Friday, May 26, 2006

The Regrettable Mr. Bush

I almost avoided George W. Bush’s press conference tonight. I tried, I really did. I took the dogs for a walk, but when I came home I discovered that the White Sox weren’t playing, and I wandered into a room with a TV on. And, shazam! There they were, the dynamic dickheads of pre-emption: Bush and Blair, or should we call them Mr. 32% and Mr. 26%?

When questioned by a reporter, Bush said he regretted saying “Bring it on” and “Wanted dead or alive” because it sent the “wrong message.” What an absolute asshole. He has done so many numbskull things since those particular utterances that I had forgotten he had even said them. If that were the worst of it, he would still be above 50% approval. Saying stupid things is not his downfall, doing stupid things is his downfall, and the downfall of our soldiers, our treasury, and our diplomatic standing in the world (Mr. 26% notwithstanding).

Bush went on to laboriously tell us that he was trying to “convince the world” that Iran was a threat and that the world was better off with Saddam in jail. “Convince the world”? Maybe if you had done one thing—just one stinking thing—that made sense during your presidency, then “convincing” anybody, not to mention the whole world, wouldn’t be such an impossible task.

So, here’s my tirade to Bush and his infuriating press conference:

Dear George,

Don’t try to convince anybody of anything. Don’t give any opinion, or voice any concern. We know the world is dangerous and the Iranians hate us. They’ve hated us for decades and they’ll hate us for decades to come. We know Kim Jong-il is an asshole. We know we’re addicted to oil and that our economy is vulnerable. These are not some huge revelations that you need to enlighten us of. If the Iranians get an atomic bomb, it will be unfortunate, but so be it. Of course, it will be your fault if they do. Your fault because you commissioned our troops into an unnecessary war, watched as they got mired into a horrendous quagmire, tortured prisoners, and murdered civilians; your policies have poisoned world opinion against US priorities and have required us to spend lives and treasure on a pointless mission.

Likewise, if North Korea bombs Japan, or Islamo-fascists blow up Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, those will be your fault as well. The geopolitical instabilities are gaining steam, and the US is hamstrung; we cannot act diplomatically or militarily. Russia’s Putin, who you “trusted in your heart”, is turning out more old-school KGB than new-age progressive. We cannot flex our muscle or sweeten the porridge.

So, George… just shut up, and as Bill Maher says, don’t touch anything else. Your presidency is pretty much done. You’ve fucked up just about everything you’ve handled, so don’t touch anything anymore.

And please don’t bother with any more press conferences. I don’t care to hear your bullshit mea culpas, knowing that the only reason you would ever cop to having done something “regrettable” is that your approval ratings are in the toilet. Why on earth would you ever say “Bring ‘em on” in the first place? Why would that idea ever float into your tiny, testosterone-laden brain? And what the fuck is the point of “regretting” it? Of all the purely idiotic things that you’ve said and done, that’s the one you regret? “Bring ‘em on”? Duh.

When I first heard your “dead or alive” statement, back in 2001 or 2002, which was followed closely by Darth Cheney’s “head on a platter” comment, I knew then that we had tumbled down the rabbit hole. The discontent I felt at that time, that the heads of state of my great nation would utter such barbaric and imbecilic things, has grown into a full-fledged rage of regret and nauseating disdain for everything that has transpired since that time.

And after all your tinhorn bluster, Osama bin Laden still walks free. Your utterance of “dead or alive” should not be your worst misgiving, rather your failure to live up to the empty threat is the greater sin. For that you should apologize. (But you won’t.)

Before the 2000 election, I read Bill Minutaglio’s biography of you and had you pegged, as Ann Richards has said, as a rich kid who was born on third base who thought he’d hit a triple. Every fear I had that you were some empty suit with a trust fund and a political war chest has come true. You haven’t a clue what noblesse oblige means. You have no respect for the principles of government, or any apparent knowledge of the purpose of government.

Pundits who support you conjecture about the great mission of your presidency, the high ideals and the purity of your motivations. Pundits who oppose you conjecture about the cynical self-interest of your policies, or the evil intentions, or the incompetence. Frankly, none of that interests me. Your policies are just plain bad, whether they are purposefully self-serving or mistaken failures, it doesn’t matter. Whether you are incongruously forthright, secretly intelligent or a bumbling fool makes no difference to me. I cannot know your motivations, your work ethic or your understanding. I have no idea what goes on inside your tiny little mind. All I know is that your actions are not consistent with the productive management of a country-- any country-- especially an exceptional country like ours.

Your results suck, and that, sir, is why your approval ratings are so low. Not the “dead or alive” threat, nor the “mission accomplished” banner, nor the “bring ‘em on” statement: those aren’t the basis of the nation’s disdain for you. The videos of Osama’s continued polemics, the rising death toll in Iraq, the Medicare Part D boondoggle and the crippling federal deficits: those are the real concerns of the American people.

You run this nation like every two-bit enterprise you’ve ever run: Arbusto, Harken Energy, the Texas Rangers baseball team. In case your parents and friends haven’t told you, George, you have always been a miserable failure; and most likely, you always will be.

So, please don’t clutter up my TV with pointless press conferences where you remind us of all the lame-brain things you’ve said or done. I remember them. I was there. It’s painful enough having lived through them once, please let’s not reminisce. Yes, you have said stupid things. In fact, I cannot think of one intelligent, witty or insightful syllable you’ve ever uttered. Yes, you will say stupid things in the future. I can live with that.

For the record, in the future, when someone asks you if you have any regrets, the proper answer is “yes, I regret almost everything I’ve done the last six years. I should have stayed in Texas, I regret running for president; I regret smearing Al Gore, who should have been the president. I regret choosing Cheney as V.P. I regret ignoring threats from al Qaeda, and letting Osama escape at Tora Bora. I regret starting an unnecessary war and killing tens of thousands of humans. I regret not firing Rumsfeld. I regret lying to the American people about intelligence leaks and allowing Karl Rove to serve in the White House. I regret smearing John Kerry, who risked his life in Vietnam while I cavorted with celebrities and campaigned for war mongers. I regret everything because I am a miserable, regrettable hollow fart of a man.”



Thursday, May 18, 2006

Nanny State

I've been asked my opinion of Dean Baker’s ebook The Conservative Nanny State, which has some provocative theses on free trade and immigration. I'm interested in your thoughts. My take, after reading the first third of the book, is that he tends to oversimplify complicated issues. He also contradicts himself by offering opposing motivations of the "rich". For instance, if allowing more foreign-trained physicians would lower health costs, as Baker surmises, then why aren't the greedy capitalist business owners who pay the healthcare costs of their employees clamoring for more lax immigration policies for internationally trained doctors?

In fact, over 25% of the physicians currently practicing in the US are graduates of foreign medical schools; does Baker think that number should be 50%, 75%, 100%? In fact, foreigners make up a greater number of physicians than almost any other profession in the US, taxi drivers notwithstanding. If we are going to allow barrier-free immigration for physicians, then I suppose we are going to do the same for lawyers, chemists, teachers, economists and organic chemists as well. How many professionals should we allow in? A million? Ten million? 100 million? At some point we merely become a nation without borders, without sovereignty.

Baker would have a stronger argument if he supported opening more US medical schools or training more specialist surgeons to increase the competition, which economic law of supply and demand would seem to dictate lower salaries and lower costs. Unfortunately, studies show that if more surgeons practice in a given community, then more surgery overall is performed, even if the per capita number of cases declines. More doctors often leads to more healthcare expense. Just as having both a Wal-Mart and a Meijer store in town doesn’t mean that people will buy less televisions and toasters, having more doctors does not mean that people will access medical care any less.

It may seem I'm merely reacting to Baker's assault on the US medical system and his affectation for bemoaning the high salaries of US physicians, but I'm not. I have always been an advocate for a single payer system, or at least a single payment system, which could ensure better access to care for all at a controllable cost. This would surely provide the tools to decrease the total compensation paid to US physicians, but could lower the most highly paid specialists the most and spare those who provide primary care. In medicine, generalists make far less than subspecialty surgeons, with that discrepancy growing larger and larger. Salaries in medicine mirror the growing dichotomy in the US socioeconomic structure in general, with the rich getting richer and the "poor" just getting by. Just as in any economic system such large differences in wealth lead to class struggle and, as Marx and Engels point out, instability and warfare.

Another point I'll add: Baker keeps confusing immigration with free-trade. Restricting immigration is much different than restricting free trade. While US citizens may not be able to "enjoy the benefits” of having a horde of low-priced foreign-trained doctors rooting around their bellies at their local hospitals, these same citizens are more than free to travel to Mexico or Guatemala for their hysterectomy. Interestingly, that is happening to some degree with hospitals operating in Costa Rica and parts of SE Asia that cater to wealthy Americans and Australians, respectively. These hospitals are often staffed with well-trained nurses and doctors, but operate very cheaply because of the lack of expensive regulation and malpractice insurance. Caveat emptor.

In sum, the provision of healthcare is an extremely complicated economic model that even the venerable economist Peter Drucker couldn't solve. To think that simply opening our borders to every foreign doctor with a diploma would solve the problem is laughably glib. Would flooding the US market with foreign-trained physicians lower doctors' salaries? Certainly. But would it lead to lower healthcare costs? Never. And better quality? Ha! Is US healthcare in trouble? Yes. Does Dean Baker have the answer? Hardly.

Looking forward to finishing the ebook and engaging a more thorough discussion.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Why I am a non-theist...

..or, why I'll never be president.

Ok, I've given this a lot of thought, even more reflection and have come to a heartfelt conclusion: I am an atheist. It's not something that one decides, but rather something that one discovers. If an examined life is not worth living, then my examination has determined that god-belief is not worth wasting one's life on-- and may even be dangerous.

Sam Harris' latest book "The End of Faith" is an excellent diatribe against liberal monotheism, stating that such tolerance for irrationality by modern, thinking homo sapeins just acts to feed the inane and destructive institutions buiilt around religious belief.

Islam is the latest deadly iteration of violence in the name of religion, but Jews and Christians are just as guilty of fueling the hate game based on silly fantasies regarding god-belief. The historic atrocities done in support of Judeo-Christianity are exponentially worse. The world is becoming a smaller, more dangerous place with nuclear proliferation and WMD's becoming more available, and the human community cannot afford to perpetuate divisive, and often deadly, irrationality any longer.

Of course, this is not to say that profound wisdom is absent from the great religions. On the contrary, the Bible, Tibetan Book of the Dead, and I Ching (all texts I have become familiar with to varying degrees) contain fundamental truths that are presented in understandable ways, although they are often targeted to their specific cultural group. We must read these texts in the light of our knowledge of science and experience, and try to understand the political and social motivations present at the time of their writing.

Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and Plato's Dialogues likewise contain fundamental truths, only without the baggage of irrational fantasy. We must face the fact that a huge ark was not built by a 500 year-old man to save the world's animal species. Science does not support re-incarnation or resurrection. Mohammed and Moses did not converse with God to bring the Word to the people.

We as a human community do not have the luxury of ignoring rationality anymore. We must finally fully wake up to the idiocy of believing in sky wizards, magic and miracles, and we must especially see the dangers of believing our fantasies are somehow more informed than theirs.

All god-believers, but perhaps especially the reality-based liberals who should know better, need to come to terms with this.

Our planet depends on it.