Monday, July 20, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and... Statistics?

by Al Falafel

In his Autobiography, Mark Twain famously wrote " There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

This phrase came up recently on BBC Radio's coverage of the American debates on health care reform. BBC commentators often ridicule our overwrought fears in the US of socialized medicine and universal health care, which they take for granted. And feel very protective of. As do most of the industrialized countries in the world. It is hard for most people on the planet to conceive of a situation where free access to health care is not considered a basic right.

And they are not afraid to call it what it is: Socialized Medicine. It seems that the only people on the planet who let any form of the word "socialism" stall needed health care reform efforts are easily manipulated citizens of a country that professes a natural right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

When it comes to health care you can always count on scaring Americans into voting against their own self interest if you frighten them with the "specter of Communism," as Karl Marx called it.

Even Repugnican proponents of the status quo that is our profit-driven, insurance-company-controlled system acknowledge ours as the most expensive health care system in the world. But since high cost to consumers means high profits to corporate shareholders Repugnicans take this as a positive thing! No matter how it is framed, however, the rest of the world sees right through this disingenuous point and laughs at us for allowing shameless Repugnicans to get away with it. They marvel at how ignorant and gullible we Americans are to buy into such baloney, especially when they hear that 40 million of us have no health care coverage at all!

It was in reference to our glaring inadequacy and the often suppressed statistics which embarrassingly point up the inferiority of the US health care system - our relatively high infant mortality rate and short life expectancy - that the BBC commentator made the observation that Repugnicans "have long engaged in lies, damn lies and statistics... but now they don't even bother with the statistics!"

Infant mortality rate - number of deaths/live births per thousand & number of deaths-by-age-5/thousand live births - coupled with average life expectancy is a common sense and widely accepted measure of health care effectiveness. In both cases the US ranks behind all the European countries, including those that provide socialized medicine. We barely outrank Croatia, Malta, Martinique and Poland: our nearest competitors in infant mortality. New Caledonia, Cyprus and Brunei slightly beat us on this measure. That's the company we keep though. And it's no better in the area of life expectancy where we do a little better here than they do in Albania and Kuwait. But one area where we consistently outrank every other country in the world is in health care SPENDING! According to statistics, spending on health care in the US is 53% higher than all other countries! USA! USA! USA! We're number 1!

Speaking of damn liars, the Repugnican ogre we know as Pat Buchanan reared his ugly head again this week and had it neatly handed to him by the wonderfully unflappable Rachel Maddow. On her nightly MSNBC program Maddow graciously provided Buchanan an opportunity to show his true colors, which are, of course, white, whiter and whitest. Never one to back down from any chance to assert his racist ideology, Pat gave a spirited defense of his heart-felt belief in the superiority of "his people" (whites) and their exclusive entitlement to the best of everything that exists. He summed it all up in his statement that "White men wrote the Constitution and it was White men who built this country!"

When it comes to recalling how this country was founded and built, of course, Buchanan ignores certain embarrassing historical facts while selectively affirming others, like all damn liars do. He would undoubtedly agree that those white men of the 18th Century who wrote the Constitution and before it the Declaration of Independence, relied heavily on the then revolutionary principles that came out of Western Philosophy's Age of Enlightenment.

Sounds so nice, doesn't it? Enlightenment!

At that time however, the onset of the Industrial Revolution had not yet hit the North America shores. So through most of the 18th and 19th centuries the bulk of work that it took to build this nation's agriculture-based economy was done primarily by our indispensable reliance on slave labor.

Remember slavery and slave ownership?

Especially in the Southern States where Buchanan, native to Washington DC, has his strongest following today, the indisputable fact is that mostly African slave labor provided the means of production that built this country. It was the introduction of internal combustion machinery and electrification of our farms and cities that made slavery obsolete. American-owned slaves, who comprised less than a tenth of the total Southern population in 1680, grew to a third by 1790. According to Economic History Services: , "Nearly 4 million slaves with a market value of close to $4 billion lived in the U.S. just before the Civil War."

Who did you say built this country, Pat?


Old fogies like Buchanan and his Repugnican ilk would have us ignore the historical record of these last couple of centuries if it works against their political agenda. When working their "strict constructionist, original intent" theories of interpreting Constitutional law, they resent outright any mention of this country's and our founders' greatest shame: an accommodation of slavery.

They argue that the War Between the States and the Emancipation of Slaves in the 19th Century negated all that ugliness so why does it ever have to come up again?

Of course, when arguing against such things as women's equality, reproductive rights and especially same-sex marriage they feel it is wholly appropriate and legitimate to rely on intentional misinterpretations of not just centuries but millennia of history to falsely justify continuing ignorance and legal discrimination in the 21st Century.

Rachel Maddow told Buchanan he was "dating" himself by spouting such racist, sexist and homophobic arguments.

She is right, of course. And the same applies to all those crude and despicable Repugnican Senators who had the gall to suggest that Justice Sotomayor is a racist like themselves. They ineloquently twisted her powerful and inspiring words into something vile that supposedly needs to be defended. They demean her obvious wisdom while addressing her, a sitting Federal Judge, with little more than thinly veiled contempt. All of this as the glare of TV lights and cameras captured every malicious crack in their ultimately impotent attempts to quash her All-American aspirations for a seat on what they would preserve as a whites-only bench in the ultimate old boys' club.

Viewers were spared an even uglier spectacle than what could have come during the televised Senate confirmation hearings -- thanks only to the Repugnicans' considerable restraint of their true feelings toward Puerto Ricans and African Americans such as our President who nominated Sotomayor for Supreme Court Justice.

The Repugnican Party is rightfully concerned about alienating what's left of their inexplicable but dwindling voter support among immigrant and minority populations. After being beaten by an honest-to-God black candidate topping the Democratic ticket, Repugnicans have failed to stop the hemorrhaging of their minority membership. Nor have they fooled many minorities by reacting to the outcome of the last election: propping up an unknown and ineffective token, Michael Steel to confuse them (black faces do not all look alike to people who aren't totally racist). And their cynical embrace of that back water blow-up doll named Sarah Palin as a potential party leader on the national level continues to blow up in their faces.

So concerned are they for their survival as a Party that their behind-the-scenes leadership, for the benefit of the viewing audience, obviously enforced a muzzle on their rabid bitches who hold seats on the Judiciary Committee: Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, Orin Hatch, Jeff Sessions, Charles Grassley, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn. Each of them a white male, barely able to hide his snarling frustration at being a member of the dominant race that is soon to reach statistical minority status in the United States.

On Rachel Maddow's show Pat Buchanan pathetically decries what he sees as rampant discrimination against white males everywhere. With minority populations growing fast, long suffering white Repugnican men seem to be in practice under Big Daddy Buchanan's tutelage. Is he teaching them how to cry "discrimination!" in preparation for an ever nearer future when they will finally lose their last ostensibly credible claim to privilege and entitlement as part of some majority that no longer exists?

It is correct to say that by their attitudes they date themselves.

It is perhaps more correct to say that they have outlived their usefulness to their party, their country and humanity itself.

Isn't it time the Repugnicans, as a national political Party, do the world a favor go the way of the Whigs?


Judge Sotomayor has often and intentionally been misquoted in that now famous speech she made at the University of California in October, 2001. What she actually said was this...

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Repugnican blowhards have plumbed the most extreme depths of their own shame misreading this quote to find some shred of evidence that she practices "reverse racism."

We can imagine that, if she had just put it a slightly different way, George W. Bush might have nominated Sotomayor himself and she would have breezed through the confirmation process when the Repugnicans were still in charge. Heck, she could already be Chief Justice on the Court had she just tweaked her wording to read something like this...

"I would hope that any white male would more often than not reach a better conclusion than the wisest Latina woman whose wretched life experiences could obviously never measure up to those of her white male overlords... In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, amen."

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