It Costs A Stamp

I am surprised by how much attention has been paid to threats from the credit card industry to place new charges on those of us who use their cards but pay off the balance every month. Some might do so, but others will hold off to keep our business. Besides, everything is negotiable.

Before it became standard for many cards to come without an annual fee I used to send simple letters in response to statements which included such fees. I just told them that I was not willing to continue using credit cards which charge an annual fee and that unless they were willing to waive the fee they should consider the letter a request to terminate the account. They always waived the fees.

Posted in Economy. 6 Comments »

Scientific Finding Upsets Rush Limbaugh


The finding of a primate fossil is significant but the meaning has been distorted in some of the media coverage. The Opinionator summarizes the story about Ida and puts it in perspective. It is towards the end where things get interesting. Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs uses  coverage of the story to finally determine that Rush Limbaugh is a creationist.

The question has come up several times, in our threads related to evolution, whether Rush Limbaugh is a creationist. I searched for definitive statements because I was curious where he stood, but was never able to really pin it down.

Well, today he pretty much settled the matter, with a rant about the “missing link” fossil announced by an international team of scientists; yep, he’s a creationist.

RUSH: Drudge had as a lead item up there this morning on his page a story from the UK, Sky News: “Scientists Unveil Missing Link In Evolution.” It’s all about how Darwin would be thrilled to be alive today. “Scientists have unveiled a 47-million-year-old fossilised skeleton of a monkey hailed as the missing link in human evolution.” It’s a one-foot, nine-inch-tall monkey, and it’s a lemur monkey described as the eighth wonder of the world. “The search for a direct connection between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom has taken 200 years – but it was presented to the world today —” So I guess this is settled science. We now officially came from a monkey, 47 million years ago. Well, that’s how it’s being presented here. It’s settled science. You know, this is all BS, as far as I’m concerned. Cross species evolution, I don’t think anybody’s ever proven that. They’re going out of their way now to establish evolution as a mechanism for creation, which, of course, you can’t do, but I’m more interested in some other missing link. And that is the missing link between our failing economy and prosperity.

Incidentally, while the finding is consistent with evolutionary science, it does not say that we came from a monkey. The early primate fossil could be a common ancestor to both monkeys and humans. It is also possible that it is a more distant relative.

Colin Powell versus Limbaugh and Cheney On The Future of the GOP

As some Republicans work to build a smaller and smaller tent, there are rare moderate Republicans fighting back. Colin Powell has responded to recent comments from both Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney that he doesn’t belong in the Republican Party:

“Rush Limbaugh says, ‘Get out of the Republican Party.’ Dick Cheney says, ‘He’s already out.’ I may be out of their version of the Republican Party, but there’s another version of the Republican Party waiting to emerge once again,” Powell told the crowd.

Rush Limbaugh responds to criticism that he is building too small a tent by making the tent even smaller, now excluding Gerald Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger:

“The version of the party that he’s waiting to emerge is not the Reagan wing of the party. Does Powell have the pulse of the Republican Party, folks? He’s for more spending. He’s for higher taxes. He’s against raising the social issues. He’s for affirmative action. He’s for amnesty for illegals. He endorsed Obama.

“And now there’s an agenda — an emerging agenda — that he’s waiting for for the Republican Party? The only thing emerging here is Colin Powell’s ego. Colin Powell represents the stale, the old, the worn-out GOP that never won anything. The party of Gerald Ford, Nelson Rockefeller, Bill Scranton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and those types of people. Has anybody heard Colin Powell say a single word against Obama’s radicalism — or Pelosi or Reid, for that matter? Maybe he has but his fawning media sure hasn’t reported if he has said it.”

He sure doesn’t leave much room for a national political party. No wonder the Republicans are losing support from virtually every demographic.

A Republican Proposal For Health Care Reform

Besides the editorial I discussed earlier, The Wall Street Journal has another editorial on health care reform. This promotes a Republican plan. In any health care reform plan the devil is in the details and I will want to look at this far more closely so I will only comment in general here.

The editorial suffers from the same faults as in most conservative discussion of health care, with distortions as to the degree of government control which is advocated. They ask the typical question, “Who will control the system? Doctors and patients, or politicians and regulators?” This ignores the fact that health care decisions are increasingly being made by bean counters for private plans which give far less autonomy to patients and physicians than under Medicare.

Putting aside the ideological biases of the article, here is a general outline of the plan:

Four Republicans in Congress — Sens. Tom Coburn (Oklahoma) and Richard Burr (North Carolina) and Reps. Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) and Devin Nunes (California) — will today introduce a bill that moves away from federal centralization. Aptly called the Patients’ Choice Act, it provides a path to universal coverage by redirecting current subsidies for health insurance to individuals. It also provides a new safety net that guarantees access to insurance for those with pre-existing conditions.

The nexus of their plan is redirecting the $300 billion annual tax subsidy for employment-based health insurance to individuals in the form of refundable, advanceable tax credits. Families would get $5,700 a year and individuals $2,300 to buy insurance and invest in Health Savings Accounts.

Low-income Americans would get a supplemental debit card of up to $5,000 to help them purchase insurance and pay out-of-pocket costs. They would have an incentive to spend wisely since up to one-fourth of any unspent money in the accounts could be rolled over to the next year. The combination of the refundable tax credit and debit card gives lower-income Americans a way out of the Medicaid ghetto so they can have the dignity of private insurance.

This is certainly an improvement over John McCain’s proposals last year. I do see such assistance to individuals as a plus, but question why Republicans would support these expenses while attacking other ideas for spending more on health care reform as being unacceptable for creating a new entitlement. Another huge plus of this is that it addresses the problems of Medicaid (which is a totally different creature than Medicare).  I have not been very enthusiastic about some Democratic plans which see expansion of Medicaid as an answer to providing coverage to the poor.

Ezra Klein also sees this as in many ways being closer to moderate Democratic proposals than to what Republicans such as John McCain have offered in the past:

In essence, Coburn, Burr, and Ryan are abandoning the individual market entirely. Like Democrats, they’re arguing that individuals cannot successfully navigate the insurance market, and they need the protection of government regulation and the bargaining power that comes from a large risk pool. This is literally the opposite approach from McCain, who attempted to unwind the employer-based insurance and encourage families to purchase health coverage on the individual market. The core elements of this plan, in other words, make it the same type of plan Democrats are offering. A plan that enlarges consumer buying pools rather than shrinks them. It’s pretty much exactly what I’d expect a Blue Dog Democrat to propose. And it’s further evidence that the argument over health reform is narrowing, rather than widening. And it’s narrowing in a direction that favors the Democrats.

One question is whether these sums will be enough to provide care for all. This partially depends upon whether there are really effective measures to ensure coverage for those with preexisting conditions, as well as older individuals. Restrictions against denying coverage for preexisting conditions could easily be circumvented if insurances can continue to charge prices which are prohibitive to those over forty, who are more likely to have medical problems.

Perhaps even some compromises can be made by taking both this general idea and combining it with some of the ideas of Democratic supporters of health care reform. For example, add in the idea promoted by John Kerry in 2004 to open up the private plans available to members of Congress and federal employees to all individuals. If there continues to be a problem with older individuals obtaining coverage, allow them to buy into the Medicare program as many Democrats have been advocating. Whether the Republicans are open to such compromises might tell whether they are serious about health care reform or are just trying to offer a watered down plan to avoid more meaningful change and, as Matthew Yglesias suspects, gut Medicare.

Conservative Distortions on Health Care Rationing

Information from the news pages of The Wall Street Journal is far better than what is present  in its opinion pages. An editorial today makes a misleading argument as to  How Washington Rations health care. The issue here is Medicare’s recent decision not to cover virtual colonoscopy, which is discussed far better in an article from

There are arguments both for and against coverage of virtual colonoscopy, which are  discussed more fairly in the article posted by Forbes. The Wall Street Journal, along with several conservative bloggers are misleading in citing this as some sort of proof that health care reform will lead us to terrible rationing which we do not currently have.

The reality is that there are things which Medicare does not cover. There are also many things which private payers either do not cover or throw many obstacles in the way of ordering. As I noted last week, “Medicare beneficiaries are less likely to report not getting needed services” compared to those in private plans.

While Medicare beneficiaries experience less “rationing” than those in private plans, the more serious rationing in this country comes from the  nearly fifty million who are uninsured along a similar number who are so seriously under-insured that they do not receive adequate health care coverage.

Do we give up on health care reform to extend coverage to more people because, at this point in time, Medicare does not cover one procedure? It is ridiculous to say that millions should have no coverage because Medicare does not pay for every procedure in existence at this point in time. Medicare rules also change over time. Although coverage for preventive services such as actual screening colonoscopies has greatly increased, as the system is now structured it is biased towards covering treatment and less towards preventive services such as virtual colonoscopy. Expanding such preventive services is also one of the goals of supporters of health care reform.

There is also a certain  hypocrisy in this argument. Conservatives typically prefer market-based changes which would leave consumers with more of the costs for routine and preventive care, reserving medical coverage for more catastrophic treatment. While there are many flaws in this approach, I would think conservatives should be happy about this decision. The rejected service costs between $300 and $800. People can still obtain the test if they are willing to pay. This is exactly the type of service which conservatives have been arguing all along which should not be covered by Medicare and private health insurance.

Rapists or Terrorists Next Door?

First Read questions one popular straw-man argument from the right:

By the way, we have this one question for the GOP straw-man argument on Gitmo: So is living near a prison with CONVICTED rapists or murderers safer than living next to a prison with SUSPECTED terrorists?

Large Marjority Opposes Overturning Roe v. Wade

Last week I noted how I, among with several other liberal bloggers I linked to, were skeptical of polls which seemed to show the country backsliding in support for abortion rights. While people might have qualms about abortion and possibly even like terms such as pro-life, we doubted that they would either support overturning Roe v. Wade or support returning to the days of shirt hanger abortions. We now have an answer as to attitudes on Roe v. Wade from a CNN poll:

The 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?

30% Yes, overturn
68% No, not overturn

If they are going to be taken seriously again as a national party, Republicans need to recognize that the debate over abortion has been lost. Republicans are on the wrong side of this issue both morally and politically. While voters do have some qualms about abortion, most do recognize that regardless of their personal feelings this is a matter which can only be made by the woman involved, not by the state. For the Republicans to give greater weight to the rights of a first trimester fetus over the mother shows an ignorance of both biology and ethics.

A woman’s body belongs to herself, not to the state. Taking the opposing viewpoint on this is becoming as antiquated as previous Republican opposition to civil rights legislation. Such as they have generally moderated their past views on race, Republicans need to modernize their world view and give up their opposition to abortion rights, as well as their support for many other restrictions on reproductive rights.

Republicans have already lost on the abortion issue. I suspect that within the next decade, if not sooner, we will be saying the same about their opposition to marriage equality. Sometimes it is necessary for a political party to give up on issues where they have lost in order to pursue their agenda in more important areas, as the Democrats have done on gun control. Rather than clinging to ideas of the past, Republicans would be far better off to abandon their opposition to same-sex marriage along with their opposition to abortion rights.

Changing Direction On Foreign Policy

With all the claims during the election that Obama was on the far left, some have missed the fact that Obama is far more a centrist than a leftist. We might agree or disagree with what he does, but it is futile to become shocked when he takes a more moderate course than some might like. His moderation was quite clear to those who actually paid attention to what Obama was saying as opposed to what others were saying about him. He may or may not be doing what we  would prefer on every issue, but a centrist such as Obama is far different than a far right extremist such as George Bush.

We’ve seen this on a number of issues but this post is primarily promoted in response to a comment claiming that Obama’s policies in Iraq are no different than Bush’s as they now have a similar time schedule for withdrawal. It is certainly possible to cherry pick facts to make an argument that Obama and Bush are similar. For starters, both are featherless bipeds. This misses the significant differences between the two.

An article from Huffington Post from February claiming McCain supports Obama’s position gives additional evidence to those who chose to cherry pick their facts to make such a bogus argument. This ignores many areas of differences, such as those in Dick Cheney’s frequent attacks on Obama’s foreign policy.

Obama’s overall position on Iraq is radically different from that of Bush and McCain. For starters, Obama opposed going in while Bush and McCain were in favor of the war. If political fortunes had not changed it is likely that this would remain a never ending affair with plans for far more than a residual force. It is because of the success of people such as Obama that the entire debate has shifted and people such as McCain are no longer able to call for continued war. If McCain had won the election, things would be entirely different.

There have been many other differences on foreign policy since Obama has won, some of which were described in a recent account from Bloomberg. Obama has changed US foreign policy from George Bush’s cowboy philosophy of going it alone to once again considering the views of other nations. The United States is no longer a nation which supports unilateral invasions of other nations without cause, or which makes torture part of its national policy.

It is also significant that Obama has admitted that the United States was wrong in its policies during the Bush years. While wrong about their interpretation of this, the right is correct in recognizing the great significance of this (as they distort this with attacks of an apology tour).

It has been too early for Obama to make tremendous changes but he is putting us on the right trajectory by changing the terms of the debate. United States policy is now firmly based upon withdrawing from Iraq, even if not quickly enough.

It is notable that right wing opposition is far weaker on this than on other areas. While conservatives are clinging to policies which are both wrong and politically unpopular on social issues, the economy, and health care, they are putting up far less of a fight on Iraq. I think that on this issue, at least, many do realize deep down that the Republicans were wrong and many do want to return the GOP to a more sensible position on foreign policy, while others such as Dick Cheney still cling to defending torture and past mistakes.

In the past Republicans, right or wrong, had the reputation of being the sane and solid party on national defense. They lost this position by making terrible blunders in Iraq and responding irrationally to the 9/11 terrorist attack. Republicans know what the polls are showing. For example, yesterday’s Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll found:

Democrats are at full parity on perceptions of which party would best manage national security, while they have moved far ahead of the GOP on specific challenges such as Afghanistan, Iraq, working with our allies, and improving America’s image abroad.

As to the question of whether Obama is pursuing the same policies as Bush, most responding did not feel this way. They saw a clear difference in response to Cheney’s attacks and preferred Obama’s policies:

Given their approval of the president’s performance on foreign affairs, voters flatly reject the claims from former Vice President Cheney and other Republicans that Obama’s policies put America at risk. By nearly a 2 to 1 margin, Americans say that President Obama is doing better, not worse, than his predecessor, George W. Bush, when it comes to national security.

In a political atmosphere such as this it comes as no surprise that some, but by no means all, Republicans are limiting their attacks on Obama’s foreign policy despite the radical change in course from the Bush years.

Will Wheaton on Star Trek


I generally had favorable things to say about the new Star Trek movie by J.J. Abrams but also wish that he hadn’t created an entirely different time line. While some hard core Star Trek fans vow to hate the Abrams Star Trek universe, I see no problem with both liking the movie and having qualms about one aspect of it. Some Star Trek fans oppose the movie both because of the way Abrams changed the time line and because they see him as a Star Wars as opposed to a Star Trek fan. Will Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation (but don’t hold that against him) responds to both of these criticisms.

Wheaton sees the value (which I have discussed ) in creating a new universe without caring about the downsides (which I have also discussed). He also interprets some of Abrams’ comparisons between Star Wars and Star Trek in a different way than others have:

…even though he doesn’t love Star Trek as much as we do, he surrounded himself with people who did, and listened to them when he made his movie.

I could be completely wrong, of course, but I think the story in Star Trek supports this: Spock Prime says, “Listen, I know that I’ve messed with the timeline in your universe, and things are never going to be the same. But the universe that existed before I traveled through time is still there, and now it’s up to you to explore this universe.”

It’s like JJ is simultaneously telling us, “I respect you. I respect the people and starships and adventures and universe that you’ve loved for 40 years. I’m not going to tell you that it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to tell you that you were wrong to love it, and now it’s all gone because I have shiny new effects and actors. It’s all there, and it’s yours to continue exploring as long as you want to.

“But I do have this new starship and a new crew, and we’re going to go explore some different places where no one has gone before. If you want to come along with us, you’re welcome to aboard. If not, bon voyage. If you treat her like a lady, she’ll always bring you home.”

This is the fundamental difference between what JJ Abrams did with Star Trek, and what George Lucas did with Star Wars. Lucas told us, “Hey, you know all that stuff you love so much? That stuff that’s been a huge part of your life? Well, you’re stupid for liking it because I didn’t mean it. These are my toys, always have been, and now I’m taking them back. Ha. Ha. Ha. Fuck you, now give me more of your money.”

I hope that Star Trek‘s legacy is two-fold. I hope that it leads to more movies with these actors and this creative team, and I hope that it encourages more studios and film makers to follow the example laid out by people like JJ Abrams, Zack Snyder, and Peter Jackson.

I mean, can you imagine Michael Bay’s Star Trek?

Sorry. Sorry. That was cruel, and I shouldn’t have put that image into your head. According to some quantum physicists, though, just thinking about that created a universe where it happened, and I’d like to apologize to everyone in it.

Christian Nation Falsehoods

I’ve already had a number of posts debunking claims from the religious right that the United States was founded as a Christian nation while promoting a revisionist history which denies our heritage of separation of church and state. Ed Brayton debunks many of  the claims made by some Republicans while calling for 2010 to be the Year of the Bible here and here.