Monday, August 10, 2009

Health Care Reform is Salt Lake Light Rail. Trust me - it makes sense

When I lived in Salt Lake City, as preparation for the Olympics, Salt Lake City decided to put in a light rail system. It would go from downtown Salt Lake, and extend all the way out to (if memory serves me correctly) South Jordan. The idea was pretty simple - a train system that could run up and down the city, and the town buses would simply slave to that. Get on a bus, ride to the light rail to where you need to go, get off and either be within walking distance or get onto another bus. Salt Lake City already had a pretty decent bus system - but the light rail would make it excellent.

Only problem was - this was Salt Lake City. And people protested the building of a light rail. Protested spending "my taxpayer dollars on something I don't want or need!" Protested - with signs, in city meetings - about how they wouldn't touch it, how it was a big waste, how any government spending was just evil. Evvvviiiillll!

Even though it would reduce driving, decrease gas spending, improve air quality with less cars running (and in a city like Salt Lake that can be hit with some horrible smog because of the air trapped by the mountains, any little bit helps).

In the end, the light rail was built anyway.

And it was a hit. Huge hit. So huge, that it was packed the first several weeks and they had to add in extra cars. So useful, that the Mormon church buys up the entire light rail every six months for their biannual conferences and the entire city rides for free. Why? Because instead of having everybody try and park downtown, people can get a cheaper hotel room on the outskirts of town, get onto the light rail, and be downtown in 20 minutes bypassing all of the traffic.

So successful, that last I heard from residents, they were planning on extending the light rail all the way up and down the state so more people could save gas and money. I wonder how many people are still protesting this "evil government" service that provides so much worth to the city, to the residents, to the businesses?

When I sat in the Health Care Town Hall meeting, it felt like being back in Salt Lake during those light rail meetings. Granted, not quite as many rude shouters - but there were still angry people outraged that their government would provide a service that *they* didn't personally approve (even though the democratically elected leaders did, and in a representational democracy that's how it works).

People are screeching that *they* personally didn't approve health care reform (even if a majority of the voters do). Government has no place in providing health care based on the Constitution. Then again, the Constitution doesn't mention roads, light rails, or other things, but it does say:

"...promote the general welfare..."

And the Necessary and Proper clause:

"The Congress shall have Power - To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof." - aka, Congress has the power to make whatever laws it needs in order to fulfill its charter (as long as it doesn't violate citizen's rights as defined in the various Amendments or steps on the Executive or Judicial branches' powers.) So if Congress decides to make a law to institute health care, or food safety, or the like to "promote the general welfare", it can do so (again, provided it doesn't trample on someone's personal rights).

My bets is at the end of the day, we're going to have a health care bill. I'm hoping it has the Three Big Things I think it will need to be real reform: constraining health insurance companies to prevent them from denying care, requirement that all citizens are signed up for insurnace, and the Public Option to provide competition against private insurance companies as a check on their power.

If it does, I'm going to bet that US Health Care Reform is going to wind up like Salt Lake Light rail - a lot of noise and protest, followed by a long period of "Woah. This is *awesome.*"

Saturday, August 08, 2009

How to Make Health Care Town Halls a Success

How to Solve the Mob Tactics at Health Care (or other) Town Hall Meetings

Thursday night, I had hoped to attend a town hall style meeting with US Congress Member Kathy Castor and State Representative Betty Reed. The plan is that I would hear these two ladies and duly elected representatives talk about how the health care bill was shaping up, their views, and take questions. I expected that there would be some people who agreed with the idea that there needs to be insurance reform, and some that wouldn’t. Each sides would put forward their questions, and everybody would learn something even if we didn’t all agree.

Yeah. What was I thinking. In the tradition of the Constitutional debates, where Benjamen Franklin stood up shouting “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” at Hamilton, who screeched back “I’M NOT HERE TO LISTEN TO WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY!”, a group of what I assume to be Teabaggers showed up to do nothing but, for almost 90 straight minutes, scream, shout, let it all out and generally make sure that nobody could hear anything at all. Because after all, having a civilized debate like adults is too much to ask for.

OK, the last was sarcasm. It was an ugly experience that every single one of the Shouters should be embarrassed about. It’s behavior that I would not expect out of my youngest child who is five years old and know that you at least take turns.

The problem is, the Shouters are dominating the Health Care Town Halls, sponsored by corporate interests who have created “Astroturf” grass roots organizations that have been filling the Shouters with outright lies. Such as “The Obama Health Plan will euthanize old people.” Or “The Obama Health Plan will raid your checking and savings accounts to pay for it.” Even as recently as a few days ago, quitter Sarah Palin came out saying that the Obama Health Plan would set up a Death Panel that would have killed her Down Syndrome child.

With these kinds of lies filling them, the Shouters are told to show up, disrupt meetings, and prevent anything from being said. As I saw with Congressperson Castor, every time she tried to explain what was in the bill or even what her ideas were, the Shouters screamed like someone was pulling on their Teabags too hard.
It was the most unpleasant 90 minutes of my life. And since that night, I kept thinking about how to prevent such things in the future. How to allow for the free flow of ideas, without letting them get hijacked by people who have no interest in hearing any other view but their own being screeched at their duly elected representatives?

Do insurance reform supporters just get louder? Not useful, since that simply perpetuates the problem of noise silencing proper discussion. Bringing more signs? Holding up protest artifacts? All of this just generates noise.
The goal should be Meeting, Not Mobs.
Here are my thoughts on how to have the kind of town hall meetings we want to spread information, while still allowing those of a dissenting view a chance to air their questions. These ideas will take some work. But, based on what I saw Thursday night, I believe they stand the best chance of working.

The Steps:

  1. Control the Flow
  2. Sign the Contract
  3. Register and Document
  4. Any Disruptions Will Not Be Tolerated

Control the Flow


5 Police Officers from the local community (if possible, others in plainsclothes for the ground floor).

1 volunteer per every 20 seats.

At least 5 police officers from the local community – two at the doors leading inside, three inside. This can be reduced depending on the size of the town hall to be had, but seeing as 200 seat meeting drew some 1600 people according to some reports, this is probably a good number.

The volunteers are to lead people to their seats. From the beginning, there should be this sense of control via the health care town hall organizers. This is not in a mean or overly authoritarian way. Volunteers should be polite and helpful, but their task is to direct the flow of people coming into the meeting area, and take them to their seat. People will not be allowed to simply sit where they want.

Wait, you say. How do we know people will follow the rules? Hold on. That’s coming.

Sign the Contract


1 Printed Contract Form for each person we believe will show up

As each person enters, they must put show ID and sign a Town Hall Contract. Each Contract Form says something akin to this:

I, _______________________________ , do agree to follow the rules for this town hall meeting. I seek to learn what my democratically elected representative and their staff have to say. I will not be disruptive during the meeting. If I have questions, I will hold them until the end of the meeting, and then I will wait until I have been called upon to ask them in a respectful manner.
If I violate these rules, I understand at the discretion of the Town Hall staff and volunteers I will be asked to leave.

Signed: _______________________

Date: _________________________

Naturally, if someone has better language, I am certainly open to it. While this document may or may not be considered a legal contract, the point is that it binds them at their word at least. This basically tells them “If you’re here to cause trouble, you will be kicked out.” And, since the words “…discretion of the Town Hall staff and volunteers” basically means they aren’t allowed to say “What? What gives you the right to do so?”

This is not a "loyalty oath" or other such nonsense. It does not dictate a view they must subscribe to. It simply lets them know what the rules are, and if they can not follow those rules, they may leave.

This step also has another point. It slows things down. It sets a tone – politeness. Civility. It also lets us process each person one at a time, not as a mob, but as individuals.

If they do not want to sign this contract, they will be asked to leave. Period. There are no second chances. The first time they say “I don’t want to sign this,” or refuse to comply with instructions, they must *immediately* be escorted from the premises, preferably by one of the law enforcement officers.

This will be hard for some people, because we want to be nice. We are – we are giving them every opportunity to follow the rules in order to allow everyone a chance to participate. If they wish a Mob instead of a Meeting, they were perfectly welcome under their 1st Amendment Rights to hold that elsewhere, such as inside their house with their friends. Then they can Mob to their hearts content.

Register and Document


1 camera that can be hooked into a computer (such as a web camera)
1 laptop computer to take the pictures
1 printer to print out names and pictures later.
Label paper for name tags for as many people as you think will show up

One thing I observed about the Shouters is they did not want to put their name down onto any pieces of paper if possible. This step is again part of that control and tempo. Once they have signed the contract, their picture will be taken onto the computer and a nametag printed for them. Their picture will be taken, and they will have a name tag made for them.The picture is so when the speaker calls on them, they will have a printed list of names and pictures so they can call them by name so there is no confusion.

It also has the added advantage of freaking the snot out of anyone who wanted to use the anonymity of a Mob to hide themselves. I know – OMG taking pictures so scary! It’s necessary. If people intend on acting reasonably, then they have nothing to fear. If they can not follow the rules and have their picture taken, again, they will be escorted out immediately. No questions, no second chances. Have a nice day.

Any Disruptions Will Not Be Tolerated

This is the most important step. No disruptions. We should at the beginning have a statement read by the facilitator that lets people know people will want to clap, or applaud, or any other expression within reason. However, disruptions, screams, and shouts will not. The first time someone has a problem with this, both a volunteer and a law enforcement officer will be called to escort that person from the room.
This is crucial. By now, with the controls in place, most people should get the message. The first sign of trouble, however, must be met swiftly, but politely. The rude Mob person must be sent outside. They can scream and shout out there (without breaking any “disturb the peace” laws, of course) – but this is a Meeting, not a Mob.

I recognize that these efforts will take some prior planning. These are not draconian, do not require anything other than decency and respect. It does not require anger meet with anger or noise with noise. But they establish proper controls, and allow everyone to participate in the Meeting and, whether they agree or not, be able to gain something from the discussions.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

My Night at the Tampa Health Care Town Hall

Tonight I headed up to South Tampa, Florida to sit in on the Health Care town hall with US Congress Member Kathy Castor and State Representative Betty Reed. What I got was a front row ticket to pure rage.

I've seen the news lately, so I had an idea of how noisy these events are around the nation. When I arrived, some two hours before the event started at six, there were already 20 some odd people there. Many of them were going over questions, such as "If Obama can't pick a dog in six months, why is he trying to get us to pick a health care plan in six weeks?" (which I thought ignored the other 60 years we've been discussing health care). One gentleman was trying to tell me that insurance companies should be allowed to cancel people's policy, because people would get sick, then sign up for health care, and as soon as they were treated cancel their policy - yet he didn't want it to be mandated that people would have to sign up for insurance to avoid such a situation. The answer seemed clear: If you don't have insurance, it's your own fault, and if you get sick and insurance cancels you, that's your fault too.

I was lucky in that I knew one of the organizers who let me get in a little early to the front row seats. I think the original plan was to have the front two rows or so filled with people who really wanted to hear about the health care bill, instead of letting those rows be dominated by the protesters we've been seeing on the news at other health care events.

If that was the plan, it was not successful. As people came in, several tried to disregard the "RESERVED" seating signs, including one gentleman who ripped it off the chair next to me and stuck it in the chair in front. "Come on man, that's not cool," I said, pointing out the rest of the entire room was empty.

"I don't see why anyone should have reserved seats here," he told me.

"The disabled?"

He finally moved, and I moved the "reserved" sign back to its seat.

Before the doors were open to allow people to sit, it was nonstop shouting. Shouting from people outside who pounded on the doors to be let in and complained because they weren't being allowed to start taking seats 40 minutes before the event was to begin. Shouting because they were told to let people through who were reporters or were supposed to be on the council.

Shouting as the room was filled to capacity and the others had to wait outside, holding signs like "I can't read, cut taxes" (which made no sense to me at all). When Representatives started coming in, people started shouting "No! No! No! No!" The town hall hadn't even started yet.

One thing I noticed was that many of the Shouters, and I came to call them, came in very organized. Many had 3x5 cards with printed questions. Sheets of paper printed out with highlighted text, usually held in the same kind of binder. I'm not sure if they all shopped at the same office depot, but the similarity was eerie.

Reverend Dixon, a prison minister, started off the room with the Pledge of Allegence. And that's when the shouting started. As people read the pledge, one woman shouted out at the "of the United States of America" part "UNDER GOD!" earlier than anyone else (maybe she thought it was the United States of UNDER GOD) - and when the room got to "under God", there was a sudden angry shout of "UNDER GOD!" as if they didn't think people would hear it the first time from the lady who shouted early. Reverend Dixon gave the opening prayer - and then the rage fest really got started.

As Representative Reed introduced Congressperson Castor - boos erupted. The gentleman next to me stood up to applaud her, and many in the room was on their feet clapping for her. Outside the door, a steady chant started.

"BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT!" Castor hadn't even started yet, and people were screaming. Yelling. Fights broke out outside. Castor held two taped together microphones to her mouth - but then the mob shifted tactics to "YOU WORK FOR US! YOU WORK FOR US!" Every minute, it was a new rage filled series of shouts to keep her from discussing her points. She asked the crowd how many of them paid for health insurance through their employer - and people started shouting.

"READ THE BILL!" People in the crowd kept screeching at her, including one tall gentleman behind me I'll call Mr. Shouty. Throughout the entire time Castor tried to address the crowd, tried to explain what the bill was about, he and so many others around the room screamed "READ THE BILL! READ THE BILL! READ THE BILL!" Then, because she tried to explain how the health care bill would try to provide health care for those who were uninsured, the screams changed to "TYRANNY! TYRANNY! TYRANNY!" "WE LEFT ENGLAND FOR THIS!"

Some of the people who were there to hear the bill tried to shout back at the protesters "Let her speak!"

The reply? "No I won't!" by Mr. Shouty. Instead, he turned back to Castor shouting "60 MILLION JOBS LOST! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT 60 MILLION JOBS?" I didn't get that one. He was protesting insurance reform, but wanted Welfare or extended unemployment benefits?

The shouts continued. Castor couldn't even be heard over the din as Mr. Shouty held up a copy of the pocket constitution. "WHERE IS HEALTH CARE IN HERE! SHOW ME WHERE HEALTH CARE IS IN HERE!" (My friend @MariaLaino on Twitter replied "The Necessary and Proper Clause, bitch.")

Castor kept trying to go on over the din, as Mr. Shouty and his group kept screeching "SHOW US IN THE CONSTITUTION WHERE HEALTH CARE IS!" Castor talks about the Donut Hole in Medicare - and the Shouters start screeching "THAT'S TED KENNEDY'S BILL! IT'S TED KENNEDY'S FAULT!"

And as Castor was winding down, the Shouters started squealing "LISTEN TO US! LISTEN TO US! WHY WON'T YOU ANSWER OUR QUESTIONS!" This after almost 20 to 30 minutes of nonstop screaming and temper tantrums from the moment she started walking towards the podium. They hadn't heard a word she said, and screamed when she left the room under escort.

With every speaker, it was the same. A pushing match next to me erupted between Mr. Shouty Man and a union rep who got in his way. Ms. Lee Stirrat stepped up to explain the healthcare issues and about how even she has problems with insurance and trying to get the medication she needs. The Shouters all groan and start shouting, drowning her out as she's trying to explain the problems with people trying to get care under insurance.

When State Representative Reed came back to the podium, the shouts only continue. "FOLLOW THE CONSTITUTION! WHY AREN'T YOU FOLLOWING THE CONSTITUTION!" Evidently, following the constitution means not taking turns with your views, but screaming the other person so nobody can hear anything at all. The Florida Health Commissioner makes the case that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness requires a healthy body - a claim that lead to more jeers from the Shouters. He tried to discuss infant mortality issues, only to be screamed at that "OBAMACARE PAYS FOR ABORTIONS! DON'T TALK ABOUT INFANT MORTALITY WHEN YOU KILL BABIES!" Even when he protested he never performed an abortion, it didn't matter. Other Shouters squealed every time infant mortality was said "ILLEGALS! ILLEGALS! ILLEGALS!" This became a refrain. When 40 million Americans without health care was brought up - that was all illegal aliens. Because I guess "real Americans" can pay for their own healthcare. Like, pregnant teenagers.

Dr. Collins, a nutritionist, for a brief time held the room as she explained helping people who have come out of heart surgery - only to be shouted at when she tried to explain people who didn't know how to get good nutrition. Evidently, this was an impossible concept for the Shouters that people don't know how to eat healthy.

Finally, after almost an hour, police offers started pulling people out of the room who were just disruptive. Mr. Shouty was the first, to the applaud of many in the room - but there were still many Shouters to go. As one Ms. Coe stood to explain that as people have lost their jobs - people have lost their health care. The response by the Shouters? "Be more responsible!" One woman shouted out "Responsibility, Oprah!" Yes, the speaker was a black woman.

I think the lowest point was when Reverend Dixon came up to speak, and started to discuss the progress that had made during the 60's and 70's. The woman behind me started shouting "Yeah - we know what you did during the 60's! We know the 'progress' you made!" The look on Reverend Dixon's face was heartbreaking. He knew what she meant - civil rights. The progress made by civil rights groups for equality was some sort of slur now thrown back in Dixon's face.

She knew what he did during the 60's and 70's. Marched for equal rights maybe, or protested.

The questions that came next followed were mostly by Shouters who remained. Why are we paying more for health care when we have so many deficits? When Mr. Newton explained that health care currently costs us a lot of money because people have to use the emergency room - which they are required by law to treat, passing on the costs to us, and so health care reform would be cheaper - yup. The rage was back to shout at him. Conspiracy theory questions were asked, like "The bill says the federal government will gain access to all of our checking accounts." Some guy next to me let me know that when the government took over health care, nobody would go to the doctor because the government would be allowed to read your health care records. Why they would I don't know, or why HIPAA laws wouldn't still apply- but that was this man's fear.

In the end, that was everything for this meeting. Fear and rage. Rage that Castor wouldn't ask questions about 30 minutes of constant screaming at her. Rage that the public option even existed because it would drive regular insurance companies out of business -and when Mr. Newton brought up the example of the US Postal Service versus USPS, the Shouters, well, shouted that "YEAH! AND UPS IS BETTER!" Which, I guess proved his point, but the Shouters acted like they had won some important point. Rage at the uninsured that were all illegal aliens, or were having all of the babies who needed government funding to be born - because "no true American" would be without health care or would be a single mother having a baby. Rage that the public option would somehow destroy health care, or destroy medicare, or something. Rage that people said that insurance companies shouldn't be allowed to drop people from care, or that there were people losing their jobs (evidently all Obama's fault), or that the national deficit was so high (again, also evidently all Obama's fault for waging the War in Iraq then spending money to save the financial system and stimulate the economy). Rage that Rep Reed wasn't "following the Constitution" because it didn't mention health care (then again, it didn't mention interstate roads either).

By the end, the rage was effecting even the health care supporters who tried to shout down the Shouters towards the end. It became like a weird recursive shouting event, as the Shouters shouted and the other people shouted at the shouters to shout them silent.

When it finally ended, almost 30 minutes early I think, I walked out - and the Shouters were still out there, now shouting about Acorn for some reason (maybe they believe insurance policies will be issued by Acorn supporters or something).

A group of 5 police officers stood talking next to the parking lot. I stopped next to them. "Gentlemen, that was more excitement than one man deserves to have. Good job." I tipped my hat as they laughed and drove away.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Reform Success Criteria: Part 2

OK, so the other day we talked about some basic things that would make for good health care reform: denying the "preexisting condition" clause that health care companies pull, and requiring that everyone sign up for health care insurance if they could afford it, and government assistance for those who can't.

With all of that money rolling in from an additional 50,000,000 new clients, this gives insurance companies plenty of money to provide care for people. But we still have a basic problem of how do we know we're getting *good* health care coverage? What's to stop the health insurance companies from just running off with the money? What if you sign up with a health insurance company because it's the cheapest - then find out you're going to die because the only thing they cover are cotton swabs and you signed up for a crappy insurance service. Congratulations, it's the market at work, and now you're going to die!

Yeah. Doesn't sound that great to me. So there are few more reforms so we can make sure we get a good health care system.

Minimum Health Care Standards

One of the things I got our of reading Tom Daschle's book is the idea of the Government Health Agency - kind of like the FDA or the FED. Now, hold up. People are now going to start running screaming through the streets. OMG THE GOV'MENT IS GOING TO TELL MY DOCTOR WHAT TO DO! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIIIIIEEEEE!

As opposed to know, where INSURANCE COMPANIES TELL YOUR DOCTOR WHAT THEY'LL PAY FOR, YOU GIT. That's right. When you go to the doctor, and they say "Guess what - you need to have your filangee removed - but your insurance company doesn't cover that," you've just had a private industry bureaucrat decide your health care procedures.

That's not to say the doctor *won't* remove your filangee anyway - but now you have to pay for it out of your own pocket. That's what already happens, folks - if the insurance company doesn't pay for it, you have to.

What the Government Health Agency (GHA) would look like - if you follow the Daschle plan - is a committee formed of various doctor representatives, nurse representatives, some insurance representatives, patient advocacy representatives, and some others. How these will be selected is probably the same way the Fed is - the President appoints someone, Congress approves, and off we go.

The GHA would look at the various diseases and treatments out there, then say "OK - if you're a health insurance company, by law you have to provide these minimum things. Like, check ups every six months with tests A, B, C. If someone gets leukemia, you have to pay for X percent of bone marrow transplants. You must provide contraceptives for women as part of the package. So on and so forth."

Now, if a health insurance company wanted to offer *more* than the minimum government mandates amount, great! It's like how some states require car insurance if you drive - they have to offer at least a minimum coverage amount, but then insurance companies compete over who can offer more coverage and what kinds at the cheapest price.

This makes sure that everyone, even the people who get the cheapest health insurance, at least gets certain minimum of care. Highest on my list would be preventative measures, like checkups every six months with tests like mammograms for women, prostate checks for men - simple things that can detect diseases far before they get into trouble.

Now, with that, there will have to be minimum standards for the patients as well. If you don't get your checkups every six months or so, or don't show up for your tests - you can't complain if you get sick. Now, if you do the things you're asked to do - within reason, of course - and you get sick anyway, then the insurance company has to cover what they contracted to.

This does two things:

1. Makes sure people are getting preventative care which reduces costs for health insurance companies and the patients.

2. Makes sure insurance companies don't go broke when people people get sick, because they'll be catching diseases at the earliest, most preventable state. And, if they're really smart, they'll encourage patients to do things like lose excess weight, watch their diet, so on and so forth.

There is one other element that I believe will make health care reform a success. And that is - the Public Option.

The Public Option

OMG, run for the hills! It's government provided health care! Run for the wind!

Or, that's what some people want you to believe. Think about the FDIC a moment. Every bank is *required* to use some form of insurance on accounts in the event that they go under, their client's checking and savings accounts are protected.

The FDIC isn't the only game in town, though. There are other alternatives, but every bank is under a requirement to own account insurance, whether through the FDIC or some other institution that offers similar protection.

The Public Option Health Insurance plan would be like the FDIC - it's kind of the option of last resort for people. If you don't have any good health care insurers in your area, or they're too expensive, or maybe you can't afford insurance on your own - there's the Public Option to cover you. It will likely only cover the minimum level (I believe the current proposals have a 3 tier system, with minimum care being the lowest and cheapest).

Why even have the Public Option instead of just letting the private industry cover it? Well, for the reasons above. Some private insurance companies don't cover small towns or rural areas.

The Public Option would simply be a not-for-profit health insurance company, like the FDIC, started up with taxpayer seed money, and after that would rise or fall on its own. If it can succeed better than private insurance companies by not worrying about paying out stockholders or owners - then I guess private insurance companies will have to work harder to keep up. Which means people will get better care, and everyone wins.

I think that's everything I can think of for what I'd consider to be Success in health care reform. Will we get any or all of these? I hope so. I'd expect it.

I guess we'll have to see of Congress will deliver it - or give the insurance companies what *they* want - which is to keep the status as it to keep things the same so they make the most money while we spend more on less health care.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What can be considered health care reform a success

Last week, President Obama gave another prime time press conference, this time to talk about Health Care.

As my wife pointed out, if you've been following the discussion, he didn't seem to really add anything to the table. And if you weren't paying attention in the first place, I have the feeling that what he was talking about didn't make sense.

Part of the problem is that the health care debate is just complex. Just what *exactly* is the US Health Care system going to be like? Nobody really knows, because it's a huge problem.

You have 50 million people without health care. Some because they're just too poor to afford it, some because they don't think they need it (unless they get into an accident, fall off a tree, and then you'd bet they need health care). You have others that have it, but then either get denied health care for "preexisting conditions". Others who want it but can't get it because an insurance company isn't going to take on someone who's *already* sick, or someone else who had it up until they lost their job.

It's a huge complex stinking mess that, if you haven't read over the 100 years of history of health care in America to understand *why* it's so complex, it just seems like a bunch of nonsense that shouldn't be this hard.

It is a hard problem, though. It's hard because you have people who want health care, but don't want to pay anything for it. You have insurance companies who want to make money, which means (as per the capitalistic system) you provide the most care for the least amount of money - and that means if someone is already sick of cancer or some other very expensive illness, you're not going to add them on. And it's hard because there's a history of employer based health care for so many Americans, and which means once you change or lose your job (something that's happening a lot in this economy), you find yourself without health insurance even though you spent all that money on premiums for so many years.

I'm not going to go into the history here. It's long, sorted, full of lobbyists and stupidity and inaction. So instead, I'm going to list what I'd consider the basic health care plan needs to have in order to be considered "successful." Some of the things I list here are both what I'd like to see, and how I consider the country to pay for it.

No More Preexisting Condition

One comment I see a lot is "The market can solve the whole healthcare issue. Just get the government out of the way, and things will become cheaper!"

Amazingly, it hasn't worked for all these years. Unless by "get the government out of the way," you mean "don't allow health care lawsuits when doctors/hospitals screw up, don't enforce basic health care rules and regulations so people don't get defrauded out of real health care, etc, etc, etc."

The problem is that the insurance companies have already rigged themselves so they're above the fair market system. If I went to buy a car for $20,000, and the second I drove it off the lot it broke down, some people *would* say "Well, caveat emptor - let the buyer beware! Now you'll know better than to buy a car from that dealership/manufacturer again! Next time you'll spend your money more wisely!"

It's a nice thought in an Ayn Rand dominated dream world, maybe that would work. Problem is, if I just spent $20,000 on a car that I'm not going to get back, I'm just going to go out and blow it again on another car right away. I can't afford it. Maybe I can't even go to work anymore if I don't have a car. Now I can't even make another $20,000 for another car.

People realized this, and that's why we have Lemon Laws and other things to prevent people from defrauded in this country. Sure, to a certain extent, it's still "let the buyer beware", but if you offer a car and promise it can go 50,000 miles on a warranty, you have to fulfill that promise.

Right now, health insurance companies have this big escape hatch. If you get sick, and if they can prove you had a "preexisting condition", then they can deny you care. Sometimes that "preexisting condition" means things like "had a yeast infection and now that you have cervical cancer we can deny you care." Or other "reasonable" (hah!) excuses.

So that's got to be the first thing to go. If we expect people to have health care, then insurance companies can no longer be allowed to pull the "get out of paying free" card and say "Oh, um, you had a preexisting condition, we don't have to pay any more!" If you get sick, your insurance company has to pay for it.

And on top of that, health insurance companies are no longer to be allowed to refuse people to sign up for their health insurance program either. Doesn't matter who you are or what your health care issue is, if you want health care insurance, they have to give it to you.

Wait. There's a problem here. This can get expensive real quick for insurance companies. And let's face it, it isn't fair that suddenly they get hordes of sick people signing onto their lists. The way insurance is suppose to work is a kind of a bet. You're putting your money in because you're betting that sooner or later, you're going to need some help. Your $200 a month will go to pay for people who have their spot of bad luck. Or to pool resources so my $200 a month can go to pay a doctor's salary that can see a set of people, or pay for equipment so everyone pooling their $200 a month can use. If you start adding on just sick people, then you're going to have overworked doctors and have to buy new equipment all the time.

So we need a way to pay for it. And there's one way to make it fair.

EveryOne Must Get Health Insurance

Everyone. Every single person must get health insurance. No exceptions. Many states have laws on the books saying that they to drive, everyone must have car insurance, because when even the safest driver has an accident, someone has to pay for it.

If we're going to demand that insurance companies fulfill their obligation to give everyone the care they need, then we have to make sure that every single person is covered. There are two ways of going this - either the government pays, or individuals pay. What we're really doing is saying "insurance companies, here's another 50,000,000 people who are going to pay you money every month. Of that 50,000,000 people, odds are the majority are perfectly healthy and only need annual checkups. In return, you have to give them coverage."

There are going to be some people who are too poor to be covered, and that's where the taxpayers will have to step in. But for the majority, they can pay for it.

It all comes down to this: either individuals pay a tax to the US government who then pay the insurance companies, or individuals pay the insurance companies. If someone is unable to because of income, then people can step in. Maybe that means we take some money out of the defense budget (oh, noes - no more F-22 fighters that have never flown and don't do any good!), or maybe a 1% tax on people making more than $280,000 a year, which would hit 5% of the population (oh, noes, if I make $290,000 a year, then I have to pay 40% tax on $10,000 - I'll be ruined to go from paying $3,900 to $4,000 in taxes!).
I think you can sense my sarcasm.

You still have employers who offer employees health insurance, but now the US government can offer tax breaks to those who do. Those who already have health insurance keep it.

Just the Starting Point

If we start with these two elements, then you provide care to people, and prevent insurance companies from getting around the market system by playing the "oh, preexisting condition" game.

This is a good starting point. Now, I haven't gone into how we deal with people changing insurance companies or employers, or what we hold as a "basic" level of care. I'll cover that in another post, since this one has gone on long enough. More later.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why the "New Atheists" are Right-Wing on Foreign Policy

I would say "amen" without irony - but I can not agree enough.

Just because Mr. Hitchens has right wing tendencies (though he used to be a Marxist) doesn't mean that all atheists - or even all "new atheists" (which really means nothing - you might use the term "vocal atheists") are right wing. It's like saying that William A. Donohue speaks for all Catholics, and therefore all Catholics must be right wing voters (something I'm sure the majority of Catholics who voted for our current President would not agree with).

It doesn't mean that President Obama is "a right wing new Atheist" simply because he wants Israel to follow its commitment to not build more settlements - something Israel agreed to. Now, why are people building more land there? Oh, yes - religious reasons.

SecularParent gets it exactly right. Atheism isn't a left or right wing phenomenon, and has no leaders or spokesmen other than what others nominate.
About Terrorism
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Coburn can understand pregnant women

Coburn seemed very surprised that justices made up almost entirely of old, white men wouldn't be able to understand what it's like to be a pregnant teenage mother.

I can see why - I found this picture of him taken when he was 16. I guess he does understand what it's like to be a teenage mother....

Friday, July 10, 2009

Anyone else sorely tempted to go to Ireland - and start blaspheming things?

I'm usually rather nice about respecting other people's religion. I may not believe in divine beings, but I don't go wandering into their churches and insulting them (if anything, I try and interview them for a show in a very nice manner so people can see we don't have to be afraid of each other).

But this law passed in Ireland is tempting me. I want to go there now, to walk the green fields and stony paths. And blaspheme the hell out of everything. I want to make jokes about how we know that Jesus never married, or how Brigham Young would have killed for a Viagra, or who would be most insulted by a double bacon burger - a Muslim or a Hindu.

Not because I want to really insult anyone but the people who made this ridiculous blaspheme law. I'd love to see legions of people, wandering Ireland like Gandhi or Doctor King, being arrested in the name of blaspheme to show what a ridiculous law it is.

I'm probably just being an ass, but stuff like this makes me want to do things, even if its just insult the hell out of the people that are creating ridiculous laws that the world doesn't need.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Open letter to Mika Brzezinski about Real Americans

Dear Ms. Brzezinski,

I know you'll likely never read this - after all, I'm just one of those pajama clad bloggers. Sure, I volunteer to sign people up to vote so they can exercise their American rights as citizens, I read and participate in democracy with what limited time I have between my family, my job, and my work in interviewing religious leaders to understand how different faiths are about.

Yesterday morning, I caught you making a statement about how "real Americans" felt about Sarah Palin. I quote:

...people were coming to those rallies because they agreed with her (meaning Palin.) Look at the polls out there, look where people stand on life, look where real americans think, and you will find...that in the, you know, oh God I hate to say it, but in the cities where there are more liberal elite populations, you're not going to find what's representative with America.

Then, this morning, you cited a poll about how more people saying they had become "more conservative" recently, then used that to defend yourself in your statements from yesterday.

I'm not so sure how that works, and maybe you didn't mean it that way, but let me tell you what I'm hearing:

Real Americans love Sarah Palin.

People who live in "liberal elite" cities don't like Sarah Palin.

More people are becoming conservatives, so that supports your statement that "Real Americans" like Sarah Palin.

I'm trying to find a respectful way of asking this question but - who are "Real Americans"? I can think of no more ignorant and offensive term than "Real Americans."

A Real American is the reporter sitting in the White House Press room trying to find out just what it happening in the country.

A Real American is the worker at the homeless shelters.

A Real American is the Socialist who believes in the government controlling the means of production because they feel that would equal that monetary imbalance in the country.

A Real American is the Libertarian who believes that everything, from road repairs to police force to the army, should be privatized because government can not be trusted.

A Real American is the hooded KKK member who rails about how minorities are taking over the country, and a Real American is the civil rights worker who still stands up to fix the social injustices for every race and religion and gender and sexuality.

A Real American is a Democrat voting for the people they think will make their country better.

A Real American is a Republican voting for the people they think will make their country better.

The city slicker, the country rube, the people working on their lawns in the suburbs, the wall street investor living off his profits while they look at a homeless person begging for food, and the homeless person seeing the rich man in his expensive car - each of these are Real Americans.

You could have said that some conservatives love Sara Palin, or Republicans, or who knows what. But by using the loaded terms of Real Americans make it clear that those who agree with Sarah Palin and her ideals are Real Americans - and those who think differently are, well, I guess somehow less than Americans.

The only Real Americans are those who are US citizens, and the only Fake Americans are, well, I guess someone who claims to be a US citizen and isn't.

That's it.

I'm a Real American. I personally don't care for Sarah Palin because I believe she is a quitter without the stomach to do the hard things it takes to do be a leader, I find her ignorant, and I'm frankly glad she never got anywhere near the White House's corridors of power. I'm a pro-choice public health care desiring Democratic voting atheistic father of three great kids and a beautiful wife living in a pretty big city.

And while you might not think so, I am a Real American. And I'd appreciate it if you stop implying that somehow, I and others who don't particularly care for Ms. Palin's ideals are not.


John Hummel

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Religion of hate makes me fly off the handle

First, we have the video of a church group singing their song, a twist on "We are the World" only with people singins about how God Hates the World.




I'm serious. Where do you begin here? I'm really hoping Poe's Law applies, or else I'm going to be sleeping with the lights on and a shotgun by the bed in case one of these lunatics moves into my town and comes for me.

Oh, wait, it's Fred Phelp's congregation, a very *special* breed of asshole.

This is the ultimate example of a dangerous group of people. They take the song "We Are the World" - a song that was written to praise and raise money to help the poor, the sick, and the needy - the *exact fucking values that these douche nozzles profess to believe in by their god* - and they twist it into a song about hatred. They spit on the entire world by basically saying "You know what? We know this song is about helping people and loving each other - but fuck that! God's going to murder all you bitches, and when he does, we're going to have the biggest orgasm ever watching all of you BUUUUURRRRRRRNNNNN!"


Yeah, I went a little overboard here. But think about it. Of all the songs they could have picked, they pick the one song that people have used as a rallying cry to help others in need. You know, the stuff that Jesus talked about.

I sincerely hope that the estate of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie sue the pants off of these people for copyright violation, the RIAA for once go after a group of people who deserve it, and finally put these people in the poorhouse and turn them into a footnote of history like they belong.

This is one of those times I wish there *was* a hell, just so I could wish to damn these people to it.

Durr, Logic can't explain good or evil so you have to have God for morals

First, there's this video - you need to fast forward to 7 minutes, 45 seconds to get to the good stuff:

His response *seems* logical, but there's a big flaw.

The lady at the beginning: "I refute your argument that logic could not have been created by minds because they are different, then use that argument to claim that god exists. Logic has resulted from thinking, through the ages...."

Now, Rev Slick's argument (after diverging into the "atheists can't tell good or bad through logic," which is another fail whale of epic magnitudes we won't address here) goes like this:

1. All information comes into the brain

2. The brain forms results through neurons firing

3. Everyone's brain can't actually interact with the information, but with the information from nerves in the body - they aren't touching *direct* information, but interpreted information

4. Because you're not experiencing true objective reality, but a subjective one, you can't say whether someone else's perspective on reality is true or false

5. Because of this, minds can't create logic. Therefore, logic must come from somewhere else - which is God.

Now, I would have agreed with him up until Point 4, and then it makes that huge "watch while I dazzle you with magic!" bullshit argument.

It's true - what's inside your brain may be different from what's going on inside my brain. But that doesn't mean that just because things are different and we're not experiencing "objective" reality that we can't agree.

Suppose there's a wall in front of me. If you're an insane person, you keep bumping into the wall and say "I've just run 100 meters!" Me, as another observer, can say "Well, I don't know what's going on inside your head, but no matter how much you claim otherwise, you haven't gone more than 1 meter because you keep bouncing off this wall." Two different people, two different observations - but in the end, there is only one objective reality.

And how do we measure that objective reality when we clearly have different opinions? We both create our experiments (If you can really go 1000 meters, you should be able to get this glass of water. If not, then my hypothesis that you're running into a brick wall is correct.) We can set up the experiment, invite others to join. Sure, there may be other insane people out there, but the trend will be that far more people will reach my conclusion from the experiment than not.

The insane person may have *faith* that there is no wall there, and others may believe it, and they may even believe that they're drinking the water from the glass 500 meters on the other side of the wall. But, I'm willing to bet, 99% of the people who repeat my experiment will show "Yeah, that wall keeps blocking off his access. That dude is in*sane*."

Wait - we've just come up with a way of validating objective reality, and we can call it the scientific method. Yay! So now we have a way of establishing, via a logical system of evidence gathering, whether there is a "true" reality or not. Sure, it may take some time, but it would work.

Granted, evolution has done much of that for us. People who think they're really drinking water when they're not tended to die out, so our complex brains have evolved lots of shortcuts to judging reality - and in a way that most people would agree with - so we don't have to go through this scientific process over and over again.

"But wait," our faith based insane person says, "That may explain objective reality, but you haven't explained good and evil! How can you decide whether something is good only through logic!"

The first problem is that this is a falsehood in the question - you can't establish morality from pure logic alone. That would be like doing math to decide whether "I Wish That I Had Jesse's Girl" is the greatest song ever (which it is).

But, we can use that old "let's start with some premises and go from there." I hold out the premise that I do not want to be murdered. I enjoy breathing, so I'd prefer *not* to be bashed upon the head until I no longer breathed.

I believe I can assume that *you* don't want to be murdered, since (sharing an objective reality), likely you have the same feelings and emotions and survival drives as I do.

We now have established a shared morality: being murdered is the suxxors, so let's agree not to murder each other. But, because there may be irrational people who have faith that murder is A-OK, let's set up a system where we all agree not to murder each other, and those who don't want to participate in this system get kicked out of town - let the pro-murder people live outside. Maybe hold an election and see who we want to enforce the law of "murder - is bad for you" and patrol people to keep the pro-murder forces out. If someone does murder someone in the town, then that person will be punished (or if possible, reformed so they know that murder is bad, m'key?).

Now, again, evolution did a lot of that for us (those who ran around killing their local human beings tended to get offed by the other human beings so they couldn't reproduce. Sure, history is full of us slowly moving from cavemen who thought that was a great way of settling disputes, but over time we eliminated not all, but a lot of those genes. Sadly, too many of them were carried into chicken hawks who like to never be in the military but love them some war. I'm digressing now.).

Either way, Rev Slick's assertion that "logic can't explain good or evil because we can't get an objective reality because our brains are all subjective so God did it" is pretty quickly taken apart once you realize that yes, we *can* reach some *approximation* of reality through our senses and a system (which evolution mostly did the heavy lifting for, so we don't argue whether the car is gray or red - unless damaged, we both agree that the car is gray because it's my awesome gray Beetle and no you can't drive it). And, while logic alone - no more than math alone - could deduce morals (and reality, not its job), we can *use* those tools (created by human minds, by the way, to explain the reality around us) to deduce morality based on a few core principles and extrapolating from there.


I think I'm gong to get a lot of TL;DR, aren't I?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dear Fox: Three times is a spanking

My father had a saying. Once is a mistake, twice is on purpose, and three times is a spanking. So based on that, can we see a pattern here?

Ted Stevens of Alaska brought up on corruption - and Fox converts him from Democrat to Republican.

Then there was the time that when Mark Foley was caught up in the "hitting on young male pages" scandal, amazingly Fox turns Foley from a Republican to a Democrat.

So, now that Governor Sandford has admitted that he's cheated on his wife, any guesses on which political party Fox is going to label him? If you said Democrat, give yourself a cookie!

Fox News likes to portray itself as being "fair and balanced". Personally, I'd much rather go for "correct and accurate".

Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran election results: when patience is best

If you're like me, you've been keeping one eye on what may be the most important events in Iran in decades. An election that, by most accounts *should* have been close, has turned into a suspicious win for Mr. Ahmadinejad over his rival Mr. Mosavi. So far, Mr. Mosavi has been under house arrest, telephone and internet connections have been shut down. Doesn't exactly make you feel confident in election results when the powers that be move in to shut down any dissent.

So far, however, there has been little to no word from the Obama administration. And, in a way, that may be a good thing.

I heard a quote this morning from a gentleman on MSNBC: "Ahmadinejad has a problem in that he doesn't have an enemy in America, but an administration reaching out to him." Right now, if the Obama administration were to speak out in favor of the student protests, Mr. Ahmadinejad would have his enemy.

"Look, the evil Americans are getting involved in our internal politics, just like with the Shah of Iran!" Mr. Ahmadinejad could shout, and turn the debate between him and his potential corruption, into one of American intervention.

Ahmadinejad, and most of Iran's greatest political power, has stemmed from having an enemy to point to, someone for their people to fear and hate. With that, a government can do a lot of things without question (see also, post-911 Bush administration and warrantless wiretaps, torture, etc).

There are many people in America, myself included, cheering and hoping to spread the message in Iran that there should be investigations into the Iranian election results. And the Obama administration for now doesn't need to say anything. Don't give the Iranian government an excuse to paint this election as being supported by the "evil Satanic American government" or some such.

Right now, the people in Iran, and the individual people, and the media, can and should be working to keep a spotlight on this as long as possible. And the Obama administration should continue not to validate the election results, but not endorse one party or another. As with all things from this administration, the best course is patience until all the details are facts are in, then speak with moral and political authority.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The WIPO is getting sick

What kind of jackass would try and prevent blind people from getting books?

Turns out, the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization. See, copyright owners seem to think that blind people don't want electronic books to be available to them. So the whole Kindle "text to speech" system? Nope - some filthy dirty pirate might want to use that to (gasp!) get the book in audio format and spread it over the Internets! Oh, noes! Or what if someone develops a Braille based electronic reader, or a program that can translate normal text into Braille - well, they'd better get permission from the book's publisher first.

Of course, someone actually advocating that would have to be a pretty fracking horrible, awful person to suggest that. I mean, if you buy a book, you should be able to read it. So why would any publisher of a book want to restrict the ability to translate text to speech or Braille? What, they think a non-blind person will go "Man, this computer voice is so *awesome* compared to an actual human being - I'm never buying books on tape again!"

Next thing, they'll have to outlaw people reading the books out loud to their kids. Cause, you know, those stinking kids can just go buy the audio versions themselves for their bedtime stories. The little bastards.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I get mad at the "We shouldn't have torture investigations, it happened in thepast"

ChrisBlumen: Cool, let us waste our tax money on things that already happened that we can't change!

johnhummel: Yeah! So like when somebody's charged with murder - fuck prosecuting them, it occurred in the past!

And how about if someone robs a bank. If they still have the money, arrest the fuckers. But if they spent it all - well, you can't get it back now, so you'll have to let them go free.

Ryuzaki356647: @ john: Yea, and wrap up the courts with appeals and everything else under the sun. They have the money to do so and you know they won't take the verdict. Think of it this way, even if anyone is found guilty, they're going to fight it, and it will become the biggest partisan circus in the history of the US. Frankly, I think this is their way of distracting us with all of the other problems we should focus on. I say clean house in 2010.

johnhummel: @Ryuzaki356647 - Exactly! I'm with you! I mean, suppose a rich person is charged with murder. Whatever we do, we shouldn't try to prosecute them. Their lawyers will tie it up in courts for ages, and it'll take a long time. Justice is boring and shit - if a crime happens, we shouldn't do anything that would be considered hard.

Just let people who do bad things get away with it. Because that's the American way. Like when Nixon got caught breaking the law. I guess Congress could have tried investigating him, and forcing him out of office if he faced impeachment. But no - they left him in there!

Remember that Truman nutcase, who wanted to investigate war profiteering? Good thing *that* never happened, because hey, there was a war on, and rich people deserved to make a lot of money at the expense of our troops!

So I'm with you, Ryuzaki356647! Let's not do anything hard to people who may have committed crimes. Just sweep it under the rug, ignore murder, torture, false confessions, lying, manipulation of the public into war that cost thousands of lives.

Fuck it. People will just have to get over it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Great Moments in Car Buying II: The Revenge. Xtreme.

With the first purchase of a car in some 6 years, I was feeling pretty good. My wife had a car she liked, it was safe, enough room for everybody - now we just had to wait for that first payment voucher to come in and we'd go from there.

What I didn't know is come Thursday morning, a Stupid Sun would rise, and all that its rays touch would burn with Dumb.

First, the dealership called me. Turns out they wanted me to sign some more papers. That wouldn't be a problem, right? And they'd even fill up my car with gas - what a deal for driving 40 minutes out of my way! Just some things to clear up the credit application. Oh, and could I send some pay stubs (which I had already brought them, but evidently they *eat* pay stubs for sustenance so I had to bring more), proof of residency, 3 more references and their relationship to me, a baby seal, proof of circumcision (and if not, a doctor's note that I would have the procedure done), and proof that I was *not* involved in the Kennedy assassination.

Then I asked the wrong question: which car should I drive? Should I drive down the Honda, in case there was a problem and I had to return the car, or my Beetle, if this was all just routine? And did I *really* need to drive down there - could someone just fax me the important documents?

The response: Well, of course you have to drive the Honda so we can fill up the tank with gas!

The Stupid. It Burns.

I sent this:
Right. OK, let me ask this another way.

I'm under instructions from My Lovely Wife (MLW) that if the interest rate needs to increase by any amount greater than .01%, I am to return the Odyssey and get our old car back.

If I'm just there to sign papers and the like, then I'll just drive my humble VW Beetle, since My Lovely Wife (MLW) is taking the children to a birthday party, and it would be difficult to fit 5 people into my small car.

I'm far less worried about the gas as being utterly exhausted after spending the entire night walking at a cancer benefit and having to inconvenience my wife. So - should I bring in the Odyssey just in case, or do you just need my physical presence for non-repudiation purposes on signature?

I thought this laid it out. And besides, I was going to the Relay for Life walk on Friday night (hey - did you donate $5 to help beat cancer?), so I'd be pretty damn tired after walking all night long - the last thing I wanted to do was drive another 40 miles just to dicker with car finance people. I let them know I'd be there at 2 PM on Saturday once they filled in that critical piece of data.

I waited for an answer.

And - I waited.

I left voice mail messages.

I walked for cancer. And then I called.

And, finally, at 1:30, I decided to take a nap, thinking that this must not be very important or else someone would have contacted me. Naturally, they did - at 2:10.

Finally, I learned The Truth: when I drove off the dealership almost a week earlier after putting $2000 down and my trade-in, signed the paperwork for an auto loan - turns out, I wasn't *really* approved.

That was the moment I offered to drive the car back and return it.

Oh, no, Mr. Hummel - we can make something work by Monday, really! And in the meantime, could I check with *my* bank to see if they could swing a loan deal? Please? Pretty please?

What wound up happening me is me taking Monday off of work - using 8 hours of vacation time I was saving up for, you know, a vacation, and futzing around with banks, calling dealerships to figure out what they were doing (which seemed to involve something about crazy glue and getting fingers stuck to their noses). My bank was trying to work with me - and by the way, GTE Federal Credit Union rocks.

But I didn't know that *more* stupid loomed over the horizon. Turns out the bank needed to do employment verification. This is usually pretty easy. It goes like this:
Bank: Hello, is this the HR department of the company I'm checking into?

HR: Yup.

Bank: Great. Does John Hummel really work there?

HR: Yup.

Bank: Thanks!

HR: Yup

This is it. Not exactly rocket science. However, it turns out the company I work for has elevated stupid to an art form. See, they *pay* some other company to do this job for them. That's right - employing someone to work $6 an hour with benefits to answer a phone and say "Yes, they work here, and they do make that much money" or say "No, they don't work here" is too difficult.

Instead, let's hire an outside company! Not only that, but let's make it if you do employment verification, you have to *register* with this outside company - so now some other company may have to run by legal "Hey, is it OK if we go register with this company and deal with the possibility that they'll spam us into oblivion".

No, you can't just call up the Outside Company and say "Does this person work there?" You need to register. And get a Super Secret Code for income verification. And hey, while you're at it, there's this former general from Nigeria who has a *great* offer if you can just help him out!

I finally got my boss to take a call from the bank and say "Yup."

Finally, I got the bank to take up the deal (at a lower interest rate if I agreed to automatic payment). I have papers fed ex'ed to me I need to sign from the dealership saying that I'm aware I missed out on their *awesome* imaginary offer.

And my wife has a car. Officially. Finally.

Now, where's my Macbook Pro I was promised?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Great Moments in Car Buying

Got a call from our car salesman this morning. I should mention, we've now had the car for a whole 5 days.

Salesman: Hey, John, I'm calling because we need some more stuff for the auto loan!

Me: You mean the auto loan for a car I've now been driving for almost a week?

Salesman: Yeah! See, I need some pay stubs.

Me: Um - yeah. Remember those things I brought down to you on Sunday? The pieces of paper that were the printouts of my work giving me money in exchange for services rendered? Those were - pay stubs.

Salesman: Oh, well, we need some more.

Me: OK - fine. What else.

Salesman: Proof of residency. Water bill, something like that.

Me: Naturally - I fully realize that having my name on the checking, savings, credit card, pay stubs, and the like doesn't *really* mean I live here. What else?

Salesman: References.

Me: I left some.

Salesman: We need more.

Me: Annnnd?

Salesman: Proof of circumcision.

Me: What?

Salesman: Yes - I don't know if you need to take the picture, or your wife, or a medical doctor, but we need some proof that you had the Captain Happy Cape sliced off.

Me: You've got to be -

Salesman: After that, of course, we're going to need a complete anal probe. We can't risk you croaking before you paid off your loan. We can set up an appointment with a proctologist. Great guy, and he uses a very pleasant probe lube that tingles.

Me: Are you certain that this is all you need?

Salesman: I know it's a 40 minute drive from you to the dealership, but could you drive all of it down?

Me: Why can't I email it to you?

Salesman: Do you really want pictures of your wang floating around the Internet?

Me: Um, not really.

Anyway. I guess I need to go find the camera.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Buying A Car Experience

For the last month or so, My Lovely Wife (MLW) and I were considering buying a car. Finally, last week it came to a head as our mechanic actually *recommended* she swap out her 11 year old Ford Windstar because the next several repairs would likely be more expensive than just buying one that worked better.

Like so many other things, from politics to music to news, the Internet has pretty much ruined the game. The first thing I did was look online at the price of the car MLW wanted. According to - $29200.

We visited a few dealerships, and I had a very, very simple question: how much is the car? This is a very simple question. 3 dealerships *couldn't tell me*. They *could* tell me they could get me into the car at $600 a month for 72 months after a $4500 down payment plus my trade-in value?

Which prompted me to ask "What's my trade-in value?" The response: Well, it's enough that your monthly payment would be $600 a month for 72 months, of course! Which means that a $29k car winds up costing about $48k.

"But how much is the price of the car, and what's my trade in?" I was not asking a hard question, this was not some trick. Price of the car, value of the trade in, interest rate on the loan.

I mean, think about going in to buy a TV set from Best Buy, and they won't tell you how much the TV is. You'd never come back. And yet, somehow, this is considered to be OK in the car world.

I finally decided that I just couldn't go to the dealerships any more. By the time the salespeople went to shook my hand and attach their lamprey like teeth to my abdomen to suck the life out of me, I was already in an Urge to Kill mood.

4th dealership - Honda Cars of Bradenton - had already called me after I put in an online request, so I called them.

"What's the price of the Honda Odyssey EX-L with dark grey outside and leather grey insides?"

Saleperson's response was instant - "$29900, which I know is $700 more than the Internet quote, but that's because it also includes A, B, C, D" (which was the stuff that MLW wanted anyway).

I was then transferred to his finance guy. I had already filled in the data he needed online. He got me the rate, the time, and we dickered for about 5 minutes - done.

Back to the salesman. "Here's the deal," I said. "If you and your finance guy are accurate, I'll be there in 30 minutes, and you'll have sold a car."

2 hours later (filling out paperwork and title transfers and such), we had a car. And the whole time our salesman was grinning. "Ever since we started telling people the price of the car off the Internet, we've started beating the other dealerships in the area."

Really. I can't imagine why.

Now my wife has her Mother's Day/Birthday President. Now, if I can just get her to agree that I need my laptop....

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hate-Mongering Conservative Commentators Using Swine Flu to Promote Racism!

That's not the racist part. The racist part is that Swine Flu is bring brought into the US on the backs of those dirty, sweaty Mexicans.

When the fact is so far, it's been brought over by Americans going into Mexico, getting sick, then spreading it around.

According to Beck, Malkin, and their ilk, somehow being brown and poor means you're swarming with disease, so BE AFRAID! BE AFRAID OF THE BROWN PERSON, THEY MIGHT CARRY THE PLAGUE! RUUUUNNNN!

It's once again fear of "the other." Most Americans don't argue that immigration controls should be stricter because of economic reasons (ie: businesses like illegal immigration because it allows them to get around minimum wage laws, which hurts US workers). But it scapegoating a people with "OMG THEY'RE GOING TO KILL US ALL JUST BY STANDING AROUND US!" is untrue - and racism.
About Swine Flu
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The One Torture Hurts the Most: US Troops

According to new evidence, in September of 2003, Alyssa Peterson took her own life. Ms. Peterson was a soldier, working as an Arabic-speaking interrogator in Iraq. According to new research, Ms. Peterson killed herself after refusing to participate in the torture of terrorist subjects. From the article:

"Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed."

According to the official report on her death released the following year, she had earlier been "reprimanded" for showing "empathy" for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of that report is: "She said that she did not know how to be two people; she ... could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire."

Ms. Kayla Williams, formerly of the army, has recently come out and testified that she witnessed detainees in US care being tortured, and did nothing about it. I'm not condemning Ms. Williams - she feels bad enough:

I witnessed detainee abuse in Iraq and did not report it. This moral failing is my own burden, one I will carry with me for the rest of my life. But it has also influenced how I look at headlines about torture, from Abu Ghraib to the recent revelations about GITMO.

The detainees I saw being abused might have been guilty when they came in. But I am sure that after being treated the way they were, they walked out full of rage and more likely to attack Americans. On a larger scale, I believe that the ability of insurgents in Iraq and terrorists worldwide to use US treatment of detainees in Iraq and GITMO for propaganda has caused significant harm. According the Washington Post, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair agrees that waterboarding and other 'enhanced interrogation techniques' (read: torture) do more harm than good: "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world. . .The damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

Of all of the reasons why the US torture of terrorism suspects and other detainees is so heinous, this is the worst. Ignore the issues about whether or not torture gets accurate or useful information (though by all accounts it doesn't). Ignore whether suspects tortured - whether guilty or innocent of any crimes - leave with anger and rage against their prison guards - which makes them more likely to lash out against the United States. Even ignore whether information that the US has tortured prisoners makes it harder for the US to make their case in the world.

The greatest reason why the Bush administration approving and ordering the use of torture tactics, is because of what they did to the United States troops. Over the objections of the military leaders who clearly labeled waterboarding and other techniques as torture - leaders that the Bush administration said over and over again "Oh, we take the guidance from the military on what to do - unless it's about size of troops in Iraq, and torture".

By ordering that US soldiers participate in the torture of detainees, the Bush administration committed a crime against our very soldiers. From the Lynndie England's of Iraq that the Bush administration labeled a "few bad apples" - who, according to new information coming out today, learned their techniques of using dogs to attack prisoners from high level US officials. To the guards who were encouraged to "wall" prisoners by shoving them into walls via plastic collars, to the military doctors who had to decide if the guy who had been chained for 3 days straight as his ankles swelled up to twice their size and skin blisters formed was in any medical danger.

Some, such as Ms. Petersen, found themselves in an impossible situation - either obey their superior officers as all of their training had taught them, or obey the Constitution they had sworn to protect from enemies foreign and domestic. Some took their life, some simply say nothing but carry the shame and scars for the rest of their lives.

Of all the reasons to investigate the torture of detainees, this is perhaps the greatest. Even if that investigation is a Truth Commission without any power to prosecute, we need to insure that it never happens again. Not to protect detainees or terrorist suspects - but to protect our own soldiers from small fear minded people who would force them to act like monsters.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Triple Triad of Torture Justifications

If a genius baby is born from rape, does that make it good?

If a cop beats a prisoner with a rubber hose to get a confession, is that legal?

There are three arguments being proposed in the torture debate:

1. It wasn't really torture. This is clearly disproved by the fact that Japanese and German soldiers, doctors, and lawyers were sentenced to jail and execution for using these very techniques.

2. It was all legal because the Justice Department said so! What's interesting here is how the debate has moved from "We didn't do it", to "OK, we did, but only a few times", to "Well, so we did it a lot, but only to get answers", to "Yeah, we did it a lot and planned on doing it from the start."

The fact they got their torture techniques from SEAL training showing soldiers *how to resist torture* should have been the first clue that this was - yes, you have it, torture.

3. It got results. This is the latest argument. "Well, even if it *was* torture, it got good results!"

You know what - I'm going to give this one to Cheney. Ignore every report that said that all of the details from KSM came out *before* waterboarding was used. Throw out that every WWII interrogator of Nazi's said that torture never worked and the Army Field Manual did.

*Just because something works doesn't make it right or legal.* If it's torture, it's illegal. I don't care that harvesting child brains cures cancer, and I don't care if police beatings catch the bad guys. There are things you don't do because their effects upon the souls of people are so bad, society decided that you could be killed for using them (aka - Geneva conventions and Nuremberg trials).

Imagine these soldiers who were taught to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" now working as your cops in your town. Oh, hey - it's legal, right? And I'm *sure* that guy they picked up is really a child rapist - so its OK to use these techniques to get him to confess - oh, whoops, they were innocent after all? Oh, well! They'll just shake it off!

If its torture, it's illegal. This was no "ticking time bomb" scenario people like Cheney get an erection over considering so they can think about doing as many horrible things to a person as possible. This wasn't the eve of some attack - these were some guys who evidently didn't give the wanted answers to questions regarding Iraq and bin Laden - so out came the torture techniques. Until, finally, they got people to say "Oh, sure - Saddam Hussein and bin laden are totally in together to kill the world!"

Turns out to have not been true, but hey - why let the truth get in the way of a good torture session?

At that moment, the Bush Administration was involved in conspiracy to commit torture, from the people who requested it, to the people who approved it, to the people who carried it out. It's a crime, and if there's any justice in the world, it will be prosecuted as such.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

OK - Seriously? The faux Obama scandals are getting seriously stupid

Glenn Greenwald. I don't always agree with him, but he's been putting up a very consistent analysis of things he thinks the Obama administration is doing right and wrong. These days, a lot wrong - like how the Obama administration is continuing the bad Bush policies regarding court challenges for terrorism suspects.

Every time, Mr. Greenwald backs up his opinions and assertions with facts. He seeks out the opinions of those who disagree with him. While he did want Obama to win over John McCain, he hasn't let partisan loyalties blind him from calling out actions of the Obama administration he feels are against the US constitution or legal morality. He has no problem pointing a finger at Obama administration scandals.

Then - you've got the dickheads.

The headline? Obama seeks $83.4 billion more for Iraq, Afghanistan wars

President Barack Obama asked Congress on Thursday for $83.4 billion for U.S. military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, pressing for special troop funding that he opposed two years ago when he was senator and George W. Bush was president. This would push the costs of the two wars to almost $1 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001.

This is the headline from a submitter on Digg. Wait - Obama opposed troop funding two years ago? I mean, that would be kind of horrible, right? Especially if he wants to spend money now-

Then, you can read the article:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama wants Congress to act quickly on his $83.4 billion request for U.S. military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, an appeal that's disappointing the most liberal, anti-war wing of his party.

But with the president promising to remove all combat troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010, his Democratic allies in control of Congress are sure to approve the spending without the type of tortuous battle that characterized their dealings with former President George W. Bush.

Obama's request Thursday, which included money to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, would push the cost of the two wars to almost $1 trillion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service. The additional money would cover operations into the fall.

Huh - so he's spending money so he can support the troops while pulling them out of Iraq. But - didn't he oppose troop funding?

First of all, the bill in question funded all of the ongoing military operations in both theaters, not just "the troops who carried out the surge," as McCain's comment implied.

Secondly, it's misleading to say Obama didn't want to fund "the troops." He said he would support a bill that included a plan for bringing troops home. "We must fund our troops," Obama said. "But we owe them something more. We owe them a clear, prudent plan to relieve them of the burden of policing someone else's civil war. ... We must negotiate a better plan that funds our troops, signals to the Iraqis that it is time for them to act and that begins to bring our brave servicemen and women home safely and responsibly."

If that one vote of Obama's constituted an attempt to "prevent funding to the troops," then almost every Republican in the Senate did the same when they voted against a $124-billion appropriations bill on April 26, 2007, that would have funded operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but also required Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. (McCain missed the vote on that bill, which passed 51-46 and was subsequently vetoed by Bush.) It wasn't the idea of funding the troops that Bush and the other Republicans were opposing, it was the strategy that the bill would have enabled.

OK - so Obama never opposed troop funding, and he wants to fund their needs in the Iraq war while he pulls them out. That actually sounds - reasonable.

But wait - what about the pizza that Obama ordered? From, across the country?

How much does Obama love his pizza? So much that he is willing to fly a chef 860 miles to Washington D.C. to make him a personal pizza.

When you're the president of the United States, only the best pizza will do - even if that means flying a chef 860 miles.

Chris Sommers, 33, jetted into Washington from St Louis, Missouri, on Thursday with a suitcase of dough, cheese and pans to to prepare food for the Obamas and their staff.

He had apparently been handpicked after the President had tasted his pizzas on the campaign trail last autumn.

Hey, you guys know what says you are really sincere about this whole Global Warming thing that you want to use to justify an economy crushing cap and trade program? Jetting a dude across the country to make you a freaking pie.

Dude, what a douchenozzle that Obama must be! Ordering pizza from across the country and - wait, what's that? It's a big fat lie?

The best one is the first: Ace of Spades slammed Obama's environmental cred for "jetting in" Pi's chef, making it seem as though the guy was hopping a private gulfstream, or worse, partying down on Air Force One .

* In fact, Chris Sommers flew commercial.
* Not only that, he flew coach.
* Not only that, he had already planned a business trip to DC, so the restaurant paid for his travel!

John also told me that Chris Sommers is one of the most dedicated people he knows to the environmental cause.

* In fact, his restaurant buys carbon credits from a wind farm in Colorado.
* Not only that, they recycle about 75% of their waste.
* Not only that, John himself is going into the green building business. You couldn't find a worse case for environmental hypocrisy.

Finally, Barack Obama isn't saddling the American taxpayer with the tab for this feast. He's picking up the tab, for local ingredients, out of his own pocket.

The problem here, is that there are very reasonable and fact based debates that should be going on with the Obama administration, over defense spending, speed of Iraqi troop withdrawals (or whether we should at all), TARP money - all sorts of things can and should be debated.

Based on facts. Based on things that have actually happened. Based on reasonable, realistic arguments and debates. There's plenty there - look at how much stuff Greenwald is getting!

When you feel the need to lie and make stuff up to support your position - especially lies that are easily and quickly disproven, then you make yourself look worse to everyone but your ever dwindling base. And just makes us want to trust you that much less.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

You can't treat a patient if they're gay?

There's a commercial about to run from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), talking about the dangers of gay marriage.

In one part, a woman says "I’m a California doctor who must choose between my faith and my job."

I'm still trying to figure out why a "California Doctor" has to choose between their faith and their job if gay marriage is legal.

Do you not treat a patient's broken leg if they got gay married? Or perhaps you're a gynecologist and you determine it's against your faith to give a gay married woman a pap smear? Perhaps a surgeon decides that hey, this gay man with a husband doesn't deserve to have his appendix taken out - obviously it's God's will that they came down with appendicitis.

Seriously here - why would someone either a) being gay, or b) being gay and being married to their partner in any way make a medical professional have to decide between their faith and their job?

"Nurse, fetch me the paddles - this man is in cardiac arrest!"

"Doctor, I can't - he has 'the gay', so it's against my faith to save his life! Jesus would want me to let them die!"

"Oh, well, if that's the reasoning, then I guess OK."

I'm missing something here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

This is why I don't watch Fox News: Tolerance of lazy liars

There's a reason why "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" is now becoming an actual source of news for younger (and by "younger", I mean "20-something and younger). Oh, sure, it's entertaining. But really, the whole shtick of Stewart is:

Stewart: Hey, did you hear about this crazy thing somebody in power said?
(Plays tape of crazy thing.)
Stewart: Isn't that crazy?

But even if you don't find Stewart *funny*, you have to find him *informative*. And honest - he shows what people are *actually saying*. So even if you disagree with him, he's giving people the chance to see the actual quotes, the actual events for themselves.

Then - there's Fox news.

I won't rip on the individual people of the Fox News channel. It would be petty to go after people like O'Reilly or Beck who are hypocrites who contradict themselves depending on what the subject is.

No, I just want to rip on Fox News in general. Not even for being dishonest. But for being lazy about it.

Take this clip of Fox News going on about Harold Koh. According to Fox, Mr. Koh said that Sharia Law - the traditional law used in some segments of the Middle East and Asia - applied in the United States.

If you don't know anything about Sharia Law, it is pretty horrible. First, it's not even Islamic law (though its practitioners tend to live in Islamic communities). It's really old traditional law passed down for thousands of years - and yeah, it's pretty sucky. It's horribly misogynistic, allows for female rape victims to be stoned for losing their "purity", chopping off of limbs for crimes, and so on. By any modern standards (and by "modern" I mean "about 500 years old), it's overkill, barbaric, and just plain stupid.

So the charge that the Obama Administration wanted to appoint Mr. Koh to State Department Legal Adviser is pretty scary if Mr. Koh wants to say that Sharia Law applies in the United States. Alert the masses! The black president with the Arabic sounding name who had a Muslim father is trying to put a faux Islamic law into the US courts! Man the guns! Alert the militia! One if by land, two if by sea, three if by Holy God the Rapture is upon us!

Only one problem.

Fox News is the most fucking lazy news network on the planet.

How did they get their information that Mr. Koh was a big lover of a legal system that enforces stoning? Did they have a camera at some event where Mr. Koh said this? A legal brief about Mr. Koh waxing on about how awesome it would be to behead someone for walking backwards on the Sabbath? (BTW: I'm not sure if that's in Sharia Law.) Or maybe Fox News got their hands on Mr. Koh's family medical records showing that every female had female circumcision?

No. I mean, that would take work. Instead, Fox found an email, sent to a conservative blog on the National Review web site, where the writer says Koh made some statement about Sharia Law:

In your discussion of "global law" I recall at least one favorable reference to "Sharia", among other foreign laws that could, in an appropriate instance (according to you) govern a controversy in a federal or state court in the US.

We don't know what the quote was. Maybe Koh was talking about foreign law in general as an example. Maybe he was talking about one aspect. Maybe he was just discussing that the US courts shouldn't just include one national precedent, but can read from countries other laws for new ideas. Maybe he thought stoning really is *awesome* and was planning a party. Maybe Koh was talking about marriage laws, and the how a custody case between an American citizen and the citizen of an area practicing Sharia could be resolved.

But we don't know. The author doesn't say. He just says "Oh, you said something favorable about Sharia, so I'm going to quote a whole long line of stuff about how awful Sharia is."

Fox News, of course, being the lazy asshats that they are, took it an ran. No, they didn't know what Koh said either. Couldn't waste their time talking to people who were there, or seeing if there was a transcript of Koh's comments, or maybe even asking Koh himself.

Because that would take work. I'm not so much annoyed that Fox is a slanted news organizations that exists only to make conservationism appear to be the greatest invention since the orgasm - as their sheer laziness about even attempting to appear credible.

I've caught someone like Rachel Maddow in an exaggeration - she made some comment about John McCain that was *mostly* true, but at least she backed it up by showing an actual clip of John McCain saying it. In the case of Fox, they couldn't be bothered with that whole "fact checking" thing. Nope - a random email from someone who remembers something somebody said that was favorable to some unknown portion of Sharia law was good enough to freak out about how the Obama administration is trying to appease Muslim terrorists who want to come kill us all because they hate freedom and bacon.

Oooo. Scary, Fox news. Scary.

How can unions force any companies to do anything?

My wife and I are looking at buying a new car. Which means there's been a lot of stress, double guessing, going over how much we can afford, just what we want, and the like.

Actually, I should say what My Lovely Wife (MLW) wants. Because in the end, this is going to be *her* car as we replace her over 13 year old mini-van with what we hope will be a new Buick Enclave.

We were going things today, when she was talking about the expense, and I reminded her that we didn't have to buy this car.

"Yes we do!" she snapped back in (what I think) was mock exasperation.

I raised an eyebrow. Something easy to do if you have gigantic hampsters attached to your forehead like I do. "Really?" I said. "And just how am I forcing you to buy this car?"

"By - by showing it to me in the first place!" she sputtered out. She started wagging her finger at me. "By tempting me into buying this car!"

"Tempting isn't forcing," I reminded her.

"It certainly is!"

I think we're getting that car tomorrow.

Later on, I was struck by a comment someone made regarding the whole GM/Chrysler fiasco, how the companies might have to go into bankruptcy if they don't come up with better plans for how they're going to be viable in the future.

"It's all the unions fault!" Someone said.

"How's that? They just made contracts with GM and Chrysler."

"They made them agree to those contracts! Then when the companies couldn't pay, now they're going out of business!"

OK - no. They didn't. Nobody "forced" anybody to agree to any contracts.

Let's look at it from an individual standpoint. I've seen something like this happen in the workplace. You'll have a weird computer system, maybe a legacy server that nobody knows how to program - except for this one guy in the company. Let's call him Bob.

Bob starts out making $50,000 a year. Then, one day, he comes into work and asks for a raise.

Bob: I think I should be making $100,000 a year.

Bossman: I think you need your head examined.

Bob: Either I get $100,000 a year - or I quit. And nobody else knows how to run the Jobatron 2000. And without that, the company doesn't run.

Now, Bossman has a problem. He could let Bob quit, but if he does, then he'll have to either find a new manager for the Jobatron 2000. Who knows how much that'll cost, or how long it will take. Or, he could meet Bob's demand. Or offer Bob less money. Or figure out a way to get rid of the Jobatron 2000.

Either way, Bob isn't forcing anyone to do anything. He feels his skills have a value on the market (in this case, Bossman's business running), and he's going to maximize his return on his particular skills.

It's capitalism at work. Bossman has a demand (Bob's skills). Bob has a demand (Bossman's money). The two work out an exchange at the best rate they can. If Bossman winds up paying too much money for Bob's skills with the Jobatron 2000, then he made a bad deal. If Bossman winds up losing his company by paying Bob too much, then he's a pretty piss poor negotiator.

Now the Union side

Let's look at Carl. Carl, well, doesn't really have that many skills. It turns out the company has a whole fleet of Jobatron 100's - 100 of them, to be exact, each run by a different employee. They don't take much knowledge to run - unlike Bob, who went to school for 4 years just to learn how to run the Jobatron 2000, Carl learned it on the job. Took about a week or so.

Carl's making $30,000 a year. And he walks in to Bossman's office.

Carl: Hey, I heard you just started paying Bob $75,000 a year.

Bossman: Yeah - kind of had to. Either that, or shell out a million bucks for the Jobatron 3000, which doesn't need Bob's skills.

Carl: Sucks to be you. Hey, I want a raise too. I want $60,000 a year.

The wheels in Bossman's head turn. He could pay Carl $60,000 a year - but why? He's got 100 employees all on Jobatron 100's. He could just go out and hire himself someone else off the street, train them, and within a week they'd be doing Carl's work for him. Might cost him $1000 in lost time while the work Carl would have been doing is spent training the new person.

Carl's thrown out of the office. Of course, Carl has a choice. Nobody is *forcing* him to keep his job. He can quit. He can ask for maybe a smaller raise. Or he can just shut up and go on.

Nobody has forced anybody to do anything.

Of course, Bossman didn't count on Lisa. Lisa, just like Carl, works on the Jobatron 100's. She makes the same amount as Carl, and wants more. Of course, she also knows that if she just goes in and asks for more money, Bossman will toss her out as well.

So instead, she goes to Carl, and Nancy, and every other of the 100 Jobatron 100 workers. They all make an agreement to get a raise together. And now, the situation goes like this.

Bossman: What's up, Lisa?

Lisa: We'd like a raise.

Bossman: Who's we?

Lisa: Every worker on the Jobatron 100. We all want a 5% raise. And if we don't get it, we're all quitting.

Once again, Bossman has a choice. He could let them all quit. But he probably knows that to find 100 workers, then train them all from scratch, then find out who's the good workers or the bad workers, get rid of the bad ones, replace them with new ones, and on and on.

Suddenly, he's looking at a lot of money. But is it worth paying the employees another 5% just to keep them? Maybe it would be better to offer them 2% and see if they'll take it. Or fire them all. Or fire only Lisa as the troublemaker. Of course, if everybody stands with Lisa then that could be bad.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. But no matter what, *nobody* is forcing Bossman to do *anything*.

In a nutshell, that's how a union works. Perhaps Lisa and her new "union" can opt to ask for health care, or pension plans, or something.

Nobody forced GM or Chrysler to accept anything. They could have fired all of the people who wanted to unionize. They could have shut down the plan - Wal-Mart does that all the time. Any time a store goes union, they close the whole damn store. They might lose a million dollars they spend building the store - but that's certainly their right.

GM made some bad decisions. They decided to go for short term gains by paying union members less in favor of giving them better pension plans in the future, and some would say that's why they're in trouble now. Or the health care plan that's super expensive. Or - any number of things.

But trying to blame all of GM's bad negotiations on the unions isn't the fault of the union. Nobody *made* GM agree to the terms.