should be: Nene (the goose)
12. Idaho. Official state bird: Mountain Bluebird
What it should be: Mountain Bluebird
13. Illinois. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
You know how parents say that thing, “if everybody can’t have it, then NOBODY can have it”? Well, I’m doing that for cardinal. No one gets the cardinal. Screw cardinals.
What it should be: Greater Prairie-chicken
14. Indiana. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
What it should be: Bobolink
15. Iowa. Official state bird: Eastern Goldfinch
Eastern Goldfinch? That’s not even a thing.
What it should be: Dickcissel
16. Kansas. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
OK, but I’m only allowing one.
What it should be: Western Meadowlark
17. Kentucky. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
[urge to kill: rising]
What it should be: Kentucky Warbler
18. Louisiana. Official state bird: Brown Pelican
Yes. The best fit of all. If I had beads I’d throw them to you, Louisiana. Note: I could go Louisiana Waterthrush here, but no one thinks of Louisiana when they think of Louisiana Waterthrush, so, whatever.
What it should be: Brown Pelican
19. Maine. Official state bird: Black-capped Chickadee
Ah, my beloved home state. I couldn’t imagine it any other bird.
What it should be: Black-capped Chickadee
20. Maryland. Official state bird: Baltimore Oriole
What it should be: Baltimore Oriole
21. Massachusetts. Official state bird: Black-capped Chickadee
Screw you, Taxachusetts. Maine wins.
What it should be: Piping Plover
22. Michigan. Official state bird: American Robin
The most endangered bird in the nation lives ONLY (pretty much) in your state! Don’t you want tourists and pride and crap? Uggghhhh.
What it should be: Kirtland’s Warbler
23. Minnesota. Official state bird: Common Loon
Alright that works.
What it should be: Common Loon.
24. Mississippi. Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird
Oh for God’s sake. There’s an awesome bird named after you! NAMED AFTER YOU!
What it should be: Mississippi Kite
25. Missouri. Official state bird: Eastern Bluebird
Lame, but I don’t know what else would be better.
What it should be: Eastern Bluebird
26. Montana. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
What it should be: McCown’s Longspur
27. Nebraska. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
What it should be: Sandhill Crane
28. Nevada. Official state bird: Mountain Bluebird
Look, Nevada, you’re insane. You should have a bird that also represents what a zany, mixed-up world this is.
What it should be: Himalayan Snowcock
29. New Hampshire. Official state bird: Purple Finch
OK just go with it.
What it should be: Purple Finch
30. New Jersey. Official state bird: Eastern Goldfinch
Are you serious? Another outdated name? Come on, Jersey. You’ve got a fine birding reputation, and you’re better than this.
What it should be: Seaside Sparrow
31. New Mexico. Official state bird: Greater Roadrunner
What it should be: Greater Roadrunner
32. New York. Official state bird: Eastern Bluebird
What it should be: Cerulean Warbler
33. North Carolina. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
More like Bore-thern Cardinal.
What it should be: Carolina Chickadee
34. North Dakota. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
Was Western Meadowlark the official state bird of the entire Louisiana Purchase and they just kept if after becoming states?
What it should be: Chestnut-collared Longspur
35. Ohio. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
Uuggghhhhhhh the wooorrrssssttt
What it should be: Indigo Bunting
36. Oklahoma. Official state bird: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Hell yeah! Nailed it!
What it should be: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
37. Oregon. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
STOP IT WITH THE MEADOWLARKS. I’m resisting the temptation for Oregon Junco here, in favor of something that would never happen.
What it should be: Northern Spotted Owl.
38. Pennsylvania. Official state bird: Ruffed Grouse
I like it.
What it should be: Ruffed Grouse
39. Rhode Island. Official state bird: Rhode Island Red Chicken
Hahaha Rhode Island you so crazy
What it should be: Bee Hummingbird haha j/k! Rhode Island Red Chicken
40. South Carolina. Official state bird: Carolina Wren
Okay. Thank you.
What it should be: Carolina Wren
41. South Dakota. Official state bird: Ring-necked Pheasant
An exotic. You’re kidding me. Is your state meal General Tso’s chicken? Is your state hat the sombrero? Is your state anthem the DAMN CANADIAN NATIONAL ANTHEM?
What it should be: Sharp-tailed Grouse
42. Tennessee. Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird
What is it with Mockingbirds? I DO NOT understand. They are garbage birds that eat dumpster trash! Is that what you want to identify with, Tennessee?
What it should be: Tennessee Warbler
43. Texas. Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird
Sometimes – after a nice full day, perhaps spent in the company of loved ones – one can forget that the world is a cold, uncaring place full of death and sadness. Thanks, Texas, the birdiest state in the entire country, for reminding me that this civilization we’ve built and work our fingers to the bone trying to perfect is as meaningless as a sand castle in the tide.
What it should be: any other fucking bird in the country other than Northern Mockingbird. Roseate Spoonbill? Golden-cheeked Warbler? Swainson’s Hawk? Aplomado Falcon? Anything.
44. Utah. Official state bird: California Gull
You named your official state bird after a bird named for a DIFFERENT state? That is the most pathetic thing I have ever heard.
What it should be: Burrowing Owl
45. Vermont. Official state bird: Hermit Thrush
Fine. Thank you for restoring sanity, Vermont.
What it should be. Hermit Thrush
46. Virginia. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
Just when I think I’m out they suck me right back in. Shut up, Virginia.
What it should be: Barred Owl
47. Washington. Official state bird: Willow Goldfinch
What is going onnnnnnnn???? Nobody can get the damn goldfinch right!
What it should be: Glaucous-winged Gull
48. West Virginia. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal
West Virginia I am so mad at your right now I could explode.
What it should be: Swainson’s Warbler
49. Wisconsin. Official state bird: American Robin
I’m too tired to be mad.
What it should be: Golden-winged Warbler
50. Wyoming. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark
I hate you.
What it should be: Greater Sage-grouse
Final Thoughts: This has been the most depressing post I have ever put together. Three robins but no Blue Jay? Seven cardinals but no owls or hawks? Five goddamn mockingbirds? This is what we pay taxes for, folks.
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WC has mentioned before his disdain for patent trolls, and his whole-hearted admiration for NewEgg, the little David that keeps knocking down these Goliath trolls. Well, NewEgg has done it again, and this time it wasn’t even close.
Alcatel-Lucent, the French corporation that is the heir to some of the Bell Labs patents, tried to assert its patents. To “monetize” – extort money for – those patents. Alcatel sued eight of the biggest retailers and Intuit, claiming their e-commerce websites infringed on Alcatel’s patents. One by one, the big outfits folded. Kmart, QVC, Lands’ End, and Intuit paid up at various pretrial stages of the litigation. Just before trial, Zappos, Sears, and Amazon settled. That left two companies in the case as trial started. Overstock.com and Newegg.
NewEgg never settles with patent trolls. Lee Cheng, NewEgg’s chief legal officer,has made it corporate policy. And it has consistently paid off. It did this time, too. A jury in the Eastern District of Texas found NewEgg hadn’t infringed on Alcatel’s patents. And in the case of the key patent, US Patent No. 5,649,131, a claim involving communication protocols? The jury invalidated Alcatel’s patent claim.
Alcatel appealed, of course. It hired high-powered lawyers. Filed big briefs. Agued passionately and forcefully to the appeals court.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal circuit summarily affirmed the jury verdict. Three days after argument. That’s a bitch slap. That the Federal Circuit – the part of the federal appeals courts that hears intellectual property disputes – telling Alcatel to stop wasting the court’s time. That has to hurt.
That’s the third time NewEgg has made a patent troll look stupid. So here’s <clink> to NewEgg. Soon enough, no one is likely to sue them; the trolls will go after the outfits that would rather settle. But in the meantime, let’s hear it for the good guys.