Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Healthcare Lies Continue

In an about face from one of his campaign promises, President Obama has announced that he would be open to the possibility of legislation requiring people to maintain health insurance whether they want it or not, fining those who fail to do so and only exempting those who absolutely cannot afford the premiums (note that this last group would only include those whose income fell under a certain bar and it would have nothing to do with what you felt you could or could not afford). If that sentence doesn't send a chill through you then I have to wonder if you understand America at all.
During his presidential campaign, Obama assured everyone that no one would be required to have health insurance under his ideas of healthcare reform. He now says that his thinking has evolved because of persuasive arguments others have made that say bringing down the cost of healthcare may require such legislation. This would normally be the time when charges of flip-flopping get leveled (and such charges actually are already flying across the blogoshpere), but I'm not going to take that route. Personally, I have no trouble with evolved thinking. If you cannot change your mind in the face of new evidence then you have no business being in charge of anything and what is often charged as flip-flopping is, in reality, sound decision making in the face of new evidence. I don't believe this is a case of new evidence, though. President Obama has demonstrated himself to be too intelligent and too sharp on research to not have thought of this little problem a long time ago (whatever problems I have with Obama, the abilities of his mind are not on the list). I don't think there has been any new evidence and I don't think his thinking has evolved. I think he lied, plain and simple.
To say that healthcare reform would be a long and hard battle would be a championship level understatement. The subject hasn't even been seriously broached since the Clinton administration and then it went down in flames. Barack Obama certainly knew this when he made healthcare reform a central part of his campaign. He knew what kind of fight he would have on his hands and he knew that he had to temper things accordingly.
No matter how sheep-like the American public becomes (and believe me, I expect some people to start grazing any day now), most people still feel their hackles rise when you start saying "mandatory" to anything that has never before been mandatory, especially when it means telling people they have to pay for something. For many people, it's different if you just take it in taxes. Then they never actually see the money to fret over having to spend it and they're not smart enough to fully realize they still spent it. (Think I'm being too harsh here? Witness how many people insist on calling single-payer healthcare "free" despite the fact that this is exactly how it is paid for.) There are too many of us, however, who would see through this scam and would scream bloody murder. If you start taxing for healthcare then you are wide open for the claims of socialism that most proponents of reform are trying to avoid. So, we're in a bind if we know that lowering costs is going to require people paying for health insurance they don't actually use to buoy up the influx of people who aren't really paying (being subsidized by other people's taxes) but are using the healthcare system every chance they get. If we tell people up front that we're going to make them pay for something they don't want, even some healthcare reform supporters are going to get mad and drop support. If we tell people we're going to add a huge healthcare tax ... Well, telling people they're about to get taxed even further usually results in not getting elected. So how do we address this?
It's pretty easy, actually, and a community organizer would know exactly how to do it. You get people completely and totally pumped about what they want first and then, only after they have built up a good head of steam, you break the bad news in such a way that the over-excited mob now sees it as a challenge to overcome, instead of something that would have stopped them cold before they got pumped. If you have ever been part of a charity organization, a high school football team, or a basic training platoon then you know exactly what I mean. It's done all the time and it's done in almost the exact same way this about face has been done.
What will President Obama's thinking evolve about next? He is already changing the wording of a promise he made just last week, that no one who liked their doctor or coverage would have to change under his plans. He's hedging his bets on that one before the news is even old. If I were a betting man, I would wager that whatever plan finally emerges, it will have little to no resemblance to what has been discussed so far.
Just wait and see.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More RIAA Nonsense

Have you heard about the latest power grab attempt from the Recording Industry Association of America? If you listen to the radio you probably have because I started hearing the commercials a few days ago and finally got curious enough to look it up. They are lobbying for a new tax on radio stations, called the Performance Rights Act (S. 379 and H.R 848) and, while it is safe to say that I would be opposed to most new taxes, this one is especially troublesome.
There is actually an amusing story here, if you have the heart to laugh at such am organization of bullies and thugs routinely getting away with their destructive behavior. Some years ago, the RIAA successfully lobbied for a similar tax on internet radio stations. The cost increases were directly followed by the closing of most independent or even semi-independent internet stations who simply could not afford the new bill. Net result: The RIAA did not receive more money and listeners did receive less music choices. It was the ultimate lose-lose situation.
Never one to learn anything from reality, the RIAA is at it again. This time they want to hit terrestrial radio stations (that would be the fancy term for AM and FM radio, the ones you listen to in your car) with the same basic tax they used to kill internet radio. They now claim that AM and FM radio are getting a free ride and should not be exempt. Oddly enough, the biggest gun the RIAA used in arguing for the tax on internet radio was the difference between them and terrestrial radio. Now that they have snaked their way into stealing money that did not belong to them, they want to ignore that difference in order to steal more.
The truth of the matter is that terrestrial radio stations already pay licencing fees. In fact, the crippling licencing fees that were applied to what internet radio still exists just a couple years ago were based on the very fees that terrestrial stations pay. This tax would amount to charging them twice for the same service.
But wait, it gets better!
Try to imagine your favorite recording artist (genre doesn't even matter here) and then try to imagine where that artist would be without the radio. Did you imagine sitting in the parents' garage wishing they could be heard by more than their nearest neighbors? Because that is where most recording artists would be without the radio. Radio is, essentially, free advertising for people trying to sell CDs and concert tickets, and it is free advertising that reaches millions of people. The RIAA should be paying the radio stations for this service.
But wait, it still gets better!
It is actually illegal for the RIAA to pay radio stations for this service. Why is it illegal? It's illegal because the RIAA (and the artists) depend so heavily on radio play for the money they earn that it is considered cheating for them to "bribe" a station into putting a particular artist or song into higher rotation. That's right, ladies and gentlemen. It is so obvious and demonstrated that the RIAA depends on radio play that someone actually had to pass laws to prevent the RIAA from paying the stations and now the RIAA actually believes it's in a position to be paid instead. This is an association that is so out of touch with reality, even these taxes couldn't pay the long distance bill to make contact.
I've said it before and they insist on continuing to prove me right: the RIAA would rather steal and tax your money than earn it. They are not a business model, they're a mafia and they deserve to be treated as such. If there is any industry in this country that should go under in these times, it's the RIAA. If only we could be so lucky.

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's 1984 In France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke out today against the burqa, a traditional Muslim garment that covers the entire face and body,worn by fundamentalist females. According to Sarkozy, "The burqa is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women." Now, while I would agree with him (whole heartedly, in fact) that the burqa is a symbol of subjugation, I feel I have to break the news that such subjugation, itself, is a part of some religions. For those who follow the strictest interpretations of Islam, the burqa is not just a symbol of anything - it is fundamentally mandatory. Since I sincerely doubt that Sarkozy is himself a Muslim, I have a hard time believing that he is more qualified than they to say what is and is not a symbol of their religion.
I have to admit, though, this guy is one of my favorite examples of what not to do in a free society.
Sarkozy wasn't satisfied with just making a public statement condemning the burqa. Many people have done that. I would do that myself if I had a bigger venue than just this blog. That is part of freedom of speech. If we don't like something, we have every right to say we don't like it. I don't like the burqa and I don't like everything the burqa stands for. Unlike Sarkozy, however, I would never even consider banning the burqa in an entire country. Banning the burqa is no more appropriate to a free society than would be banning floor length dresses or the bonnets that are both the accepted clothing of certain minority religious groups over here.
To be honest, though, I don't really expect much resembling proper free society behavior from France. They started their path toward "freedom" with an orgy of executions and they have continued to have some pretty twisted ideas on the concept since then.
No, what really gets me about people like Sarkozy is how fluent they are in what George Orwell (in that classic dystopian novel 1984 which, by the way, was not meant to be a blueprint for society, contrary to modern popular ideas) called doublethink. Doublethink, if you don't remember or haven't read the book, is "[t]he power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them....To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them ..."
Let me give you a shining example:
In today's speech, Sarkozy stated the phrase, "All views must be expressed ..." Keep in mind that he is making this statement in a speech that is in support of banning the views of a certain minority group. Nice contradictory belief there. He went on to say, "we must not be ashamed of our values, we must not be afraid of defending them." Unless, of course, your values happen to be in the minority, in which case we can just legislate them out of existence and too bad for you.
Let's be absolutely clear here: I dislike the burqa and everything it stands for, but that does not give me the right to decide the values of the people who use it. If that woman who is wearing the burqa believes in the values that require her to wear it, that is her right. If she decides she does not believe in those values and wants to remove the burqa then, by all means, throw the entire power of the state behind protecting that right as well, but you do not have the right to make that decision for her. Being elected president does not give you the right to decide other people's values and it doesn't make it right to say one thing while meaning the exact opposite.
Of course, this is from the same guy who couldn't even take a stand against kidnappings, so what are the odds that he'll show any more backbone on this issue?

Addendum: For the record, and for those who don't know, Islam is not even the only religion that has this kind of dress requirement. While fundamentalist Muslims do tend to be the most strict about it, there are branches of Judaism, Hinduism, and even Christianity that have similar modesty standards for women.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why There Can Be No Honest Debate

A couple days ago, I touched on how you could tell when a person was spouting pure ideology and was not to be trusted. I would like to dig a little deeper into that subject because I came across a comment today that is a perfect illustration. The article itself concerned universal healthcare, but that is not of particular interest to this discussion. It could have been about almost anything and this same comment might have occurred.
A commentor who described himself as a dissatisfied Democrat (he in fact described modern Democrats as "a bunch of venal money-grubbers") went on to explain that he voted for Democrats because of what they used to stand for: "Be nice to one's mom and your friends, help the poor, educate the children ..." In the very next paragraph, however, he calls up "memories" of the Republicans: "instigate wars for profit, shut out the middle class and below with proven-to-have failed fallacies ... Vilify non-Christians ..." Does anyone else see a discrepancy here?
Please don't think that I am singling out a Democrat here. If I went hunting, I have no doubt that I could find identical themed comments from Republicans and I will gladly stipulate that the problem is rampant on both sides. I am quoting this one because I was not hunting and yet there it was, in plain sight.
Keep in mind that the person who made this comment was presenting himself as the voice of reason and claimed to be trying to engage a Republican in an honest and open discussion. If this was reasonable, honest, or open I would hate to see how this person conceived of the opposite.
What bothers me even more, though, is that, in eight pages of additional comments, not one person (including, unfortunately, the Republican to whom the comment was addressed) challenged this commenter on this blatant mischaracterization. Such hyperbolic distortions are taken as a matter of course these days and that is why it is so difficult (if not impossible) to have an honest debate or discussion.
So long as both sides continue to insist on maintaining such slander about the other, there can be no improvement in the ways our country operates. The status quo will remain the same and We The People will continue to be the losers. It doesn't hurt the politicians in the least. The status quo maintains their pay checks and their control. So long as there is no honest discussion there can be no honest solutions and politicians will continue to push dishonest solutions while blaming the other side for not being able to do better. Both sides are guilty and neither side is more guilty than the other. If you are not aware of that, you are not paying attention. Or you are buying into the dishonesty and are directly a part of the problem.

Friday, June 19, 2009

On The Proper Use Of Rank And Title

The story is already tearing across the blogosphere about how Senator Barbara Boxer interrupted Brigadier General Michael Walsh during a recent Senate hearing to tell him, "do me a favor, could you say ‘Senator’ instead of ‘Ma’am’ – it’s just a thing, I worked so hard to get that title so I’d appreciate it, yes thank you.” My opinion on this should be obvious, but I'm going to take the time to state it anyway.
I'll address first the part that irritates me most. "... I worked so hard to get that title ..." First of all, no you didn't. You were elected to an office; you did not earn a title. The distinction is subtle but important and it goes to the heart of what made this country different from the monarchy we broke away from more than 200 years ago. If I actually have to spell out that distinction then you have no business holding any office in this country. That isn't really the part that angers me, though. Sad as it is, I expect this kind of foolishness from the people who believe they are in charge.
No, what angers me is that this senator had the nerve to make such a statement to a brigadier general. Honestly, is there even a point in discussing which of the two worked longer or harder in earning a title? Is this person actually trying to compare the work involved in becoming a senator to the work involved in becoming a general? I know that Senator Boxer has demonstrated herself to be hostile to the military on numerous occasions, but this is rich, even for her.
Now then, there are some coming to her defense, claiming that the general was being demeaning by addressing the male senators as "Senator" while addressing Boxer as "ma'am". Of course, all you have to do to debunk this is listen to or watch the hearing. The claim is an outright lie. General Walsh intermixed "sir" or "ma'am" and "Senator" with every senator he addressed, including Senator Boxer. He used "sir" or "ma'am" more often than he used "Senator", but he did so equally with all of them. Only one of them chose to take offense at this and interrupt the General to address that offense.
There are also those claiming that proper military protocol demands the use of the title "Senator", but this is also patently false. One fool commenting on a blog actually tried quoting one of the military's internal pamphlets (these are, essentially, enforced guidelines for behavior in various situations and, trust me, there are many such pamphlets) without realizing that the pamphlet in question was concerning formal social etiquette, especially formal correspondence. Amusingly enough, even this pamphlet says that, concerning the President of the United States, "sir" is acceptable and appropriate in any prolonged conversation. I would assume that if it is good enough for the President it should also be good enough for a senator.
Military protocol for addressing a person of higher rank or station is actually quite simple. If you are referring to someone then you use that person's rank or title. For example, if General Walsh had been speaking to Senator Vitter about Senator Boxer, then it would be appropriate and required that he say, "Senator Boxer." This was not the case, though. When addressing someone directly, as General Walsh was doing, military protocol dictates that "sir" or "ma'am" is the appropriate title. In other words, General Walsh was speaking correctly as the protocols of his career require. Senator Boxer was flat out wrong.
In keeping with her entitlement mentality, however, it was not enough that Senator Boxer be wrong, she had to be rude as well. She couldn't wait for General Walsh to finish speaking before she made her demand (keep in mind that this was not early in the hearing so it was obviously not something that had to be addressed right away) but had to interrupt him to demonstrate her arrogance.
Someone voted for this person and someone, no doubt, will vote for her again. It really makes you wonder about the people she represents.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Name Game

How do you know if you're listening to a demagogue who probably doesn't have much that is useful or rational to say? Here's a hint: If you see or hear someone say something along the lines of "Democrats are lying, evil socialists who just want to give the country away to illegal aliens and unwed mothers," run away. By the same token, if you hear or see someone say something along the lines of, "Republicans are lying, evil fascists who just want to give the country away to the rich and big corporations," you should run just as fast. It is unfortunately true that these are two of the loudest groups on the internet, but they are both ridiculously wrong and, quite possibly, irredeemably stupid.
There are those on the right who champion ideas that are dangerously close (if not completely over the edge) to fascism, theocracy, aristocracy, or some other form of totalitarianism or near-totalitarianism. There are those on the left who champion ideas that are dangerously close (if not completely over the edge) to socialism, communism, enforced utopianism, or some other form of totalitarianism or near-totalitarianism. Most of even these people, however, do not believe or realize that they are promoting totalitarian ideas. They honestly believe that their particular approach will promote the best good while steering clear of the potential pitfalls. Does this mean that should not be opposed? Absolutely not! The best intentions can lead to the absolute worst results precisely because the person or people following them believed he, she, or they were doing good and were thus blinded to the actual results. If without blindness, there is always the danger of "We're too close to turn away now." Besides, the best reason to oppose people who are doing harm while truly believing they are doing good is because those are exactly the people who might come to see their own error. If their goal is to achieve a certain result and they can see that their actions are going in a different direction (and if they are truly motivated by their claimed goal) then a rational dialogue may cause them to change their actions. Demonizing them without that rational dialogue, however, is not likely to achieve this.
There are also those on either end whose goals are the very things that would and must lead to some form of totalitarianism. More often than not, this is because these people are actually arrogant enough to believe that their form of totalitarianism is for the good of humanity. Obviously these people must be opposed, but rational dialogue won't usually accomplish much. All we can do with them is fight and prevent them from gaining the power they so desperately crave.
Neither of these conditions, however, describe the Republican or Democratic parties, nor do they automatically describe voters who identify themselves as Democrat or Republican. It is certainly possible for voters in either of these parties to fall into one or the other of these camps and it is equally possible for politicians of either party to do so as well. It is not, though, a defining aspect of either party. It is just as possible for members (whether voter or politician) from almost any of the various independent parties to favor (intentionally or not) policies that lead toward some form of totalitarianism.
I, an independent, know many people who label themselves either Republican or Democrat. Not one of these people knowingly favors any policy or plan that would lead to totalitarianism and not one of these people would be opposed to removing his or her support of a policy or plan upon seeing evidence that it would do so. We may (and often do) disagree on many particular points, but not that one. That one, to me, is not negotiable. I would not knowingly or willingly associate with someone who favored any form of totalitarianism or who refused to remove support from a plan or policy after seeing that it would do so.
Republicans are not inherently fascists and Democrats are not inherently socialists. If you see someone claiming otherwise then that person is the one spreading hate and lies, and should be treated as such.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rotten To The Core

The elitist attitude of many Apple fanatics never fails to amuse me, but it is sometimes rather baffling. As any Apple fan (and most tech fans in general) already knows, Apple is releasing a new version of the popular iPhone, the iPhone 3G S. The new 3G S offers some improvements over the existing 3G just as the 3G offered some improvements over the original iPhone, but the mere fact of improvements isn't good enough for many users. They want it now and they want it cheap.
The iPhone 3G S comes in two models, a 16 GB model and a 32 GB model and their list prices (without subsidies or contract discounts) are $599 and $699 respectively. That's a pretty hefty price tag for any new phone but Apple products tend to be on the high end of the pricing structure so it isn't really surprising. Those customers signing up for a new two-year contract or who are eligible for an upgrade discount can get the new phones for $199 or $299 and, in an amazing sign of generosity on the part of carrier AT&T, existing iPhone users who are not eligible for an upgrade discount can still upgrade their phones for a discounted price of $399 or $499. Considering that no other existing phone users ever get discounts on the price of a phone unless they are eligible for a discounted upgrade, one would think that iPhone users would be jumping for joy that they are getting any discount at all. If that were the case, however, you would not be reading this post in the first place.
According to one disgruntled iPhone user, "This is ridiculous and a slap in the face to long time loyal iPhone customers like me who switched from T-Mobile and the only reason was the iPhone." It is ridiculous and a slap in the face that you are expected to honor contracts just like every other phone user in the wireless phone market? It is ridiculous and a slap in the face that you don't get to void your contract just because a new toy comes along that you feel you absolutely must have? We won't even go into the joke that the iPhone hasn't even been around long enough to truly have any "long time loyal" users.
The real problem here is that AT&T made the mistake of caving to pressure from Apple zealots once before, when the 3G came out. At that time, they chose to allow existing iPhone users to take advantage of upgrade discount pricing even if they were not actually eligible for the discount. It can easily be argued here that this was done to correct a customer service problem that Apple actually caused by releasing the original iPhone before it should have been released (the original iPhone lacked many features that were considered standard on phones of this type) and then exacerbated by releasing a corrected model so soon after the original release. Although it has been about a year since the 3G was released (a fairly standard period of time between Apple releases, as all Apple fans know), these people crying foul firmly believe that, just because they received preferential treatment once before, they are automatically entitled to the same preferential treatment now.
What really gets me, though, is that technology reporting sites - the very people who know the industry and have every reason to know better - are reporting this story as though 1. it were actually a story and 2. the Apple complainers actually have a legitimate complaint. No one seems to be mentioning, except strictly in passing, that AT&T once again is offering a discount to existing iPhone users, a discount they don't offer to the users of any other phone. Very few sites are mentioning that American wireless phone users get their phones at such steep discounts precisely because the two-year contract model is expected to make up the pricing difference and if Apple users are routinely getting the discount without having to go through the two-year contract then AT&T is actually losing money on them. These are things that the people writing these articles know and yet they are not reporting on them.
The short answer is, suck it up and quit whining. If you are an existing iPhone user then you have probably already received one discount to which you were not entitled. The proper answer to this situation is to say "thank you", not to cry because you aren't being handed yet another freebie.
To end on a note of fairness, there are many iPhone users (and Apple fans in general) who are saying the exact same thing I have said here. The elitist, entitlement mentality is far from universal among Apple customers. As with most things, it is a vocal minority who are making everyone else look bad. It just so happens, in this case, that the vocal minority are the young and hip crowd who believe themselves to be the movers and shakers of the modern world and so they are even more vocal than usual. Excess volume, however, still does not make you right.