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Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism

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Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism
Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism

Earlier this year, the National Review published a list of the top 25 conservative movies. Number two on this list was Pixar’s The Incredibles:

This animated film skips pop-culture references and gross jokes in favor of a story that celebrates marriage, courage, responsibility, and high achievement. A family of superheroes—Mr. Incredible, his wife Elastigirl, and their children—are living an anonymous life in the suburbs, thanks to a society that doesn’t appreciate their unique talents. Then it comes to need them. In one scene, son Dash, a super-speedy runner, wants to try out for track. Mom claims it wouldn’t be fair. “Dad says our powers make us special!” Dash objects. “Everyone is special,” Mom demurs, to which Dash mutters, “Which means nobody is.”

Kill Bill: The Right’s Commitment to Murdering Health Care Reform

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Kill Bill: The Right’s Commitment to Murdering Health Care Reform
Kill Bill: The Right’s Commitment to Murdering Health Care Reform

I had intended to write a series of blog entries on health care reform this summer focusing not only on already well-documented problems within the system and challenging illogical, boogeyman arguments against a public option, but also on issues that haven’t received enough—or any—mainstream media attention, like the underinsured and the role doctors play in the rising costs of health care. Though perhaps inevitable, but no less unfortunate, the spate of attacks on reform that erupted during Congress’s August recess required those in favor of it to go on the defensive instead, spending time combating misinformation and distortions about public opinion when they should have been touting the progress Congress has made in making reform a real possibility for the first time in decades.

I found myself unwilling, if not unable, to comment on the distractions, partly because it was so downright depressing to me—a reminder of the brief period just after Sarah Palin was announced as the vice presidential candidate for the Republican ticket last fall and before she revealed herself to be a perpetual political punchline. At a Labor Day barbeque, a friend and staunch Barack Obama supporter glibly called me “un-American and un-democratic” for suggesting that hecklers shouting down a congressperson until his or her public forum grinded to a halt is not democracy but the ugly face of corporate-sponsored astroturfing. It’s a tactic used to stifle progress and send a message. That message, of course, is “Kill the bill!,” a slogan brought to you by the same masterminds who crafted last year’s “Drill, baby, drill!” and which was chanted ad nauseam at town halls across the nation during the final week of summer.

Meeting of the Mindless

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Meeting of the Mindless
Meeting of the Mindless

The Republican Party is so bankrupt of new ideas that they’ve taken to co-opting every criticism that was launched at the Bush administration for eight long years and lobbed them right back at Barack Obama. The Grand Old Party hasn’t even bothered to give it the good old college try by paraphrasing their stolen ideas or disguising them with little mustaches. Just find “Bush” and replace-all with “Obama” and you’ve got the party’s current talking points.

According to the right, the “corrupt” Obama administration is attempting a “power grab” that is “fundamentally transforming” the country and “dismantling the Constitution.” Corruption isn’t partisan, of course, and the new administration deserves as much scrutiny as its predecessor when it comes to presidential powers and constitutionality, but most disturbing and transparent is how the left’s claims that Bush’s presidency was illegitimate has been countered by a small but increasing—and increasingly vocal—fringe faction of the Republican party who claim that Obama isn’t an American citizen and therefore isn’t eligible to be president. After getting all the ratings mileage out of bashing Mexicans that he could, even CNN’s Lou Dobbs has taken his xenophobia to a new level of parody, giving the Birthers a mainstream platform—and credibility—they hadn’t enjoyed previously.

My Health Care Plan Doesn’t Cover Wigs…or Chemotherapy

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My Health Care Plan Doesn’t Cover Wigs…or Chemotherapy
My Health Care Plan Doesn’t Cover Wigs…or Chemotherapy

The fear-mongering attempts to “break” Barack Obama and his health care reform agenda, or at least delay it and therefore its momentum, are flimsy at best. Desperate to paint any kind of reform of the wasteful and immoral private health insurance industry as either socialist or inadequate, the right has asserted that a “government option” would result in “rationing” while at the same time saying it would make it impossible for private companies to compete. The government’s ability to run a deficit aside, you’d have to be politically dishonest or insane to hold those two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Another main argument against reform is the fact that universal health care in other countries isn’t perfect. Critics often cite long wait lists to see specialists or receive care, and Americans don’t wait for anything, damn it. More times than not, these are the very same people who patriotically, if not nationalistically, trumpet the Union’s near-perfection and ability to accomplish anything to which it sets its collective mind. I admire that kind of optimism, but it seems to wither at the first sign of a challenge to the status quo. Why can’t the U.S. show Canada, France, and all of those other allegedly socialized nations how to do it, and do it right?

The most inane argument against reform, however, is that it will reduce the quality of coverage and access to care. Following last night’s presidential news conference on health care reform, Bill O’Reilly quietly and calmly rang the bell of panic about private medical records being kept “on a disk” in Washington, D.C. (Cue scary music.) Government bureaucrats, as he and others on the right who oppose reform claim, will decide who gets care, when, and for what. In the wake of an administration that sanctioned secret spy programs and tapped the phones of its own citizens, privacy is indeed an important issue in 21st century America. But right now the private medical records that O’Reilly is so concerned about are being kept “on a disk” in the offices of a health insurance company, the bureaucrats of which decide who gets care, when, and for what.

I am one of the 253 million Americans who are “insured.” A few years ago, a visit to my primary care physician for a simple physical led to nearly two years of those very bureaucrats refusing to make payments based on all sorts of technicalities, after which they claimed to have paid their contractually obliged minimum reimbursement, but which the administrator at my doctor’s office said she never received. I spent hours over the course of several months attempting to resolve the situation because communication between the two inept parties was practically nonexistent. It was an arduous, infuriating, and exhausting situation—and I wasn’t even sick.

Due to perpetually inflating premiums, I was recently forced to downgrade from what my current insurance company likes to call its “Preferred HMO,” a plan that is “preferable” only to their “Basic HMO.” There’s a small pool of PCPs, hospitals, laboratories, and specialists from which to choose, co-payments are high, and coverage is limited. A quick glance at the summary of exclusions reveals that the plan does not cover ambulances, casts or crutches, hearing aids, infusion therapy (which is, according to the National Home Infusion Association, “prescribed when a patient’s condition is so severe that it cannot be treated effectively by oral medications”), preventative care or counseling (an essential element of waste reduction and health care reform), second opinions, and wigs. Yes, wigs. Luckily, that item isn’t such a big deal, since the plan doesn’t cover chemotherapy either.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

Health Care Reform: Are Doctors the Real Problem?

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Health Care Reform: Are Doctors the Real Problem?
Health Care Reform: Are Doctors the Real Problem?

The villains in the battle over health care reform in the U.S. are obvious, right? The insurance and pharmaceutical companies are not-so-quietly lining the pockets of their corpulent, greedy CEOs, who sit in corner offices adorned with centuries-old pine wooden desks and golden toilets, while doctors, patients, and businesses small and large are getting squeezed dry. But real reform requires a less one-dimensional examination of the industry, one that reveals a much more systemic assortment of maladies plaguing the system as a whole. President Obama has made prevention a pillar of his health care reform plan, suggesting patients’ poor diets and exercise habits are partly responsible for the astronomically rising costs of care. (According to the National Coalition on Health Care, health care spending represented 17 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2007, and is expected to reach 20 percent or more in the next eight years, and yet U.S. health care is ranked 37th by the World Health Organization.) Rush Limbaugh, he of the beer belly and hunger for prescription drugs, mocked Obama’s assertion, inanely postulating that it’s not the overweight or physically unfit who are the biggest burden on health care, but the physically active, who, he says, sustain injuries that cost taxpayers millions each year. And they say laughter is the best medicine.

A few months ago I made a rare trip to my primary care physician. His office is a veritable hole in the wall, with a sign on the window of the front desk that reads, “Do not ask how long the wait is or how many people are ahead of you.” He overbooks his schedule, no doubt to make as much money as he can; I waited two-and-a-half hours to see the doctor despite having scheduled an appointment. After a tirade about how changes in the system have forced him to refuse patients who don’t have coverage or who simply can’t afford to make their insurance co-payments, he informed me that it would likely be over a week before my HMO approved his referral for a CT Scan. In the meantime, he sent me for lab work.

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try a Gun

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If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try a Gun
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try a Gun

A good friend of mine worked at Planned Parenthood on the West Coast a few years ago. Though she was and still is fiercely pro-choice, she eventually left the clinic because administering abortions, even early ones, was too emotionally and mentally taxing for her. It never occurred to me that her job might have put her in physical danger, or that the protesters she encountered daily (it was a conservative town, after all) might have had some sort of impact on her decision to leave. In fact, she never even mentioned the picket lines to me. I spoke to her last night and asked if she’d ever felt at risk while working at the clinic. She told me she always felt safe. She also asked me not to mention her name in this piece.

Of course, my friend worked at Planned Parenthood during the Bush administration, which enacted the first federal law criminalizing second-trimester abortions and which went so far as to define birth control as abortion. The pro-life movement was getting what it wanted, and according to the National Abortion Federation, the number of reported death threats, clinic bombings, and attempted murders of clinic employees decreased between 2001 and 2008.

Have Pelosi’s Chickens Come Home to Roost?

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Have Pelosi’s Chickens Come Home to Roost?
Have Pelosi’s Chickens Come Home to Roost?

Rush Limbaugh is calling for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s resignation. On his radio show last week, the right-wing lightning rod babbled something about glass ceilings and equality—the kind of pseudo-progressive logic conservatives like to employ when attempting to disguise their utter contempt for a minority or opposition group (in this case, it’s both). In other words, if Pelosi truly wants to prove she’s worthy of a man’s job, then she ought to act like a man—you know, like Richard Nixon—and resign. It’s enough to make me rush to the speaker’s defense. But I refuse to take the bait, and I suspect few others will either.

The right has been waiting to take Pelosi down since the Democrats took control of the House in 2006. The Republican Party was quick to pounce on the Speaker’s allegation Friday that she was misled by the C.I.A. on the issue of torture, with House Minority Leader John Boehner admonishing his counterpart for questioning the C.I.A., telling CNN’s John King that we ought to instead pat intelligence agents on the back for a “job well done,” once again twisting a Democrat’s criticism of Bush administration officials into a slandering of the “troops.” Not to be outdone, on Meet the Press RNC Chairman Michael Steele attempted to conflate Pelosi’s situation with that of the president: “The question for me is does the president support Nancy Pelosi’s version of what happened or the C.I.A. director’s version of what happened?”

Breakfast of Progressives: Cheerios and Breast Milk

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Breakfast of Progressives: Cheerios and Breast Milk
Breakfast of Progressives: Cheerios and Breast Milk

In 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services toned down an advertising campaign informing the public of the potential health risks of not breastfeeding babies. Naturally, the formula industry had a cow, and they lobbied hard against the ads and won. The campaign was watered down so as to have little impact on the breastfeeding rate in the United States, which, at 30%, lags behind Europe. The agency also decided not to promote a study which found that breastfeeding is, according to The Washington Post, “associated with fewer ear and gastrointestinal infections, as well as lower rates of diabetes, leukemia, obesity, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.” (If this seems like an odd issue for a young, single male to be championing, the HHS has reported that children who aren’t breastfed are 40% more likely to suffer from Type 1 diabetes, a disease that afflicts both of my sisters.)

It helped, of course, that formula companies are part of the pharmaceutical industry, and that the administration in office at the time was the most amiable to Big Pharma in history—an administration that, it should be noted, took little to no measures to assist new mothers in its eight-year tenure. The Post described the formula industry’s lobbying efforts as “a full-court press to reach top political appointees at HHS, using influential former government officials, now working for the industry, to act as go-betweens,” including former chairman of the Republican National Committee Joseph A. Levitt. Political interference into public health and safety pales in comparison to the Bush administration’s other known crimes, but the larger issue here sheds light on the right’s ideological opposition to the new administration’s desire to allow government to function as it was intended.

Obama the Obstructionist?

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Obama the Obstructionist?
Obama the Obstructionist?

The Republican Party takes its role as the opposition with the same seriousness a white, gun-toting suburbanite protects his or her colonial home. Two weeks ago, a certain talk radio host criticized President Obama for not responding boisterously enough about the Somali pirate hostage crisis. Before launching into an incomprehensible—and incomprehensibly long and sarcastic—monologue about how the pirates couldn’t be Muslim because Obama claims we’re not at war with Islam (“I suppose they could be a rogue band—a very, very, very tiny, small infinitesimal minority of Islam. But we’re not at war with Islam. The president said so. So the Somali pirates—I mean, the story is that they’re Muslims, but that can’t be, because we’re not at war with them. My guess is it’s the Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jews committing piracy in the open seas off Somalia over there, there’s no question in my mind”), Rush Limbaugh claimed that the reason there has been a resurgence of piracy of late is “because idiots like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama think pirates and terrorists—and this is terrorism—are criminals, not enemies.”

Never mind that the recent piracy scourge began during the last administration, but if Limbaugh believes that piracy is terrorism and that we’re indeed at war with Islam, then why, after Obama approved an operation in which U.S. snipers shot down three of the hijackers and thusly rescued the U.S. hostage, did he say this: “You know what we have learned about the Somali pirates, the merchant marine organizers that were wiped out at the order of Barack Obama, you know what we learned about them? They were teenagers. The Somali pirates, the merchant marine organizers who took a U.S. merchant captain hostage for five days were inexperienced youths…Now, just imagine the hue and cry had a Republican president ordered the shooting of black teenagers on the high seas”? Yes, the bloated face of the Fringe Party is also, fittingly, the bloated face of hypocrisy.

Tongue Control: Guns and the Right

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Tongue Control: Guns and the Right
Tongue Control: Guns and the Right

The recent spate of gun violence—the massacre at a Binghamton immigrant aid center on Friday, the slaying of three Pittsburgh police officers on Saturday, and a fatal shooting at a Christian retreat center in California last night—has inspired a lot of finger pointing, with liberal bloggers blaming some on the right for inciting paranoia about gun rights. Specifically, the targets have been Fox News loon Glenn Beck and the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, who, like Pittsburgh cop killer Richard Poplawski, believe that the Obama administration is planning to take away gun ownership rights, among other things. Salon’s Alex Coppelman helped put things in perspective, claiming that every time there’s a crime committed by a person with a known political grievance, one party “goes on the attack, claiming their opponents are responsible for the deaths, while the other counterattacks, saying their opponents are just exploiting the tragedy.”

While this may be an accurate observation, it doesn’t mean that nobody bears responsibility for fanning the flames of a few crazies’ fires. It may be unfair to blame the entire Republican Party for the ostensibly mentally unstable Poplawski’s brutal ambush of three civil servants over the weekend, and the Binghamton shooter was reportedly motivated by the loss of his job and his inability to speak English (shame and humiliation are both known triggers for this kind of violence, and are more frequent during economic downturns), but the right’s loudest voices, if not the most lucid or most popular, have been spewing outrageous rhetoric and calling for extreme action since before Barack Obama even took office. To be sure, the smears began before he even won the election.