Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thomas Wills Interview, Part 2: The Three Gs

You are currently a bachelor...

(laughing) Always have been.

Right. Are you worried you might alienate voters who feel that you are not properly committed to family values?

Wait. You look at all the governors, senators, representatives, and presidents who have had extra-marital affairs, and you're wondering if I am not committed to family values? Just because I'm a bachelor?

Well, I'm not. But there are people who would criticize...

Let them. I'm not going to pander off my concept of family just to silence critics. I'll get married when I am damn well ready and not a moment before.

That's a pretty strong reaction to a simple question.

(Chuckles) You're right. I just don't like people who wave the “Family Values” banner around. What does that even mean?

Family values?

Yeah. It obviously means different things to different people, so any group that claims to have the “proper” grasp of family values is intolerant. I'm okay with not being supported by intolerant people.

Speaking of tolerance, how do you feel about issue of gay marriage?

The whole issue? That's a lot to talk about. Let's start with the fact that I strongly oppose any amendment to the Constitution which would define marriage as existing solely between a man and a woman, for a variety of reasons.
First, and foremost, it would be discrimination. One aspect of the Constitution is to ensure that all citizens of the United States are treated equally and fairly. Look at the XIV Amendment and its application to due process, such as in Brown v. The Board of Education. In the interest of fairness and equality, marriage should not be denied to any couple consisting of two consenting adults.
This is the legality of marriage I'm talking about here. I recognize there are many churches across the nation which believe that God only blesses a union between a man and a woman. Well, the United States does not expect any person—regardless of age, race, or sexual orientation—to convert to any religion against their will or belief, so the United States should also not expect any person—regardless of age, race, or sexual orientation—to follow any tenet of a religion they are not a part of. The United States should not be concerned with the legislation of the spiritual or religious definition of marriage, only the legal one.

You can hem and haw and wiggle all you want, but it boils down to this: If you want to deny any right or privilege to one group but allow it to all the rest, it is discrimination, plain and simple. And discrimination has no business appearing in our Constitution.

Would you support a proposal to legalize gay marriage?

Of course I would.

You want to know what I think is sad? There are four different amendments to the constitution concerning voting. The Fifteenth deals with race, the Nineteenth deals with sex, and the Twenty-sixth deals with age. The Twenty-fourth dealt with race again. Four amendments! It took four to make sure that every adult in the nation was able to use their voice as a citizen and vote. Four amendments to make sure each state recognized the equality of every adult as a valuable voting voice. Essentially it took four amendments to make sure every state behaved like they were supposed to.
The Ninth and Tenth Amendments allow the States to determine the legality of everything not covered in the Constitution. Wouldn't it be great if the States decided not to discriminate on their own, that it did not require a federal amendment to the Constitution to ensure the fair treatment of individuals in the States?

So, yes, while I would support an amendment legalizing gay marriage, I would very much prefer not having to, and that the States would do their part without the federal government shaking a legal stick at them to keep them in line.

I guess that answers my question concerning the separation of church and state.

Is there a question? Was there ever? The United States is a democratic Republic, not a theocracy. Jesus said, “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar's, render to God that which is God's.” God's laws for the people living on earth concern spiritual growth and relate almost entirely to mercy. Man's laws concern themselves more with justice. The natural difference between the two is fairly clear, so it's strange to me that people would like to use God's laws to determine legality and justice.

What's your take on the Second Amendment?

The big debate was always between personal ownership of arms (which nearly everyone takes to mean guns) and the use of arms by state militia. The debate is always portrayed as an either/or situation.

And it's not?

I'd say that rarely is a political issue completely black or white.

Concerning gun control, I think stringent classification system is useful: guns used in sport, guns used in self-defense, and guns used for assault. I realize that not everyone views hunting as very sporting, and that debate is its own entity entirely. People have the right, I believe, to use guns in sporting manner, and I also believe people have the right to own a gun for the purpose of self-defense. I believe that just as a citizen needs a license demonstrating their ability to safely operate an automobile, citizens should need a license demonstrating their ability to safely load, clean, and operate their firearms. I think it is the responsibility of the city or state to monitor, not regulate, the amount and type of ammunition being bought and sold. I'm sure that none of this seems controversial or unreasonable at this point.
Where people run into trouble is the debate over the third category of guns: those used for assault. These guns have one purpose and one purpose only, to kill people and kill them quickly. Why any American citizen would
want to own one of these weapons is disturbing enough. There is nothing sporting about assault weapons, they are of hardly any use at all in self-defense. But, I'll admit, these weapons do have their uses. These guns are useful in situations where the opposition might be using similar weaponry. It would be these guns, then, that belong under the control of S.W.A.T. Teams, the National Guard, and any other State Militia type groups. Their use should be stringently controlled and monitored, so that only members of these groups have the legal authority to shoot them. Note that I said shoot and not own. These weapons should be the property of the city and/or state and only used in situations that threaten the security and safety of the city and/or state.

So how would you respond to the allegation that prohibiting the ownership of assault weapons is a violation of the 2nd Amendment?

Given that there is no stringent list of weapons that fall under the jurisdiction of the Second Amendment, are we then to assume that the amendment applies to all weapons? Because you have to draw the line somewhere. Otherwise it's possible to make an argument for the ownership of rocket launchers, tanks, napalm...Hell, if there isn't a line drawn, couldn't you make an argument for the personal ownership of a nuclear weapon?
My response is that if you
do have to draw the line somewhere (and I'm sure we all agree that a line is necessary) I believe citizens have no business owning weapons whose sole purpose is the killing of other human beings. Let the city and state hold ownership of those weapons (if the state chooses to), and decide how and in what situations those weapons should be used.

And if someone presents an argument that assault weapons could be used for something other than killing people?

Like what?

Look, I'd love to fly a plane. But the only way I'm going be allowed to do that legally is if I'm a pilot. If people want to fire off assault weapons so bad, they should join an armed service.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Civis Valetudo (1 of 2)

In July of this year the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) posted a study showing that 62 percent of the bankruptcies in America occurred due to high medical bills. The study also showed that most of those who filed for bankruptcy were middle-class, well-educated homeowners. The study further showed that of that 62 percent, 80 percent had medical insurance.
It is abundantly obvious that the current health care system in America simply does not work.

The reason health care in America does not work is not because of the quality of care, however. It is important to keep that in mind. Health care in America is incredibly effective at improving the health of the sick, easing the pain of the dying, and maintaining the health of the well. As long as you can afford it. The reason health care in America does not work is that nobody can afford it.
The cost of health care must go down, and it is impossible that the cost will ever drop to sustainable levels while for-profit businesses run health-care in America.

This is fact. You can argue about Democrats or Republicans or Socialism or anything else, but don't bother denying that for-profit business has ruined health care in America.

So, here's the tricky part: HOW?
How do you lower costs? Where?

All the health care plans in Congress right now deal with only one facet of the cost of health care: insurance.
Insurance reform is important. Costs are high, "Pre-existing conditions" jack those costs higher or serve as the excuse to deny coverage (did you know that domestic abuse is considered a pre-existing condition). Companies that provide health insurance do so because it makes them money. And like any business, they work hard at cutting costs and programs which do not maximize their profitability.
It should not strain your logic receptors to realize that sick people do not maximize their profitability.

So, a big part of insurance reform, then would be to minimize the ways insurance companies look at their customers as positive and negative dollars.
One way would be to put caps on the amount insurance companies can make as profit. This, essentially, is what regulation does. It's government oversight on an industry to make sure it is not taking unfair advantage of its customers. Health insurers need more than just a reform bill, they need regulation.
Another way to help could be reward programs. My auto insurance gives me a discount for being a good driver. Health insurance could give you discount incentives for being healthy. They penalize you for being a smoker, or for being older, or for being in a situation that would make you more likely to require health care. If you can manage going a full year without requiring more than preventative health care, shouldn't you be rewarded with a reduction of how much you have to pay?

Unfortunately, looking at health care customers as dollar signs does not start and stop with health insurance companies.

When a pharmaceutical company invents a new drug, you can't just call up the company and buy some. You go to your doctor, who fills out a prescription, and you pick up the scrip at a drug store or other pharmacy. The cost of the drug depends on your health-care, and not merely on whether or not you have any. The cost of the drug can change literally depending on which insurance company you have and which health-care provider you use.
You know how you can go to a car lot and get a quote on a car, and then go to a different lot and get a lower or higher quote on the exact same car? Pharmaceuticals work the exact same way depending on your health care plan.

As a matter of fact, most of your health care costs can vary between plans. There is no standardized price on most health care services. It's a contract system.
A hospital will actually give one health insurance company a better deal on x-rays, CT scans, etc. than another company, depending on how many customers that health insurance company can bring the hospital for those services.

Another problem with for-profit health care?
A former Pfizer sales representative filed suit against the company for its practices. "At Pfizer, I was expected to increase profits at all costs, even when sales meant endangering lives," he said, in a statement. "I couldn't do that."(Emphasis mine)
In September this year, Pfizer pleaded guilty to one count of illegal marketing of one of their products. The fine they paid was $2.3 billion, the highest fine ever levied against an American company (Pfizer can make $2.3 billion in about 2 weeks). No one went to jail.
In the lawsuit, Pfizer was shown to encourage doctors to prescribe their product for off-label uses, including for children. The product was Bextra, a pain killer for arthritis and and menstrual pain. Additionally, the company paid doctors to come to lavish "consultant meetings" with the goal of getting doctors to prescribe the drug more often.
Industry insiders say this sort of thing is pretty common. Remember how it seemed every child with more energy than someone in a coma was prescribed Ritalin? Did it help? Is it one of the reasons autism is on the rise? Are pharmaceutical companies to blame?

The health care bill in Congress does not address the price gouging of these companies. It provides no oversight.
The health care lobby is spending more than $1.4 million per day on Congress to protect its interests and if you compare earlier proposals to current plans in Congress, and then compare that to what will eventually pass, it'll be pretty easy to see Congress rolling over at every opportunity.

The absolute easiest way to reduce to exorbitantly high price tag on health care is creating a single payer universal health care system: expanding Medicare to include everybody, for example.

There is an incredible amount of either confusion or outright deception on this issue. In part 2 I will attempt to clarify what I mean, and why single payer health coverage is a necessity.