James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, February 27, 2004

Was that Alan or Smeagol?

Many people have written about Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s Feb. 25 Congressional testimony, so I won’t comment on his remarks other than to agree with analysts who said he was blatantly dishonest, distorted facts, left out essential information and generally behaved despicably.

What really hit me in watching pieces of his act on television, and reading about it at length, was how pitiful he is. That is a man whose positions and actions once made sense, from his point of view, and his point of view was clear and firm. He knew what he was doing and bowed before no one.

What we saw Feb. 25 was an old man crawling for his master, acting against what, given his long history, he obviously believes. Greenspan always has enjoyed – absolutely loved and bathed in – his position of power and respect. He especially enjoyed the cachet it gave him with women, according to many reports, and he adores being adored and catered to; he loves the bowing and scraping as he passes by.

So there he was, a creepy 78-year-old Gollum who has worn the ring of power far too long, twisting himself into knots, demeaning himself, saying what he thought was wanted of him in the hope that our nominal president and crew will let him hold on to that position and prestige a little longer.

Made the bile rise in my throat.

Wiring the coming elections

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a short piece predicting that we will see voting fraud in Florida again this year – probably even worse than last time – and that similar crimes almost certainly will take place in other states, notably in the South. I stand by that prediction.

After the 2000 election, and the blatant screwing with the vote count, blocking of Democratic voters from polls and the like, Congress voted almost $4 billion to support something called the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), to make voting more honest by installing high-tech voting machines where they were “most needed.”

Well guess what? Many experts and organizations have come separately to the conclusion that the touch-screen machines now being installed in various places, notably in the South and West, with the aid of our tax dollars will make it easier to rig elections. A cynic might suggest it’s no wonder that the Bush White House backed the plan for wider distribution of the new machines.

A handful of companies build and own the machines. The major players in the field are Diebold Election Systems, Sequoia Election Systems and Election Systems and Software (ES&S).

ES&S and Diebold, the two biggest manufacturers, openly have ties to the Republican party, and Diebold’s associations are so egregious that the company should be barred from the election business – though of course it won’t be.

Walden O’Dell, Diebold board chairman, is one of the Bush crowd’s most ardent and successful fund raisers. He's a personal friend of W's who has been a guest at the Texas ranch. He already has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Bush’s 2004 campaign, and is among the so-called Rangers and Pioneers, honorary titles given to people who come up with $100,000 or $200,000 or more for the campaign. O’Dell also is very active in the Bush campaign in Ohio and was quoted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as saying he is “committed to help Ohio deliver its electoral votes” to Bush this year.

Computer scientists and technicians at MIT, Cal Tech, Rice and Johns Hopkins Universities are among the many who have been warning for months that all of the touch-screen machines are subject to easy hacking and to manipulation by tech-savvy voters and polling-place officials.

True Majority reported recently that one hacker was able to open a locked machine and begin changing votes in less than a minute. Another hacker was able to intercept and change vote totals as they were being sent to election headquarters.

A group of about 1,200 computer scientists and technologists led by Stanford University computer science Prof. David Dill, is campaigning against use of the machines because of their vulnerability to fraud and inaccuracy. Many Silicon Valley scientist and techies are members of the group.

Much of the danger could be eliminated by having the machines provide paper copies of ballots for voters to check to make sure their votes are correctly recorded, and to audit in the event there is reason to suspect inaccuracy or fraud. The technology is simple, and, in fact, a few machines are so equipped.

The manufacturers are dug in against installing that system, however, arguing that it simply is “not necessary” and that voters might foul the smooth operation of the polling place by complaining that the paper ballots don't show their votes correctly. (Hmmmmmm.)

To round out your list of fun possibilities, note that the machines are susceptible to all the other problems of technology, including crashes, viruses and power outages.

Oh, yes: The manufacturers refuse to provide information on their software so that election officials can examine the results of individual machines. In plain language, election officials and the public have to take the word of the companies that the numbers they provide are accurate and honest. There is no way for officials or public watchdogs to check that on most machines.

(Again, yes, you got that right. The companies, including Diebold, or others associated with them, count the votes and no one else can check them.)

No states now require software and hardware access and fewer than a handful now require the printouts. In California, where they have been mandated by the secretary of state, election officials in 20-plus counties refuse to comply, claiming that to follow the order would be too costly or just too much work. I hope someone surveys those counties soon and determines the party affiliations of the noncompliant officials.

A couple of other quick notes:

CBS television news had a brief bit on the controversy a week or two ago. It led the story with comments about “a conspiracy theory,” which, of course, is a much overworked but still successful gambit to get viewers and readers to dismiss what critics are saying. CBS is the network which, through recent decisions regarding movies and advertising it will and will not air, has shown itself to be in the same league as Fox in terms of favoring the Republican agenda.

Some people have raised questions about the results of the New Hampshire primary. In that state, John Kerry beat Howard Dean by 1.6 percent in areas where paper ballots were counted by hand, by 9.7 percent where ES&S machines were used and by 14.7 percent where Diebold machines were used. Some officials and analysts maintain that the areas in which those votes were cast account for the differences. Could be, but we’ll never know.

If fraud does occur, as I’m confident it will, remember that those are your tax dollars at work.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Little Bush of Horrors

Outrages – or what would have been felt as outrages in another era – run in a flood from the Bushy White House. It’s impossible to keep up with them.

One of the reasons you don’t see more of the facts in your local press is that some editors fear they’ll seem to be “picking on” the nominal president if they report the truth. Rightists will scream if there are two or three or more stories outlining each day’s acts of malfeasance.

That’s lick-the-bully’s-boots cowardice, to say nothing of abdication of responsibility, but that’s how it’s played these days. Perform multiple acts of societal rape and pillage daily, and the news people will give the Republicans a pass on all but a few – usually those involving questions the average know-nothing can grasp without effort.

Thus, W’s ducking out of Air National Guard duty gets quite a bit of ink, though the story is handled delicately, as though there is a question about whether he skipped. (There is no question; he skipped.) And thus, as just one example, the newsies refuse their duty to report on the horrendous appointments to key offices that have been made and continue to be made by the Bush crowd. All you get on most new appointees, if you see anything at all, are name, rank and serial number, with no background on who they really are and what can be expected in them in their new offices.

Do you have any idea how many big-buck lobbyists now run the government agencies that supposedly regulate the industries for which they worked and to which they will return? Do you know how many genuine nut cases – I mean raving lunatics – have been appointed to powerful government posts to appease the Bush crowd’s fanatic weird-Christian backers?
(Hey, Falwell and Robertson ain’t even in it with some of those people.)

Even if they were trying, the big daily newspapers with all their resources couldn’t keep up. Small publications, alternative newspapers, organizations such as Public Citizen and MoveOn and the most dedicated of bloggers have no chance of telling the whole story, or even most of it.

All any of us can do is leap on the ones we see and spread the word to as many others as we can.

To that end, I’ve decided to start inserting short bits here – just alerts, really – on some of the godawfuls that come to my attention but don’t make it to the top of my priority list. If you need more on them, you’ll have to dig.

Here’s today’s collection, in the order they are stacked on my desk at the moment:

* You may have heard that Republican Senate staffers got into the confidential computer files of Democratic senators and stole thousands of documents, many of which they forwarded to various right wing and party organizations (sometimes the same thing). But did you know that Republican senators vehemently opposed an investigation of the thefts? GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, often a partisan pit bull himself, when confronted with the undeniable truth of the thefts, decided that an investigation is needed. He was promptly savaged by his Republican colleagues, a host of right-wing organizations and publications such as the National Review. Hatch is being threatened with career-ending retribution for daring to suggest theft of documents is improper. (Sources: The Nation, the Democratic National Committee and the National Review.)

* Nominal President Bush has named Dr. W. David Hager to head the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. The committee didn’t meet for more than two years, and its charter lapsed, so Bush gets to fill all eleven committee positions. His appointments don’t require Senate approval. I don’t know at this point how many others have been appointed or who is on his approved list.

The committee decides on the legitimacy, efficacy and availability of drugs used in obstetrics, gynecology and such. Contraception, infertility drugs, hormone therapy and related treatments come under its jurisdiction.

Hager, an OB/GYN is proudly “pro life.” But he goes beyond that. In his practice he refuses to prescribe contraceptives to single women. But he goes way beyond that. He believes the Bible has all of the answers to women’s health problems and published a book that repeats biblical accounts of Christ healing women and mixes the stories with “case studies” from his own practice. The book suggests, for example, that women can deal with even the worst of premenstrual syndrome by praying and reading the Bible. He also claims – although all real scientists say he’s wrong – that the common birth control pill is an abortion pill. He also wants to prevent distribution of the morning-after drug commonly called RU-486 on religious grounds. There’s more, but you get the idea.

The fact that the appointment already is official is not widely known. There’s an Internet campaign on now to try to stop it. People are emailing the White House (President@Whitehouse.gov) by the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands. They never had a chance of blocking Hager, though. Bush plays to the religious fanatics frequently, and no amount of protest seems to deter him. His handlers apparently believe that a bloc of certain votes is worth a few defections in other quarters.

(Sources: Many. Go to the Web site of any feminist organization and you’ll undoubtedly find further information.)

* The Bushies have come up with a new way to “fix” the loss of about 2.7 million manufacturing jobs in this country since W was appointed to office. It’s not a done deal yet, but the administration is seriously considering reclassifying fast food jobs (paying their munificent $7 or $8 an hour) as manufacturing jobs. That’ll show us! Manufacturing, as a statistical category, will be right back to where it used to be, or almost so.

No, I’m not kidding. (Sources: New York Times and the Daily Mislead.)

* The Bush/Cheney energy bill is coming back, of course, but perhaps sooner than expected. Indications are that the Republicans are going to pop it out onto the Senate floor soon, with little or no warning, to prevent the guttier Dems from mounting a filibuster. Here are just a few of the many horrors of that bill:

1. It exempts oil and gas drillers from pollution controls on rivers and coastal waters.

2. Allows underground injection of diesel fuel and other chemicals during oil and gas development, although such injection seriously threatens water supplies –pollutes drinking water.

3. Increases air pollution and global warming with new incentives to burn coal for electricity without adequate pollution controls.

4. Puts up roadblocks to development of fuel economy and so locks in American dependence on foreign oil.

5. Greatly weakens states rights (remember those, as touted by conservatives?) to protect their coasts from harmful oil and gas exploration.

6. Provides billions of dollars in subsidies to big oil, coal, nuclear and timber companies.

...and much more, all bad.

(Sources: MoveOn Organization and others.)

Monday, February 23, 2004

Socialized medicine? Bring it on!

Let’s run government like a business! That’s the crappola we get from the rightists at every turn, repeated as though the phrase had magical qualities. Yet anyone who ever has had to deal frequently with both private and public sectors knows that there’s scarcely a government agency in these United States that comes close to the average corporate bureaucracy for inefficiency, rigidity or waste of money.

Remember the outcry – and the millions and millions of dollars of advertising – when the Clintons talked seriously about the possibility of a national health care system? That was all about private vs. government efficiency and, of course, choice of doctors. A government system would eat up all the money with administrative costs, the big insurers and pharmaceutical companies and other sponsors of those ads said. And we wouldn’t be able to choose our own doctors.

Sadly, a large percentage of our ignorant populace bought the lies. And our health care “system,” has continued to rot. Year by year, more people are without basic health insurance, many working people simply go without health care, and increasing numbers of children and the elderly forgo medications because they and their caregivers don’t have the money to pay for them. And, I need to point out, HMOs tell a large and growing portion of the public which doctors they can see when and how often. The only thing systematic about what we have now is the screwing the public gets at every turn.

Well, now. There’s an interesting report on health care administrative costs in the February 2004 issue of the Public Citizen Health Research Group’s newsletter, the Health Letter. The same material apparently was reported in the August 2003 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, but most of us lay folks missed that – and our local press ignored it. Too busy researching and writing articles on cosmetic surgery, I think.

The NEJM piece was written by Dr. David U. Himmelstein. No author is named on the Health Letter piece, but it cites the same research, done by Himmelstein and another Harvard Med School professor, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler. One caveat: The authors/researchers obviously believe the time has come for some sort of a national health care program. They could, therefore, be open to attacks on their research. My own inclination is to trust the numbers they provide, but it’s true that some opportunity for fiddling was there, if they chose.

To reduce the suspense: The study says health care bureaucracy sucked up $399.4 billion in the United States last year. It estimates that the country as a whole could save “at least” $286 billion annually on paperwork if it had a national health insurance program. That is, the authors noted, enough to cover all of the uninsured and to provide full prescription drug coverage for every resident of the United States.

Those conclusions are based on an extensive analysis of health care administration – including data on administrative costs of health insurers, employer health benefit programs, hospital, nursing homes, home care agencies, physicians and other practitioners in this country and Canada..

Bureaucracy accounts for at least 31 percent of total U.S. health care spending, the authors say, compared with 16.7 percent in Canada, which has a national (single payer) health care system.

Some other conclusions:

* The recent Medicare bill, backed by the AARP and other conservative groups, “will only increase bureaucratic spending because it will funnel large amounts of public money through private insurance plans with high overhead.” Medicare’s overhead now is less than 4 percent, the study noted, but all of the new Medicare money – $400 billion – will run through private insurance plans that have an average overhead of 12 percent. The insurance companies will grab off $36 billion from the Republican-pushed law.

* The savings in administrative costs if this country had a national health insurance program – $286 billion annually – would pay the estimated $80 billion to cover U.S. residents who are now uninsured.

* A national system would cover all out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for everybody ($53 billion last year).

* It would fund retraining and job placement for insurance company employees and others who would lose their jobs with the establishment of a national insurance program. (Estimated cost, $20 billion.)

* It would make substantial improvements in coverage and quality of care for people who already have health insurance.

Another way to look at it, according to the Health Letter: Savings in administrative costs would be equal to $6,940 for each of the 41.2 million people who were uninsured in 2001, the last year for which figures were available when the study was done. That is more than enough to pay for health coverage for those people.

There’s more, but you get the idea. Our private-insurance/no insurance setup is criminally costly and inefficient. We could cover health care and medications for everybody in the country without spending a dime more than we now spend if we went to a national health insurance program. And that doesn’t even take into account the enormous amounts we now pay because people don’t have health care coverage – costs for emergency room use, care of people with catastrophic illnesses that could have been avoided with normal health care, loss of work time and so on. Being citizens of the Bushies’ America, we won’t mention the stress and emotional pain our present screw-the-public system costs so many of us.

You can subscribe to the Health Letter by writing: Health Letter, Public Citizen Health Research Group, 1600 20th St. N.W., Washington, D.C.20009. One year cost is $18. The Health Research Group’s Web site is http://www.citizen.org/hrg/