Rampant Xenophobia

The terrorism attack in Paris and in other nations has brought out so much good and honorable in people around the globe. Sadly — and disgustingly — it also has brought out rampant xenophobia here and abroad.

In America, what we’ve heard recently from too many Republicans and some Democrats is a sick mix of xenophobic ideas centered on keeping out refugees fleeing Syria and punishing Muslims already in the country. These ideas and the people who have proposed them, which includes some presidential candidates, show the very worst and most regrettable sides of America.

A host of governors have signed measures barring Syrian refugees from settling in their states. That in spite of the fact that federal law prohibits it, making the gubernatorial proclamations meaningless, except in their blatant appeal to the worst instincts of their state’s inhabitants. There have been suggestions that refugees be settled in internment camps similar to the used for Japanese-Americans in world War II. Presidential candidates have actually proposed that mosques be closed and that Muslims living in America be subjected to special identification cards and their movements be tracked by a new federal agency (thank you, Donald Trump). So what’s next? Maybe special colored armbands, using the Nazi model?

Honestly, is this what we’ve come to now? Is our democracy so impoverished and weak that we must turn our backs on the qualified and the needy? Are we truly prepared to abandon the ideals that have contributed so much to the strength of our nation? We are desirous to turn our backs to the rest of the world in some kind of perverted nationalism? No. I cannot and will not believe that. Shame to everyone who has subscribed to these ideas, and shame to those who silently acquiesce.

The facts are that only a limited number of refugees will ever arrive on our shores. Those refugees will go through quite an extraordinary period of vetting that will keep them from becoming a part of our population for at least a year and possibly up to two years. Does anyone really think terrorists will follow this restriction in order to pursue crimes here? And let’s remember, too, that a majority of these refugees are women and children under the age of 12.

Is it too late for reason and right to prevail? I don’t think so. I believe in the goodness of people, and I believe that faith is justified and that suspicion and fear and hate are not strong enough to survive. We know they exist because they always have, but let us have more pride, more understanding, more compassion, more good sense than to succumb.

Much more needs to be said in defense of truth, but let me give the last word to the governor of the state of Washington, who recently wrote a potent response to the anti-refugee believers in the New York Times. Please take a moment to read it:


A Short Quiz

This is very short column. And a simple one. It goes like this: with the threats from ISIS evident, with the shameful terrorist attacks in Paris, should we be led by a President without any discernible experience in international affairs?

Ben Carson?

Donald Trump?

Carly Fiorina?

If you answered “yes” to one of those three names, then you are clearly much more willing than I to risk this country’s well-being.

Attacking Big Pharma

Rampant, unrestrained capitalism is a menace to the health of our society. Case in point: the nation’s pharmaceutical industry, beset with ugly greed and now forcing us to re-think the necessity of governmental regulation.

Why? Well, if you take any medications, or if you’ve been reading about Big Pharma lately, you know exactly what the problem is. Let me give you a personal example. I used colchicine, a drug to help in reducing arthritic inflammation associated with gout. A prescription for 60 tablets cost me under $5. That was five years ago. Now, 30 tablets cost over $100 — if you can find them. The reason for the jump in costs? The producer decided the drug wasn’t generating enough income and dropped it; another producer stepped in and stepped the cost way, way up. The loser? Me, and others who found the drug helpful.

Much more appalling are the recent stories of patients who have discovered the cost of their life-savings drugs have increased more than 500% — or more. And using a generic over a brand-name drug hasn’t lessened the cost, either. And the reason is that drug companies are now driven by profits and profits only. Health care concerns for the companies no longer seem to exist.

This is totally irresponsible behavior and totally reprehensible. And there’s little to be done about it since there is no regulation for these companies on the ways they price their drugs. It’s a terrible situation not just for patients and their doctors, but also for the insurance companies who are required to include many of these greed-priced expensive drugs in their coverage.

The reactions to this, finally, are coming. Congressional investigations are on the horizon. There are proposals to change the way and up the ante when drug companies face fines for malfeasance and are sued by the government. These are probably worthwhile steps. But it is time for us to look seriously into the possibility of requiring governmental regulation of Big Pharma.

And yes, I know that the drug companies shout that any kind of regulation will mean they will be forced to shut down production because they won’t have enough money for research and distribution. And the response to that is, of course, baloney. The federal government already pays a mammoth chunk of the the money that goes to research at Big Pharma. And more importantly, I know that drug are too important a product to be left in the hands of people by Martin Shkreli, the smug bastard CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who has become, deservedly, the poster boy for the worst face of capitalism. (It’s not my words, but I note that a blogger recently noted that Shkreli is the best argument to be made for retaining the death penalty.)

Enough said. Let’s keep watching as see how actions unfold.

Time for Gun Safety Laws

The debate among Democratic presidential candidates the other night was both civil and informative, particularly when contrasted with the clangorous, uninformed Republican debate a few weeks before.

Republicans seem no longer able to articulate issues; they instead loudly affirm talking points and throw around misstatements as if they were flicking dust motes. These are candidates who appear woefully unqualified to guide the affairs of this country. And interestingly, it is the three leading candidates in the polls who are the most spectacularly unqualified: Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson (who has somehow managed to make Trump seem smart). Trump is a celebrity egotist, Fiorina a bullyish failure, and Carson the craziest of the three, a man whose astonishing lack of knowledge suggests a serious degree of intellectual impairment.

But back to the Democrats. Surprising during their debate was the new willingness to take on the gun control issue, which Democrats have generally avoided for fear of offending gun owners and their powerful lobby the NRA. This is good news, but to be effective at all, the Democrats must frame the discussion in a positive and accurate way.

My view is that the right way to approach gun issues is through the Second Amendment, which in spite of some confused Supreme Court decisions refer to armed militias, not individuals. That, however, isn’t going to happen before we experience hundreds of new mass shootings in this country. So the next best approach is to acknowledge the Second Amendment and focus on gun rights, or gun safety, and not gun control.

What that means is to plug the most basic and most obvious holes in our current laws. Let’s start by making it clear no one is attempting to take anyone’s guns away from them. That’s just a witless blast from the NRA propaganda machine. No, what we’re talking about universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole, making sellers more responsible. And yes, it also means stepping up guidelines for mental illnesses (are you listening, Ben Carson?).

Surveys show most Americans — over 85% — favor expanded background checks. This is something the NRA doesn’t mention. They prefer the fear-mongering accusations that Democrats want to take away weapons from legitimate gun owners. I think — hope — the gun owners will see through this sham. The NRA has gotten its destructive way too often, and now more people are recognizing this. Maybe the time is right for the Democrats’ push for increased gun rights laws.

And finally, to emphasize what a dangerous, thoughtless group the NRA really is, please read this statement from a member of their board, that people trying to get new gun safety laws passed believe “that people with guns are somehow connected to mass murders.” Really. Someone actually said that. And it wasn’t Ben Carson. It’s a callous, disrespectful lie. Those innocent victims were shot with guns. People with guns. It’s way past time time to stop this madness.

Gun Laws

I was going to write about Donald Trump. I was going to say — again — that he is a bully. And a clown. And that his so-called “tax plan” is as mindless as something a second grader might come up with. Donald Trump is a disgrace.

But you know what? An even bigger disgrace is the failure of politicians and lobbyists to do something honest about gun laws. We’ve had over 200 mass shootings this year. And the year isn’t over yet. We suffered another one in Oregon today.

I have no doubt the National Rifle Association — whose leadership, at least, qualify as terrorists — will tell us that we need to step up mental health programs to stop the mass shootings. But in other countries — in all other countries — mass shootings have led to tightened gun laws. And they have worked. The reaction by gutless politicians the NRA leaders is just so much window dressing.

They oppose sensible gun safety laws. No amount of deaths and murders and crazy shootings will change their minds. And these are laws that most Americans — the sensible majority of gun owners — support. Don’t let the NRA leaders tell you otherwise; they lie.

I don’t want to take guns away from people who are qualified to own guns. But let’s make it harder for unqualified people to get them. And let’s stop listening to the fanatical leadership of the NRA — I don’t believe they speak for a majority of the membership — and let’s stop electing politicians who lack the courage to confront an American tragedy.

And if you’re a voter: step up and start demanding new gun safety laws. It’s right. And it’s never too late.

Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out, Scott

So, Scott Walker has withdrawn his quest for the Republican presidential nomination. Which begs the question: why in the world did Scott Walker ever think he could win the nomination?

Politicians, of course, have gigantic egos. There seems no other way they could possibly be politicians. In Scott Walker’s case, he listed to his ego and the sycophants around him who all wanted a piece of the action if Walker won. Which demonstrates that it’s not just politicians with huge egos. And no sense of reality.

Scott Walker is, at best, a minor figure on the American political landscape. He made something of a name for himself as a pubic employee union buster in Wisconsin. In the earliest stages of his campaign, he earned a niche in the polls — as if they are believable any longer — but voters soon found that the more he campaigned the less appealing he was.

Scott Walker was exposed as unqualified, uninteresting and eventually under-funded. There was simply no reason to consider him a serious candidate (remember his idea to build a wall between the US and Canada?). It turns out — surprise! — that he has neither the intellectual chops nor the personal appeal to attract anything beyond a fringe element.

And so, Scott Walker joins Rick Perry on the sidelines. Actually, Jim Gilmore is there, too, he just hasn’t realized it. And by the way, they won’t be alone long. Pretty soon, in fact, we can watch the debate featuring all the candidates who aren’t candidates any longer. I’m afraid, however, it still wouldn’t add up to anything but more GOP babble.

Drink Up

Who makes without argument the worst beers in the United States? Of course it’s Budweiser, the beer with the cool horses that tastes like horse pee. Really. Budweiser tastes less like beer than apple juice does. But just in case you don’t believe that, try Bud Light. Or Michelob. Or any one of a number of beers produced by Budweiser that are thoroughly indistinguishable in their awfulness. How is it possible to brew beer like this over such a long period? And, incredibly, to persuade some suckers to pay a premium price for it?

Beats me. But heres the deal: Budweiser is just part of a giant beer conglomerate named Anheuser-Busch InBev NV. And that entity wants to merge with SABMiller, another beer brewing behemoth, to create an really enormous conglomerate that would dominate the global beer market. They want this merger because they aren’t selling enough beer around the world even though together they account of about 65% of all beer sales.

Nope, their share has been dropping because drinkers are showing a growing preference for real beers, i.e., craft beers, locally produced brews, and because their tastes have been shifting to wines and some of the small batch whiskeys. In other words, things that actually have taste. Things that aren’t called Budweiser.

Now, I have to admit that some of the dozens of brands now part of AB InBev and SABMiller aren’t bad. They aren’t Budweisers, of course. But not one I’ve tasted holds a candle to Smuttynose or Elm City brews or lots of other craft brews I could stretch this column out by naming. If I’m dining out, why waste money or trash like Budweiser — or, to be truthful, Miller or Beck’s or Foster’s or Bass, etc. — when there are so many fine beers waiting? Or a nice cabernet? Or some Woodford Bourbon?

By the way, that proposed merger — which awaits a lot of government action — would allow those companies to fire more employees in the name of efficiency, raise the price on their beers and still find no compelling reason to increase the quality of what they already own. So, I haven’t been able to come up with any good reasons to support the merger. I’m hoping regulators will concur.

The good news, I guess, is that no matter what happens, Budweiser still sucks and I won’t be going anywhere near its over-priced terrible products.

A Health Care Scam

George Orwell is still with us, his “doublespeak” firmly ensconced at the headquarters of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield here in New Hampshire. Oh wait … let’s be honest about this. What we have from Anthem these days is unadorned, shameless bullshit.

This comes from a company that has mis-managed its customers for years, that has a terrible record of response to customers and which has been over-charging consumers for even longer. A fine corporate citizen, eh?
Here’s what they are up to now: they want to merge with Cigna, putting together two health care giants and eliminating much of their competition, now and potential. Their merger, if approved, will give consumers far fewer health care options and ensure that the prices for what they get will be much higher. There’s no good news there.

The American Medical Association (AMA) cautions that this merger will lead to “undue concentration” of services for consumers (that would be us, the patients). The President of the New Hampshire Medical Society says that without competition “there will be price gouging” as we go forward. Of course they are right. Most doctors care about patients. Anthem doesn’t give a shit.

if you doubt that, consider this “doublespeak” from an Anthem corporate lackey: “The complementary capabilities of Anthem and Cigna will enable us to continue to lead the transition to value-based care that will reduce costs while improving health outcomes. It will allow greater efficiency, thereby enhancing our ability to better manage cost-drivers that can impact affordability.”

Whew. That requires a translation since it means absolutely nothing except some bad writer’s idea of a press release. The merger will do nothing to help customers. It will pad the bottom line for the newly merged company, and it will ensure that your choices will be limited. Anthem says the merger will enable it to “lead the transition to value-based health care.” Mmmm, you mean they haven’t considered doing that before? By “greater efficiency,” it means they can fire some employees which will allow them to “better manage cost-drivers” which means charge more. For everything.

Write your congressman, speak up, friends. This merger is a disaster for most of us. Unless, that is, you are one of the exceptionally overpaid Anthem executives who won’t be fired after the merger and will get bonuses from all their extra money costumers will have to pay.

Have a nice day.

The Mentally Infirm Gather

In case you missed it, there was a rally in our nation’s capitol last week held by a group of several thousand people opposed to the Iran nuclear agreement. It’s doubtful a single one of them could actually explain the agreement with any sort of coherence, but that’s neither here nor there.

No, what was so absolutely wonderful about the gathering was the collection of speakers assembled to denounce the agreement: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, or what comedian Bill Maher accurately described as “a Woodstock of the mentally infirm.” On the other hand, it’s also a pretty good description of the Republican Party’s presidential candidates.

They are an astonishing bunch of dim bulbs (Scott Walker, Jim Gilmore, Rick Perry — oops, he’s gone), hopelessly encumbered (Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, etc.) and unelectable (everyone else). Jeb Bush has enough money to get the nomination but his lethargic, wheezing campaign suggests he couldn’t defeat Bernie Sanders.

And here’s an indication of why our electoral is totally broken. Rick Perry announced several days ago that’s he’s out of the race. But — his PAC announced that it will keep paying for ads promoting the campaign. So here’s what that says: we don’t need actual candidates to run for office any more, just PACs that pay for empty, meaningless ads. Welcome to our screwed up system of funding politics. Only a Republican could love it.

The Clown Car

Keeping up with the Republican presidential presidential candidates — the GOP clown car — would be fun if it didn’t hold such concerns for America’s future. The domination of Donald Trump, as appalling as it is, has tended to cover what a poor crop of candidates the GOP offers us. And it is such a treat to watch the party twitch and squirm to get around the Trump factor.

For Fox News, of course, it;s the greatest thing since white bread. Great for their ratings. and it’s downright hilarious to read the Wall Street Journal — Fox News for grown-ups — agonize over Trump. Each of their columnists takes turns telling us in aggrieved terms just how bad Trump is for the Republicans, and the newspaper’s editorial pages almost sink from the weight of their disgust for the Donald. Here’s the catch: once Trump abandons the party, we are left with a field of lightweights and irresponsible panderers.

What is it with the candidates and their fetish for linking President Obama in some way with Hitler? Mike Huckabee is the worst in that respect, but Rand Paul, Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz and others have piled on. That is reprehensible. Jeb Bush, favorite of the party’s mainline conservatives (as differentiated from the Tea Party and like-minded extreme right-wingers) seems prone to verbal slip-ups and simplistic thinking. Ben Carson obviously lacks the experience and knowledge to be a serious candidate; he seems to be treading in ever-deeper water. Scott Walker has a face that looks as if he’s carrying a smelly piece of cheese in his pocket.

I could go on, but …. what the point? The presence of so many unqualified people speaks to the shallowness of today’s republican Party. And when you look at Republicans in Congress, there’s nothing better. The GOP there is expending its efforts to defeat the President’s nuclear agreement with Iran, striking an alliance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose dangerous, self-serving rants in the service of his party’s right-wing extremists are causing serious rifts in the relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

Congressional Republicans who oppose the agreement caution that there should be no negotiations with a leadership who have vowed to pursue their own interests. Of course, we’re not talking about Iran. We’re talking about a leadership cadre of Republicans in Congress who have vowed to pursue their own interests and not to negotiate the the White House. Shame on them.