Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christma 2009


Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas

May each of you keep the spirit of Christmas and enjoy the celebration of the birth of our savior Jesus Christ.

I’ll be taking some days off during the holidays and will start back fresh in January. Looking forward to 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Christmas Tree

Although there are many varying ideas on the origin of the Christmas Tree, the common thought is that the Christmas tree actually predates Christianity. King Tut may have never seen a Christmas tree, but he would have understood the tradition. The Egyptians were part of a long line of cultures that treasured and worshipped evergreens. When the winter solstice arrives, they brought green date palm leaves into their homes to symbolize life's triumph over death.

We know that Ancient Romans decorated trees with small pieces of metal during Saturnalia (a winter festival in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture.) and there is also evidence to suggest that December 25th was chosen as the day to celebrate Christ's birth in order to replace some of the pagan holidays. Historians believe the Emperor Constantine did this around the year 390 to combine Christmas with the Saturn and Mithras celebrations and also with the cult of Sol Invictus which was a form of Sunday worship that had come to Rome from Syria.

There is also evidence that during the middle ages, an evergreen was decorated with apples and called the Paradise tree, as a symbol of the feast of Adam and Eve and was held on December 24th each year.

The modern Christmas trees appeared somewhere in the middle 1500's in or near Strasbourg Germany and the oldest record of a decorated Christmas tree came from a 1605 diary found in Strasburg. The tree was decorated with paper roses, apples and candies.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, we know that the tops of evergreens were cut and hung upside down in a living room corner and the trees were used as a symbol for the Trinity and they were sometimes decorated with apples, nuts and strips of red paper.

Tinsel was invented in Germany around 1610 using real silver. It was very durable, but tarnished quickly, especially with candlelight used at that time. Other materials were used but never caught on because of the weight.

The oldest record of Christmas trees in America was for children in the German Moravian Church's settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Christmas 1747. They used wooden pyramids covered with evergreen branches and decorated them with candles.

The custom of the Christmas tree was introduced in the United States during the War of Independence by Hessian troops and there is an early account of a Christmas tree set up by American soldiers at Fort Dearborn, Illinois, the site of Chicago, in 1804. Most other early accounts in the United States were among the German settlers in eastern Pennsylvania and it is known that the Pennsylvanian German settlements had community trees as early as 1747.

Decorations were mainly home-made by young Ladies quilting snowflakes and stars, sewing little pouches for secret gifts and paper baskets with sugared almonds in them. Small bead decorations, silver tinsel from Germany and Angels to sit at the top of the tree were also popular. Candles were often placed into wooden hoops for safety.

Charles Minnegrode introduced the custom of decorating trees in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1842.

Somewhere around 1846 - 48, Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, was credited with bringing the first Christmas tree to Windsor Castle for the Royal Family but some historians state that Queen Charlotte, Victoria's grandmother, had a Christmas tree in the Queen's lodge at Windsor on Christmas Day in 1800. We do know that in the Illustrated London News in 1846, an illustration of Queen Victoria, Prince, Albert and their children around a Christmas tree appeared and the Christmas tree became very fashionable because of the Royal Family.

It became a custom to have several small trees on tables, one for each member of the family, with those persons gifts stacked on the table under the tree.

Early in America’s history, Christmas trees were considered a quaint foreign custom and with the diversity in America there were only pockets' of immigrants using them. It was not until the telegraph communications really got going in the 19th century, that such customs began to spread and references to decorated trees in America before about the middle of the 19th century are very rare.

Companies in Germany seized the opportunity and began making fancy shaped glass bead garlands and other decorations for the trees.

Mark Carr brought trees from the Catskills to the streets of New York in 1851, and opened the first retail Christmas tree lot in the United States and Franklin Pierce was the first president to introduce the Christmas tree to the White House in 1856.

By the 1870's, Glass ornaments were being imported into Britain from Germany and it became a status symbol to have glass ornaments on the tree; the more one had the better ones status!

The glass ornaments started being imported into America around 1880, where they were sold through stores such as FW Woolworth. They were quickly followed by American patents for electric lights (1882), (until this time candles were attached to tree branches - which resulted in a lot of fires!) and metal hooks for safer hanging of decorations onto the trees (1892).

The artificial Christmas tree was invented in the 1880's in Germany, to combat some of the damage being done by so many native Fir trees being chopped for Christmas.

The first national American Christmas Tree was lighted in the year 1923 on the White House lawn by President Calvin Coolidge and a tree from the National Christmas Tree Association has been displayed in the Blue Room of the White House since 1966. See Christmas Trees at the White House.

Christmas trees declined in popularity during the depression but after World War II, the Christmas tree again became popular!

The mid-1960's saw another change. Sammy Davis Jr and the Mod 60's were booming and plastic was everywhere. Silver aluminum trees became popular and the 'Silver Pine' tree, patented in the 1950's, was designed to have a revolving light source under it, with colored gelatin 'windows, which allowed the light to shine in different shades as it revolved under the tree. No decorations were needed for this tree.

In the 1980's Christopher Radko brought back the old art of making glass ornaments for all to enjoy and many of these replicated some of the very old ornaments made in Germany.

Info from the following sites:
The Christmas Archives: Chronological History of the Christmas Tree
http://www.christmas-tree.com/where.html
The History of the Christmas Tree and Other Christmas traditions

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Santa Claus History


1600's:. In 1626 the “pilgrims” left Holland for the New World and purchased some land from the Iroquois, for $24, and named the village New (or Nieuw) Amsterdam. They brought with them their patron saint, Nicholas.

Just a few years later, in 1651, the State of Massachusetts was settled by English Puritans and they banned all observation of Christmas. The Puritans made it illegal to mention St. Nicolas' name and people were not allowed to exchange gifts, light a candle, or sing Christmas carols The legislature passed an act ruling that "whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas … either by forebearing labor, feasting, or in any other way … every such person so offending shall pay a fine for each offense of five shillings to the county." The law was repealed in 1681, but had a profound chilling effect on the celebration of Christmas in New England. When Charles II of England made a gift of New Amsterdam to the Duke of York in 1664, the city was renamed New York. These new English people were not the same strict Puritans that helped found America (it was Charles II who ousted Cromwell and the Puritans in England in 1660) but
were still not as open to the Dutch influence.

17th century: But even as the Dutch influence wained, they had their ultimate revenge when the Dutch Sint Herr Nikolaas would become Sinter Klass and finally Santa Claus in the American culture.

1773: Santa first appeared in the media as St. A Claus.

1804: The New York Historical Society was founded with St. Nicolas as its patron saint. Its members engaged in the Dutch practice of gift-giving at Christmas. Though Christmas is observed, it is seen primarily as a religious celebration unrelated to St. Nicholas Day (Sinterclaas), which is celebrated on December 5th. On Sinterclaas, St. Nicholas arrives by boat from Spain and rides his white pony through towns at night, accompanied by a black slave (!) named Zwaart Piet (literally "black Peter"), who carries an enormous sack of toys and coal. The toys are reserved for children who have behaved well during the previous year, and are placed in wooden shoes left on the back porch for this purpose. Naughty children receive a lump of coal.

1809: Washington Irving, writing under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, included Saint Nicolas in his book "A History of New York." Nicolas is described as riding into town on a horse.

1812: Irving, revised his book to include Nicolas riding over the trees in a wagon.

1821: William Gilley printed a poem about "Santeclaus" who was dressed in fur and drove a sleigh drawn by a single reindeer.

1822: Dentist Clement Clarke Moore is believed by many to have written a poem "An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicolas," which became better known as "The Night before Christmas." Santa is portrayed as an elf with a miniature sleigh equipped with eight reindeer which are named in the poem as Blitzem, Comet, Cupid, Dancer, Dasher, Donder, Prancer, and Vixen. Others attribute the poem to a contemporary, Henry Livingston, Jr. Two have since been renamed Donner and Blitzen.

1841: J.W. Parkinson, a Philadelphia merchant, hired a man to dress up in a "Criscringle" outfit and climb the chimney of his store.

1863: Illustrator Thomas Nast created images of Santa for the Christmas editions of Harper's Magazine. These continued through the 1890's.

1860s: President Abraham Lincoln asked Nast to create a drawing of Santa with some Union soldiers. This image of Santa supporting the enemy had a demoralizing influence on the Confederate army -- an early example of psychological warfare.

1897: Francis P Church, Editor of the New York Sun, wrote an editorial in response to a letter from an eight year-old girl, Virginia O'Hanlon. She had written the paper asking whether there really was a Santa Claus. It has become known as the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" letter.

1920's: The image of Santa had been standardized to portray a bearded, over-weight, jolly man dressed in a red suit with white trim.

1931: Haddon Sundblom, illustrator for The Coca-Cola ™ company drew a series of Santa images in their Christmas advertisements until 1964. The company holds the trademark for the Coca-Cola Santa design. Christmas ads including Santa continue to the present day.

1939: Copywriter Robert L. May of the Montgomery Ward Company created a poem about Rudolph, the ninth reindeer. May had been "often taunted as a child for being shy, small and slight." He created an ostracized reindeer with a shiny red nose who became a hero one foggy Christmas eve. Santa was part-way through deliveries when the visibility started to degenerate. Santa added Rudolph to his team of reindeer to help illuminate the path. A copy of the poem was given free to Montgomery Ward customers.

1949: Johnny Marks wrote the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Rudolph was relocated to the North Pole where he was initially rejected by the other reindeer who wouldn't let him play in their reindeer games because of his strange looking nose. The song was recorded by Gene Autry and became his all-time best seller. Next to "White Christmas" it is the most popular song of all time.

1993: An urban folk tale began to circulate about a Japanese department store displaying a life-sized Santa Claus being crucified on a cross. It never happened.

1997: Artist Robert Cenedella drew a painting of a crucified Santa Claus.
It was displayed in the window of the New York's Art Students League and received intense criticism from some religious groups. His drawing was a protest. He attempted to show how Santa Claus had replaced Jesus Christ as the most important personality at Christmas time.

Reference sites:
The Rise and Fall of Santa Claus - features
Christmas controversy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/santa/the_new_world.htm
Santa Claus in America
Christmas on the Net - The History of Christmas

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Christmas Wreath

The Christmas wreath has sometimes been attributed to being a representation of the crown of thorns that Jesus wore. This is probably not accurate.

The wreath more likely represents and is related to different types of headpieces that were worn in cultures of the ancient Persian Empire. Nobles wore headpieces made of fabrics and jewels and Greeks gave Olympic victors crowns. The St. Lucia festival in Sweden celebrated on Dec 13, has the oldest daughter wear a headpiece with greenery and nine lit candles.

Laurel (A Mediterranean evergreen tree (Laurus nobilis) having aromatic, simple leaves and small blackish berries) was used for Christmas decorations in Roman Christian homes whereas Europeans favored evergreens coming from their German and Celtic solstice festivities. The evergreens stayed green representing life in the time of year that was so dark. As a result, evergreens and candles became favored and were related to the Yule log that was a good luck charm used in the Nordic festival of Jol Christmas. Christmas candles may also be related to Hanukkah candles, as both of the nearly concurrent observances celebrate holy light.

European Christians in the Middle Ages used holly with its prickly leaves and red berries to represent thorns and drops of blood if Christ. There is also some belief that the cross was made of holly, though others believed it was made of oak. Holly used in Christmas decorations was often kept after the holiday for protection—against witchcraft in England and against lightning in Germany. There is no known direct connection to wreaths and Christ's crown.

Mistletoe also lasted beyond the Christmas season and up to Candlemas (February 2) and further. The kissing tradition came from an old Scandanavian custom whereby enemies who met under mistletoe in the forest would lay down their weapons and maintain a truce until the next day. Mistletoe was worshiped by Druids, who believed it could cure all diseases and is usually excluded from church decorations for that reason.

Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, the American ambassador to Mexico, brought the poinsettia to this country in 1829. Mexicans called it the "flower of Holy Night" because its red bracts (they're not petals) make a shape like the Star of Bethlehem. Legends from Mexico State that a poor boy did not want to enter the church because he had no gift for the baby Jesus. He prayed and when his eyes opened, there was a blooming poinsettia at his feet. He took this into the church as his gift. This flower has no pagan roots associated with its tradition.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Twelve Days of Christmas Meaning


Over the years, there have been many stories associated with the customs of Christmas. Some have been true, some false and many others a combination of the two. The internet and certain organizations have also continued to propagate certain stories with varied truth.

The Twelve Days of Christmas is one such Christmas song that has a varied history. Some legends say it was a way in which persecuted English people used the song in some sort of code to continue to spread the news of Christianity and specifically to teach the catechism message around the Christmas season. The codes related to the song are reported to represent the following:

1 Partridge in pear tree = Jesus on the cross
2 Turtle doves = Old and New Testaments
3 French hens = Faith, hope, and charity
4 Calling birds = Four Gospels and/or four evangelists
5 Golden rings = The Pentateuch
6 Geese a-laying = Six days of creation
7 Swans a-swimming = Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
8 Maids a-milking = Eight Beatitudes
9 Ladies dancing = Nine fruits of the Spirit
10 Lords a-leaping = Ten Commandments
11 Pipers piping = Eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers drumming = Twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

Although this may have some truth associated, history probably does not support it entirely.

There certainly was a time in England’s history that Christians were persecuted and prohibited from openly practicing their Catholic faith. The years in question were from about 1558 to 1829. This began when England’s Catholic Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) was succeeded by her protestant half-sister, Elizabeth. During these years, Catholics were forbidden by law to openly practice their faith and punishments ranged from mild persecution to death. But the majority of these years were not horrible for Catholics. In fact, during much of Elizabeth’s reign, there was the practice referred to as Via Media (the “Middle Way”) allowing some to practice a faith with a combination of both Catholicism and Protestantism. Even during the times when persecution was severe, there was really no need to be secretive about the hidden truths that the Twelve Days of Christmas supposedly told. In fact, most of these things were common with the protestant teachings and not solely catechism teachings.

In addition to this, just knowing what these twelve things represented did not really help the average person unless they knew more of the specifics. For example, 12 drummers drumming related to 12 points in the Apostles creed, but unless you knew these 12 points, it really would not be real helpful in propagating the Catholic teaching.

More evidence leads to thinking that the song actually originated in France and wasn’t used in England until the latter part of the 1700’s. The partridge was a symbol known and used in France. In addition, France had been Catholic for years; therefore not really needing secretive ways to spread the Catechism message.

A song entitled “A New Dial” or “In those Twelve Days” had been recorded in the literature from about 1625. It was very spiritual in nature but was in no way meant to teach a catechism message. While there is no direct evidence to link these songs, the meanings associated with days 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 were the same in both. There is also no specific indication that Englishmen routinely used songs or rhymes as a pneumonic for spiritual beliefs although it is possible.

So we can see that there is some controversy as to what the song actually represents. There is probably some truth to the representations made above, but the exact implications are just speculative.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Memo from Santa



[Photo]
I regret to inform you that, effective immediately, I will no longer serve Georgia, Florida, West Virginia , Virginia , North and South Carolina , Tennessee , Mississippi , Missouri, Oklahoma , Texas , Louisiana , Arkansas or Alabama on Christmas Eve.

Due to the overwhelming current population of the earth, my contract was renegotiated by North American Fairies and Elves Local 209. As part of the new and better contract, I also get longer breaks for milk and cookies so keep that in mind. However, I'm certain that your children will be in good hands with your local replacement, who happens to be my third cousin, Bubba Claus. His side of the family is from the South Pole. He shares my goal of delivering toys to all the good boys and girls; however, there are a few differences between us.

Differences such as:

1. There is no danger of the Grinch stealing your presents from Bubba Claus. He has a gun rack on his sleigh and a bumper sticker that reads: "These toys insured by Smith and Wesson."

2. Instead of milk and cookies, Bubba Claus prefers that children leave RC cola and pork rinds (or a moon pie) on the fireplace. And Bubba doesn't smoke a pipe. He dips a little snuff, so please have an empty spit can handy.

3. Bubba Claus' sleigh is pulled by floppy-eared, flyin' coon dogs instead of reindeer. I made the mistake of loaning him a couple of my reindeer one time, and Blitzen's head now overlooks Bubba's fireplace.

4. You won't hear "On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner, and Blitzen..." when Bubba Claus arrives. Instead, you'll hear, "On Earnhardt, on Andretti, on Martin and Petty."

5. "Ho, Ho, Ho" has been replaced by "Yee Haw" And you also are likely to hear Bubba's elves respond, "I her'd dat"

6. As required by Southern highway laws, Bubba Claus' sleigh does have a Yosemite Sam safety triangle on the back with the words "Back Off."

7. The usual Christmas movie classics such as "Miracle on 34th Street" and "It's a Wonderful Life" will not be shown in your negotiated viewing area. Instead, you'll see "Boss Hogg Saves Christmas" and "Smokey and the Bandit IV" featuring Burt Reynolds as Bubba Claus and dozens of state patrol cars crashing into each other.

And Finally,

8. Bubba Claus doesn't wear a belt. If I were you, I'd make sure you, the wife, and the kids turn the other way when he bends over to put presents under the tree.

Sincerely yours,

Santa Claus

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Remembering our Soldiers

As we begin the pre-Christmas week, I hope we can all take some time to thank our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines for the sacrifice they give each and every day. They keep our country free and give us the opportunity to believe and practice our beliefs without the fear of persecution.

Here is a very nice poem that I believe is attributable to the author listed.

A Soldier's Christmas By Michael Marks

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear..
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts.

To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ' Nam ',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile..
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.."

" So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Anonymity

Anonymity is sometimes criticized on this and other blogs. But there are legitimate reasons why anonymity is at times appropriate.

In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes specific mention of anonymity for voting procedures (“... periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage ... shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures."...)

But besides voting, there are other reasons why a person might choose to obscure their identity and become anonymous. Many acts of charity are performed anonymously, as benefactors do not wish, for whatever reason, to be acknowledged for their action. Individuals who feels threatened by someone else might attempt to hide from the threat behind various means of anonymity and this is probably a common reason it is done in blog postings.

We have repeatedly seen the left show their vitriol in anyone disagreeing with them and attacking them personally all while touting tolerance.

The hypocrisy never seems to amaze me.

In this article from the Heritage foundation The Price of Prop 8 we can see why anonymity can sometimes be valuable.

October 22, 2009 The Price of Prop 8 by Thomas M. Messner Abstract: Supporters of Proposition 8 in California have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, vandalism, racial scapegoating, blacklisting, loss of employment, economic hardships, angry protests, violence, at least one death threat, and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry. Arguments for same-sex marriage are based fundamentally on the idea that limiting marriage to the union of husband and wife is a form of bigotry, irrational prejudice, and even hatred against homosexual persons. As this ideology seeps into the culture more generally, individuals and institutions that support marriage as the union of husband and wife risk paying a price for that belief in many legal, social, economic, and cultural contexts. Support for Proposition 8, the democratically established marriage amendment in California, has come with a heavy price for many individuals and institutions that think that marriage should remain the union of husband and wife. Publicly available sources, including evidence submitted in a federal lawsuit in California,[1] show that expressions of support for Prop 8 have generated a range of hostilities and harms that includes harassment, intimidation, vandalism, racial scapegoating, blacklisting, loss of employment, economic hardships, angry protests, violence, at least one death threat, and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry. Because the issue of marriage is still very much alive in California and throughout the nation,[2] the naked animus manifested against people and groups that supported Prop 8 raises serious questions that should concern anyone interested in promoting civil society, democratic processes, and reasoned discourse on important matters of public policy, such as marriage.

Donor Disclosure Laws in the Internet Age

Much of the hostility directed against Prop 8 supporters has been facilitated by a California law that requires the disclosure of certain personal information of individuals who donate $100 or more in support of or opposition to a ballot measure. Information subject to disclosure includes the donor's full name, occupation, and employer.[3] Once this information is disclosed to the State of California, the state then publishes this information on its Web site, enabling anyone with Internet access to view detailed donor reports online in html format or in a downloadable Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.[4]
With this information at hand, several Web sites have been designed that facilitate the easy identification and targeting of Prop 8 supporters. For example, one of these Web sites is a GoogleMaps "mashup" that combines donor information with an interactive map, allowing activists to ascertain the identity, employer, amount of donation, and approximate location of certain Prop 8 supporters in particular geographic areas.[5] A Web site called "Californians Against Hate" highlights particular Prop 8 supporters in its "Dishonor Roll" and provides addresses and telephone numbers for some of them.[6] At least one Web site allows users to search for Prop 8 supporters who work in their businesses.[7]

Because of the California donor disclosure law, some Prop 8 supporters have become targets without ever placing a sign in their yard, putting a sticker on their car, or appearing at a public rally. These more public forms of support for Prop 8 certainly generated plenty of animosity, as documented below. However, many individuals became targets for harassment, intimidation, and reprisals simply for donating $100 or more in support of Prop 8.

Vandalism and Sign Theft

Many reports of hostility toward Prop 8 supporters involve acts of vandalism. An elderly couple who put a Yes on 8 sign in their yard had a block thrown through their window.[8] A senior citizen who placed a pro-Prop-8 bumper sticker on her car had her car's rear window smashed in.[9] Some individuals with pro-Prop-8 bumper stickers had their cars keyed.[10] One woman with a "One Man, One Woman" bumper sticker had her car keyed and tires deflated while she was in a grocery store.[11] One man who placed signs in his yard and stickers on his cars and motorbike reported that someone egged and floured his home three times and egged, floured, and honeyed his car twice.[12] Someone also pushed over the man's motorbike and scraped the bumper stickers off the back glass windows of his cars.[13] Several other individuals reported that Yes on Prop 8 bumper stickers were scraped or ripped off their vehicles or defaced. [14]

Some individuals found their property vandalized with spray paint. Vandals spray-painted vehicles, garages, fences, and Yes on 8 signs in Yucaipa, California.[15] An Alta Loma resident who placed a Yes on 8 sign in her yard found the words "love for all" and "no on 8" spray-painted on her fifth-wheel trailer.[16] In San Jose, vandals spray-painted the garage doors of two homeowners who displayed signs supporting Prop 8.[17] Vandals also spray-painted anti-Prop-8 messages on commercial and residential buildings in Fullerton.[18]

Other forms of vandalism were more bizarre. One woman who placed a pro-Prop-8 sign on her balcony reported finding that her staircase leading downstairs had been covered in urine.[19] She also found a puddle of urine at the bottom of the stairs. [20]

Vandals also hit houses of worship. Perpetrators used orange paint to vandalize a statue of the Virgin Mary outside one church.[21] Offices at the Cornerstone Church in Fresno were egged.[22] Swastikas and other graffiti were scrawled on the walls of the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in San Francisco, a parish known widely as being "gay-friendly."[23] In San Luis Obispo, the Assembly of God Church was egged and toilet-papered, and a Mormon church had an adhesive poured onto a doormat and keypad.[24] Signs supporting Prop 8 were twisted into a swastika at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Riverside.[25] Someone used a heavy object wrapped with a Yes on 8 sign to smash the window of a pastor's office at Messiah Lutheran Church in Downey.[26]

In addition, reports of Yes on Prop 8 signs being defaced, damaged, dislocated, or stolen are almost too numerous to track reliably.[27] According to one source, the Yes on 8 campaign estimated that approximately one-third of an estimated 25,000 signs distributed in California were stolen or vandalized before the campaign ended.[28] Prop 8 supporters who replaced stolen signs often had their signs stolen again. [29] Sign thefts also often involved the added element of trespass or fear of trespass.[30] In some cases, perpetrators crossed fences and walls to steal signs or removed signs that had been securely fastened in place.[31] One individual reported coming home late and hearing male voices outside her home.[32] Another individual reported that a suspected perpetrator quickly drove away when spotted through the front window of his house.[33]

Harassment, Hostility, and Slurs

Several individuals who supported Proposition 8 reported receiving harassing telephone calls, e-mails, and mailings. Prop 8 supporters have reported receiving phone calls and voice mails calling them "bigot"[34] and using vulgar language.[35] Sometimes harassers called at work.[36] A public relations firm hired by the Yes on 8 Campaign received so many harassing phone calls from one person that the sheriff's office became involved.[37] Other Prop 8 supporters received e-mails, letters, and postcards using vulgar language[38] and offensive labels like "gay hater."[39] Through the contact form on his business's Web site, one individual received an e-mail stating "burn in hell."[40] One e-mail threatened to contact the parents of students at a school where a particular Prop 8 supporter worked.[41]

Harassment sometimes took other forms. For example, two women painted an arrow and the words "Bigots live here" on the window of an SUV and parked the vehicle in front of a household that had supported Prop 8.[42] In another case, an individual who supported Prop 8 found himself the subject of a flyer distributed in his town. The flyer included a photo of him, labeled him a "Bigot," and stated his name, the amount of his donation to Prop 8, and his association with a particular Catholic Church.[43] At the University of California, Davis, a Yes on 8 table on the quad was reportedly attacked by a group of students throwing water balloons and shouting "you teach hate."[44] A professor at Los Angeles City College allegedly told students in his class, "If you voted yes on Proposition 8, you are a fascist [expletive deleted]."[45] One Prop 8 supporter received a book, sent anonymously through Amazon.com, that contained "the greatest homosexual love stories of all time."[46]

Prop 8 supporters holding signs in public places also reported incidents of notable hostility. One woman who stood near a street with a Yes on 8 sign reported that a man stopped his car and shouted at her, "You despicable filthy bag of [expletive deleted]."[47] Other drivers circled the block and yelled things like "You [expletive deleted]" each time they drove by her.[48] Once a car with several men stopped, and a man in the back seat opened the door and threw something at her.[49] Another driver stopped her car and yelled, "Get the [expletive deleted] out of here. Who do you think you are, bringing that hate into my neighborhood?"[50] One Prop 8 supporter who witnessed repeated vulgarities at sign-waving events said she felt nervous and scared and chose not to take her children with her.[51] Another Prop 8 supporter concluded that in the future she would make sure that at least one man was with each group of wavers to ensure the protection and safety of the teenagers who participated.[52] Prop 8 also triggered hostility against African-Americans, who were reported to have supported the ballot measure by large margins. "According to eyewitness reports published on the Internet," states one news source, "racial epithets have been used against African Americans at protests in California -- with some even directed against blacks who are fighting to repeal Prop. 8."[53] One man, for example, reported he was called a particular racial slur twice and said the anti-Prop-8 protest he attended "was like being at a klan rally except the klansmen were wearing Abercrombie polos and Birkenstocks."[54] Another man reported that "he and his boyfriend, who are both black, were carrying NO ON PROP 8 signs and still subjected to racial abuse."[55]

"Mormons in the Crosshairs" [56]

Mormons were particularly and systematically targeted for supporting Prop 8. One leading gay-rights activist in West Hollywood said, "The main finger we are pointing is at the Mormon church'"[57] Joe Solmonese, head of the Human Rights Campaign, echoed this sentiment on the Dr. Phil show when, in response to a question from a Mormon audience member asking why his church was being targeted, he reportedly declared, "We are going to go after your church every day for the next two years unless and until Prop 8 is overturned."[58] At least one of the Web sites targeting Prop 8 donors focuses specifically on Mormons.[59] And one anti-Prop-8 activist has filed a complaint asking California officials to investigate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its support for the marriage amendment.[60]

The "Home Invasion" television ad, in particular, sought to exploit anti-Mormon bigotry for political gain. The ad depicts two Mormon missionaries invading the home of a lesbian couple, ransacking their belongings, and tearing up their marriage license. "Hi, we're from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," says one of the Mormon missionaries. "We're here to take away your rights," says the other. The ad concludes with script and a voiceover stating, "Say NO to a Church taking over your government. Vote NO on Proposition 8."[61] This manifestation of undisguised religious bigotry undoubtedly caused great concern to many people. The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, lamented that same-sex marriage activists had failed to air more "hard-hitting" ads like it.[62]

After Prop 8 passed, crowds of same-sex marriage activists congregated for protests at Mormon houses of worship throughout the nation.[63] One video shows same-sex marriage activists massed outside the Mormon temple in New York City crying "fascist church" repeatedly.[64] Another video appears to show angry activists rattling the gates of the temple in Los Angeles and chanting "shame on you."[65] Images from various protests show signs like "Mormon Scum,"[66] "Get your filthy church off me,"[67] and "Keep your hate in Salt Lake."[68]

Anti-Mormon malice reached a new level when someone mailed packages containing suspicious white powder to Mormon temples in California and Utah.[69] At least one of those incidents triggered a domestic terrorism investigation by the FBI.[70] Meanwhile, in Colorado, perpetrators placed a Book of Mormon on the steps of a Mormon church and lit it on fire.[71] Police reportedly investigated the incident as a "bias-motivated arson" related to the church's position on Prop 8.[72]

Violence and Threats of Violence

Some of the animosity directed against people and groups that supported Prop 8 was openly threatening or even violent. In Modesto, for example, a Prop 8 supporter was allegedly punched in the face by someone who had stolen several Yes on 8 signs. According to news reports, Jose Nunez, who became a U.S. citizen just months before Prop 8 passed, was waiting to distribute signs outside his Catholic church when a man grabbed several Yes on 8 signs and fled.[73] When Nunez followed the thief and tried to recover the signs, the thief reportedly yelled "What do you have against gays?" and punched Nunez in the face.[74] According to Prop 8 supporters, Nunez suffered a bloody eye and wounds to his face and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital "where he received 16 stitches under his eye."[75]

In Fresno, the town mayor received a death threat for supporting Prop 8. The threat stated, "Hey Bubba, you really acted like a real idiot at the Yes of [sic] Prop 8 Rally this past weekend. Consider yourself lucky. If I had a gun I would have gunned you down along with each and every other supporter."[76] The threat also mentioned a "little surprise" for a local pastor who supported Prop 8 and "his congregation of lowlife's" [sic]. "Keep letting him preach hate and he'll be sorry," the perpetrator threatened. "He will be meeting his maker sooner than expected."[77] The threat also stated that anyone in Fresno displaying a Yes on Prop 8 yard sign or bumper sticker was "in danger of being shot or firebombed."[78] Police took the threat seriously, launching a criminal investigation and taking extra steps to protect the mayor and pastor.[79]

In another incident, an elderly woman in Palm Springs was besieged by an angry mob protesting Prop 8. Video footage posted on the Internet shows several men shouting at the woman as a television reporter tries to interview her.[80] "Get out of here," one man shouts in the elderly woman's face.[81] Later the video shows the woman, who is carrying a large cross at this point, surrounded by several men, including at least one who knocks the cross out of the woman's hands and stomps on it.[82] Someone also reportedly spit on the 69-year-old lady. [83]

A small group of Christians encountered similar hostilities when an angry crowd apparently took them for pro-Prop 8 demonstrators as they prayed and sang hymns on a sidewalk inthe Castro District of San Francisco.[84] One of the Christians reportedly later stated that the people in the crowd shouted words like "haters" and "bigots" and then "started throwing hot coffee, soda and alcohol on us and spitting (and maybe even peeing) on us."[85] Someone in the crowd allegedly threatened to kill the group's leader, and someone else allegedly tried to pull down the pants of one of the men in the group.[86] A woman in the group was allegedly struck on the head with her own Bible before being thrown to the ground and kicked.[87] Video footage posted on the Internet shows a band of police officers dressed in riot gear fending off the angry crowd and escorting the Christians to safety.[88]

Employees and Business Owners Targeted

Same-sex marriage activists have also targeted the places where Prop 8 supporters work. Businesses and other institutions that employ individuals who personally donated to Prop 8 have been threatened with and in some cases subjected to picketing, protests, and damaging boycotts. Some Prop 8 donors resigned from their jobs or took a leave of absence to protect their employers and colleagues.

For example, Scott Eckern was employed as the director of the nonprofit California Musical Theater in Sacramento before being targeted for personally donating $1,000 to Prop 8. Once Mr. Eckern's support for Prop 8 was discovered, the theater was "deluged" with criticism from prominent artists who opposed Prop 8.[89] Critics included Marc Shaiman, the composer of Hairspray, who stated that his work could not be performed at the theater because of Mr. Eckern's support for Prop 8.[90] Mr. Eckern resigned.[91]

Richard Raddon was the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival before he landed in the crosshairs of Prop 8 opponents. Mr. Raddon personally donated $1,500 to Prop 8. As in the case of Mr. Eckern, once information about Mr. Raddon's personal donation was disclosed to the state and published on the Internet, he became a target of Prop 8 opponents.[92] According to an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, "A threatened boycott and picketing of the next festival forced him to resign."[93]

The extreme nature of this crude, but effective new tactic was poignantly illustrated in the case of Marjorie Christoffersen, a 67-year-old restaurant employee who donated a mere $100 to Prop 8.[94] Once information about Ms. Christoffersen's $100 donation was published on the Internet, Prop 8 opponents launched a protest against the restaurant where she worked, prompting the restaurant to offer activists a free brunch and Ms. Christoffersen to offer an apology.[95] However, when Ms. Christoffersen refused to renounce her support for Prop 8 -- like Scott Eckern and Richard Raddon, Marjorie Christoffersen is a Mormon -- the meeting "turned ugly" and "[b]oisterous street protests erupted that night."[96] Ms. Christoffersen eventually decided to take a leave of absence to protect the restaurant, which is owned by her mother, and the other employees who worked there.[97]

In other cases, business owners who supported Prop 8 either personally or through their enterprises have had their businesses targeted for reprisals by same-sex marriage activists. A dentist in Palo Alto lost patients because he donated $1,000. [98] Purves & Associates, an insurance company in Davis, was picketed with signs such as "Purves Family Supports Homophobia" after family members donated to Prop 8.[99] Protesters rallied and handed out free ice cream to retaliate against a family-owned creamery that supported Prop 8.[100] Activists boycotted the Grand Hyatt hotel in San Diego because its developer donated money to help to put Prop 8 on the ballot.[101] Same-sex marriage activists also targeted a self-storage company because its owner and his family donated money to Prop 8.[102] Boycotting businesses that engage in commercial behavior consumers find objectionable is a time-honored form of activism in American society. However, targeting businesses for the political and religious views of their owners or even their employees -- and the decision of these individuals to participate in democratic political processes -- has raised serious concerns about the state of public discourse regarding marriage and the condition of civil society generally. No individual should be compelled to choose between making a living and participating in democratic processes affecting fundamental matters of public concern, such as marriage.

Beyond Prop 8

The weeks and months after Prop 8 passed also witnessed other incidents of hostility directed against expressions of support for traditional views on marriage and homosexuality. Some of these incidents were not directly connected with support for Prop 8, which suggests, grimly, that some of the hostilities described in this paper could become more common in political contests concerning same-sex marriage and other issues involving homosexuality.

In one disturbing incident just days after Prop 8 passed, a radical group called "Bash Back!" allegedly invaded a Christian church in Michigan. The group's Web site featured photos of members dressed like terrorists and brandishing various objects as weapons.[103] A press release posted by the Alliance Defense Fund, a public interest legal association that is suing the openly anarchist group in federal court, states:

[M]embers of the group dressed in militant garb staged a protest outside the church during a worship service to distract security personnel, blocking access to the building and parking lot at various times. Other members of the group dressed in plain clothes then deceptively entered the building. At a coordinated time, they sprang up to disrupt the service, terrifying many attendees. The group shouted religious slurs, unfurled a sign, and threw fliers around the sanctuary while two women began kissing near the podium. The group pulled fire alarms as they ran out of the building.[104]

In accounts allegedly posted on the Internet after the invasion, Bash Back! described the Mount Hope Church as a "deplorable, anti-queer mega-church" that is "complicit in the repression of queers in Michigan and beyond"[105] and cited the church's "stance on queer identities" as one reason for the attack.[106]

Another case, more widely reported than the church invasion in Michigan, involved Carrie Prejean, the Miss USA beauty contestant. Ms. Prejean was competing in the final round of the Miss USA pageant when she drew a question from pageant judge Perez Hilton about legalizing same-sex marriage.[107] Ms. Prejean's answer -- that, in her view, marriage should be between a man and a woman -- generated a tidal wave of criticism, including from Mr. Hilton, who later described Ms. Prejean in crude and derogatory terms in a video blog on his Web site.[108] A co-director of the Miss California association also condemned Ms. Prejean, stating that "[r]eligious beliefs have no place in politics in the Miss CA family."[109] Both Ms. Prejean and Mr. Hilton have speculated that her answer cost her the crown.[110]

Lessons of Prop 8 Hostilities

Several anti-Prop-8 activists have condemned certain types of hostility described in this paper.[111] Some of the incidents described in this paper have involved illegal conduct, meaning the wider community has already condemned it. Some acts of hostility have been perpetrated by random individuals acting in isolation or by unpredictable crowds expressing anger and frustration.

Yet none of these facts changes the reality that many Prop 8 supporters have paid a considerable price for defending marriage as the union of husband and wife. Indeed, no matter who is to blame for the hostility surrounding Prop 8, one lesson of Prop 8 cannot be denied: Individuals or institutions that publicly defend marriage as the union of husband and wife risk harassment, reprisal, and intimidation -- at least some of it targeted and coordinated.

Furthermore, although some same-sex marriage activists have expressed disagreement with certain types of conduct described in this paper, few activists would disavow the ideology underlying much of the outrage at Prop 8's success. Arguments for same-sex marriage, although often couched in terms of tolerance and inclusion, are based fundamentally on the idea that preserving marriage as unions of husband and wife is a form of bigotry, irrational prejudice, and even hatred against homosexual persons who want the state to license their relationships. As increasing numbers of individuals and institutions, including public officials and governmental bodies, embrace this ideology, belief in marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman likely will come to be viewed as an unacceptable form of discrimination that should be purged from public life through legal, cultural, andeconomic pressure.

Other sources have explained how changes in law based on this ideology will threaten the religious liberties of individuals and institutions that interact with the government or become subject to nondiscrimination laws.[112] The hostility surrounding Prop 8 shows how, once this ideology seeps into the culture more generally, individuals and institutions that support marriage as the union of husband and wife risk paying a price for that belief in many legal, social, economic, and cultural contexts.

Conclusion

When people stand firmly by their beliefs about marriage as the union of husband and wife despite facing social stigmatization, economic hardship, and other reprisals, they provide an important example of civic courage and inspire particular virtues that are essential to the proper functioning of any free and open society. The freedom of parties on both sides of the marriage debate to voice their views and to promote them in public policy should be respected.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Call Your Representatives

Here is a notice from the National Center for Policy Analysis. Please take time to contact your congressional representatives and voice your concerns about the government takeover of our healthcare system.

Voters can now make toll-free calls to their representatives in Washington.
Along with our partners at the Salem Radio Network, the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) has been educating the 1.35 million signers of the Free Our Health Care NOW! petition and the more than 16 million listeners of the Salem Radio Network about the threat of a government-takeover of the health care system. Government-run health care will increase cost, limit access and decrease quality for most Americans.

Thanks to a new feature of the campaign that Salem Radio Network added in November, NCPA Policy Patriots have sent more than 308,000 email messages to their Congressional representatives opposing government-run health care. They've written from all 50 states and to every Senator and Congressmember on Capitol Hill.

The latest stage in the Free Our Health Care NOW! campaign is a toll-free phone bank. The
www.actionarmy.org link provides the ability to activate a phone call to Senators with just the click of a mouse. The NCPA's work to educate the public about specific elements of the bill and the impact it will have will enable thousands of concerned citizens to articulate their concerns.

Our partnership with the Salem Radio Network has exponentially increased the impact of the work that the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) is doing in support of free market solutions for America's health crisis.

Thank you for all you do.
Sincerely,
John C. Goodman

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Real Fundamental Question

I agree with Dr. Flier’s assessments in his op-ed. But he still misses the more basic argument about “dealing with the fundamental problems.” He is using assumptive language and not dealing with the fundamental question as whether health care is a right and whether it is government's job or role to provide it.

This is the more “fundamental question”. If it is a right, when did it become a right, and who or what document describes it as a right.

The left and right will never agree or be able to discuss the fundamental problems as Dr. Flier mentions in the article, because we cannot agree on this more fundamental question of the healthcare right.

Jeffrey S. Flier: Health 'Debate' Deserves a Failing Grade -
WSJ.com

As the dean of Harvard Medical School I am frequently asked to comment on the health-reform debate. I'd give it a failing grade.

Instead of forthrightly dealing with the fundamental problems, discussion is dominated by rival factions struggling to enact or defeat President Barack Obama's agenda. The rhetoric on both sides is exaggerated and often deceptive. Those of us for whom the central issue is health—not politics—have been left in the lurch. And as controversy heads toward a conclusion in Washington, it appears that the people who favor the legislation are engaged in collective denial.

Our health-care system suffers from problems of cost, access and quality, and needs major reform. Tax policy drives employment-based insurance; this begets overinsurance and drives costs upward while creating inequities for the unemployed and self-employed. A regulatory morass limits innovation. And deep flaws in Medicare and Medicaid drive spending without optimizing care.

Speeches and news reports can lead you to believe that proposed congressional legislation would tackle the problems of cost, access and quality. But that's not true. The various bills do deal with access by expanding Medicaid and mandating subsidized insurance at substantial cost—and thus addresses an important social goal. However, there are no provisions to substantively control the growth of costs or raise the quality of care. So the overall effort will fail to qualify as reform.

In discussions with dozens of health-care leaders and economists, I find near unanimity of opinion that, whatever its shape, the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care's dysfunctional delivery system. The system we have now promotes fragmented care and makes it more difficult than it should be to assess outcomes and patient satisfaction. The true costs of health care are disguised, competition based on price and quality are almost impossible, and patients lose their ability to be the ultimate judges of value.

Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by overregulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.
In effect, while the legislation would enhance access to insurance, the trade-off would be an accelerated crisis of health-care costs and perpetuation of the current dysfunctional system—now with many more participants. This will make an eventual solution even more difficult. Ultimately, our capacity to innovate and develop new therapies would suffer most of all. There are important lessons to be learned from recent experience with reform in Massachusetts. Here, insurance mandates similar to those proposed in the federal legislation succeeded in expanding coverage but—despite initial predictions—increased total spending.

A "Special Commission on the Health Care Payment System" recently declared that the Massachusetts health-care payment system must be changed over the next five years, most likely to one involving "capitated" payments instead of the traditional fee-for-service system. Capitation means that newly created organizations of physicians and other health-care providers will be given limited dollars per patient for all of their care, allowing for shared savings if spending is below the targets. Unfortunately, the details of this massive change—necessitated by skyrocketing costs and a desire to improve quality—are completely unspecified by the commission, although a new Massachusetts state bureaucracy clearly will be required.

Yet it's entirely unclear how such unspecified changes would impact physician practices and compensation, hospital organizations and their capacity to invest, and the ability of patients to receive the kind and quality of care they desire. Similar challenges would eventually confront the entire country on a more explosive scale if the current legislation becomes law. Selling an uncertain and potentially unwelcome outcome such as this to the public would be a challenging task. It is easier to assert, confidently but disingenuously, that decreased costs and enhanced quality would result from the current legislation.

So the majority of our representatives may congratulate themselves on reducing the number of uninsured, while quietly understanding this can only be the first step of a multiyear process to more drastically change the organization and funding of health care in America. I have met many people for whom this strategy is conscious and explicit.

We should not be making public policy in such a crucial area by keeping the electorate ignorant of the actual road ahead.

—Dr. Flier is dean of the Harvard Medical School.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Obama Bows


NEED I SAY MORE?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Facts on Healthcare

These facts come from the following article 10 Surprising Facts about American Health Care - Brief Analysis #649
By Scott Atlas

Medical care in the United States is derided as miserable compared to health care systems in the rest of the developed world. Economists, government officials, insurers and academics alike are beating the drum for a far larger government rôle in health care. Much of the public assumes their arguments are sound because the calls for change are so ubiquitous and the topic so complex.

However, before turning to government as the solution, some unheralded facts about America's health care system should be considered.

Fact No. 1: Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers.[1] Breast cancer mortality is 52 percent higher in Germany than in the United States, and 88 percent higher in the United Kingdom. Prostate cancer mortality is 604 percent higher in the U.K. and 457 percent higher in Norway. The mortality rate for colorectal cancer among British men and women is about 40 percent higher.

Fact No. 2: Americans have lower cancer mortality rates than Canadians.[2] Breast cancer mortality is 9 percent higher, prostate cancer is 184 percent higher and colon cancer mortality among men is about 10 percent higher than in the United States.

Fact No. 3: Americans have better access to treatment for chronic diseases than patients in other developed countries.[3] Some 56 percent of Americans who could benefit are taking statins, which reduce cholesterol and protect against heart disease. By comparison, of those patients who could benefit from these drugs, only 36 percent of the Dutch, 29 percent of the Swiss, 26 percent of Germans, 23 percent of Britons and 17 percent of Italians receive them.

Fact No. 4: Americans have better access to preventive cancer screening than Canadians.[4] Take the proportion of the appropriate-age population groups who have received recommended tests for breast, cervical, prostate and colon cancer: Nine of 10 middle-aged American women (89 percent) have had a mammogram, compared to less than three-fourths of Canadians (72 percent). Nearly all American women (96 percent) have had a pap smear, compared to less than 90 percent of Canadians. More than half of American men (54 percent) have had a PSA test, compared to less than 1 in 6 Canadians (16 percent). Nearly one-third of Americans (30 percent) have had a colonoscopy, compared with less than 1 in 20 Canadians (5 percent).

Fact No. 5: Lower income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians. Twice as many American seniors with below-median incomes self-report "excellent" health compared to Canadian seniors (11.7 percent versus 5.8 percent). Conversely, white Canadian young adults with below-median incomes are 20 percent more likely than lower income Americans to describe their health as "fair or poor."[5]

Fact No. 6: Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the U.K. Canadian and British patients wait about twice as long - sometimes more than a year - to see a specialist, to have elective surgery like hip replacements or to get radiation treatment for cancer.[6] All told, 827,429 people are waiting for some type of procedure in Canada.[7] In England, nearly 1.8 million people are waiting for a hospital admission or outpatient treatment.[8]

Fact No. 7: People in countries with more government control of health care are highly dissatisfied and believe reform is needed. More than 70 percent of German, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and British adults say their health system needs either "fundamental change" or "complete rebuilding."[9]

Fact No. 8: Americans are more satisfied with the care they receive than Canadians. When asked about their own health care instead of the "health care system," more than half of Americans (51.3 percent) are very satisfied with their health care services, compared to only 41.5 percent of Canadians; a lower proportion of Americans are dissatisfied (6.8 percent) than Canadians (8.5 percent).[10]

Fact No. 9: Americans have much better access to important new technologies like medical imaging than patients in Canada or the U.K. Maligned as a waste by economists and policymakers naïve to actual medical practice, an overwhelming majority of leading American physicians identified computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as themost important medical innovations for improving patient care during the previous decade.[11] [See the table.] The United States has 34 CT scanners per million Americans, compared to 12 in Canada and eight in Britain. The United States has nearly 27 MRI machines per million compared to about 6 per million in Canada and Britain.[12]

Fact No. 10: Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations.[13] The top five U.S. hospitals conduct more clinical trials than all the hospitals in any other single developed country.[14] Since the mid-1970s, the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology has gone to American residents more often than recipients from all other countries combined. [15] In only five of the past 34 years did a scientist living in America not win or share in the prize. Most important recent medical innovations were developed in the United States.[16] [See the table.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Taking a Look at Profits

Today let’s look at the profit argument that continues to be used as a reason to eliminate or marginalize insurance companies in the healthcare industry. Healthcare remains a service oriented business and as such, will perform better in a free-market environment

Profit is Bad for Your Health? : The Freeman Ideas On Liberty

Many self-styled healthcare “reformers” favor a “public” (read: government) insurance option. The advantage of the government plan, President Obama said, is that “there wouldn’t be a profit motive involved.” Some supporters hoped the public option would be a step toward a single-payer government-run system in which the profit motive would disappear entirely from healthcare decisions.

Suspicion of profit runs deep. In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed, Cynthia Tucker spoke for many last summer when she wrote, “The for-profit health insurance industry is in the business of maximizing profits for their shareholders, and the only way they can do that is to hold down the payments they make for medical care” (emphasis added).

It just ain’t so. Holding down payments unreasonably or in violation of contract would give a company a bad reputation. Firms with bad reputations would have a difficult time attracting future customers in a competitive market, George Mason University economist
Bryan Caplan argues. What would happen to profits then? Reputation provides a powerful incentive against the conduct Tucker fears. However, reputation would be a more potent force if people bought their insurance directly rather than through their employers. Nevertheless, the potential for profit does not lie simply in minimizing the payment of benefits.

But, Tucker argues, “There is no real competition among insurance companies, as recent research has shown.” She’s right. Competition is sparse, however, not because of any inherent market failure but because, among other things, the federal government forbids interstate competition. The purpose of the prohibition is to prevent consumers from finding better deals than those permitted by their state insurance regulators. The protectionist limit on competition is fine with the insurance companies, confirming Freeman contributing editor Steven Horwitz’s First Law of Political Economy: “No one hates capitalism more than capitalists.”

Admirably, Tucker takes Republicans to task for not doing something about competition when they could have. But the failure to repeal a bad policy hardly justifies piling a new bad policy on top of the old.

Profit: the Cure, not the Disease

Some people are repulsed that doctors and insurance companies profit from illness; indeed, Michel de Montaigne wrote a famousessay in which he argued that “the profit of one man is the damage of another.”

Illness, however, isn’t the source of profit. Rather, as FEE web columnist
William Anderson points out, it’s the ability and opportunity to make someone well.

In a Freeman article last year,
Horwitz went further: “Profit is not just a motive; it is also integral to the irreplaceable social learning process of the market. Critics may consider eliminating the profit motive the equivalent of giving the Tin Man from Oz a heart; in fact it’s much more like Oedipus’ gouging out his own eyes.”

Advocates of government-run health care argue that the profit-driven U.S. system is inferior to its Canadian and European counterparts. There is plenty of reason to doubt that claim, but more fundamentally, a system with government-subsidized consumption (Medicare, Medicaid, and tax-advantaged employer-based insurance) and government-constricted markets is not the system free-market advocates have in mind.

Some also argue that private for-profit insurance has higher administrative costs than the government’s nonprofit Medicare program. But lowering such costs is no free lunch. Economist
Greg Mankiw points out that “Low administrative costs are not to be confused with high administrative efficiency” and cites his colleague Malcolm Sparrow, who argues that “health care fraud and abuse [cost] hundreds of billions of dollars per year. . . . The rule for criminals is simple: if you want to steal from Medicare, or Medicaid, or any other health care insurance program, learn to bill your lies correctly. Then, for the most part, your claims will be paid in full and on time, without a hiccup, by a computer, and with no human involvement at all.” If anything, this suggests that administrative costs for Medicare and Medicaid might be too low.

A Learning Process

It’s a misconception that profit is something tacked onto the price of goods and services. If that were so, why would profits change from year to year and why would companies go out of business? Profit and loss are indispensable to consumer well-being because resources are scarce and have alternative uses. How do we decide how much to devote to making people well and how much to devote to feeding, clothing, entertaining, and educating them? It isn’t merely that this is a difficult question to answer. It is literally impossible to answer in any meaningful way without market prices, profits, and losses.

Profit rewards the entrepreneur who takes a risk in transforming resources into products she correctly thinks consumers will value more than those currently being made with those resources. Entrepreneurs get needed feedback from profits and losses. If they create value, profits are the reward. If they destroy value, losses are the punishment. In a free market no entrepreneur may rest on her laurels. Profits attract competition and are competed away before long. So the incentive to innovate and economize is strong.

Contrast this with government. On several online networks I asked for examples of successful and sustainable government programs giving away 12- and 13-figure pots of money. The best examples
were infrastructure and basic research, but even these aren’t disciplined by the market. Without market prices— and the possibility of profit and loss—we can’t calculate the opportunity cost of any given project. Our experiences with the Cash for Clunkers and ethanol debacles do little to inspire confidence.

Profits and losses provide crucial information that enables producers to engage in rational economic calculation in the service of consumers. Grasping this is one of the most important contributions economics has made to our understanding of the world. Thus the profit-and-loss system is as badly needed for medical services as it is for any other product or service. It is true that health care is unique in some ways, but this strengthens rather than weakens the case for subjecting it to entrepreneurial profit and loss. Health care is not “too important to be left to the market.” It is too important not to be.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More on Cell Phones

In a follow-up to a previous posting, I thought I would add a couple of articles to the mix since some individuals do not believe that any of these programs are subsidized. Maybe the NY Times and the company's own websites are mistaken as well.

This one is from the NY Times Lifeline and Tracfone Provide Cellphones for the Needy - NYTimes.com

June 15, 2009
Providing Cellphones for the Poor
By
MATT RICHTEL

John Cobb, 59, a former commercial fisherman who is disabled with cirrhosis of the liver and emphysema, lives in a studio apartment in Greensboro, N.C., on a fixed monthly income of $674. He has been hoping to receive more government assistance, and in February, he did.
It came in the form of a free cellphone and free service.


Mr. Cobb became one of a small but rapidly growing number of low-income Americans benefiting from a new wrinkle to a decades-old federal law that provided them with subsidized landline telephone service.

In a twist, wireless carriers are receiving subsidies to provide people like Mr. Cobb with a phone and typically 68 minutes of talk time each month. It is a form of wireless welfare that puts a societal stamp on the central role played by the mobile device.

Mr. Cobb’s cellphone is a
Motorola 175. “I feel so much safer when I drive. If I get sick, I can call someone. If I break down, I can call someone,” Mr. Cobb said. “It’s a necessity.”
The users are not the only ones receiving government assistance. Telecommunications industry analysts said the program, while in its infancy, could benefit mobile phone carriers, who face a steep challenge of their own: most Americans already own a cellphone, so the poor represent a last untapped market.


“The low hanging fruit is gone, and the wireless companies are going after the nooks and crannies,” said Roger Entner, a wireless industry analyst with Nielsen. “Oh, the poor: How can we sign them up?”

Carriers can receive up to $10 a month in government subsidies, sufficient to cover what amounts to about $3 in service, Mr. Entner said.

Since November, the number of customers receiving free or subsidized wireless service has doubled to 1.4 million, he said. To be eligible for the program, known as Lifeline, a person must meet federal low-income guidelines or qualify for one of a handful of social service programs, including food stamps or
Medicaid.

The opportunity has prompted interest from the nation’s biggest carriers, including
Sprint Nextel and AT&T. But at the forefront is a much smaller company, Tracfone, a Florida provider of prepaid mobile service that has become the face of the fledgling subsidized cellphone.

Tracfone began providing its service, called SafeLink, in Tennessee in August and now does so in 16 states, including New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, according to its Web site. Each time it enters a market — which generally requires state approval — it runs television ads telling people how easy it is to get a free Motorola phone, like Mr. Cobb’s.

The company says the economy makes the audience particularly receptive. “We’ll read that more people are signing up for food stamps and look at our numbers and see volume rising,” said Jose Fuentes, director of government relations for Tracfone. “It’s not scientific proof,” he added. “But we know times are tough.”

He declined to say how many subscribers have signed up. But he said Tracfone, whose paid service has 10 million subscribers, sees the Lifeline service as an opportunity to make some money but, more pointedly, to eventually convert the subsidized customers into paying ones if their fortunes turn around and they no longer qualify for a free phone.

“It could make for a good business,” Mr. Fuentes said.

According to Nielsen, 90 percent of Americans have at least one cellphone. That leaves 32 million, including the infirm, still up for grabs. “And the race is on to get them,” Mr. Entner said.

He said the overwhelming majority of Americans with subsidized wireless service receive it through Tracfone.

One of them is Leon Simmons, 52, of the Bronx, N.Y., who did stints in the Navy, at the Post Office and as a security guard before becoming disabled with emphysema. His wife, who works a minimum wage job at a laundry, heard about the Tracfone service and he got a phone in April.

The free phone is not, as it is for some others in the program, their sole form of telecommunications. Out of the roughly $1,600 they make each month after taxes, they pay $159 for a landline telephone, high-speed Internet and cable television. But the cellphone, Mr. Simmons says, gives him the flexibility to tell his wife or daughter his comings and goings or to stay in touch when he is at the doctor.

According to the
Federal Communications Commission, Lifeline service was started in 1984 to ensure that everyone had telephone service for emergencies. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened competition to new wireline and wireless providers.

More recently, companies, particularly Tracfone, have started pursuing the wireless opportunity. Still, most of the $800 million in subsidies last year went for landline service even as more Americans cut the cord in favor of exclusively using a mobile phone.

The subsidy money comes from a tax applied to phone bills. Carriers seeking eligibility for it apply to state utility commissions, though several states have ceded their jurisdiction in the matter to the F.C.C.

The issue has created controversy in some states over how and even whether to subsidize wireless service. In California, for example, the public utilities commission plans to debate on Thursday a proposal to extend Lifeline services to wireless — a matter backed by companies like
AT&T and Sprint and T-Mobile.

The Greenlining Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income residents, has lobbied the state to “move the
California Lifeline program into the 21st century,” according to public documents provided for the hearing on Thursday.

But State Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, who represents a district in Los Angeles, says the California legislature should ask some tough questions before moving ahead — particularly if people contemplate making wireless their only form of communication. Chiefly, he wants to know whether wireless service satisfies crucial aspects needed in lifeline, like reliability in an emergency.

“What if the phone isn’t charged, or junior doesn’t know how to use it?” Mr. Fuentes asked.
Across the country, Mr. Simmons from the Bronx says he likes being able to communicate when he is on the go. And he does not see what all the fuss is about when it comes to cellphones.

“People walk around with their head stuck into these things, not paying attention to what’s going on around them,” he said. Even though he thinks these people look silly, he said, he is going to use his cellphone.

Why not? he said. “It’s free.”

The New York Times was not the only publication writing on this.
The Chicago Sun Times also wrote the following article and here are a couple of paragraphs from the article: http://www.suntimes.com/news/brown/1874827,CST-NWS-brown10.article

As far as I can tell, and I've checked with the consumer groups, it truly is a free service as long as you don't buy extra minutes. Of course, "free" just means somebody else is paying for it. The wireless companies claim they are providing part of the subsidy, but that's obviously nonsense.

When I mentioned that the phone program was for poor people, Katie corrected me, noting that "it doesn't really say you have to be poor," only that "you get some kind of government assistance."

Safelinks own website states the following: SafeLink Wireless - About Us

SAFELINK WIRELESS®
SAFELINK WIRELESS® service is U.S. government supported program for Income eligible households provided by TracFone Wireless, Inc. In order to participate in the SAFELINK WIRELESS® service, persons must meet certain eligibility requirements set by each State where the service is to be provided. These requirements are based on a person’s participation in a state or Federal support programs or by meeting the Income Poverty Guidelines as defined by the U.S. Government. SAFELINK WIRELESS® service is limited to one person per household.

Here is another link to government subsidies for cell phone carriers. Mobile carriers making out from rural phone subsidy ZDNet Government ZDNet.com

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Failings

Certainly with recent developments and decisions by the Obama team, the inadequacies of his administration are becoming more apparent. But not only to me and other conservatives, but to many independents and less ideological democrats as well.

Here we see a critical review of Obama as well as comments on some of our previous presidents.

American Thinker: Another Failed Presidency

By Geoffrey P. Hunt

Barack Obama is on track to have the most spectacularly failed presidency since Woodrow Wilson.

In the modern era, we've seen several failed presidencies--led by Jimmy Carter and LBJ. Failed presidents have one strong common trait-- they are repudiated, in the vernacular, spat out. Of course, LBJ wisely took the exit ramp early, avoiding a shove into oncoming traffic by his own party. Richard Nixon indeed resigned in disgrace, yet his reputation as a statesman has been partially restored by his triumphant overture to China.

George Bush Jr didn't fail so much as he was perceived to have been too much of a patrician while being uncomfortable with his more conservative allies. Yet George Bush Sr is still perceived as a man of uncommon decency, loyal to the enduring American character of rugged self-determination, free markets, and generosity. George W will eventually be treated more kindly by historians as one whose potential was squashed by his own compromise of conservative principles, in some ways repeating the mistakes of his father, while ignoring many lessons in executive leadership he should have learned at Harvard Business School. Of course George W could never quite overcome being dogged from the outset by half of the nation convinced he was electorally illegitimate -- thus aiding the resurgence of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

But, Barack Obama is failing. Failing big. Failing fast. And failing everywhere: foreign policy, domestic initiatives, and most importantly, in forging connections with the American people. The incomparable Dorothy Rabinowitz in the Wall Street Journal put her finger on it: He is failing because he has no understanding of the American people, and may indeed loathe them. Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard says he is failing because he has lost control of his message, and is overexposed. Clarice Feldman of American Thinker produced a dispositive commentary showing that Obama is failing because fundamentally he is neither smart nor articulate; his intellectual dishonesty is conspicuous by its audacity and lack of shame.

But, there is something more seriously wrong: How could a new president riding in on a wave of unprecedented promise and goodwill have forfeited his tenure and become a lame duck in six months? His poll ratings are in free fall. In generic balloting, the Republicans have now seized a five point advantage. This truly is unbelievable. What's going on?

No narrative. Obama doesn't have a narrative. No, not a narrative about himself. He has a self-narrative, much of it fabricated, cleverly disguised or written by someone else. But this self-narrative is isolated and doesn't connect with us. He doesn't have an American narrative that draws upon the rest of us. All successful presidents have a narrative about the American character that intersects with their own where they display a command of history and reveal an authenticity at the core of their personality that resonates in a positive endearing way with the majority of Americans. We admire those presidents whose narratives not only touch our own, but who seem stronger, wiser, and smarter than we are. Presidents we admire are aspirational peers, even those whose politics don't align exactly with our own: Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman, Ike, Reagan.

But not this president. It's not so much that he's a phony, knows nothing about economics, is historically illiterate, and woefully small minded for the size of the task-- all contributory of course. It's that he's not one of us. And whatever he is, his profile is fuzzy and devoid of content, like a cardboard cutout made from delaminated corrugated paper. Moreover, he doesn't command our respect and is unable to appeal to our own common sense. His notions of right and wrong are repugnant and how things work just don't add up. They are not existential. His descriptions of the world we live in don't make sense and don't correspond with our experience.
In the meantime, while we've been struggling to take a measurement of this man, he's dissed just about every one of us--financiers, energy producers, banks, insurance executives, police officers, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, post office workers, and anybody else who has a non-green job. Expect Obama to lament at his last press conference in 2012: "For those of you I offended, I apologize. For those of you who were not offended, you just didn't give me enough time; if only I'd had a second term, I could have offended you too."

Mercifully, the Founders at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 devised a useful remedy for such a desperate state--staggered terms for both houses of the legislature and the executive. An equally abominable Congress can get voted out next year. With a new Congress, there's always hope of legislative gridlock until we vote for president again two short years after that.

Yes, small presidents do fail, Barack Obama among them. The coyotes howl but the wagon train keeps rolling along.




[editor's note: The author is not the not the same person as Geoffrey P Hunt, who works at the Institute for Scientific Analysis as a senior research scientist.]