Mel Gibson Called Racist

TMZ reports that Mel Gibson, who went on an anti-Semitic tirade last July, was called a racist for his depictation of Myans in Apocalypto. Gibson responded with the F-word:

It happened last night at Cal State University at Northridge in the San Fernando Valley. Gibson was speaking to a film class about his movies, and several members of the Mayan community came to hear the famous director.

After Gibson’s presentation, the crowd was allowed to ask questions. Alicia Estrada, an Assistant Professor of Central American Studies at CSUN, challenged Gibson, asking him if he had read about the Mayan culture before shooting the controversial film. Gibson said he had.

Estrada persisted, stating that representations in the movie that the Mayans engaged in sacrificial ceremonies and had bloodthirsty tendencies were both wrong and racist. Estrada and others tell TMZ that Gibson exploded in anger, responding, “Lady, F**k off.”

We’re told Gibson also became extremely angry when members of the Mayan community protested on how they were portrayed in the film. The emotional Mayan members were escorted out of the room, and we’re told Gibson screamed a parting shot — “Make your own movie!”

Democrats Oppose Socialized Medicine

This title is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek (while still accurate) way to describe the views of the Democratic candidates on health care as presented at the New Leadership on Health Care 2008 Presidential Forum. Whenever Democratic health care proposals are raised, conservatives start screaming “socialized medicine” but none of the Democratic proposals fit this by any reasonable definition of the term. Many conservatives reflexively refer to any Democratic proposal as socialism, even when their proposals are more consistent with the free market than the corporate welfare policies of the GOP. If we stick to more conventional definitions of socialism, it would suggest having government own and control the health care industry as is seen in some European countries. All Democratic candidates oppose such plans.

Democrats do advocate government involvement in health care, but this is not a radical change from the status quo. A tremendous number of Americans currently receive health care through Medicare, Medicaid, veterans programs, and other government programs. Increased government involvement is even welcomed by many businesses which are struggling to afford coverage for their employees and find that such expenses place them at a competitive disadvantage internationally. Under the current system 44.8 million are left uninsured, and another 30 to 50 million are underinsured creating a need for some action.

Dennis Kucinich advocates the plan which most greatly increases government involvement in health care. He opposes socialized medicine in supporting continuation of the current system of privately delivered health care, while eliminating the private health insurance industry by advocating a single payer Medicare for all plan. Such plans create confusion among those who don’t understand the difference between Medicare and true socialized medicine.

I currently run a private medical practice and submit claims to both Medicare and private insurance plans. Under Kucinich’s plan I would still operate a private practice, but would save a considerable amount of money by only having to deal with one plan. While conservatives cry “socialized medicine” to give the impression of lack of choice, Medicare typically places less inane restrictions on individual’s health care choices than many of the other plans I deal with. Medicare wastes less on employees whose function it is to decide whether to approve the consultations or tests recommended by physicians. Medicare is also more reliable in paying the bills than many insurance plans which are basically schemes to take in premiums but avoid paying out benefits.

After Dennis Kucinich the other candidates keep much more of the private insurance system while trying to do more to make coverage affordable. The devil here is in the details. Barack Obama promises to provide details of his plan in the future but had little to say today. The Edwards plan could evolve into single payer as it offers a government plan similar to Medicare as one alternative. Hillary Clinton has never seemed to understand that her plan was rejected not simply due to the Harry and Louise ads but because it was far too regimented to be tolerated by most Americans. She also placed far too much emphasis on the HMO model, one of Richard Nixon’s ideas which should be discarded as a failure. Rather than showing that she understands the problems with her plan, Clinton believes the answer is to sell the plan better.

Bill Richardson remains the candidate who might have the most experience and ideas but is also the most unexciting, including on health care. This is not necessarily bad as a simple pragmatic solution might be preferable to those which are more exciting. Richardson’s plan is reminiscent of John Kerry’s 2004 plan in allowing individuals the option of buying into the plan which insures government employees, including Senators. He offers tax credits to enable more people to afford coverage. His plan to expand Medicare to cover those between the ages of 55 and 65, while coming far short of Medicare for all, would still offer tremendous benefits. The older people get the more likely it is that they are unable to obtain affordable insurance, especially if they have any medical problems. Richardson also advocates allowing those in the VA system to obtain care from any hospital, which should please conservatives opposed to government-provided health care.

MyDD has provided summaries of the positions presented by the candidates. The summaries are worth reading, but the discussion has little more to offer as it primarily displays the irrational exuberance for John Edwards which is common in the blogosphere and ignores the less exciting proposals from Bill Richardson which have gained more attention in the media. As a large percentage of Americans who do have coverage prefer to remain with their current coverage, plans such as those offered by Richardson do offer the advantage that they are most likely to be accepted politically.

Update: A site which is properly named (although not for the reasons intended by the blogger) Health Care BS is linking to this post claiming that the “reality based community” is out of touch with reality. The post links to another post on the same site here which gives a totally inaccurate view of Medicare. David Catron make claims such as that “in their effort to dictate every nuance of an incredibly complex system, our masters in Washington have created a labyrinthine nightmare of conflicting priorities and incentives.” The post claims that Medicare is socialized medicine, controlling the health care delivery system.

I deal with Medicare and many private plans every day and see how they operate first hand, as opposed to deciding how Medicare works based upon political philosophy. While I have other qualms about single payer plans, at present Medicare is one of the least restrictive and bureaucratic plans I deal with. For the most part I can practice medicine without having to worry about a set of bizarre rules. When there is a problem there is a fair appeals mechanism, which is rarely seen with private insurance. Medicare makes it faults, but at least their primary goal is to pay for medical care, as opposed to many insurance plans which play all sorts of games to avoid paying to increaes their profits. Before writing about who is out of touch with reality, Catron might want to actually experience the reality of practicing medicine or at last pay attention to those of us who do.

Update II: Much more in the comments following a response from David Catron.

The Culture of Fear Undermines America

One consequence of having an incompetent President and a rubber-stamp Congress was that al Qaeda was allowed victory in 2001. Not only did Bush ignore the warnings that might have prevented the attack, he played into bin Laden’s hands both at home and the middle east. Al Qaeda couldn’t have hoped for more success even if they had a mole of their own occupying the oval office.

In the middle east, Bush pushed up bin Laden’s hopes of overthrowing secular dictatorships such as in Iraq by years. Moderate Muslims were turned into haters of America. Pro-democracy groups world wide have been discredited by those who equate the spread of democracy with Bush’s insane foreign policy.

These are all topics discussed many times before. I’ve written far less about how the irrational response to 9/11 has also provide al Qaeda with a victory in the United States. The goal if terror is, quite obviously, to create a feeling of terror. While Bush ignored most Democratic recommendations for real improvements in homeland security, he took advantage of the opportunity to increase the sense of terror for political gain. We saw the color coded terror alerts change whenever they needed a bump in the polls before the 2004 election, with even former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge questioning the need for some of the alerts. Creating an Orwellian state of perpetual warfare allowed the Bush administration to push through many of their pre-9/11 goals, including the invasion of Iraq and many components of the Patriot Act.

Zbigniew Brzezinski has an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that the three word mantra “War on Terror,” has “Undermined America.”

The “war on terror” has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration’s elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America’s psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.

The damage these three words have done — a classic self-inflicted wound — is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare — political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants.

But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a “war on terror” did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by the notion that “a nation at war” does not change its commander in chief in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being “at war.”

To justify the “war on terror,” the administration has lately crafted a false historical narrative that could even become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By claiming that its war is similar to earlier U.S. struggles against Nazism and then Stalinism (while ignoring the fact that both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were first-rate military powers, a status al-Qaeda neither has nor can achieve), the administration could be preparing the case for war with Iran. Such war would then plunge America into a protracted conflict spanning Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and perhaps also Pakistan…

In the meantime, the “war on terror” has gravely damaged the United States internationally. For Muslims, the similarity between the rough treatment of Iraqi civilians by the U.S. military and of the Palestinians by the Israelis has prompted a widespread sense of hostility toward the United States in general. It’s not the “war on terror” that angers Muslims watching the news on television, it’s the victimization of Arab civilians. And the resentment is not limited to Muslims. A recent BBC poll of 28,000 people in 27 countries that sought respondents’ assessments of the role of states in international affairs resulted in Israel, Iran and the United States being rated (in that order) as the states with “the most negative influence on the world.” Alas, for some that is the new axis of evil!

The events of 9/11 could have resulted in a truly global solidarity against extremism and terrorism. A global alliance of moderates, including Muslim ones, engaged in a deliberate campaign both to extirpate the specific terrorist networks and to terminate the political conflicts that spawn terrorism would have been more productive than a demagogically proclaimed and largely solitary U.S. “war on terror” against “Islamo-fascism.” Only a confidently determined and reasonable America can promote genuine international security which then leaves no political space for terrorism.

Where is the U.S. leader ready to say, “Enough of this hysteria, stop this paranoia”? Even in the face of future terrorist attacks, the likelihood of which cannot be denied, let us show some sense. Let us be true to our traditions.

Russian Supreme Court Bans Liberal Opposition to Putin

I don’t normally write much about political problems in other countries as we have had plenty of challenges to democracy right here at home, even though other countries such as Venezuela are facing even more serious threats to their liberty. Democracy in Russia has been gradually eroding. While experts on the country might be able to point to more important moments, I suspect that this might wind up to be one of the more significant. The Russian Supreme Court has disqualified the leading opposition party, effectively ending opposition to Putin in parliament. The Guardian reports:

Russia’s next parliament is likely to have no genuine opposition after a court in Moscow yesterday banned a leading liberal party from standing in elections.

Russia’s supreme court announced that it had liquidated the small Republican party, claiming that it had violated electoral law by having too few members. The party is one of very few left in Russia that criticises President Vladimir Putin.

The move against Russia’s opposition came as pro-democracy activists prepared for the latest in a series of anti-government rallies that have infuriated Russia’s hardline authorities.

This appears to be part of a disappointing trend:

On Thursday Moscow’s prosecutor’s office also suspended the Nationalist Bolshevik party, another radical and previously banned anti-Kremlin group. The National Bolshevik party is a radical activist group that has been a driving force behind recent anti-government protests, as the country prepares for parliamentary elections in December and next year’s presidential vote.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, the leader of the Republican party, said yesterday that the ban was part of a Kremlin-inspired campaign to crack down on dissent. “This is part of the Kremlin’s policy of suppressing the opposition. It’s being done to prevent opposition parties from taking part in elections,” he told the Guardian. “This is the fate any opposition party in Russia.”

Mr Ryzhkov – one of a handful of independent MPs in the Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, and a leading Putin critic – said his party would appeal in Russia and to the European court of human rights.

Without meaningful opposition in parliament, and without a tradition of liberal democracy, it would come as little surprise if Putin uses his rubber-stamp legislature to grant him more dictatorial powers.

New Rules: Traitors Don’t Get to Question My Patriotism


Bill Maher really hits it here.

Alberto Gonzales Enters “The Coulter Zone”

While I linked to two posts yesterday about Karl Rove lying. We can’t ignore Alberto Gonazles. It looks like there really was some hot stuff in that 18-day gap. McClatchy reports:

Internal Bush administration e-mails suggest that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have played a bigger role than he has acknowledged in the plan to fire several U.S. attorneys.

The e-mails, delivered to Congress Friday night, show that Gonzales attended an hourlong meeting on the firings on Nov. 27, 2006 – 10 days before seven U.S. attorneys were told to resign. The attorney general’s participation in the session calls into question his assertion that he was essentially in the dark about the firings.

When even the right wing bloggers, who generally believe everything the Bush administration makes up, disown you, you have really entered The Coulter Zone. For example, Ed Morrissey writes:

Have we had enough yet? I understand the argument that if we allow the Democrats to bounce Gonzales, they’ll just aim for more, but Gonzales made himself the target here with what looks like blatant deception. I don’t think we do ourselves any good by defending the serially changing stories coming out of Gonzales’ inept administration at Justice. One cannot support an Attorney General who misleads Congress, allows his staffers to mislead Congress, and deceives the American people, regardless of whether an R or a D follows his name or the majority control of Congress.

I fear that many of the conservatives who are abandoning Gonzales are doing so more in protest of his incompetence in handling the scandal than in understanding why it is wrong for the Justice Department to become politicized to the point of firing prosecutors based upon whether they prosecute Democrats on demand. At least its a start that they will sometimes protest such blatant dishonesty. My guess is that Republicans will suddenly understand the concept of checks and balances on the Executive Branch, and the limits to what is acceptable from the Executive Branch, just around the time a Democrat becomes President.

What’s The Matter With Colorado

While Kansas has made steps to rejoin the 21st century, there remains people who prefer the dark ages all over the country. PZ Myers asks, Whats the Matter with Colorado? He writes about Ken Poppe, a teacher in a public middle school, who brags about teaching his students creationism instead of evolution. Myers quotes a church newsletter which brags about Poppe’s despicable actions:

Although his belief in an intelligent designer (God) as the origin of life went against the standard teaching, Ken continually found ways to present both sides. It is one of the ways he feels called to serve God, despite controversy and job security. “Too many of my own biology students who professed faith were stumbling over the ‘monkey-to-men’ pictures in the books I’d give them. For their benefit, I would bring Darwinism into question, but tread softly because of the disfavor voiced by administration and an occasional parent.” How did Ken find a way to help his students? “I began writing short essays on Darwinian failures for optional outside reading.” Those essays eventually formed into the backbone for Ken’s first book, Reclaiming Science from Darwinism.

As Myers says, “this incompetent scumbag is lying to his students, wandering from the established curriculum to confuse the kids with this absurd crackpottery, and the parents and administrators in the Longmont school district are letting him get away with it.” Poppe also teaches that established scientific views on climate change are incorrect. Myers wonders why parents and administrators in school district are letting him get away with this, as opposed to the people of Dover who threw out those who wanted to teach creationism.

What is especially useful about the blogosphere is that there is the opportunity for back and forth between both sides. Poppe actually responds to Myers’s post (assuming it is really him and not a troll having fun). He begins:

You know what’s great about God? Whatever happens, I can always say that He’s either trying to teach me a lesson or He’s rewarding me. Secular humanists can’t prove otherwise, but it’s amusing to watch them try.

The nature of his argument is clear. Sure he can always claim that God is either rewarding him or teaching him a lesson, but so what? I can’t disprove his fantasies, and wouldn’t bother trying, any more than he can disprove it if I claimed that there is a unicorn reading this over my shoulder saying that Poppe is an ignorant idiot.

If fired from his teaching job he says he’ll find a job elsewhere, such as the Discover Institute or a private school, writing, “There are plenty of excellent private schools where Christians aren’t persecuted (I know you atheists here hate to admit that such places even exist).” I doubt there are any atheists, or anyone else concerned with keeping religious education out of science classes, who doubts that there are Christian shcools where his beliefs are taught. Of course we would not consider insisting that science teachers teach science and not religion to be persecution.

Poppe has one more idea:

Or else I’ll write a book. I have a title for my next one: “American Atheists: Revelation of the New Fascism.” I think I’ll sell a bunch, especially with my newly acquired martyr status.

Yes, making a buck by selling lies to the gullible on the right is always a possibility. There are already plenty of people doing just that.