Saturday, March 27, 2010

In Esquipulas, Guatemala

Well, I made it to Esquipulas, Guatemala, and am staying at the Benedictine monastery connected to the famous Basilica of Esquipulas. Being here during the beginning of Semana Santa is also an added plus. Pictures of my trip will follow upon my return.

I have to say that Esquipulas is a lovely city. It's not too big, such that it has a very neighborly feel and one can basically traverse the expanse of the city proper on foot. It's not too small and so it doesn't feel like a rural village. In terms of city size and sense of community, it reminds me a lot of Queretaro, Mexico.

Everyone here is just as friendly as can be. Can't wait to see how the rest of my short trip turns out.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Break, Guatemala, and the Palmer Park Arts Market

Thank God that Spring Break is finally here. I'm definitely ready for it and very much need it. Tomorrow morning, I head off to Esquipulas, Guatemala, to explore the possibility of a Service Learning Summer Study Abroad program. In the meantime, my B-2/3 is gearing up for her monthly show at the Palmer Park Arts Market. If you are in the New Orleans area tomorrow and are looking for a great way to spend the day, stop off at Palmer Park on the corner of Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues and check out the Arts Market. My B-2/3 will be there at her wheel doing live pottery demonstrations. I probably will be incognito on the blog until I return from Guatemala on Wednesday evening. But at least I made my monthly self-nudge blog posting goal yet again. Have an enjoyable weekend and I'll be back soon.

Palin-McCain in Arizona: Lose-Lose for the Conservative Movement

The disarray within the conservative movement is on full display for all to see these days. But I think the icing on the cake has to be the McCain/Palin lovefest that is currently happening.

Sarah Palin, considered by the Christianist conservative rightwing to be the next best thing since Joseph McCarthy for the patriotic Tea Party movement, is now chumming it up with a guy whom these very "Joe the Plumber" conservatives have lambasted as a RINO, a sellout, and a spineless joke whose management of Palin in the last Presidential campaign was excoriated as patronizing and stupid.

What makes it worse is that Sarah Palin is supporting McCain when there is a perfectly good patriotic, Christianist, Tea Party candidate challenging McCain in the GOP primary for the Senate. I'm not sure what Palin thinks she can get out of backing McCain (whom her supporters hate) over his primary rival (whom nearly all of the Palinites favor), but her alliance with McCain will certainly turn the stomachs of all her supporters.

Is Sarah Palin selling out the Tea Party? It sure seems like it to me, though I'd say that she never was a true believer to begin with, but merely the crass opportunist who will use true believers to sell books, raise her ratings on Faux News, and make her extremely wealthy in the process. But I bet the Palinite faithful are feeling a bit betrayed now by Sarah's willing coziness with and support of McCain, especially when she has the clout to tell McCain to go suck it without having to pay any kind of a price among her adoring fans for doing so.

The larger impact of this is really the continued unravelling of the conservative movement. I don't see how Palinites can continue to support her so enthusiastically when she's going around supporting McCain against a more conservative opponent that matches better what folks think Palin should represent. Likewise, I don't think moderate conservatives will look at McCain cozying up to Palin just to burnish his conservative credentials as all that appetizing either.

It's just a lose-lose alliance and I suspect the GOP and the conservative movement will just become more demoralized because of it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Steele's Hilarious Gaffe in the Wake of Passing HCR

Have these guys really lost their marbles? Is passing Healthcare Reform such a traumatic thing that conservatives cannot even think straight anymore? The New York Times reports that Michael Steele, the GOP's National Committee Chairman, said in an interview this past Monday following Sunday's passage of the Healthcare Reform bill:

"There is no downside for Republicans. Only for Americans."
Heh! So now we know the truth. Republicans aren't Americans. And that's from the official representative voice of the GOP. I suppose Steele could also have easily said: "There is no downside for Republicans. Only for humans." And though he didn't say this, he probably believes it. Which would confirm something that I've always thought about the folks that constitute the GOP: they're "aliens"! And if they're also not Americans, then wouldn't that would make them "illegal aliens"? And lord only knows what Steele thinks we should do about that!

Oyster is so 100% on the money: where do these chicken-littles go, what can they possibly say, if (Gasp!) some day single payer supplants private health exchanges?

The Party of Cao

Outrageous, but unsurprising:

Concern about possible violence escalated Wednesday after a severed gas line at the home of a Democratic lawmaker's brother was discovered. ...

Conservative activists in Virginia posted the home address of Perriello's older brother — believing it to be the congressman's address — when suggesting in Web postings that those who disagreed with the Democratic lawmaker's vote should "drop by" to make their opposition clear.

The Charlottesville Daily Progress reported that one of the two activists who posted the address condemned the action and said he is "almost speechless."
"Almost speechless"? Gimme a friggin' break. See what these "patriotic" thugs have unleashed? It's disgusting. Are you paying attention Anh "Joseph" Cao? Shouting "babykiller" at the most pro-life Democrat in Congress in the Halls of Congress, no less? Slashing gas lines at the home of a brother of a Congressman for his vote? See the movement you belong to? You wanna stick with that?

UPDATE: Wednesday, March 24, 2010: 7:25PM - Now, I wonder from where else in the world would these militant thugs get their terrorist notions? Is it true that these hints at violence against political rivals are just the machinations of fringe wingnuts? Surely, this kind of violence advocacy would never come out of the mouths of the true Christian leaders of the conservative movement, right? But, hey, when conservatives say that such things come from reprehensible and irresponsible fringe wingnuts, I'd say they've pretty much nailed it, given who I think is a reprehensible and irresponsible fringe wingnut these days. But let's at least be honest that this is what is leading the conservative movement. Are you watching this, Cao? Are you sure this is the side you want to hitch your morality to? Your GOP is shredding your reputation and making any claims you might make to hold the moral highground almost laughable.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quote of the Day:Frum on DeMint's "Waterloo"

Conservative David Frum:

For the cause they purport to represent, however, the "Waterloo" threatened by GOP Sen. Jim DeMint last year regarding Obama and health care has finally arrived all right: Only it turns out to be our own.
You know, if the majority of conservatives in this country were more like David Frum or Andrew Sullivan, we liberal Democrats would have our work cut out for us. But when conservatism is defined by the likes of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck, it's just too easy for us liberal Democrats. And that makes us complacent. Which is not necessarily good for the country. Personally, I'd rather be pushed and challenged than screamed at and insulted. The former gives me pause to question my own arguments and reasons, the latter just leads me to shake my head and walk away.

Implementing Healthcare Reform and the Future of Conservative Doublespeak

As is the case with the many, many, many conservative Tea Partiers today, watch how conservative folks continue to blather on and on and on about the end of civilization as they know it and the death of America and how Democrats will pay for not listening to "me, the people," etc., all the while they casually and willingly sign up for and take advantage of all the benefits that healthcare reform promises to them.

I suspect that there are conservatives who worry about their health security, yet who simply as a matter of instinctive reaction to the chicken-little doom-and-gloom prognosticators on Faux-news and talk radio say they are opposed to this "unconstitutional power grab and liberty-crushing government takeover," who also secretly are experiencing a sense of relief that this bill protects their health security. I suspect that there are conservatives who are entertaining a little ray of hope in the midst of their sourpuss Scrooginess that, maybe, you know, this bill really will free them up from the worries of crushing healthcare costs so that they can concentrate on building their businesses, doing their jobs, and enjoying life a bit more. And I suspect that as conservatives get used to the idea that life is better for me under the provisions of this bill, their opposition to the program will be directed not at the program itself, but rather at including the "undeserving" thee in it.

I KNOW that the first time an anti-reform conservative faces the decision by their health insurance company to deny them coverage under pre-existing conditions, they will be the first to wave that Healthcare Reform bill in the face of the insurance company. I KNOW that when an anti-reform conservative gets a call from his or her 22 year old child who is graduating college this May and says that she can't get a job in spite of her best efforts and worries about how she is going to treat her asthma, her anti-reform parents will tell her not to worry and will then go to their insurance company waving the new bill in their faces and order them to keep their daughter on their health insurance plan. I KNOW that every anti-reform conservative senior citizen Medicare recipient faced with the prospect of not having enough money to buy his or her medications will cash that $250 dollar check this year and will look forward to having that doughnut hole closed in the Medicare Part B program. I know that anti-reform conservatives will embrace this program and will even flaunt it if necessary, all the while they will go to Townhall meetings promising to kick their representative who voted for that bill that they will be brandishing to their benefit out of office for "not listening to them." The hypocrisy will be palpable.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Physician Socialism

I've been engaged in an exchange on Facebook with a couple of MDs who are essentially predicting the death of the medical profession because of healthcare reform. My excellent blog-rival Eric has also suggested as much in a couple comments on a post I wrote earlier on the "doc-fix."

But having given some intense thought to this over the past 24 hours, I've come to a startling realization that just never occurred to me before.

And it has to do with what I'd like to call, in honor of my patriotric conservative friends, "physician socialism." What is this "physician socialism," you ask? It's nothing more than physicians whose livelihoods are so dependent on sucking at the government teat that any threat to that income stream is blasted by anti-reform doctors as un-American and contrary to freedom. Actually, my simple realization is that it's quite the opposite.

Doctors are free to refuse to accept insurance contracts that force them to take "discounted" prices for their valuable services. Doctors are also free to refuse to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients, too, thus rejecting the limits that come with accepting government reimbursements. And then I began thinking that if this healthcare reform bill were so god-awful, why didn't they just really test their services in the free market and institute a cash-for-service practice? In fact, it's what most of us do. But doctors would never accept this because it would mean that their incomes would plummet because they'd be faced with the reality that people just can't afford them at the prices they currently think their services are worth. There is a reason why the AMA supports healthcare reform. It's a means to make more doctors more wealthy through government transfers of wealth right into their bank accounts.

We're not likely to see Medical School admissions dry up in the coming years! We're not likely to see physicians abandon the profession! We're not likely to see physicians go poor! We're likely to see more doctors cashing in!

Think about it: the explosion in the wealth of doctors tracks directly with the expansion of government into the healthcare market via Medicare and Medicaid. Take government out, and doctors who can't compete for the few wealthy individuals who can pay for their expensive care, and we likely have either fewer total doctors, or certainly fewer excessively wealthy doctors. I'd imagine we'd have more doctors like that nice one on the Little House on the Prairie TV series who made housecalls and didn't break regular folks' bank accounts with his exorbitant fees.

But we have a culture where becoming a Doctor is synonomous with obscene wealth.

And yet I gather from my recent communications with some MDs that their incomes depend on anywhere between 50% and 80% of Medicare funds. I gather that there are very few doctors who don't accept a healthy percentage of Medicare patients. What am I left to conclude? That doctors are wealthy primarily because of "socialized" medicine via Medicare and Medicaid. They are the direct beneficiaries of "physician socialism."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cao Votes "No"

Adios, Cao. No personal hard feelings. You're still a good guy in my eyes. And I may even support you on other pieces of legislation, such as they may be in the remainder of your sure-to-end term of office. But you have irretrievably lost my vote in November. There is no way you will be able to convince me that your "No" vote wasn't a vote against life. So much for Anh "Joseph" Cao, Resume of a Democrat. Sad.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for Cao to sit in his seat and listen to his fellow Republican members berate Democrats for failing to listen to the American people all the while knowing that he pointedly refused to listen to the clear majority of the people in his district who supported this bill.

UPDATE: Another thought. It must have been equally uncomfortable for Cao to sit there and listen to his Republican colleagues speak of backroom deals, hidden arm twisting, and order-taking from unelected special interests, instead of listening to the American people, yet knowing that he gave more credence to the Archbishop of New Orleans and the US Bishops on how to vote on the bill than from the express will of the very citizens, many of us Catholics ourselves, he was elected to represent. Yes, I'm bitter. I really stuck my neck out for Cao way back when, and I've been a defender of his since. And I do feel betrayed. I think Stupak showed a lot of courage. And it sickens me that Cao allies himself with folks who would call Stupak, of all people, a babykiller in the halls of Congress. Does Cao have no shame to sit next to such people? I don't know about the kind of Jesuit training he received, but the training I got from the Jesuits would lead me to find such behavior repugnant and abhorrent. Treating pro-life Democrats like Stupak in this way proves to me that the so-called pro-life Republicans don't give a damn about life, really. They would rather run into the ground every Democrat like Stupak who pushes hard within the party to advance a pro-life culture. They will never win the argument this way. Never. And Cao is one of them by association.

Thoughts on Tort Reform

Listening to coverage of the House debate today on Healthcare Reform, and hearing some commentary from the public who are calling in to C-SPAN, I noticed a common refrain among conservative opponents of reform which strikes me as contradictory, and emblematic of the illogical and irrational reaction among conservatives regarding this issue.

On the one hand, conservatives seem to have some visceral reaction against government regulation and manipulation of private enterprise. So, one would think that any effort to institute government regulation on the marketplace of the legal profession would be anathema to conservatives. But the fact is that conservatives place something called tort reform high on their agenda for healthcare reform. But my question is what is tort reform if not government meddling in the marketplace of legal representation and justice. What seems patently obvious to me is that conservative want government regulation of things they don't like -- they want government to jump in the fray and tell lawyers that they can't use their skills to win restitution and compensation for victims of crimes by those found guilty of perpetrating such crimes. It's of a piece with the idea that some conservatives want government to ban the inclusion of teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in schools. Or they want government to impose a kind of moral code on society through such ludicrous things like the "Defense of Marriage Act." They have no problems with government banning the consumption of alcohol or marijuana. They are very much advocates for government meddling and interference in an individual's freedom as long as that meddling is in favor of something they don't particularly like.

I'm open to the idea of government regulation of the "justice" marketplace through tort reform, much like I'm open to the idea of government regulation of the banking industry to prevent fraud and mismanagement of the kind that nearly collapsed our finance sector. But then I'm a liberal Democrat who sees the value in government regulation in certain instances and circumstances. Conservatives aren't supposed to be that way. So, what I don't understand is how a conservative can find consistency in lambasting regulation of the private healthcare market through the current healthcare bill, but yet not lambasting, and in fact promoting, the idea of government regulation of the legal industry through tort reform. It seems they don't like "greedy" personal injury lawyers just like many of us don't like greedy insurance executives and bankers. So, I challenge my conservative friends to justify to me, in principle, their support of government regulation of the legal industry through tort reform and not government regulation of the health insurance industry through health insurance reform.

Healthcare Debate in the House

Of course, as anyone paying attention knows, the Stupak block, which held out over the abortion issue, has agreed to support the Healthcare Reform bill with the promise of an Executive Order by Obama to enforce the non-federal funding of abortion measures that are already included in the Senate bill. Unless something dramatic happens in the next hour, when the actual votes are cast and tallied, the measure will pass.

But let's turn to Anh "Joseph" Cao ... I found it extremely interesting in the most recent debate, when it seemed as if every single House Republican voiced his or her opposition to the Healthcare reform bill in a unanimous consent procedure, Anh "Joseph" Cao was not one of them. Or maybe I missed it, but I was paying pretty close attention, so I think not.

Not that this really means anything in particular, but I do find it curious. It leads me to wonder if Cao is having second thoughts. And now that it looks like the bill will pass with enough Democratic votes, especially with the cover provided by the Stupak block, perhaps Cao will turn his attention more towards voting for his constituents and giving himself a chance in November. We shall see. And I will be watching Cao closely on this. Very closely.

Stupak a "Yes"?

I'm watching C-SPAN online via live-streaming, and they just reported that Bart Stupak is now a "Yes" on the bill. If true, that is a monumental move in favor of passage of the Healthcare Reform bill, and may be enough to persuade "Cao" to also support. Wow! Fingers crossed!

Message to Cao: VOTE "YES" on Healthcare Reform

I've called your DC office. I've called your New Orleans office. I sent you an email. I've exhorted you in a status update on my Facebook page. Now I'm pleading with you on this blog.

I want to impress upon you the importance to me, a fellow Jesuit-educated, mission-oriented, life-affirming Catholic, of passing the current Healthcare Reform bill that is up for a vote this afternoon.

This is it, Mr. Cao. The moment of truth. Here are some final things for you to consider:

1. Your constituents overwhelmingly want this bill to pass. You represent us. In your capacity as a Congressman, you do NOT represent the Catholic bishops, you do not represent the Pope, you do not represent me as an individual constituent, you do not even represent yourself as an individual constituent -- YOU REPRESENT YOUR DISTRICT as a collective. And your district overwhelmingly wants this bill passed.
2. Even Catholics in good standing can support this bill. Many already do. If you won't exercise your duty to your district and the majority of its constituents, opting instead to take your marching orders from your Catholic faith, listen to ALL Catholic voices -- including mine, and not just the patriarchy of the Catholic hierarchy. Good, pro-life Catholics SHOULD support this healthcare reform bill. That includes you.
3. As much as I like you on a personal level, if you do not support this bill, I will not only not be able to support your re-election, but I will actively work to campaign to unseat you. This is one issue where I will cut you no slack. And I would do this even if you were a Democrat. A representative who does not reflect the majority will of his constituents and ignores his constituents' clear wishes with such a measure of impunity simply does not deserve to hold this seat. Look over my blog, see how I have approached you, see how supportive and tolerant I have been towards you, even when I have disagreed with you. You need people like me in your corner. I say this not as a threat, because who am I but just an insignificant constituent with a blog read by only a handful of people, and so I effectively have no power to mount a threat of any substance against you. I say it only as a matter of fact, and as an expression of what I will have to do according to my own conscience should you vote against this bill.

Please, Mr. Cao, please. I entreat you. Vote "Yes" today.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The "Doc Fix" and Health Care Reform

I've been following the hullaballoo over the memo of questionable and unverifiable origin, circulated by Republican operatives, that purports to claim that some official Democratic Party representative has instructed Democrats to keep mum about the so-called "Doc Fix" that would bust the deficit-reducing CBO score of the Health Care Reform bill currently being considered.

Well, I'm convinced that the document is a hoax. And I think that the GOP should pay a heavy price for perpetuating such a hoax, or at least for not verifying the claims they made regarding this memo. The fact that the GOP shills who are responsible for disseminating this memo are unwilling to reveal even their sources for the information implies bad faith, if not outright and intentional lying, on their part. But I'm not really interested in piling onto the GOP. I expect them to play such dishonest, sleazeball politics. That's what they do. They don't idolize Karl Rove for nothing, you know. No, what I'm really interested in is what is at the crux of the matter: the Democrats' position on the so-called "doc fix."

What folks are saying about the fraudulent memo is that it may be "fake," but it's contents are nonetheless true. I'd like to challenge this interpretation on the facts.

Fact 1: The so-called "doc fix" (i.e. adjusting Medicare reimbursement rates paid to doctors by raising such rates to keep up with inflation in health-care costs, thus costing the government more money) is not currently law.

Fact 2: While Democrats have claimed that they will pursue a "Doc fix" down the road, there is nothing concrete about this claim other than that it is merely at this point a promise by politicians.

Fact 3: So, if the "doc fix" is not included in this bill, it cannot be scored in this bill in terms of its budgetary impact. To do so would be like saying that any future promises to build more VA hospitals or expand healthcare services to Veterans or subsidize med-school tuitions for veterans, etc., etc., must be scored in this current health reform bill. And this is patently ludicrous. Pretty soon, any bill seeking appropriations down the road, from military supplementals to highway reconstruction funds to agricultural subsidies could be claimed as something that would bust the budget-savings of the Health Care Reform bill were it to be included in the scoring process of the measure. Absolutely ludicrous.

Here's what I think is going on with the so-called "Doc fix" and what will eventually happen down the road when the time comes to debate and discuss such a fix:

1. The Democratic leadership is promising to take up and consider a "Doc fix" later in order to keep Doctors on board with the Health Care Reform measure.
2. The Democratic leadership, in separating out the "Doc fix" from the current Health Care Reform bill, are basically indicating that any future "doc fix" is not a "guarantee" of passage at all. In fact, Republican critics are speaking as if the "doc fix" is a guaranteed thing down the road. If they are so opposed to what it would do to the deficit, why wouldn't they just vote "No" as a block on this fix when it comes up down the road. Surely they could do this and thus the savings in both the current Health Care Reform bill would be maintained and any future deficit-funding liabilities would be avoided, too. But I suspect that the GOP knows that even many of its own members won't vote against the "doc fix" irrespective of its impact on the budget. In short, the GOP is just as likely to vote to deficit-finance the "doc fix" if considered on its own as they claim the Democrats would have to do if it were scored in the current Health Care Reform bill.
3. When the time comes for taking up the so-called "Doc fix," Democratic leadership will expressly look at how such a fix will impact the budget and will seek to mitigate its costs in other ways.
4. If those "other ways" to balance out the costs of the "doc fix" do not materialize because of a lack of Congressional will to make hard choices in doing so, then the "doc fix" will simply disappear into the ether (assuming the GOP sticks to its "fiscally-responsible convictions") and doctors will have to come to peace with accepting Medicare reimbursements at the lower rates.
5. This is just as likely a scenario to happen (in fact it's a more likely scenario, if you ask me), than Democrats passing a "doc fix" that's not paid for and is deficit-financed.

Democrats may take some heat for this from Doctors should this come to pass (but I'll bet some Republicans who also don't want to deficit-finance the "doc fix" will take some heat, too), but there is nothing inherently deceptive, nor budget-busting at all, in the Democrats choosing to separate out the issue of the "doc fix" from the current Health Care Reform bill. In fact, I think its a sound strategy for tackling the thorny issue of budget balancing in a way that allows Congress to gauge the sentiment of public opinion on the issue of Medicare compensation rates for doctors. My feeling is that the vast majority of the public will not have any problem asking doctors, if they want to suck at the government Medicare teat, to sacrifice their third Mercedes and their heated swimming pools to help balance the budget while helping more uninsured folks get the health insurance coverage they need. Doctors know that, too. And so do Congressional Republicans. I'd LOVE to see Congressional Republicans have to stick with their budget-balancing principles and vote "NO" on deficit-financing of such a "doc fix." But I know that Republicans, who wouldn't dare be principled fiscal conservatives on this issue alone, would love nothing more than to have the cover of the current Health Care Reform bill, which they can feel comfortable about voting "No" over because they've vilified it for so many other reasons, without having to deal with the fallout from dealing with a "No" vote on the "doc fix" by itself. And it is for these reasons why both groups, Doctors and Republicans, so desperately want this "doc fix" to be built into the current Health Care Reform bill. For Republicans, it's a way to sink the overall Health Care Reform bill, thus preserving the insustainable status quo, and shielding them from the heat they would face over a "No" vote on the "doc fix" by itself. And for Doctors, it's a way to make sure that there's more money available in the pot of federal resources to fund the "doc fix" and thus maintain the health of their swollen bank accounts without having to compete with those other claims on federal resources that come with giving the uninsured access to health insurance and affordable health care.

Fie on them both.

I HOPE that Health Care Reform passes AND that the "doc fix" ultimately fails.

As for my Doctor-friends who might be perturbed by my position, I say: come down to earth and live with rest of us. Out of all my doctor friends, there is not one whom I know who isn't living a very, very, very comfortable life -- even those who live primarily on Medicare reimbursements. It won't hurt you to live with a little less; and it shouldn't hurt you at all (in fact, I would imagine it would please you, being that you're supposedly a healthcare professional committed to saving lives) if living with a little less means giving your fellow human beings a chance to get affordable healthcare and to live longer, more productive lives.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Calling Cao Out on the Abortion Issue in the Health Care Reform Bill

Cao needs to listen to someone beyond the corrupted and cynical bishops. They are not the Catholic Church, we are. The National Catholic Reporter editorializes the truth about the Health Care Reform bill and the abortion issue:

Bottom line: The current legislation is not "pro-abortion," and there is no, repeat no, federal funding of abortion in the bill.

Meanwhile, writing in The Washington Post last Sunday, T.R. Reid, a first-rate journalist, a Catholic, and author of "The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care." argues persuasively that industrialized countries that achieve universal or near-universal insurance coverage have a demonstrably lower abortion rate than we have in the United States. It should matter to those who believe in the sacredness of all human life that this legislation will not only provide health care to those who don't currently possess it, but will encourage women facing crisis pregnancies to choose life. Given the intractable nature of the abortion debate in the United States, this amounts to a pro-life victory of historic proportions.
Via Andrew Sullivan. If Cao must align his votes in Congess with the Bishops instead of with his constituents, he ought at least to listen first to the Catholic voices iin support of the reform bill and then live up to his obligation to represent the majority will of his district.

The Flying Dutchman

This past Wednesday, I went with Squirrelly Girlie the Elder to see the New Orleans Metropolitan Opera's production of Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. The singers were good, but I was not impressed with the Opera itself. The music and the characters were so self-absorbed. The interaction between the characters was merely a vehicle (and a flimsy one at that) for getting to the arias. Every time a character opened his or her mouth to sing, it was as if that character had all of a sudden forgotten about anyone else around him or her and was just singing to hear himself or herself sing. It was musical narcissism and operatic bombast at its absolute worst. Wagner is just so obviously full of himself. I know that he can have flashes of musical brilliance, but his ego suffocates whatever talent he might have.

Cao, No

Well, it seems I was wrong. Cao is a "No" on the Health Care Reform bill. He must have wearied already of being in Congress because if he votes "No" he's electoral toast. I like the guy personally, but I will not vote for him again if he votes "No" on this issue. The GOP often complains that Congress isn't listening to the people on Health Care Reform. Well, all I can say is that Cao is not listening to his constituents who overwhelmingly support the Health Care Reform bill.

I called Cao's office today and the staffer I made my plea to heard me out and only said one word before hanging up: "Thanks." I could hear the resignation in this staffer's voice. He knows his gig is up.

I followed that phone call up with an email to Cao and made my final plea on moral grounds that Cao change his mind. I don't expect him to do so at this point, but anything is possible. I'm confident the bill will pass without Cao, but I'm very disheartened by and disappointed in him. I'll wait to see the actual vote before I bid Cao my good-byes.

Health Care Reform: What Will Cao Do?

It's simple ... if he wants to win in November, he votes "Yes."

The question is ... does he want to win in November? I say yes.

And I'm finally glad that some prominent Catholic voices are taking the appropriately bigger pro-life picture than just the anti-abortion part of it. When you factor in the larger pro-life calculus, there is much room for pro-life, anti-abortion people like Cao to vote "Yes" on the measure in good conscience.

What does this mean in the end? This means Cao votes "Yes."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Knee Update

Many of you know that I had knee surgery some 10 weeks ago, in the first week of January. Well, I haven't spoken about it in a while, so I thought I should give an update.

The short of it is that my recovery has been pretty remarkable. I would say that I am at about 95% full functionality in my left knee. Today, I went about my business all day long and didn't even think about or notice my knee once.

Occasionally, I'll have moments of stiffness and some slight twinges of negligible pain or discomfort in the knee; but they are few and far between.

I have started intense physical therapy to strengthen my left leg and to recover from the atrophy that set in immediately following my surgery. The goal is to get my back into running shape -- not that I plan to do any running -- but to get me to the point where I could jog if I wanted to.

Really, my goal for physical therapy is to strenghten my lateral movement enough to permit me to get back on the racquetball courts, which I haven't played in over 7 years or so.

My last physical therapy session, which took place last Thursday, was pretty stressful on the knee. I left that physical therapy session limping slightly; but mostly this was due to my leg's weakness and its inability to be able to endure intense exercise for an extende period of time. But it did feel good to have my leg be pushed to its limits of tiredness and weakness.

I still am amazed at how relatively pain-free the whole experience was for me. Let's hope it continues to go so well and I find myself whacking that racquetball soon!

All Big East Final Four

OK. I'm going way out on a limb and will predict an all Big East Final Four:

Widwest Bracket Champs: Georgetown
West Bracket Champs: Syracuse
East Bracket Champs: West Virginia
South Bracket Champs: Villanova

Finals Matchup: Georgetown and West Virginia -- in a repeat of the Big East Tournament Championship Game. Only this time, Georgetown emerges victorious, with Louisiana's own Greg Monroe taking MVP honors with a monster 25+ point game.

That's my fantasy dreamland pick, and I'm sticking to it!

The Impending Dismantling of the Superbowl Saints

I guess it's inevitable that the players who constituted a world champion team would be hot commodities in the open market.

But I have to say that I find the casual lack of loyalty to be a bit unseemly. It rubs me the wrong way. What happened to the days when teammates who gelled so well together such as to win a championship would be loathe to leave such a good thing. Really, if I were part of a championship team, I'd want nothing more than to keep that team together so as to continue winning championships.

But today's NFL players just don't seem to have that mindset. It's the green that speaks to them, not the drive to be champions. Seriously, why would Hargrove even ponder going to such a perennial loser as the Detroit Lions? And why would Bell hitch his future to an aging and declining Eagles franchise? For that matter, why would Fujita head for the Browns? Why would these folks want to leave a team like the Saints that is at the top of the NFL and just starting to crest for teams that wallow in the dregs? Only one reason I can see: the green.

That's what speaks to players these days. Call me cynical, but I don't buy any NFL player's pretensions to be moved by value of championships as a good in itself beyond how such championships can boost their personal bank accounts.

I guess it's true when they say it's a business, not a sport. And I find that depressing. Give me the Friday Night Lights of High School football over the "business" of the NFL any day.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Murder on the U.S.-Mexican Border

Things were bad in Ciudad Juarez before, but they've only gotten worse. Today, gunmen connected to the region's drug cartels have taken their war against the U.S. by murdering in cold blood two workers for the U.S. consulate.

And to think that I almost set up a Border Justice program in Ciudad Juarez for college students. I don't think I'll ever be able to get that program up and running.

The End of the Gay Rights Movement

Andrew Sullivan concludes a lecture at Princeton with a powerful appeal for the conservative case for gay marriage and civil rights. This is Part 7 of his speech, but you really should listen to all 7 of the clips.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cao and Earmarks

I'm not a fan of the current earmark process in the federal Congress where a bit more transparency and accountability would be welcome. However, I do not think the draconian grandstanding of many Republicans on this issue is ultimately a pragmatic posture with regard to good government. Let's face it: taxpayers do deserve some return on their investments. Earmarks are one way that taxpayers at the local and state level can see specific returns on their investments that directly benefit them and their communities. I acknowledge that the potential for abuse here is great, and that such actual abuse is all too common. And this must be stopped. But I'm not the kind of person that thinks that throwing out the baby with the bathwater is the way to stop it. Apparently, so, too, does my favorite Republican Congressman, who also happens to be my Congressional District Representative. Once, again, Cao refuses to drink the koolaid that the rabid rightwingers of his party are serving up. And I like him for that. But it still won't be enough for him to win in November. C'mon, Cao, switch parties now! It's your only chance to keep your seat. (Unless you fail to vote for Health Care Reform in the coming weeks, in which case your candidacy is dead, even if you switch parties.)

Happy Birthday

To my lovely B-2/3. Every moment of life with you is a joy.

Why I'm An Exodus Catholic

I've often referred to myself as an "Exodus Catholic." Here, here, and most recently here.

An "Exodus Catholic" is a Catholic who finds himself so much at odds with many of the institutional Catholic Church's practices and pronouncements that he finds himself alienated and wandering in the wilderness of institutionalized faith, even though he shares enough of the fundamental values and beliefs of the faith to not break fully from it.

And now we hear that the Catholic Church's Supreme Leader, the doctrinally orthodox and moralistically rigid Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), is now personally embroiled in the Church sex abuse scandal. Once again, it looks like we have none other than the Pope engaging in the cover-up of a renegade abusive priest. The argument that the Pope, when he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising, did not know of the abusive priest's reinstatement, where he continued to engage in abusive behavior, just doesn't wash. We know all too well that in the hierarchical nature of the leadership structure of the Catholic Church, especially when it comes to circling the wagons around the Church and its wayward priests, Bishops and Archbishops as a matter of course would be informed of and would have ultimate authority over such decisions. I can assure you that Bishop Ratzinger knew. And even if he chose to close his eyes to it, the hallmark of leadership is that responsibility always flows to the top. This means that Bishop Ratzinger knew, AND that he is ultimately responsible.

This sickness within the Catholic hierarchy is so profound and widespread that no leader goes untouched by it. Sad. Welcome to my faith wilderness.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Health Care Reform

My money's on the passage of health care reform. The current system is unsustainable. Obama is right: If not now, when? If not us, who? I think the US House of Representatives will pass the Senate version of healthcare reform with the hope of reconciliation in the Senate to address some of their concerns. But, I have to say that I don't think the reconciliation plan will ultimately pan out. And vulnerable House Democrats will point the finger at the Senate and say that they promised changes through reconciliation, but didn't deliver. And Senate Democrats will shore up their cred by saying they stood firm in not allowing reconciliation to proceed. Either way, we get health care reform. And everyone knows that once it gets passed, and people see that their lives are not worse off, and may in fact be better off with such a safety net in place, we Americans will just acclimate ourselves to it.

The Saints, Darren Sharper, and the "Love"

What? A superbowl championship isn't love enough? I know the damn game is a business; but I do think Darren Sharper should keep his whining to himself. It's one thing to go where the money is, like Scott Fujita did; but it's another thing altogether to present yourself as entitled to it. That's what Sharper's comments seem like to me: prima donna entitlement. Sad.

A Challenge for Social Entrepreneurs

One of the hot things in what is called the "service movement" on college campuses these days is the idea of the "social entrepreneur." What is the social entrepreneur? In short, he is the person who comes up with creative ways to turn a profit off of socially conscious commerce. It could be fair trade coffee, or changing out incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent light bulbs, or it could be putting shoes on the shoeless in a buy-one-donate-one model. All good things. But ... there's something potentially untoward in some social entrepreneurial models.

Last week, I had the chance to hear the founder of TOMS shoes, Blake Mycoskie, tell his story. He is a charming, charismatic, enthusiastic, sincere, and down-to-earth guy. What he is doing is good. But I want to challenge him (and others like him) to think harder about the for-profit social entrepreneurship model and ponder whether the profit goal of the business is not in conflict with the very social mission that makes it profitable. I want to push these social entrepreneurs to apply their considerable talents to resolving the structural conditions that create the problems that ultimately make them profitable. For instance, if Blake Mycoskie's concern really is for the shoeless in our world, and laments the injustice of shoelessness, then he should be working to put himself out of business. But my fear is that the profit-driven model of social entrepreneurialism demands an operation that is driven by profit. I've never known any for-profit venture that seeks ultimately not to succeed where success is measured by profit. Not that there's inherently anything wrong with profiting; but there is something problematic when such profit is produced precisely by the continued existence of a social problem.

Let's take the TOMS model, for example. Even Black Mycoskie admits that the reason why his shoes do so well, why his shoes compete favorably against his competition, is precisely because of the social condition of shoelessness upon which his business is based. As Mycoskie himself explains, his shoes sell because people want to give. They feel good about giving, and thus their charity makes his buy-one-give-one-away-to-the-needy model so appealing. Therefore, it stands to reason that in order for his business to continue to thrive and profit, he needs for shoelessness (or at least the perception of shoelessness) itself to thrive. The more shoeless people there are in the world, the more he can sell shoes to those who feel good about putting shoes on the shoeless. What this whole project fails to do is to ask the burning question of "why" there is shoelessness to begin with and then to seek solutions to the fundamental structural conditions in our world that cause shoelessness.

Until social entrepreneurs can convince me that they are interested in eliminating the problem that makes them profitable (and are actually working towards this end), then the fundamental altruism that forms the basis for the marketing of their products/services seems hollow. In fact, it can seem even cynical. Social entrepreneurs have a special obligation to address this criticism.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Anh "Joseph" Cao Lauds the Saints in the House

"We may be tired and poor right now, but we are contenders. We are New Orleans. We are America."

I love this guy, even though he still is a Republican.

C'mon, Cao! Switch parties!

[H/T: Kevin Allman at the Best of New Orleans Blog.]

Batt Bombs

He had the bling, the blang, the brother, and the babes. And in spite of all that, he lost ... big ...

Voters ain't blind as a Batt.

Congratulations to Susan Guidry.

Friday, March 05, 2010


Athens, GA, from what I gather, has a growing reputation as a kind of indie/progressive music place. Lots of bands and performance venues. Makes sense given that this is a College town. But it's got me thinking about how New Orleans is also such a place and how Tulane's student run radio station is a big part of the indie/progressive music scene in the city.

I'm a DJ at WTUL (currently taking the semester off to recover from knee surgery), and so I thought it would be appropriate to give a shout-out to WTUL for its greatness.

Link to WTUL by clicking here, check out the programming schedule for the wide variety of shows the station has, and then click the link to tune in to this programming via live streaming online. And if you like what you hear, please also consider making a donation to support the station. It's the right time to do so as WTUL is gearing up for its annual "Marathon" fundraising drive. Support the great music and radio culture of NOLA by supporting WTUL!

Catholic Charities in DC Cuts Off Its Nose to Spite Its Face

Want to see yet again another reason why I have no choice but to consider myself an "Exodus" Catholic?

Take a look at this:

The Archdiocese of Washington's social service branch will stop offering benefits to spouses of new employees in a bid to balance the District of Columbia's new same-sex marriage law with Catholic opposition to homosexuality.
Now will someone with a brain (forget about compassion) please explain to me the logic behind such a boneheaded move? In order to "defend" the institution of marriage from the onslaught of having to give the same sex spouses of its employees access to marriage benefits such as health care coverage, it will now creates hardships and penalizes the heterosexual spouses of its employees? And how, exactly, does that policy protect and defend the institutions of marriage and the family? Man, there are so many problems with this at all kinds of levels that I almost don't know where to begin. But let's just take two of the obvious ones:

(1) First, if the Catholic Church is so committed to protecting and defending the institution of marriage from gay folks with partners, why would the institution have any gay folks with partners on their payrolls in the first place? Does anyone not see the contradiction here? The Catholic Church is recognizing that it already employs (or may employ) gay people with active partners, thus implicitly demonstrating a tolerance, if not acceptance, of such relationships. They already provide "benefits" to such employees, so why would extending those benefits to another partnered person be any different. I mean, couldn't the church just say it opposes gay marriage and yet still provide benefits to gay employees and their partners according to the law? Isn't that what they currently do with their gay employees in active partnerships?

(2) How bass-ackwards is it for the Church to profess a strong commitment to "traditional" heterosexual marriage and the family only to tell future employees that even their "traditional" heterosexual marriages are no longer eligible for the kind of benefits through employment that such marriages offer. Sheesh! The Church actually has programs to help mitigate the problem of the uninsured, and yet here they go instituting a policy that actually perpetuates the very problem they profess to have a moral and social commitment to mitigating.

(3) I'd like to know what the Church has done to defend the institition of marriage from those divorced and remarried heterosexual employees on its payroll who receive spousal benefits packages. It's hard to see the Church's current policy in this light as not really to defend the integrity of marriage as it defines it, but rather a specifical policy targeted to punish only one group of people who "threaten" the institution of marriage exclusively because of their sexual orientation.

There's nothing logical or Christian about this current policy. It's an embarrasing bit of unmitigated dissembling and discrimination. The Church has lost any kind of common-sense (and even moral) mooring on this issue.

Gulf South Summit

I've been attending the Gulf South Summit on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Through Higher Education at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, for the past few days. It's been an enlightening and rewarding conference.

This morning, I moderated a round-table discussion at breakfast. The theme of my table's discussion session was "Teaching the Civics of Public Service: Should Professors 'Politicize' Knowledge?" This is a particular subject of interest that I have and I was glad to have the chance to share some conversation around the subject.

All in all, a very well-run conference. I'll be looking forward to next year's conference in Roanoke, VA. Back to the N'Awl later this evening.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Gun Enthusiasts and Private Property Violations

For some gun enthusiasts, it doesn't matter if I, as a private individual, prohibit the carrying of weapons on my property. For these gun enthusiasts, it doesn't matter if a private business owner prohibits the carrying of weapons on the premises of his business. It doesn't matter because these folks think the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms trumps all other rights.

What I find ironic about the actions of such people is that they are some of the loudest and most vociferous defenders of individual private property rights. And yet they have absolutely no qualms about challenging, if not trampling upon, the private property rights of gun control people like me. And it is precisely because there are people like these gun enthusiasts, for whom the right to bear arms is used as a means to target and intimidate individual private property owners and businessmen who oppose and prohibit the carrying of weapons on their property, that the push for more gun control is made.

It's like these gun nuts use their weapons as political agitprop much more so than as a means for self-defense. To me, that's scary, because it implies that weapons and their use are bigger than self-defense for these folks. And when people who carry weapons believe that, it's a recipe for disaster.

I wonder what responsible gun owners think about politicizing the 2nd Amendment in such ways that challenge private property rights.