Monthly Archives: August 2009

When Did Insurance Companies Become Our BFFs?

Throughout my adult life, insurance companies have been reviled…until now. Now, conservatives vigorously defend them and insist that we’ve got the best system on earth. Uh…really? When did that happen? We’ve got the best medical professionals and technology, but a lousy system.

I’m terribly amused at how people are suddenly defending insurance companies, as tho they only have our best interests at heart. I’ve seen them regularly screw our pastors and on a whim discontinue our church plans (or suddenly raise rates ridiculously high, forcing us to look elsewhere). But I guess to conservatives, “the enemy of my enemy–Obama–is my friend.” So now, the insurance companies are our BFFs.

Egypt, evidently, is pretty grand after all. Let’s just stay here, yoked to our noble insurance companies, while they arbitrarily deny claims, cancel policies, raise deductibles, search for pre-existing conditions, and bury doctors and patients in paperwork. (I’m sure doctors just LOVE dealing with insurance companies.)

Meanwhile, people in progressive countries leave the doctor’s office and never see a bill. No paperwork, no hassles. (Yeah, Canada has a bad system in many ways, but what Obama is proposing is not based on their system.) Wouldn’t it be nice to be freed from the tyranny of insurance companies? To not have to hassle with them? Is America, the greatest country on earth, unable to figure out a good system for making that happen?

I still believe in America’s greatness, and that we can figure this out, for the benefit of our citizens.

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I Don’t Want to Know About this Option

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Politifact Looks at the “46 Million Uninsured” Claim

With all the stuff being flung around by each side in the healthcare debate (which isn’t really a debate, but a shouting match), it’s nice to have somebody checking the facts. That’s what Politifact.com does. They do for politics what Snopes does for urban legends. I turn to Politifact frequently to get the true scoop.

I like it so much, I put their feed on this blog. Look over on the right to see the latest statements they check out.

We’ve heard President Obama and others say that 46 million Americans are uninsured. That’s from 2007 Census Bureau stats. According to Politifact, it’s closer to 36 million, since about ten million of those persons aren’t Americans. They delve deeper into the difficulties of setting a number like that, and the fact that the economy was in much better shape in 2007.

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Remembering John Hughes

John Hughes died a couple weeks ago. Here is why I’m writing about him, albeit belatedly

  • He directed my all-time favorite movie, “The Breakfast Club.”
  • He directed one of my other all-time favorite movies, “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.”
  • He directed “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” which a lot of people think is funny, but which Pam and I started watching at a drive-in theater, found it stupid, and finally drove away before it was done.
  • He wrote and produced several other movies I loved, my love-factor being in this order: “Pretty in Pink,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Sixteen Candles.”
  • He wrote the “Home Alone” movies, thereby inflicting McCully Culkin on the world.

Breakfast Club also uses, as its theme song, one of my all-time favorite songs: “Don’t You Forget About Me,” by Simple Minds. I bought the album by Simple Minds just to get that song. (There were a couple other good ones on the album, too.)

The casting in “Breakfast Club” was great. There were five teenagers
spending a Saturday in detention. Each represented a certain type of
kid–the athlete (Emilio Estevez), brain (Anthony Michael Hall),
princess (Molly Ringwald), criminal (Judd Nelson), and basket case
(Ally Sheedy). Which one was most central? Probably Judd Nelson, in the
role of John Bender, the criminal.

Wikipedia has some
fascinating info about the casting of the John Bender role. Emilio
Estevez was originally cast as Bender, but Hughes couldn’t find anyone
else suitable to play the athlete, so he switched Estevez. Good choice.
I can’t see Estevez in the Bender role.

Hughes considered
Nicholas Cage as Bender, but it ended up between John Cusack and Judd
Nelson. Hughes chose Cusack, but before filming started, he changed his
mind and gave the role to Nelson. Nelson was great. But I could see
Cusak knocking that role out of the park, too.

Also, Molly
Ringwald originally wanted the basketcase role played by Ally Sheedy,
but the role had already been promised to Sheedy.

Hughes used
the same high school for “Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Buehler.” Some
posters show up in both movies, and the sign out front is the same:
Shermer High School (which was actually Maine North High School).

My brother Rick, a much better cultural critic than I, also wrote about John Hughes.

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Taking “Sell Your Possessions” Literally

Yesterday, Pastor Tim preached from Luke 12:33, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” The past several Sundays, he has basically given an extended children’s message as the day’s only message. The younger kids sit down at the front of the church and he speaks to them. Of course, we adults  eavesdrop. I think Tim’s okay with that.

Tim emphasized the idea of selling possessions to give to the poor. Not just writing a check, or dipping into your piggy bank, but actually selling something you own. He gave the kids a project for the week: rummage through their toys, and pick out some toys they are willing to sell. Then bring them to church next Sunday. We’ll sell them, and give the money to the poor. We’ll do it through some micro-businesses opportunities in other countries. Depending on how much money we raise, we’ll be able to buy rabbits, pigs, or goats.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next Sunday, as kids bring toys to sell. It’s a great lesson for them…and for adults. How many of us have actually sold something we own, something we perhaps cherish, to raise money for other people?

Ten years ago, Pam and I bought an indoor basketball goal for the church’s youth center, which was just starting. We took it to the church to assemble. Mark and Tami Solak, heavily involved in the budding youth center, were there. Tami told us, “You don’t have to just give money. Why don’t you volunteer?”

It was a convicting point. And as a result, Pam and I gave up our Friday nights for several years so we could help staff the Friday night youth center. Buying the basketball goal was easy; it came out of our excess. Writing checks is easy, painless. But giving up one night a week, every week? Now that was costly. But we don’t regret it in the least.

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Why do Most Christians Oppose Universal Health Care?

Some good conversations are taking place in various forums on the web. People are asking, with seriousness and honesty, why most Christians oppose universal health care.

Most of the evangelical Christians I know are Republicans. All of them, as far as I know, oppose universal health care (UHC). I’m not talking about opposing Obama’s plan, or the Clinton plan. I mean, they oppose the very idea of universal health care, just as the Republican party has opposed it for as long as I can remember. No matter what form it might take, they’re against it. Even if the economy were in great shape, Republicans would still oppose health care, and so would evangelical Christians.

Why is that?

Put aside your reasons for opposing the Obama plan–the cost, the timing, the details, the flaws, the uncertainties. I’m asking in a more general way: as a Christian, why do you oppose any kind of UHC, whether in the past, present or future? Are you merely embracing the full Republican ideological menu, which doesn’t allow room for UHC? Or do you have biblical reasons?

It seems to me, and to other people asking this question, that UHC sounds like a made-to-order cause for Christians to champion.

  • Much of Jesus’ ministry involved healing. Everywhere he went, he healed people.
  • Jesus emphasized ministering to the poor, to the disadvantaged, to people unable to help themselves.
  • UHC combines both of these emphases, which were so central to the heart of Jesus–healing, and providing for vulnerable or poor people.
  • It is within our power, as the richest nation on earth, to provide UHC to all of our people. Lesser countries are doing it. Does it please God that we don’t?
  • People who lose their jobs also lose healthcare benefits; they are vulnerable people. Shouldn’t a Christian be on their side? Or does the Bible support leaving these people to fend for themselves?
  • When people die because they can’t afford to get tests and procedures done, or go bankrupt because they had the misfortune to get cancer–is that something Christians should be party to?
  • When it is within our power to help, and we don’t–how is that characteristic of a Christian nation?

When you think about it, doesn’t a position in favor of universal health care seem closer to the heart of Jesus than a position against universal healthcare?

If Jesus were here, would he agree that UHC is a bad thing, and that Christians should have nothing to do with it?

I’m just asking.

What is the biblical case against UHC? Why should Christians adamantly oppose it? Why does UHC violate Christian values?

Go ahead–give me a biblical (not a Republican) argument. Why should I, as a Christian, oppose universal health care? Because I’m really puzzled.

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Book: “The Assassin,” by Stephen Coonts

assassin.jpgStephen Coonts made his splash in 1986 as one of the early techno-thriller writers with “Flight of the Intruder.” Tom Clancy, of course, arguably launched, or at least perfected, the genre with “The Hunt for Red October” and then the 1986 “Red Storm Rising.” Dale Brown’s “Flight of the Old Dog” (1987) was excellent. Other writers emerged, and the techno-thriller took off.

“Flight of the Intruder” was a pretty good book. I think I probably read another Stephen Coonts book, but can’t remember which one. Anyway, after a 20-year layoff, I thought I’d give him another try with “The Assassin” (2008).

As it turns out, one hero of “The Assassin” is Jake Grafton, the hero of “Flight of the Intruder.” He’s now a CIA honcho. “The Assassin” involves going after Jihadist bad guys, primarily the title character, a terrorist named Abu Qasim. 

The book is predictable all the way through. Nothing happens that surprises me. A few minor questions weren’t answered to the end, but again, nothing earth-shaking. Never did something happen that made me think, “I wonder how they’ll get out of that one?” or, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” No plot twists, no unexpected turns.

The book ends up with a Hollywood-style ending reminiscent of “In the Line of Fire,” “Patriot Games,” and “The Bodyguard.” In other words, a big event which the assassin crashes. Ho hum.

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Politifact.com – One Way to Verify What You Hear

obameter_250.jpgI’m a trusting sort, but skeptical. When I hear something that doesn’t ring true, I check it out, do some research. The internet makes that easy. You still need to use discretion in your sources of “truth,” and that’s a subjective thing (some people would look to Ann Coulter or Oprah as a reliable source, for heaven’s sake). But seeking verification, like Doubting Thomas, is a good thing.

Politifact.com to the rescue! This site, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its fact-checking during the 2008 presidential campaign, does an excellent job of verifying and debunking. I’ve found it very helpful.

Politifact’s Truth-O-Meter takes statements made by politicians, pundits, and others in the public arena and gives them a rating:

  • True: The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
  • Mostly True: The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
  • Half True: The statement is accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
  • pantsonfire.giffalse.gifmostlytrue.gif

  • Barely True: The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
  • False: The statement is not accurate.
  • Pants on Fire: The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

Hundreds of statements are in the Truth-O-Meter. They have them categorized by subject, and each one includes an article explaining the true story. A useful category right now is “Health.” It shows that most of the statements being made against the proposed health care bill are false. So are some of the statements being made by health-care proponents.

Politifact also publishes the Obameter, which tracks 500 promises Barack Obama made during the campaign. A screenshot from the current Obameter reading is up above.

Politifact is a project of the St. Petersburg Times, one of the country’s premiere newspapers.

Another good source is FactCheck.org, run by the Anneburg Foundation. They are more academic in their approach–not nearly as fun as Politifact–but do a credible job. They were given physical access to Obama’s birth certificate last August and did a thorough analysis.

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Olberman, O’Reilly, Beck, and Town-Hall Fiascos

David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun is writing some excellent commentary about cable news, commentary I wholly agree with. Here’s one very recent article (it’s only dated “August 2009,” but may have just appeared today) which focuses on Keith Olberman, and spreads out from there. It’s called “Olberman, O’Reilly: How Cable TV Harms Nation.”

I have been writing repeatedly about the way in which I believe the harsh, reckless, irresponsible and dangerous rhetoric of cable TV talk show hosts like MSBC’s Keith Olbermann and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly was hurting America….

Prime-time cable TV hosts like Olbermann are playing the very same dark and dangerous chords as [Joseph] McCarthy’s lot. Only today, thanks to cable TV and the Web, they have bigger amplifiers and the ability to spread their poisonous messages instantly with virtually no gatekeepers to get in the way–particularly when entities like NBC News, which knows better, looks the other way.

And the poison of attack and hateful speech spreads through the body politic until we can no longer have civil town hall discussions in this country between elected officials and their constituents….You couldn’t get people to act with the anger and belligerence seen at these town halls if those people thought it would bring them shame to behave that way in public.

But the lesson of of cable news is that such ugly behavior won’t bring you shame, it will bring you favor. You’re acting just like Olbermann, O’Reilly, Hannity, Beck and Dobbs. You’re acting just the way cable TV taught you to act in the political arena.

And now we reap the whirlwind of an angry, polarized, confused and frightened populace.

Zurawik has been after Olberman for a while. Last September, he wrote, “MSNBC Paying for Its Olberman Sins.” He starts with the right-wing attempts to paint CNN as liberal:

“The attacks on CNN have largely failed, because Jon Klein, the
cable channel’s president, has insisted that his reporters and
anchors report stories and do interviews by “playing it straight down
the middle,” as he has termed it in recent interviews with me.

“MSNBC,
on the other hand, has all but abandoned a journalism of facts and
verification in favor of propaganda and ideological bombast with
Olbermann — and now, Air America’s Rachel Maddow. And the cable
channel has become no better than Fox News on the right with Bill
O’Reiily….It looks like MSNBC has blown its chance to be a credible and trusted
source of news and information by letting Olbermann rule the roost.

But Zurawik doesn’t target only the liberal pundits, like Olberman. He goes strongly after the pundits on each wing. Here’s what he had to say on August 7 about Glenn Beck:

“I am starting to think that things have gotten so far out of control with some of the cable hosts on the so-called all-news cable channels that maybe sponsor pullout is one of the only actions that can make a difference. I’m talking about TV Newser’s report that three advertisers have distanced themselves from Glenn Beck’s show on the Fox News Channel in response to Beck calling President Barack Obama a “racist” who holds a “deep-seated hatred for white people.”

“Beck is only one of several out-of-control hosts who traffick in innuendo, slander, smears and outrageous comments like the ones about Obama….The contagion seems to be spreading to CNN with Lou Dobbs carrying the virus. Let’s hope this version of swine flu doesn’t infect the whole channel.

“So, maybe in these harsh economic times, the loss of advertisers will make a difference. Something has to. The level of prime-time discourse on all-news cable TV is absolutely toxic.” 

Zurawik represents well my feelings about the poisonous attitudes cable news shows produce among listeners, and why I increasingly look elsewhere for accurate light on current events.

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Fort Wayne’s New Parkview Field

Last nite was my first exposure to Parkview Field, the new minor-league baseball field in Fort Wayne. We went there, not to a baseball game, but to a concert with MercyMe and Attaboy. The stage was set up where second base goes. The sound quality was great. And in that setting, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

Fort Wayne’s baseball team is called the Tin Caps. That’s a new name, replacing the previous Wizards. New stadium, new name. Now, I liked the previous field. It was fairly new, had unlimited parking, and was very accessible. You could quickly get in and out. It was fun to attend games there.

But then the city decided we needed to spend millions of dollars on a new field near the downtown, like it would rejuvenate Fort Wayne’s glorious center and make nightlife flourish. Or something dazzling like that. So they built a new stadium, and tore down the other perfectly-good Wizards stadium out by the Coliseum. I think it was a waste of money, unnecessary.

But alas, the deed is done, so let’s quit crying over that spilled two percent. A new stadium is in place, so I’ll force myself to deal with that reality.

I LOVE the new stadium. I’ve heard other people rave about it, too. But now, having been there, I must agree with them. The concession area is open to the field, so you never need to miss a play. Very, very nice. Many more great features. In short: they did it right. They did it, even, spectacularly. Kudos and praise be upon our wise city fathers, despite their fiscal irresponsibility.

Just because it’s a great park doesn’t mean it was necessary. Pam and I could buy a Lexus, and you would agree that it’s much nicer than the car we currently own. But that doesn’t mean the Lexus would be the best use of our money. I’m just saying. But Parkview Field is a superb ballpark, no doubt about it. I will enjoy going there in the future.

It’s very easy to get to…but not to get away from. We parked in the new parking garage attached to the field. Got inside nicely. But leaving was a mess. Like going to Wrigley Field. It took a good 20 minutes just to get out of the parking garage, followed by FOREVER to get out of the central city, with the tangle of cars converging on one-way streets. Just a royal mess. 

But hey, we are rejuvenating the downtown. Or that’s the plan, anyway.

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