Black doll in a baby’s casket

From Woman who was escorted into school as first black student, age 6, offers thanks 53 years later to the white U.S. Marshal who protected her:

“But [Ruby] Bridges, who still lives in New Orleans, did recall seeing a black doll in a baby’s casket the crowd taunted her with, a haunting image she said gave her nightmares.”

When I read about this historic event, I think about the little girl’s parents. What a courage! Would you have moral strength and conviction to send your six-year-old into such hostile environment that it would require daily escort by federal marshals? I’m not sure I would.

My daughter has just started kindergarten, so when I look at the photo below and see this little girl in her perfect dress, the cute bow, the pretty shoes and white socks, I’m wondering what it took Ruby’s family to get her ready for the first day of school. How did they prepare her? What did they tell her in anticipation of passing through the crowd of raging grown-ups?

Ruby Bridges, 6, required three U.S. Marshals to escort her into Williant Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1960

Ruby Bridges, 6, required three U.S. Marshals to escort her into Williant Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1960. U.S. Deputy Marshal Charles Burks, top left, never left her side .(Credit: AP)

I also think about all these white people in the crowd. Not only did they feel obligated to come for a chance to harass the little soul, but they came prepared. Some of them brought these little babies’ caskets with black dolls inside. So they could make their point clear to the six-year-old.

Where does one get a baby’s casket? At a funeral home? Supermarket? Did they build the caskets themselves? As a family activity? So they come from a church service or a family gathering on Sunday and tell their kids:

“This is what we’re gonna do tonight. We’ll buy a black doll. Then we’ll go to a workshop and build a small casket.  Tomorrow, we’ll put the doll in the casket and wave it in the face of this six-year-old black girl on her way to your school. We’ll do it in the name of the Lord. I bet she’ll get scared. It will be fun!”

Who are all these people?

Sidewalk protest in New Orleans over school integration, November 15th,1960.

November 1960: Demonstrators during school integration in New Orleans, Louisiana; one holding sign that reads, “Integration is A Mortal Sin.”

All I Want For Christmas is a Clean White School

Sidewalk protest in New Orleans over school integration, November 15th,1960.

Little Rock, 1959. Rally at state capitol, protesting the integration of Central High School. Protesters carry US flags and signs reading

Little Rock, 1959. Rally at state capitol, protesting the integration of Central High School. Protesters carry US flags and signs reading “Race Mixing is Communism” and “Stop the Race Mixing March of the Anti-Christ”.

Are they still around? Some of them should be alive. I wonder if they kept the babies’ caskets. Too bad they weren’t invited to the Ruby Bridges and Charles Burks reunion, so we’ll never find out.

The Greatest Commandment

On June 7, 2013, an anonymous bidder paid $1,000,100 for a chance to have lunch with Warren Buffett at New York City’s Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse. The winning bid seemed like a disappointment this year, at least, compared to the last year’s $3.45 million and $2.63 million a year before. Congratulations to this year’s winner for getting a bargain (all money go to charity, by the way), but it’s still no pocket change, and I wonder what he — I think the winner is he — is expecting to get in return. He has been warned to not expect stock tips, so which topic is he planning to discuss with the most successful investor of the 20-th century? Does he need an advice about life? Politics? Something he wants to share? Or ask?

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett (courtesy Getty Images)

People don’t seem to mind spending money (often lots of money) for a chance to meet someone important. I wonder who would be the ultimate person that most people would pay most money to meet for lunch. From present or past. Would it be Gandhi? Buddah? Mohamed? Moses? Abraham? Lincoln? I bet for Christians, the ultimate person to meet would be Jesus. Having a steak with Jesus would be awesome! (Jesus likes steak, right?)

If you were to go for lunch with Jesus, what would you talk about? What would you ask?

I suspect many would ask what Jesus thinks about the controversial topics of the day. The ones he did not address in the Gospels. We seem to have passed race-based controversies, so don’t expect any questions about slavery or inter-racial dating. This would be so past century (well, unless you graduated from Bob Jones before year 2000). But what about homosexuals with their marriage? Jesus didn’t talk much about them when he was around last time. Why not? He didn’t have an opinion? He must have made up his mind by now. Abortion? Is the life of a fetus as important as the life of a born human? Old Testament suggests it’s not,1 but maybe Jesus thinks differently? What about euthanasia? Is it a deadly sin? Death penalty? Is it good? Does Jesus like guns? Which party does he support? Can the Palestinians have a state? Is Obama a Muslim?

Theological questions should also interest the most enlightened. Which denomination is best? Who got it right: Calvinists or Arminians? Does bread consumed during communion literally turns into Christ’s flesh? Can we drink wine? After communion? Or juice? At communion? Beer? Anytime? Can priests marry? Can we use contraception? If so, which one? Boxers or briefs?

I guess, some questions sound a bit silly, a few are tricky, but Jesus should not be put off by them. He has answered a lot of different questions before. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days (Matthew 12:10)? Can a man divorce his wife for any reason (Matthew 19:3)? Should we burn down a village (Luke 9:54)? Who will be the husband of the seven-time widow in the resurrection (Matthew 22:28)? Should we strike with our swords (Luke 22:49)? Shall we pay taxes (Mark 12:14)? Yep, the silly questions, the tricky and the duh ones, Jesus must have heard them all.

Tiberius Caesar Denarius

Tiberius Caesar Denarius

Now, speaking of serious questions addressed to Jesus in the Gospels, which one do you think is most important? The one that is personal, yet it appeals to everyone. If you were to single out a question, answering which would give you a sense of the Jesus’ teaching and his expectations from you, what would this question be? Think about it for a second…

You may come up with a different favorite, but to me the most important questions is quoted in Luke 10:25:

Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

Understanding what you need to do to inherit eternal life is kind of important, don’t you think? After all, that’s most likely why you became a Christian in the first place. That’s why you may want other people to be Christians, too.

A loaded question, but the answer seems to indicate that to inherit eternal life, you need to do just these two things (Luke 10:27-28):

(1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and

(2) Love your neighbor as yourself.

Okay, wait a minute, what about repentance, being born again, baptized by water, baptized by the Spirit, speaking in tongues, tithing, and everything else you have been told to do since you started attending church? Well, sure, Jesus has also left other commandments, but these two seem to be the most important ones. They even got their own name: The Great Commandment (or Greatest Commandment). It’s in Wikipedia.

According to the Gospel, the expert in the law, who brought this question to Jesus did not have a problem with the first part of the answer. Apparently, he knew what loving the Lord your God with all your soul, strength and mind meant. That’s too bad because for a non-expert, this may not be obvious.

What does it mean, to love God? Religious people claim that they love God all the time. In hymns, prayers, on TV. But is a public proclamation of loving God an indicator of true love? And what is that true love of God? Is it a feeling? An action? I guess, a missionary who chooses a life of service and dies in poverty or gets killed in the jungles of Amazon exhibits his love of God through his life, but what about a TV preacher or an apostle of prosperity who hangs out with celebrities and makes comfortable living selling sermons on DVDs? I suspect he also loves God in his own way. When God blesses you with multi-million-dollar homes and a private jet (or a diamond mine), what’s there not to love. But is this the same love? And is this the love of the same God?

Prosperity Gospel

As Creflo Dollar preaches at a prosperity gospel convention, people march up to the stage to drop money in what is called a spontaneous offering.

And what about regular folks? How can you tell if an average Joe loves or does not love God enough to fulfill the Great Commandment?

That’s not an easy question to answer. Apostle John suggests that your love of God reflects your love of your brother (1 John 4:20). You cannot love one and hate the other. Which brings us to the second half of the Great Commandment:

Love your neighbor as yourself.

It looks like when it comes to loving humans, Jesus expanded the scope. We have more neighbors than brothers, but who exactly is your neighbor? That’s a kind of question worth asking Jesus at lunch, because not getting it right may lead to confusion that can affect your chances of inheriting eternal life.

Before we get to the neighbor part, I must notice that in the sermon on the mountain, Jesus recommends us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), so if we were to love brothers, neighbors, and enemies, who’s there to not love? Extraterrestrials?

Although, in my limited understanding, love of the enemies — and, by the way, we know who these people are — seems more like an advanced course that not everyone masters. Some do, and we all should try, so if you need an example, see the story of reverend Wade Watts and a (now former) Ku Klux Klan leader Johnny Lee Clary:



However, loving your enemy does not seem to be a requirement for inheriting eternal life. Loving your neighbor does. So who is your neighbor anyway?

To describe your neighbor, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. You must have heard it: a Jew travels on business, gets robbed and beaten and left to die on the side of a road, two religious figures pass by not doing a thing, then a stranger from Samaria picks him up, offers first aid, takes him to a hotel, and pays for his stay until recovery.

Bystander effect (© All rights reserved by …c.m…)

The part that confused me about this parable comes from the question that Jesus asks at the end of the story (Luke 10:36):

Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?

There is a perception that the robbed Jew in the parable represents your neighbor, meaning that a person in trouble is someone you must love as yourself. But this is not what Jesus implies. What Jesus suggests here is that your neighbor is someone who does good to you, so he’s the one to love. In the other words, love someone who treats your well.

But what kind of commandment is this, you may ask. Anyone can do that. How hard it is to love someone who shows you mercy?

It shouldn’t be hard unless this someone is a Samaritan and you are a Jew living in the first century A.D. Looking back from 2013, it may be hard to understand the relationship between the two groups, but it should be sufficient to say that their mutual hatred exceeded their hatred of the Roman occupiers. I will leave the explanation of the depth of the animosity between Jews and Samaritans to the Bible and Wikipedia, but to give you a sense of how the words of Jesus may have sounded to the people of his days, let me adapt it to today’s realities.

Here is a Parable of the Good “Samaritan”, 2013 Edition:

A man was traveling from Sacramento to San Francisco, when he was attacked by a gang. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead by the side of a highway.

A preacher happened to be driving down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by.

So too, a minister, when he drove to the place and saw him, passed by.

But a homosexual man, as he drove by, came where he was; and when he saw the man, he took pity on him.

He got out of his car, went to him and bandaged his wounds. Then he put the man in his car, brought him to a local hospital and stayed with him in the emergency room overnight. He paid cash for the medical services.

The next day he took out his credit card and left it with the hospital receptionist. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and charge my VISA for any extra expense you may have.’

Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the gangsters?

Now, would you call this homosexual man a Good Gay and love him as you love yourself?

I know quite a few people who would not. For them, a Good Gay is an oxymoron. Gays by definition cannot be good. Just as Samaritans could not be good two thousand years ago.

Do not look at me! Russian law says it will make you gay!

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law that forbids adoption by same-sex couples.

How bad were Samaritans to the Jews? They were bad. So bad, that Jews couldn’t even talk about them. Mere term Samaritan was one of contempt on the lips of Jews.2

But these are totally different types of people, a good Christian may say in 2013: Samaritans were not sexual perverts abominated by God.

You know what? They were probably worse. Samaritans were spiritual perverts. They violated direct commandments that God had given to Israel. They mixed up with the gentiles. They built a false temple and desecrated the one in Jerusalem. They killed Jewish pilgrims. They used to worship idols, and there is nothing worse than God’s vengeance directed at idolaters.

Westboro Baptist Church

Westboro Baptist Church anti-gay rally (Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Okay, a more enlightened Christian may respond: I love the sinner, but I hate the sin. This seems to be a common mantra of the Christian population that evolved past the Westboro Baptist Church period. And it’s a reasonable approach. In theory. But let me illustrate what it means in practice.

The following is a real story:

On July 5, 2007, Satender Singh, 22, was among a group of people drinking and dancing to Indian music by the lake Natomas near Sacramento, CA. He was the only one without a date and was seen hugging and dancing with other men. Apparently, this upset a group of Slavic Christian immigrants, including Andrey Vusik and Aleksandr Shevchenko, who started hurling explicit racial and homophobic slurs at Singh. After the daylong dispute, Slavic men called for reinforcement, and when their friends arrived, Vusik punched Singh, who fell backward and hit his head. He died four days later. Vusik fled the country.

You may be expecting me to point at Vusik and Shevchenko here, but I won’t. Even though they have committed this horrible crime, they are not the ones who horrify me. Let me finish the story.

When I was retelling this case to my family, we had a visitor: a 16-year-old girl, a pastor’s daughter, a sweetheart who was active in the youth ministry. Here is what she said when she heard the story:

Too bad they killed only one.

Now, that’s the attitude that horrifies me. This is the love the sinner, hate the sin as practiced and encouraged among mainstream Christian churches. That’s the spirit that enables vusiks and shevchenkos.

We may have a handful of those who will go as far as killing a gay, but we have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Christians who think that it’s too bad that they kill only one. If you think I’m exaggerating, you must be attending a Unitarian Church.

Anti-Jews poster

Anti-Jews poster by Westboro Baptist Church.

I picked gays as an example because they offer a good illustration of the issue, but it could be a different group. I know a few Slavic Christians, who don’t like blacks. Some still don’t accept inter-racial marriage (can you name another group who still thinks it’s a problem?). Others do not like Asians. Or Arabs. Or Jews. Majority despises Democrats and liberals. The list can go on.

The problem with mainstream Christians is that we spend a lot of effort trying to determine who exactly is the neighbor worthy of our love, and we consistently get it wrong. We end up hating the people who do no harm to us and a few who actually mean us well. We often do not follow what Jesus told us and unknowingly subscribe to the same value system as fascists, neo-nazis, white supremacists, hard-core communist, and Islamic fundamentalists (that’s a company you find yourself in when it comes to treatment of gays, but again, I am not talking exclusively about gays here, there are a few others).

The pink triangle

The pink triangle (German: Rosa Winkel) was one of the Nazi concentration camp badges, used to identify male prisoners who were sent there because of their homosexuality

You see, Jesus did not imply that you must love a suicide bomber or a sexual predator. You do not have to love all gays, all Palestinians, all blacks or all liberals. There are a lot of bad people among them, just as there are a lot of bad people among heterosexuals, whites, or conservatives. You are not required to love them. But you should not hate your neighbor just because he wears a label that you don’t approve.

If you think that gays marching on the streets with bare bottoms or engaging in sexual acts in public places are reprehensible, that’s fine. It’s understandable and I’m with you on this. A lot of good gay people would agree with us. But you know what: shouldn’t you be equally upset about heterosexuals since many of them practice the very same things? Some of them can also be accused of being rapists, child molesters, engaged in prostitution, pornography, wife swapping, infidelity, sexual promiscuity, and similar sins. How come there is no Christian-sponsored campaign against heterosexuality as a result of these behaviors?

Are you upset about the things you see at some gay pride parades? What about the things you see at Brazilian carnivals? Not happy about gay festivities getting out of hand? But how do you like activities that take place every year on spring breaks? Can’t stand drag queen performances? What do you think of Victoria’s Secret’s fashion show? Or strip clubs? How come there is no initiative to outlaw Mardi Gras or close Las Vegas?

But enough about gays. What about Haitians? Are they our neighbors? Not according to Christians who believe the urban legend spread by Pat Robertson about a pact made by Haitians with the devil.3 Isn’t it a shame that when an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, many non-believers offered immediate help while some Christians occupied themselves with the dilemma whether it makes sense to help a country supposedly cursed by God.

I think I have an idea why I have been struggling with the parable of the Good Samaritan for so many years. I was trying to understand who my neighbor was, while the point Jesus was trying to make is that it’s not that important. Your neighbor can come from an unexpected place. The key is: be a good neighbor yourself. At least to those, who pose no threat to you.

Go and do. Assuming you want to inherit eternal life.


1 Conservative Christians Conveniently Ignore All the Pro-Choice Passages in the Bible (article); The Bible Tells Us When A Fetus Becomes A Living Being (article)

2 Jewish and Samaritan Relations During the Time of Christ (article)

3 Pat Robertson’s “Pact with the Devil” allegation (article)

Brother, can you spare gay marriage?

If my news feed is any indicator, Facebook must be experiencing anti-gay Renaissance. For some reason (election year? outbreaks of homosexuality? new chicken menu?), people — religious and not — started enthusiastically liking, sharing, and reposing pictures intended to promote traditional marriage and warn the public about the threats of less traditional alternatives.

ChristiaNet Facebook photo

Being as much a homophobe as any other Russian baptist, one might think I should share the same sentiments. Right? Well, not exactly. If there is a major sentiment, it’s confusion. And the more I hear the arguments against gay marriage the more I get confused.

First, a disclaimer: I am talking about the arguments against gay marriage coming primarily from the conservative Christian community. I hear them most often and I know the community well enough. There are other groups that oppose gay marriage (white supremacists, neo-nazis, Muslim fundamentalists, and so on), but I know little about them to say anything meaningful, although, as I believe, they share at least some of the same arguments. Also, I’m not talking about homosexuality as a human condition or behavior; only interested in the same-sex marriage legislation.

Anyway, back to the topic.

The primary argument against gay marriage coming from my conservative Christian friends-and-relations claims that God (as expressed in the Bible and reflected in the Christian tradition) condemns homosexuality in general and homosexual marriage in particular. Since practicing homosexuality is a sin (or abomination) in the eyes of God, a homosexual marriage cannot be legalized. So goes the argument.

Westboro Baptist Church at Glen Burnie High School

Westboro Baptist Church at Glen Burnie High School by Eric E Haas, on Flickr.

You may fully support this premise or be one of the few who disagree, but the thing is: in the conversation about legality of gay marriage, this argument is irrelevant. Sure, this would be a great point if we discussed acceptance of gay marriage by the church, but we are not discussing matters of church or faith, do we? The controversy addresses acceptance of gay marriage by the state, and since we live in the state, which — at least, de jure — is separated from church, an argument suggesting that something is or is not approved by God, faith, or church, has little meaning.

I know a lot of folks don’t like this assumption. Many believe that state law should be based on the Bible. Again, an interesting topic for discussion, but unless you live in a country governed by religious law, such as Vatican or Saudi Arabia, this is not how the rules of society currently work. Arguing against gay marriage on the premise that state law must be based on the Bible, is similar to requiring people to be baptized before they accept Christianity: it does not make much sense. If this is your position, you should argue against the separation of church and state first, and, if successful, continue with the original argument. The bottom line is that this is not the case now, and it’s not likely to be the case any time soon, at least, not until all Christian denominations agree on the single interpretation of the Bible (and if this ever happens, I hope it will not adopt the interpretation held by Christian snake handlers, which the followers defend even at the cost of death). Until then, church and state do not have to agree on acceptance of gay marriage, as they may not agree on legality of contraception, divorce, slave ownership, work on Sabbath, pork consumption, and other issues; some of these things may not be accepted by a particular church, but they are perfectly legal to the state.

Westboro Baptist Church Elder Steve Drain poses with his son while other church members set up signs for their picket

Westboro Baptist Church Elder Steve Drain poses with his son while other church members set up signs for their picket. Photo: Joshua Bessex / The Daily of the University of Washington.

Now, having said that an argument appealing to religious dogmas is not relevant to the discussion of legality of gay marriage in a secular society, I have spent way too much time researching this subject to let it go. So allow me to share a few thoughts.

Let’s talk Bible first.

In silent protest, Fred Demien holds up "How To Read The Bible" by James L. Kugel. As a youth director of a Portland church, Demien believes that Westboro sends the wrong message about God and religion

In silent protest, Fred Demien holds up “How To Read The Bible” by James L. Kugel. As a youth director of a Portland church, Demien believes that Westboro sends the wrong message about God and religion. Photo: Joshua Bessex / The Daily of the University of Washington

When you hear about Biblical marriage, you may get an impression that God has only blessed and approved what is currently called a traditional marriage (being defined as a sacred union between one man and one woman, based on love, for the purpose of making [traditionally conceived] children). But this is not true. At different times in history, God — at least, according to the Bible — seemed to have tolerated the types of marriages that we would hardly call traditional.

For example, some Biblical heroes could marry their cousins and other relatives (we don’t approve such marriages these days).

Moses (presumably, via a revelation from God) explicitly prescribed a marriage between a rapist and his victim (I suspect, few would support this now):

28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 

29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

- Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (NIV)

Marriages to multiple wives and concubines were common among God’s people, including JacobKing David, and others (ever entertained an idea of getting a concubine?).

In some cases, widows had to marry their brothers-in-law (this would be unusual at modern times):

5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.

- Deuteronomy 25:5 (NIV)

Or how about marriage to a captive woman, which God allowed (I think this can be qualified as a war crime now):

10 When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 

11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.

- Deuteronomy 21:10-11 (NIV)

The Bible is also not lacking specific examples of non-traditional unions. Like a story of Judah, who had sex with his daughter-in-law mistaking her for a prostitute, after which she had a child. Or an unplanned marriage of Jacob to Leah, whom he neither loved nor wanted. You may say that these are bad examples, but nevertheless, these two couples have become great grandparents of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sure, they were not ideal in traditional sense, but God has used them to bring us the Savior.

But none of these examples mentions homosexuals, right? And God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, didn’t He? Well, if you read carefully the second story of creation, you will see that it seems to imply that before Eve came along, God had not expressed a fundamental objection to an idea of pairing Adam with another creature:

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.

20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

- Genesis 2:19-20 (NIV)

If you take this text literally, “no suitable helper was found” implies that there was an attempt to find one. And God did not seem to have been opposed to the idea of giving Adam a helper in the form of a “wild animal” or a “bird in the sky”; otherwise, why didn’t He create (according to this version of the story) a male-and-female pair right away (i.e. before naming and capability assessment of the fauna representatives), just as He did with any other creature? Fortunately, it did not work out, or it could’ve been worse than Adam and Steve, if you know what I mean.

Gay marriage killed the dinosaurs

The word “helper” in Genesis 2:20 is also characteristic. According to the text, the search was not for a sex partner, or someone to have kids with (the whole procreation thing did not get started until the fall of man), but someone to offer help. Unfortunately, there is no description of the scope of help, but I assume this could have been a form of partnership that included light cooking. I don’t want to speculate, but if Steve were around and could flip burgers… who knows.

But, jokes aside, this was the Old Testament. What about the New one?

A little fact about the New Testament: it does not say anything about gay marriage. There is a couple of references to gay sex, some of which could be attributed to inaccurate translations of references to sexual promiscuity and/or prostitution (which come from the same author who expressed a similar disgust with women cutting their hair), but no matter how you translate them, these quotes are not about marriage. They are about sex. If you believe that Apostle Paul condemns gay marriage implicitly because he condemns gay sex, let me advance this argument a bit.

Say, you have Adam and Steve: two gays, who love each other, but don’t (or can’t) have sex. Would you oppose their marriage? Let me make it more interesting. Imagine that Adam and Steve are not gay. They are as straight as NASCAR fans, yet they experience the same love that King David described as “more wonderful than that of women.” Neither of the two (and I repeat, heterosexual) men can find their better half in the opposite sex, so instead of living alone, they wish to live together in a platonic relationship with a legal status of a married couple. Maybe Adam is sick and Steve wants to be his “helper“, and having a legal status would make it easier. Would this be okay with you?

Curtis Jenkin and Don Eigenhauser (right) got married at City Hall in San Francisco saying they are best friends and straight

Curtis Jenkin and Don Eigenhauser (right) got married at City Hall in San Francisco saying they are best friends and straight. Frederic Larson/The Chronicle; Photo: Frederic Larson / SF

I know, I know, you can claim that this is not what God might have originally planned, but, as I mentioned above, this is not a question about approval, especially, approval by church or God. And we’re not talking about ideal. I’m just asking if you could tolerate such a union in society (not in your church), just as you may tolerate someone’s divorce or marriage to an alcoholic.

If you don’t see where I’m going with this, let me help.

If you oppose gay marriage, but think that a platonic (i.e. sexually inactive) same-sex couple — gay or straight — can marry to form a legal union, then you are not against gay marriage per se. You are against gay sex, which is related, but not quite the same. The thing is: by opposing gay marriage, you are not going to prevent or reduce gay sex. You will make it harder for gay people to live their daily lives, but (assuming that this is not your actual goal) your opposition will not help advance your cause: there will still be about the same amount of gay sex (or maybe even more). To achieve your ultimate goal, instead of fighting against gay marriage, you may want to focus your efforts on outlawing gay sex, or eradicating homosexuality as a human condition (although, I’d steer away from this approach), but be aware that these attempts may hurt your own people (like these guysthat guy, this or that one [okay, the latter one is not a good example, but check out this lady!]). (Bonus idea: In case you’re successful in ridding homosexuality in humans, you may also want to fix the fallen representatives of the animal kingdom.)

Now, if you believe that same-sex couples (gay or straight) cannot marry into a platonic union, then the question is: why? The only plausible explanation I could think of would be the one expressed by the president of the National Organization for Marriage Brian Brown during his dispute with Dan Savage (at 38:56 in the clip below; I’d recommend watching the whole conversation, it’s quite entertaining).

According to Mr. Brown,

“[B]y its very definition marriage is a union between a man and a woman.” 

Essentially, this is an argument about semantics (or linguistics, if you wish).

I think the disconnect here is that Mr. Brown, at least, as his argument implies, does not dispute the right of gays to live in legal unions. He is just against calling these unions marriage. Essentially, Mr. Brown acts here as a language, and not a moral, or legal, advocate.

It may sound silly for gay rights activists, but does Mr. Brown have a point? Let’s take a look at gay marriage (in linguistic sense) through the same prism.

Larry Duncan, 56, and Randy Shepherd, 48, get their marriage license

Larry Duncan, 56, left, and Randy Shepherd, 48, from North Bend, Washington get their marriage license. They have been together for 11 years. ©Meryl Schenker Photography

Throughout the modern history, at least in the western world, the institution of marriage has taken various forms, but it normally involved members of the opposite sex. If we care about preservation of the word meanings — traditional marriage, bride and groom, mother and father, husband and wife — let’s not redefine them. Indeed, if you apply these terms to a gay couple, they make little sense. In a same-sex union, who is the husband and who should be called wife? If you agree with this logic, then you are not against gay marriage. You are against naming a same-sex union marriage.

So, what if we alter terminology? Would the idea be more acceptable if we dropped the word marriage, and instead focused on legalizing civil unions with equal rights? Regardless of the partners’ sexual orientation. If you have two guys or gals — gay or straight — who want to spend their lives together, care for each other, and be treated by the state law as a traditionally married couple, why not allow them to register for a civil union? Without calling it a marriage. There would be a different application form and a new marriage civil union certificate, but the traditional marriage license and certificate would be retained for traditional couples, too. In the new documents, the parties would be called partners instead of bride and groom or husband and wife. We already translate legal forms and documents to various languages almost everywhere, so how hard would it be to adapt the language appropriate for same-sex couples. And while we’re at it, if a heterosexual same-sex couple wants to apply for a civil union, why not? The divorce procedure should be the same regardless of the type of the union.

Phyllis Lyon, 79, left, and Del Martin, 83, right, who have been together for 51 years, say their vows

Phyllis Lyon, 79, left, and Del Martin, 83, right, who have been together for 51 years, say their vows. LIZ MANGELSDORF/ The Chronicle Photo: LIZ MANGELSDORF / SF

I’m not that naive to assume that this argument will persuade many (if anyone), but let’s say it makes sense to you but you worry about the broader implications. Maybe you are a church official and you are afraid that the state will persecute you if you refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for homosexuals. Or maybe you worry about the effects of legalizing same-sex unions on your small business. Let me explain the implications.

Legalization of same-sex unions — and let’s face it: it will happen sooner or later, so try to get used to the thought — will have different effects on businesses and organizations depending on the type of the agency: totally private, public, or private, but open to public.

If you are an official in a private organization, which is not open to public (such as a church), the state cannot require you to do anything that goes against your beliefs (within the scope of law). A homosexual couple cannot file a law suite against you for not marrying them for a number of reasons (well, technically, anyone can file a law suite these days, but it’s not likely to succeed). Marriage ceremonies performed at church have no legal meaning unless the proper civil documents are filed with the state. In the other words, you do not need to be married at a church for the state to recognize your marriage, so refusing to perform a marriage ceremony at a church does not constitute a violation of the state law. A church ceremony is something you do for spiritual reasons in front of God, not for legal reasons in front of the state, and the state (generally) does not mingle with God’s business. Besides, your whole business model is based on intentional discrimination (not necessarily a bad word in this context): you allow people to join your church (or community) only if they satisfy certain criteria and you can deny anything to anyone. It’s exactly how things work today. For example, when my wife (then fiancee) and I were planning our (heterosexual) marriage, we asked a local pastor to perform a ceremony, but he said he would do it only if we become (or promise to become) church members. “The church is not a marriage agency,” he said. We ended up being married by a different pastor, who also had his criteria: he would not marry a Christian to a non-Christian (for good reasons). The bottom line is that there is already discrimination in private communities, and nobody seems to be persecuted. I don’t see how civil unions between same-sex couples will make this any different.

The implications are totally different for public agencies and employees. If you are a public employee, who has strong feelings against homosexuality or same-sex unions, then you should not be working in an area where your beliefs would conflict with your job duties. This should already be the case for many folks. For example, since Jesus Christ has explicitly forbade divorce (for reasons other than sexual immorality), if you are a Christian, who takes these words literally, and you are firm in your convictions to the point where you will follow them in the workplace, then you should not be working at an agency that handles divorces (i.e. you cannot be a judge, divorce attorney, court clerk, psychologist, marriage counselor, etc). Or maybe you believe that God commands people to rest on Sabbath. Then you should avoid employment anywhere where your work hours would fall on the day of rest (such as health care, police, military, aviation, etc). Again, no radical changes here.

David Knight, right, the estranged son of state Sen. William “Pete” Knight, who authored California’s law banning same-sex marriage, holds hands with his long-time partner, Joe Lazzaro, left, as they take their wedding vows. AP Photo/The San Francisco Chronicle, Liz Hafalia. Photo: LIZ HAFALIA / SF

But what if you have your own business or work for a private company or agency? What are the implications here? There are basically two sub-cases illustrated by the following real-life examples.

Case #1: You are a Catholic adoption agency. Can the state force you to provide adoption services to same-sex couples? The short answer is: no, it cannot. Well, then why didCatholic Charities in Rockford, Ill., ended its adoption service over concerns that it would have to place children with same-sex couples or face discrimination lawsuits? The long answer is: it didn’t have to, as long as it operated without using public money. But if an agency takes public money (funded by taxes), it has to serve all public including gays and lesbians, because these people also pay taxes. You cannot require a group to pay taxes, but when it comes to state-funded operations say: “Sorry, folks, you’re out.” If you don’t like this, lobby your state representatives for passing a law to exempt gays and lesbians (or whichever groups you do not like) from paying state and local taxes. Once this law passes, you will have a case for legalizing discrimination. An easier approach would be to have Catholic adoption services operate using their own funding, without relying on public dollars. Then the state would not have (clear) grounds to require them to follow the non-discrimination laws. But, would this still make Catholic charities a potential litigation target? Enter case #2.

Case #2: You are a boutique hotel specializing in destination weddings. Can you be sued for denying your services to same-sex couples? The answer is: you can be and, as the case of Baker and Linsley v. Wildflower Inn shows, you will probably lose. But this is not fair, you might say in outrage (which was my initial reaction). You are a private company and can follow whatever policies you like, right? Well, the caveat here is that you are a private company open to public, and as long as you are open to public, once you choose to discriminate against a particular group, then you can (and should) be sued.

If you think this is not fair, consider these examples. Your church group wants to hold a breakfast prayer at a local diner owned by an atheist (or a member of a different religion, say a Muslim). Assuming that your gathering is not disruptive to others, do you think the owner should have a right to kick you out just because he does not like Christians? Or, say, you are a black (or Jewish, or inter-racial) couple shopping for a wedding dress at a local bridal store belonging to a member of Nationalist Movement. Should the owner have a right to send you elsewhere because he does not like your race, nationality, or race mix? Or, maybe, you are a recent Russian (or some other) immigrant with little English skills trying to find an alternator for your Toyota at a local junk yard operated by a supporter of NumbersUSA. How would you like if the junk yard owner told you to get out of his property because he believes that immigration to the U.S. is out of control?

While you may think that these are totally different cases, the idea is the same. If we allow private companies providing services to public to discriminate, then you may soon find yourself an object of discrimination. And if you think that these types of discrimination are worse than yours, remember: someone’s heresy is someone else’s religion. We are not defining the rules for you church or group. You are free to believe, live according to, and enforce whatever you think is right within your family or private community (as long as it does not break the law). But we are talking about the rules of society which is made of very diverse people, who need to co-exist. If you find this objectionable, maybe you should consider moving to a country, which is more aligned with your belief system (UgandaSaudi Arabia, and Iran immediately come to mind), but I suspect you will not like these places either.

But, wait, wait… What about children? The last arguments often thrown in the discussion about gay marriage are about kids. The problem with these arguments is that they are incoherent at best and mutually exclusive at worst.

Holding the twin daughters Sophia and Elizabeth, Eric Etherington (left) exchanges marriage vows with Doug Okun

Holding the twin daughters Sophia and Elizabeth, Eric Etherington (left) exchanges marriage vows with Doug Okun. PAUL CHINN / The Chronicle Photo: PAUL CHINN / SF

Let’s start with the basic (and most obviously flawed) claim: marriage is intended for procreation, so, since same-sex couple cannot have (traditionally conceived) children, they should not be allowed to marry. If you do not see the fundamental flaws in this logic, I’ll probably not be able to help you, but I’ll try anyway.

If you take this position, you should not stop with gay people. If you want to enforce the goal of procreation via marriage (in case, you think the Earth is underpopulated), then you should make it illegal for straight married couples to not have kids, too. Are you married without children? Have you been married longer than a year? Then you shouldn’t have been allowed to marry. Know some other couple without kids? Them, too. Like infertile people. Or old folks. They can’t have kids, so, by this argument, they should not be allowed to marry either. Do you think this is reasonable position?

Besides, a gay couple can adopt, but I suspect that if you are against gay marriage, your are probably not in favor of gay adoption, right? You probably think that gay marriage is detrimental for both adopted kids, as well as others. I have heard this argument many times. So let me ask: what exactly are you afraid of?

In case you think that kids brought up by gay couples are more likely to become gay, I hope you have supporting statistics, because I sure could not find any research to confirm this premise. If you think about it, almost all gay people around you came from heterosexual parents. Some of these parents were so anti-gay that they have denounced their kids and kicked them out of their homes. If this does not tell you anything, I’m sorry.

But what about your kids? Wouldn’t all these gay parents and their non-traditionally conceived and adopted kids affect them? In the other words, will it make them more likely to turn gay? Or will it make them gayer?

If by gayer you mean more tolerant to families with gay parents, maybe. But it’s up to you. You can still teach them to hate gays (and gay families), if you wish, just as racist parents can teach their kids to hate blacks and other minorities. It works pretty well most of the time.

But wouldn’t tolerance to families with gay parents actually turn your kids into gays? You may find it hard to believe, but the gay virus does not spread over the air. Do you really think, that after noticing that Billie in his class has two dads (or two moms) your son will for some reason be more likely to have homosexual feelings? “I normally like girls, but since Billy has two dads, maybe I should check him out, uh?” You seriously think that’s how people become gay? If this were as easy for people to become gay, then the opposite should be true: it should not be impossible to go back from gay to straight, just as alcoholics and drug addicts do following rehab. Unfortunately, this is not the case (see references below).

And if you’re concerned about emotional trauma kids adopted by or born to gay parents may feel, why not give these kids a chance to speak for themselves. Here is one of them:

Zach Wahls was not adopted, but do you think that being an orphan or living in a foster home is a better alternative for kids who have a chance of finding loving gay parents? If you do, then maybe it would also make sense to take kids from less-than-ideal heterosexual or single-parent families (you shouldn’t have to look far to find a few) and put them into orphanages, as well.

Sorry, I kinda swayed away from the original topic. The bottom line is that if you are not convinced that gay marriage will not result in more gays, do some research: check if states or countries allowing same-sex marriage have more gays per capita. I’m not sure if such statistics exist, but if this is in fact the case, you should be able to find data to support it.

Finally, if you’re thinking about introducing Sodom and Gomorrah in a conversation about gay marriage, my only response would be: “It was nice talking to you.” Although, it would be a lie.

P.S. I almost forgot to address the argument claiming that gay marriage undermines the institution of marriage. The problem I have with this argument is that I don’t understand what it means. Does it mean that people will be less inclined to marry? “I love you, honey, and I would like to propose, but, since Adam and Steve can now legalize their union, I think we should never get married.” Is this the point? Or will gay marriage somehow cause people to divorce more often? “You know, sweetheart, Adam and Steve can now get married, so I think we should get divorced.” Are these scenarios plausible? Or are you talking about people taking marriage too lightly. If so, then instead of focusing on gays, I’d suggest we focus on celebrities (say, these or those), because if anyone is detrimental to the institution of marriage, then it’s not Adam and Steve, but Kim and Kris.

References

So you still think homosexuality is sinful? And therefore gays should not be allowed to marry? (infographics)
A diagram tracing the reasons of opposition to gay marriage; by Bishop John Shelby Spong.

10 Reasons to Oppose Marriage Equality (list)
And they are not what you think.

Explaining Gay Rights (infographics)
This should be helpful to people who believe that legalizing gay marriage will open the doors to all sorts of ridiculous things like marrying your toaster, children, the dead or your dog.

Preacher Phil Snider gives interesting gay rights speech (video, 3 min)
Springfield city council heard from the public as they debated a new rule adding LGBT people to the list of minorities protected from discrimination.

The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality (video, 1 hour; transcript)
Matthew Vines speaks on the theological debate regarding the Bible and the role of gay Christians in the church (see also Turned Away, He Turned to the Bible [article]; also, for the sake of fairness to the argument, see the opposing views at Theologians Find Vines’ ‘Homosexuality Is Not a Sin’ Thesis Not Persuasive [article]).

The Bible and Homosexuality: Part One (article)
Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis Global and Faithworks, network leader of church.co.uk, and founder of the Stop the Traffik coalition, calls for a new Christian understanding of homosexual relationships.

Clobbering “Biblical” Gay Bashing (article)
Mark Sandlin — an ordained PC(USA) minister currently serving at Vandalia Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC — dissects Biblical verses that are most commonly used for gay bashing.

Buggery and the Bible (article)
A modern perspective on Biblical prohibitions (and allowances).

Psychiatry Giant Sorry for Backing Gay ‘Cure’ (article)
Dr. Robert L. Spitzer is a major architect of the modern classification of mental disorders. He has been a major backer of the so-called reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality. Now he’s saying he was wrong.

Evangelicals Fight Over Therapy To ‘Cure’ Gays (audio, 5 min; article)
Exodus International (the largest ministry that tried to “cure” people of same-sex attractions) made it official: It would no longer associate with or promote therapy that focuses on changing sexual attraction.

My So-Called Ex-Gay Life (article)
Gabriel Arana offers a personal look at his gay “cure therapy” which he was undertaking over many years.

‘Ex-Gay’ Crusader Who Publicly Bragged About ‘Being Cured’ Caught Trolling For Men
When you hear about someone, who has been cured from his/her gayness, take it with a grain of skepticism.

I’m Christian, unless you’re gay (article)
Dan Pearce shares… well, just read it. And while you’re at it, also take a look at A Teen’s Brave Response to “I’m Christian, Unless You’re Gay”

A Liberal War on Science? (article)
Explains what was right and wrong with Mark Regnerus’ attempt to study gay parents.

Gray Marriage Ad: The Only Purpose Of Marriage (video, 2 min)
Just imagine if we redefined marriage to include people who can’t even have children.

Religion and Gay Marriage (video, 3 min 30 sec)
John Green discusses marriage equality, what a traditional marriage actually is, and what role (if any) theological understandings of marriage play in the legal definition of marriage.

Meet The 83-Year-Old Taking On The U.S. Over Same-Sex Marriage (audio, 5 min; transcript)
A perspective on Windsor v. United States.

President Bartlet’s take on the Old Testament (“The West Wing”) (video, 4 min)
Extracted from the series The West Wing, President Bartlet delivers a knock out on an anti-gay practitioner highlighting the ridiculous practice of selecting quotes from the Bible to shore up irrational prejudices.

The Supreme Court ended Proposition 8. Here’s what that means. (article)
As I said in this post, legalization of same-sex marriage is inevitable. See the implications of the recent Supreme Court ruling.

Australian Prime Minister on gay marriage (video; 4 min)
Kevin Rudd, Prime Miniter of Austyralia and a devout Christian, responds to the question from a pastor why he supports gay marriage.

FHA streamline refinancing with American Financial Network, Inc

I bought my home at the end of 2009. Even though I expected housing prices to fall, my family was growing and I needed to either move to another rental or buy. Did not want to hassle with another rental, so I bit the bullet and bought a brand new house taking out a 30-year fixed FHA loan at 5% APR.

As interest rates continued to plummet, I have been entertaining the idea of refinancing. I could not refinance to a conventional mortgage, and refinancing an FHA loan turned to be tricky: with the refinanced FHA loan I would pay higher mortgage insurance (due to a recent rule change), so interest rates needed to fall far enough to result in any savings. I eventually used the FHA streamline refinancing to lower my interest rate from 5% to 3.875% APR. I’ll explain how the process worked and describe a couple of caveats to help those interested in refinancing.

First, if you’re not familiar with FHA loans, here is a quick primer. FHA loans are backed by federal government (Federal Housing Administration). You get an FHA loan form a regular bank. Not all banks specialize in FHA loans, but many do. If you default on the loan, the federal government will cover the bank’s losses. For a potential borrower, an FHA loan may or may not make sense. The main advantage is that it requires a smaller down payment (currently 3.5%, compared to a typical 20% for a conventional loan). An FHA loan comes with the price, though: you will pay additional fees for loan origination and may need to pay higher (and longer) mortgage insurance (PMI). So if you can — and are willing to — come up with the required down payment for a conventional loan, the FHA option would make little (if any) sense; otherwise, it’s probably the only way to go.

Now, back to refinancing. At the time of falling real estate prices, unless you have enough equity, there are not that many refinancing options. The good news for the FHA mortgage holders is that they can use FHA streamline, which greatly simplifies the process: there is no appraisal, no equity requirements, no extensive credit check, no income verification. The basic prerequisites for FHA streamline include an informal employment check (you are expected to be employed or self-employed) and more or less reasonable FICO score. Federal government requires that your monthly payments after FHA streamline refinancing were sufficiently lower (about $100 or so for a typical loan) than the original payments (see FHA Streamline Loan Requirements).

If you are a potential target for FHA streamline, you may be getting postcards with ads proposing very appealing rates. Make sure you read small print and understand the limitations: most do not guarantee these rates or apply them to variable interest loans.

One day, I got a postcard from American Financial Network, Inc (or AFN) with the ad promising FHA streamline refinancing to a 30-year fixed loan with sufficiently low interest. The postcard looked similar to this one:

AFN Post Card

AFN postcard

I called the number, talked to an AFN representative, and liked what I heard. After dealing with a couple of other refinancing organizations, I was genuinely impressed with  AFN’s representatives and process. People were nice, friendly, and straight. The process was very efficient. There was one BUT, though (more on this later).

On the initial call, an AFN representative explained how the process worked and what to expect. I don’t remember now if I verbally provided the info for the initial estimate or if I sent the paperwork, but in a day or so, I got an offer for streamline refinancing to a fixed 30-year loan at 3.875% APR with no fees and no points. I was a bit suspicious about the no fees part, so I asked to confirm and was told that there would be no fees.

The process took about a week with most of paperwork handled over e-mail. I received the final papers, signed and sent them using a prepaid carrier service. A notary public came to my house to go over documentation and signing. Unlike my experience with the original mortgage issued by Wells Fargo, none of the paperwork were lost and I did not have to redo anything. It was a very pleasant experience. Within a month of closing, American Financial Network sold my mortgage to U.S. Bank, as it was expected (there was a chance for the loan to be refinanced with Wells Fargo, but it did not materialize). I don’t really care whether my mortgage stayed with Wells Fargo or moved to any other financial institution. I have no issues with U.S. Bank thus far.

Now, remember how I mentioned that I had been promised that there would be no fees for refinancing. Nevertheless, I noticed a few fees in the settlement statement. I called my broker and asked about the fees. The broker said that the federal government required them to disclose “typical” fees, but these were only included for reference. He claimed that the government did not permit finance charges for FHA streamline loan refinancing, and the “fees” that appeared in the statement were offset by a credit (there was in fact a line item showing credit). I did not give this much thought, but three months later, when I showed my settlement statement to my accountant during tax preparation, I found out that I was actually charged a loan origination fee in the amount of $1,195. According to my accountant, this fee was not offset by any credits.

I sent an email to the broker at American Financial Network, who had handled my refinancing, asking to explain the discrepancy, but didn’t get a response. So I assume, that my accountant was correct. Now, I don’t really mind the fee. If I were told about the fee in advance, I would still go ahead. But I’m quite upset that I was not told the truth. Another possibility could be that the “no points, no fees” refinancing actually meant no out-of-pocket fees (i.e. there would be a fee, but it would be bundled with the new mortgage). If this were the case, I would classify it as deception, because for a typical consumer, there is a difference between no fees whatsoever and no out-of-pocket fees. I repeatedly asked my broker how much my refinancing would cost, and always received the answer that it would cost nothing. Now, maybe the answer meant nothing out-of-pocket, but this was not what I asked.

Anyway, I’m not sure if I take this issue further (e.g. file an FTC complaint for deceptive advertising), but in the meantime, here are some suggestions that may help you avoid your mortgage refinancing mistakes and missteps:

  • When you get a quote, ask exactly how much it would cost overall, not just out-of-pocket. Ask for a confirmation in writing (e.g. via email).
  • It was helpful to learn the exact amount of my monthly payment after refinancing and compare it with the current payment. However, this was a bit misleading, since my new payment was essentially adjusted for a longer term (I have already been paying  for 2 years out of 30 of my original loan, so the new 30-year loan essentially extended my mortgage to 32 years). I don’t know if it’s possible, but I would ask to compare original payment with the hypothetical payment after refinancing adjusted for the remainder of the original term. Even if this would not be the actual term of the refinanced mortgage, these numbers would offer a more accurate comparison.
  • The total amount saved over the lifetime of the mortgage was helpful (in my case, it was about $90K); make sure you get it.
  • Keep all paperwork, names, contact info, and communication.
  • It could be helpful to go over the draft of the settlement statement with your account before you sign up.

Best of luck.

P.S. If you are savvy in accounting, below is a copy of my settlement statement (with personal info removed). See if you can figure how much my refinancing fee was.

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UPDATE (3/28/2012): One day after publishing this post, I received a phone call from the broker at American Financial Network, Inc. He said that he had received my email and ran my case by someone on the accounting side. They did not find any discrepancies except that I could get $500 cash if federal regulation allowed cash-out refinancing (which apparently it does not). He tried to explain how the numbers worked, but the explanation still made little sense. I asked the gentleman to send me the explanation via email, so I could include it in the post (or try to make sense out of it after seeing it in writing). He promised to get back to me. A few hours later, I got a phone call from another person, who claimed to be in charge of verification of my settlement. He said that after checking the numbers one more time, he found a discrepancy in the amount of $2,017.18. According to this gentleman, this was a human error caused by similarities of a couple of numbers. He apologized and promised to issue me a check within 72 hours. A day or so later, someone else called to verify my address and delivery preferences. Yesterday, I got the check via certified mail.

See also:
The Federal Reserve Board: A Consumer’s Guide to Mortgage Settlement Costs
FHA streamline refinance gets cheaper

“Those jobs aren’t coming back”

A few days ago, I read the New York Times’ article How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work and still cannot get it out of my mind. In the article, the authors — Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher — try to explain why Apple (and other manufacturers) prefer to produce goods in China. If you work in high tech or have interest in economics or global trade, take a few minutes to read it. It’s a fascinating story. But before (or after) you do, also listen to this episode of This American Life (at least, Act One): Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory  (or read the transcript). It will give you a complementing perspective on the issue.


Here are a few observation that keep bugging me (in no particular order).

Excessive regulation and high corporate taxes – two reasons conservatives most often link to job losses – were never mentioned in the story as the reason for job outsourcing.

The “Designed in California” label on the back of the iPhone is not 100% accurate.

Regarding the government subsidies:

“The Chinese government had agreed to underwrite costs for numerous industries, and those subsidies had trickled down to the glass-cutting factory. It had a warehouse filled with glass samples available to Apple, free of charge. The owners made engineers available at almost no cost.[...]  The Chinese plant got the job.”

Doesn’t U.S. government give tax subsidies for R&D? If the Chinese government does more,  good for them. Now, would our esteemed government bashers please step up and scream: “Solyndra.” 1, 2, 3…

Interesting point about agglomeration that Paul Krugman bought:

“The entire supply chain is in China now,” said another former high-ranking Apple executive. “You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours.”

But in the same story, you learn that

“iPhones contain hundreds of parts, an estimated 90 percent of which are manufactured abroad. Advanced semiconductors have come from Germany and Taiwan, memory from Korea and Japan, display panels and circuitry from Korea and Taiwan, chipsets from Europe and rare metals from Africa and Asia. And all of it is put together in China.”

So is the “entire supply chain” really in China?

About “tax holiday”:

“At dinner [with President Obama], [...] some [executives] had urged the president to give companies a “tax holiday” so they could bring back overseas profits which, they argued, would be used to create work.”

Would someone (say, the above mentioned executives) be willing to provide a (rough) number of U.S. jobs created with the help of the profits brought in during the foreign profit tax break of 2004? Anyone?

On the insignificance of the low pay of Chinese workers:

“In part, Asia was attractive because the semiskilled workers there were cheaper. But that wasn’t driving Apple. For technology companies, the cost of labor is minimal compared with the expense of buying parts and managing supply chains that bring together components and services from hundreds of companies.”

Really? Then why do technology companies outsource non-manufacturing jobs, like software development and customer support?

On the skills of American workers (or lack of thereof):

“Though Americans are among the most educated workers in the world, the nation has stopped training enough people in the mid-level skills that factories need, executives say.”

Hmm… I can’t quite wrap my mind around the meaning of “most educated workers in the world” who do not quite make (in quantities?) for “the mid-level skills that factories need.” What does this mean? Let’s find out:

“Companies like Apple “say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.”

Let’s assume that the argument is correct and in the middle of recession and high unemployment, companies are struggling to fill technical positions. What kind of education American workforce lacks?  What kind of training the nation has been offering before and now stopped? What is this mythical “more than high school” but less than bachelor’s degree program Martin Schmidt refers to? Is this an associate degree? Vocational school? On-the-job training? What type of education targeting “technical work force” China offers and the the U.S.A. do not?  Who should provide it? The government? The industry? Philanthropists?

Normally, in a capitalist society, if an industry experiences lack of job applicants, it raises salaries, but as economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research Dean Baker observes, this does not seem to be the case in the high tech field.

If lagging technical skills of American workers is a problem that leads to outsourcing, as executives often complain, how come you rarely — if ever — hear praise of technical skill overseas. If you hear praise addressing Chinese workers (as illustrated in the article), it normally evolves around the quantity, not quality, of people. Although, some skills are mentioned:

“”“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

Can you guess what skills distinguishes Chinese workers from their American counterparts? The skills Apple executives found in China and could not find back home:

“An eight-hour drive from that glass factory is a complex, known informally as Foxconn City, where the iPhone is assembled. To Apple executives, Foxconn City was further evidence that China could deliver workers — and diligence — that outpaced their American counterparts.”

So in which skill — other than sheer number of capable bodies — do Chinese workers outpace Americans?

“Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.”

American workers lacking “diligence and industrial skills”? Give me a break. But you really do need flexible work force to perform stunts like this one:

“The first truckloads of cut glass [for iPhone screens] arrived at Foxconn City [factory] in the dead of night, according to the former Apple executive. That’s when managers woke thousands of workers, who crawled into their uniforms — white and black shirts for men, red for women — and quickly lined up to assemble, by hand, the phones. Within three months, Apple had sold one million iPhones. Since then, Foxconn has assembled over 200 million more.”

So here it goes: the only skills that distinguishes Chinese workers from Americans are numbers and flexibility. Yes, numbers and flexibility are the skills executives and others interviewed by the authors kept marveling about:

““They could hire 3,000 people overnight,” said Jennifer Rigoni, who was Apple’s worldwide supply demand manager until 2010, but declined to discuss specifics of her work. “What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?”

And it’s not just the “live in dorms” type of flexibility. It’s the 15 people living in the 12×12 feet room under 24-hour surveillance and ready to be shipped to a factory floor 24×7 so that they can breath N-hexane 12 hours per day six days per week type of flexibility:

” They had built on-site dormitories so employees would be available 24 hours a day. [...] The facility has 230,000 employees, many working six days a week, often spending up to 12 hours a day at the plant. Over a quarter of Foxconn’s work force lives in company barracks and many workers earn less than $17 a day.”

It’s the flexibility to perform the same minutiae, day after day, until the “joints in [your] hands have disintegrated from working on the line, doing the same motion hundreds and hundreds of thousands of times.” The flexibility of being hired at 13. The flexibility of being fired when you complain about poor working conditions to the government union or go to jail when you join a non-government one.  Yep, you can’t find this type of flexibility in the U.S.A.:

“That’s because nothing like Foxconn City exists in the United States.”

At least, not yet. But if labor unions keep getting undermined at the rate the do now, or we get more governors and politicians who believe in the evils of regulations, who knows, maybe we’ll get one soon.

Now, how does one invest in the dorms?

P.S. Apple’s record earnings, in one chart

UPDATE:
‘This American Life’ Retracts Mike Daisey’s Apple Factory Story
The Sad and Infuriating Mike Daisey Case

See also:
A Trip to The iFactory: ‘Nightline’ Gets an Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Apple’s Chinese Core
Foxconn Plans to Lift Pay Sharply at Factories in China
An open letter on labor rights to Apple C.E.O. Tim Cook

Don’t count out a prison cell

There is an old Russian saying that has been relevant since the early days (if you wonder about its relevance now, ask Mikhail Khodorkovsky):

Oт тюрьмы и от сумы не зарекайся (ot tyur’my ee ot soomy ne zarekaisya).

The English version sounds very similar:

Don’t count out a prison cell, a begging bowl may come as well.

And unfortunately, “counting in” a prison cell seems as likely in the U.S.A. as it is in Russia. Here are several heart breaking stories about the innocent people who spent decades behind bars for the crimes they did not commit:

  • This American Life: #282 DIY (audio): After four lawyers fail to get an innocent man out of prison, his friend takes on the case himself.
  • CBS: 60 Minutes: Eyewitness [Part 1] and [Part 2] (video): Lesley Stahl reports on flaws in eyewitness testimony that are at the heart of the DNA exonerations of falsely convicted people like Ronald Cotton, who was falsely accused of rape.
  • PBS: Frontline: The Confessions (video): How could four men confess to a brutal crime that they didn’t commit? Inside the incredible saga of the Norfolk Four — a case that cracks open the justice system to reveal almost everything that goes wrong.
  • The Innocent Man, [Part 1] and [Part 2] (article): During the 25 years that Michael Morton spent wrongfully imprisoned for murdering his wife, he kept three things in mind: Someday he would prove his innocence to their son. Someday he would find out who had killed her. And someday he would understand how this had happened to him.

It’s mind-blowing how wrong a criminal justice system can turn, yet it often does.

See also:
The Innocence Project

Friends do not let friends fly Delta

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit here. Like many domestic airlines, Delta sucks, but if the price is right, take your chances. However, here is an advice:

Never purchase a ticket for a trip originating outside of the U.S.A. online.

I mean: NEVER! Let me explain why. Actually, let me tell you a short story.

About a month ago I was shopping for a ticket for my mother who was planning to fly from Moscow, Russia, to San Francisco, California. A one-stop Delta flight (with transition in New York) came out one of the cheapest at all search engines I tried (Bing, Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity, etc). The round-trip ticket price on all search engine sites was the same: $1,282 (U.S. dollars, including all taxes and fees). It was not the cheapest ticket, but transition time was good and I liked that it involved a single carrier, so I decided to go with Delta. I first wanted to order the ticket at Orbitz, but then thought: why not buy it directly from Delta?

When I switched to Delta online reservations, I was surprised to see the ticket price quoted in Euros. Puzzled, I called Delta reservations, asked for a quote for the same trip (I specified the same dates and flight numbers), and got the same price as the search engines showed: $1,282. I did not want to pay the phone booking surcharge, so I expressed my concerns about the online booking and this is is what the representative told me.

  • Since the flight originated in Europe, the price appeared in Euros.
  • The online ticket price (expressed in Euros) should be the same as the price the representative quoted.
  • Because my credit card billing address was in the U.S., the charge would be in U.S. dollars.

It made sense, but just to make sure, the reservations agent transferred me to the online support representative, who verified all these points with her manager, so I proceeded with booking the ticket online.

To my surprise, a few days later, I noticed a credit card charge from Delta Airlines in the amount of $1,354.45 ($72.45 higher than I had expected). I called Delta and the representative started bullshitting me. She said that the price I expected was for different flights (???), that the price must have changed between the time I got a phone quote and the time when I submitted the order (5-10 minutes), etc. In short, she refused to make an adjustment and was quite rude. I then submitted a request for the best fare guarantee. Even though, the price hardly changed (it went up by $10 on all search engines), I got denied the price adjustment because I had missed the 24-hour window. I also submitted a charge dispute to my credit card, but the investigation concluded that this was a gray-area case which did not qualify for a charge-back. Finally, I complained to Better Business Bureau, but luckily, one of the connection flights of the trip was rescheduled, and I was able to return the ticket for a promised full refund, so I closed the complaint.

One would expect this to be the end of the hassle, but alas, instead of the $1,354.45 refund, I received $1,294.33. So, I submitted another complaint to the credit card and it looks like I got the $60 adjustment.

One question that still puzzles me is:

Why does the Delta online reservation system forces transactions in foreign currency on U.S. customers?

As far as I know, no other reservation system uses this arcane logic. If Delta wants to be “smarter” than the rest of the industry, it should at least allow the customers to pick the currency. Anyway, I booked the trip via Orbitz and for a fee of $10 avoided any problems.

So the moral of the story: if you or your family or friends were to fly Delta, be careful with online reservations and do not trust the representatives. Also, be aware that only one check-in bag is allowed for free on Delta’s transatlantic flights, so if you expect more luggage consider the fee for additional luggage (current fee for extra check-in bag is $50). Happy flying! (I’m kidding about “happy” of course.)

P.S. A funny thing in this story was the message I got from Delta with denial of the price adjustment, which contained the following:

“I realize this is a disappointment, and trust you will understand our position. We hope you will continue to make Delta your airline of choice.

Yeah, right! We’re flying Aeroflot.

UPDATE: I got a letter from the credit card company explaining that the  ~$60 discrepancy between the original charge and the refund was due to the currency conversion rates and related fees. Lucky me, the credit card reimbursed me as a “one-time” courtesy gesture (which was nice). So it looks like the whole problem was caused by the fact that Delta charged me in Euros.

Does leaving public office make you wiser?

It’s becoming a trend.

Alan Greenspan, a former Chairman of Federal Reserve, who strongly opposed government regulation, now admits that he was wrong and goes as far as to suggest that U.S. should consider breaking up banks that are “too big to fail.” Former Republican Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Bill Frist are breaking the partisan line to express their support for health care reform.

Here is a question: would these people express the same sentiments had they still been in office? Hardly. Which is sad.

Why do people oppose the health care reform?

In the Erron Morris’ documentary, “The Fog of War“, the former Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, describes a conversation with the former Foreign Minister of Vietnam:

There aren’t many examples in which you bring two former enemies together, at the highest levels, and discuss what might have been. I formed the hypothesis that each of us could have achieved our objectives without the terrible loss of life. And I wanted to test that by going to Vietnam.

The former Foreign Minister of Vietnam, a wonderful man named Thach said, “You’re totally wrong. We were fighting for our independence. You were fighting to enslave us.” We almost came to blows. That was noon on the first day.

“Do you mean to say it was not a tragedy for you, when you lost 3 million 4 hundred thousand Vietnamese killed, which on our population base is the equivalent of 27 million Americans? What did you accomplish? You didn’t get any more than we were willing to give you at the beginning of the war. You could have had the whole damn thing: independence, unification.”

“Mr. McNamara, You must never have read a history book. If you’d had, you’d know we weren’t pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. McNamara, didn’t you know that? Don’t you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for 1000 years? We were fighting for our independence. And we would fight to the last man. And we were determined to do so. And no amount of bombing, no amount of U.S. pressure would ever have stopped us.”

McNamara implies that both sides misunderstood each others’ intentions: North Vietnamese assumed that the U.S.A. were planning to replace France as their new master, while Americans saw Vietnam as a proxy of Russia and China readying to spread Communism in Asia. McNamara suggests that understanding each others real intentions back then could’ve helped the two countries avoid the conflict and saved millions of lives.

I wonder if McNamara’s idea could be applied to the health care debate. Would it make the dialog between the opponents and the supporters of the health care reform more civilized and productive? Would it help if both sides of the debate made an effort to understand the motivations of the other side?

I read hundreds of articles, research papers, studies, watched and listened to many interviews, heard multiple personal stories, and have a couple of my own. Knowing what I know, I cannot understand how anyone can object the reform, but many of those who do are among my friends, co-workers, and neighbors, mostly intelligent people. Why don’t they see what I see? Can I understand their motivations? I want to give it a try.

From my liberal, pro-reform, and what some may call “biased” viewpoint, I see that the opponents of the health care reform represent different groups, each with its own motivation:

Profiteers include health care executives, investors betting on health care industry profits, and all those making insane amounts of money and who have most to lose. Of course, UnitedHealthcare CEO Stephen Hemsley does not want to shake the system that brings him $100,000 each waking hour. He and his buddies are fighting for their self-interests. I can understand that.

The richest 1.2% — although not all — obviously do not want the proposed 1%-1.5% surtax on the income amounts exceeding $280K/$350K per year (individual/family) to pay for poor people’s health care. If you make $1,280,000/year (individual), you rather spend the extra $10K (thank you, George W. Bush) on things better than someone else’s health care. Understood.

Beneficiaries are those who don’t make fortunes on the current system, but somehow directly or indirectly benefit from it, such as rank-and-file employees of health care companies, administrators handling insurance paperwork for health care providers, and so on. Although health care reform will probably bring more jobs (with more people having access to health care more medical professionals will be needed), some of the administrative and/or non-productive positions will be eliminated. While losing a job is not the end of the world (people lose jobs even without reforms), I can see this group’s perceived threat to its well-being, so I can understand its opposition, too.

Politicians are actually split between the two groups, but they both have the same goal: being re-elected. Non-conservative politicians opposing the reform most likely get significant campaign contributions from the insurance companies and other interest groups opposing the reform, so they want to continue the flow of contributions in future. Conservative politicians must please their base, which mostly opposes the reform, so they play along. Again, motives understood.

Hate media jockeys – Beck, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, Savage, & Co. — would not say that they like anything about the policies or intentions of Democratic government (and President Obama in particular) even if they did (I’m stretching my imagination here). The more angry they sound, the more outrageous and preposterous claims they make, the higher their rating climb. This is how the entertainment/propaganda machine brings ratings/profits these days, so it would be stupid for them to move this machine into a different direction on the issue of health care, even if it contradicted their own opinion. Consider this one clear, too.

Seniors are a special case. They seem to like Medicare, yet they do not want government-run services to be extended to people without health insurance. Some seniors don’t realize that Medicare is a government-run program, but what about others? It seems to me that Medicare recipients opposing the reform are afraid that any change will negatively affect their services. What I do not understand about this attitude — besides the obvious selfishness — is that it should be clear that the Medicare system is more likely to be affected by spending cuts without the reform. With medical costs escalating, just wait for the next round of legislators to get the Republican majority and you will see the job Newt Gingrich started finished. Grandpa and grandma: GOP does not liked Medicare: never did and never will. How one cannot understand this, I do not understand.

Conservative Christians oppose the reform for several reasons, but only one of them is relevant to the Christian teaching: abortion. Although, FactCheck.org believes that the House bill would allow abortions to be covered by a federal plan and by federally subsidized private plans, other interpretations are less certain. I do not see even the FactCheck.org’s interpretation to be different from the current system where employee health care contributions can be used to cover abortions of other plan members. If you oppose the reform because of your position on abortion, what about your current health plan to which you make contributions? Does your current health plan cover abortions? If so, shouldn’t you cancel it? On a different note, it’s hard to imagine that extending health care to the uninsured will somehow result in explosion of abortions, but okay, I can understand the desire to protect the unborn. What I do not understand is: why the same people caring about the lives of the unborn do not care about the lives of the living. Shouldn’t both be protected? How can you advocate one and not the other? Being a Christian, Christians’ opposition to the health reform puzzles and upsets me the most. How can you spend Sundays preaching about the Good Samaritan, helping the poor, taking care of the needy, and healing the sick, while at the same time opposing the efforts of the society to do the very same things. I don’t think I can understand that.

Libertarians hate all things government (and especially Democratic government), including taxes, social programs, etc. Since health care is a sort of social program funded by taxes, libertarian opposition to the reform seems logical, at least more logical than Christian opposition. Yet the whole concept of libertarianism seems strange to me. I’m all for self-reliance and against bureaucracy and government waste, but I definitely do not want to live in a medieval society. Hey, I don’t like paying taxes either, but I like to drive on public roads and visit public parks. I expect police to to protect us from criminals and the army to defend against foreign aggression. I’m glad that public schools, colleges and universities offer free or affordable education. I don’t visit libraries that often, but it’s nice to know that they are open. And I want health care to be available to all: healthy and sick, young and old, rich and poor. It seems civil. So even thought there is no plan to raise taxes on 98.8% of the population, if I have to pay a bit more in taxes for someone’s medical care, it’s okay with me (it’s probably the best use of my tax money). Libertarians also tend to believe that government cannot do anything good, which again is not accurate, since the existing government-run health care programs (like Medicare and VA hospitals, which already cover about 28% of the population) are managed cheaper and get higher customer satisfaction than private insurance.  Even the most vocal opponent of the government-run health care admits that U.S. government-run health care is best. Puzzled? Me too!

Anti-entitlement groups oppose social programs intended to help disadvantaged. From their perspective, people are not entitled to anything including health care. If someone is sick, it’s his/her problem. If you don’t have health insurance, it’s your fault. If you had insurance, but your benefits were rescinded after you got sick, you must have done something wrong. We’re not gonna pay for you, period. I don’t understand this attitude on a number of level. First, it operates under a false assumption that all needy are bums, which is so Old Testament: poor=sinful, rich=righteous. Sure some people without health insurance are bums, but the majority is not. Second, it’s not civil. A civil society takes care of the vulnerable, and I want to live in a civil society. Third, people don’t like to think about bad things, but bad things happen. You may be healthy and well-to-do now, but what if you get cancer and can’t work? What if you exceed your lifetime benefit cap? Wouldn’t you want the society to take care of you?

Fiscal conservatives, who fear that the reform will add to the budget deficit, would’ve made sense had they been consistent in their strive for balanced budget. Had they opposed the Iraq War, which costs more than the health care reform would, or Bush Tax cuts, which over 10 years will cost 2.5 times more than the health care plan, then their opposition would’ve made sense, but thus far, it does not go beyond hypocrisy. Beside, one of the goals of the reform is to contain the ever escalating cost of health care (which is already highest in the world), so if done right, in the long run it will actually help balance the budget.

Anti-immigrant league, which blames the evils of society on illegal (and sometimes legal) immigrants, is afraid that it will have to pay for the new wave of illegal immigrants seeking “free” health care. Being an immigrant myself, I do not appreciate the bigotry directed at newcomers (both legal and illegal). After all, the forefathers did not get the permission from Native Americans to land here, so directly or indirectly we’re all in this country illegally. Most of the anti-immigrant rhetoric is based on false assumptions and wrong facts (even the Cato Institute — a libertarian think tank — concluded that the legalization of undocumented workers would be beneficial for the native-born). And regardless what Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) thinks, the health care bill does not ensure access to health care to illegal immigrants, which is a shame because doing so would make more sense. So I understand the anti-immigrant rhetoric, but it is not supported by facts.

Obamaphobs don’t like the President, and this seems to be a sufficient reason to oppose the President’s policies. “We’re afraid of Obama,” people say. I’m not sure what exactly they fear: they seem to be in no imminent danger, and most are doing quite well. I guess, for some it’s a racial issue, for others it’s a Democrat-is-a-President issue, and for others it’s a mental problem that could be treated with therapy and/or medication (I’m not trying to be sarcastic here). So the “bad Obama=bad reform” logic is simple, but it sure is weird… and unhealthy.

Neo-McCartyists see communist conspiracies everywhere, even in such well-meaning projects as health care expansion. Ronald Reagan made the very same arguments when he warned about the dangers of Medicare in 1961, so it’s not new, but equally baseless. The whole logic is flawed: communist/socialist countries have public health care, therefore if the U.S. adopts public health care it will turn into a communist country. By the same assumption we can say that the U.S. is already a communist country since it has public schools.

Conspiracy theorists see health care reform as yet another government plot against them. This is the group that believes in the concept “death panels”, “Obama will kill your grandma”, “universal health care=slavery”, and other equally stupid concepts. I do not even try to understand this.

Misinformed is the group made of people who take the common myths about health care at their face values. They claim that the U.S. health care is the best in the world, although they probably haven’t experienced health care in France, Canada, U.K., Germany, or any other industrial country (and they probably did not have a serious encounter with U.S. health insurance either). They assume that the escalating health care costs are driven by malpractice law suites and illegal immigrants. They believe that you can get a cancer drug at Walmart for $10, that free county and city hospitals are open to people without health insurance, that special programs and sponsors are ready to pick up your bill for emergency treatment. People from this group have at least three things in common:

  1. They get their news from Beck, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, Savage, and other Fox pundits.
  2. They either (a) have health insurance (most likely via employer) or (b) are healthy.
  3. They did not experience major health problems, especially when holding individual health insurance policy or without insurance.
  4. They do not consider a possibility of losing health care coverage (people do not ask themselves: what if I get laid off? what if my working spouse loses job?).

I know it’s possible to hold onto these assumptions and live in a knowledge shell until something bad happens to you (then you’ll find first-hand whether these assumptions were right or wrong), but come on: have some intellectual curiosity. How do you know that U.S. health care is the best? How do you know that health care in Canada is worse? Dow you know how much malpractice law suites contribute to rising health care costs? Have you actually tried to find a free clinic? There are answers to these and many other common questions available online. Google is your friend (or you can start with my own Everything you need to know about U.S. health care reform post, which addresses many questions).

I’m not sure if any attempts to understand the opposition will do any good or lead to a more constructive dialog, but I wonder what the opposition thinks about the pro-reformers. If you are against the reform, do you really think that Obama has a secret plan to kill your grandma and turn the country into the Soviet Union? Seriously, what do you think about the motivations driving the reform supporters? I’d really like to know.

Everything you need to know about U.S. health care reform

If you’re interested in the health care debate, check out these resources.

FACTS

Number of uninsured (per U. S. Census Bureau, 2007): 45.7 million (15.3% of the population) and growing.

Number of adults discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition in the past three years (per White House, 2009): 12.6 million.

Number of states where adults without dependent children are ineligible for Medicaid no matter how low their income (per Families USA): 43.

Number of deaths due to lack of health insurance (per American Journal of Public Health, 2009): 45,000/year (one death every 12 minutes).

Percentage of bankruptcies linked to medical expenses in 2007 (per American Journal of Medicine, 2009): 62% (78% of those had health insurance).

Health care spending (as % of GDP per U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004): 15.3% (highest among all industrial countries).

Growth rates of national health expenditures (vs. GDP from 1960 to 2007 per National Center for Policy Analysis, 2009): 4.79%/year, 721% cumulative vs. GDP at 2.27%/year, 174% cumulative.

Average employer-sponsored premium for a family of four (per McKinsey and Company, 2009): $13,000/year (employee foots about 30% of this cost).

Increase in employer-sponsored premiums (per The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2008): 114% in the last 10 years (employee’s share increased from $1,543 to $3,354).

Ranking of U.S. health care system among 190 nations (per World Health Organization, 2000 [latest report]): #37 (worse than France, Italy, San Marino, Andorra, Malta, Singapore, Spain, Oman, Austria, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Monaco, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Colombia, Sweden, Cyprus, Germany, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Morocco, Canada, Finland, Australia, Chile, Denmark, Dominica, Costa Rica).

Rating of patient-reported access problems, continuity of care, and waiting times (per The Commonwealth Fund, 2005): #5 (worst of the surveyed 5 countries, behind Austria, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and UK).

Rates of survival for breast and prostate cancers (per The Lancet Oncology, 2008): #1 (highest [i.e. best]; Japan has highest survival rates for colon and rectal cancers among men; France has highest survival rates for colon and rectal cancer among women; Canada and Australia have very high survival rates for most cancers).

Infant mortality (per CIA World Factbook, 2009): 6.26 per 1,000 (highest among industrial countries).

Ranking of preventable deaths due to treatable conditions (per Health Affairs, 2008): #19 (worst of 19 surveyed countries; if the U.S. health care system performed as well as those of the top three countries, there would be 101,000 fewer deaths in the U.S. per year).

U.S. population using government-run health care, such as Medicare, VA, etc (per U.S. Census Bureau, 2008): 83 million (27.8% of the population).

HISTORY

Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine

Lesson from the history: if you believe the line of arguments about the dangers of Medicare presented by Reagan and now parroted by Sara Palin & friends then you should believe that we have been living under communist dictatorship for many years including two Reagan terms (audio).

Missing Richard Nixon

Paul Krugman compares health reform proposed by Richard Nixon to the current reform (The New York Times).

The Ghosts of Clintoncare

Ezra Klein remembers history and provides some stats on health care costs, insurance company market shares, etc (Washington Post). Quote: “Private [health] insurance is a bit like a fire department that turns a profit by letting buildings burn down.”

Obama v. Nixon

Analysis of the President Barack Obama’s address on health care reform with the similar address by President Richard Nixon.

ANALYSIS

Health Care Realities

Paul Krugman explains the role of the government in regulating health care (Washington Post).

Getting There from Here

Journalist and surgeon Atul Gawande analyzes why American health care needs a reform in the context of health care reforms in other capitalist countries (New Yorker).

Bill Moyers Journal: Health Care Reform

Trudy Lieberman, director of the health and medical reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and Marcia Angell, senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine talk about the problems of health care system and ways to address them (PBS; video/transcript).

Bill Moyers Journal: Jamieson and Altman

Media analyst Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Kaiser Family Foundation president and CEO Drew Altman discuss the messages in health care ads today, and how well they reflect the real issues of health care reform (PBS; video/transcript).

Bill Moyers Journal: David Frum

Former special assistant to George W. Bush David Frum is calling on Republicans to come up with their own plan for health care reform and suggests changes that conservatives can support; some of the points actually make sense… if you do not pay close attention to details (PBS; video/transcript).

STATISTICS

Achieving a High-Performance Health Care System with Universal Access: What the United States Can Learn from Other Countries

American College of Physicians present the numbers on how the United States stacks up to other countries in a variety of criteria, and what we can learn from the best in the world.

Myth: The U.S. has the best health care system in the world.

Various statistics comparing U.S. health care to other rich nations (with sources).

OECD Health Data 2009 – Frequently Requested Data

Includes lots of most current and historical statistics for U.S. and European countries: expenditures on health (% of GDP, per capita), pharmaceutical expenditures, practicing physicians and nurses (density per 1,000 population), and lots more.

By The Numbers: ‘The Breaking Point’ For American Health Care

Some national health crisis facts.

Swiss Health-Care Costs

Ezra Klein compares health care costs in U.S. and Switzerland (also includes a nice graph showing per capita health care expenditures in different countries).

Simple Arithmetic

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest Employer Benefits Survey is out, and they’ve got some numbers worth remembering.

Total health spending (as % of GDP) updated

Gapminder graph showing historic health spending across the world.

THE UNINSURED

The Uninsured

The New York Times editorial describes the groups of people who lack health insurance.

Who Are the Uninsured?

A few statistical data points related to uninsured.

Counting the Uninsured in the U.S.

The income group between $50,000-$70,000 is the fastest-grown segment of the uninsured population.

Yes, Those Uninsured Numbers Are Legit

Why the critique of the number of uninsured — including the arguments that 1) the number includes immigrants; 2) the number includes people who are eligible but not enrolled for public health programs like Medicaid and SCHIP; and 3) the number includes people who make more than a certain income, and supposedly could “afford” coverage — is misleading.

Covering the Uninsured in Medicaid

Explains who can and who cannot receive government-sponsored health care, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

PERSONAL STORIES

The Joy of Rx

A newborn baby is denied health coverage because of “pre-existing condition” (video).

We Love Eric

Eric De La Cruz died while awaiting a heart transplant that was denied and delayed because he could not get insurance due to a pre-existing condition.

Robin Beaton: This Is America And We Deserve Good Health Care

This story illustrates the practice of rescission: retroactive cancellation of health insurance when individual insurance holders become seriously ill (video).

Stories of Health

See stories about people who were injured on the job, are self-employed, cared for a sibling, were affected by the California budget cuts and died.

Firm cancels health insurance coverage for girl, 17, after celiac disease diagnosis

American Community Mutual’s rescission numbers ’cause for concern,’ says director of Illinois Department of Insurance (Chicago Tribune).

How Our Health-Care System Wrecks People Who Play by the Rules

Steve Taylor tells a story of his parents’ struggle with health care bills.

Gambling With Health Care

NOW travels to Nevada, where a huge budget deficit, spiking unemployment, and cuts in Medicaid and other public services are forcing people to gamble with their own lives (PBS; video/transcript).

Critical Condition

Documentary in which ordinary hard-working Americans tell their stories of battling critical illnesses without health insurance (video).

Dawn’s Story: Standing Up for the Health Care We All Deserve

Dawn Smith is fighting brain tumor and CIGNA.

On Mental Health

This is a story about a descent into madness, but not like you think.

Off Topic: I Have Swine Flu & Blue Shield Is Evil

The author of this post explains why he could not get health insurance.

Until Medical Bills Do Us Part

People sometimes divorce husbands or wives to escape their medical bills.

My Encounter with [Insert Scary Music] … Socialized Medicine!

Jim Wallis of Sojourners describes his experience with English health care system (there are some interesting comments).

Marsha Coupé: A life-and-death case for universal coverage

Marsha Coupé describes her experience with English health care system after her husband was diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer.

We’re Making the Victim of a Murderous Rampage Pay for Her Hospital Stay

An unemployed victim of a murderous rampage is paying the bill for a 5-night hospital stay.

Young People Living, And Laughing, With Cancer

Interesting stories of young women battling cancer (NPR; audio).

The Golden Rule, Insurer Style

What if you or your wife or your daughter had a C section and then were told you couldn’t get health insurance unless you got sterilized? That’s what happened to Peggy Robertson when she tried to buy coverage through UnitedHealthcare’s Golden Rule insurance.

HEALTH CARE DEBATE

Is The Government Responsible For Health Care?

Six experts — three on each side — debate whether universal health coverage should be the federal government’s responsibility.

ETHICAL AND MORAL ASPECTS

Bioethics And The Obama Administration

Bioethicist Arthur Caplan discusses the health care challenges facing the Obama administration (NPR; audio/podcast).

End Of Life Care In America, A Doctor’s Diagnosis

Doctor Robert Martensen illustrates the problems and complexities of American health care system, and argues that safeguarding the quality of a patient’s life sometimes trumps the urge to sustain life at all cost; very interesting personal story (NPR; audio/podcast).

American Values

A recent Brookings poll suggests caring for one another isn’t as far from the American psyche as some like to think.

WHY IS IT SO EXPENSIVE?

Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us

The most comprehensive look at the deficiencies of the US health care delivery system that explains why it is so expensive. It also explains how some people can reduce their health care bills.

High health-care costs: It’s all in the pricing

There is a simple reason health care in the United States costs more than it does anywhere else: The prices are higher.

21 graphs that show America’s health-care prices are ludicrous

Excerpts from the 2012 survey data showing the prices that insurers are actually paying for different drugs, devices, and medical services in different countries.

Health Insurance Costs

National Coalition on Health Care examines health care costs in the U.S. using various studies (you can find info on projected spending growth, % of GDP spent on health care, etc).

U.S. Health Care Costs

Another look at the health care costs by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (includes a nice graph showing percentages spent on administration, profits, etc).

Why Does Health Care Cost So Much?

Shannon Brownlee argues that the main culprit in the soaring cost of American health care is overtreatment… and all that extra care is making us sick; includes info on cost of malpractice insurance (AARP Magazine).

It’s The Prices, Stupid: Why The United States Is So Different From Other Countries

Recent studies by Gerard Anderson, PhD, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and his colleagues show that Americans are paying considerably more for health care than any other developed nation (PDF; see also It’s the Prices Stupid — Why Americans Pay More for Health Care)

Healthcare system wastes up to $800 billion a year

This is what the report from Robert Kelley, vice president of healthcare analytics at Thomson Reuters, found.

We spend $750 billion on unnecessary health care. Two charts explain why.

The 2012 Institute of Medicine report looks at our big health-care spending problem.

Money-Driven Medicine

In this report, the Maggie Mahar reveals how a profit-hungry “medical-industrial complex” has turned health care into a system where millions are squandered on unnecessary tests, unproven and sometimes unwanted procedures and overpriced prescription drugs (PBS; video/transcript).

MALPRACTICE

Myths Debunked: Rising Cost of Medical Malpractice Insurance Is Due to High Jury Awards

References to various articles and studies explaining limited implication of malpractice law suites on the rising costs of health care.

Would Tort Reform Lower Costs?

A pretty comprehensive discussion on the effects of malpractice law suites on medical costs (New York Times).

Would Tort Reform Lower Health Care Costs?

The Wonk Room takes a look at malpractice and tort reform.

Medical Malpractice Costs

Ezra Klein mentions several issues related to malpractice that are rarely raised.

Some Thoughts on Malpractice

In a number of studies doctors and nurses did blind evaluations of malpractice suits and overwhelmingly found them meritorious.

QUALITY

Why Not the Best? Results from the National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance, 2011

Updated series of comprehensive assessments of U.S. population health and health care quality, access, efficiency, and equity.

America’s hospital infections problem in one (very long) graphic

Super-long, super-interesting charticle examining the American health-care system.

How to Stop Hospitals From Killing Us

Roughly a quarter of all hospitalized patients will be harmed by a medical error of some kind. If medical errors were a disease, they would be the sixth leading cause of death in America. The human toll aside, medical errors cost the U.S. health-care system tens of billions a year. Some 20% to 30% of all medications, tests and procedures are unnecessary, according to research done by medical specialists, surveying their own fields.

Fighting health care acquired infections

Each year, an estimated 1.7 million U.S. patients catch a bug while being treated for something else. Nearly 100,000 patients die annually from what are formally called “healthcare-associated infections,” or HAIs.

SINGLE PAYER

Bill Moyers Journal: Wolfe and Himmelstein

Doctors Sidney Wolfe and David Himmelstein explain the benefits of the single-payer system (PBS; video/transcript).

Bill Moyers Journal: Donna Smith

Donna Smith and her husband were fully insured, but they lost everything and were forced into bankruptcy after major illnesses and surgeries; today, Donna Smith works as a community organizer and legislative advocate for the California Nurses Association, whose 85,000 members across the country were early champions of a single-payer program (PBS; video/transcript).

A Single-Payer System Would Reduce U.S. Health Care Costs

Ed Weisbart, MD, CPE explains why a single-payer system is better (lots of stats, and facts).

SUPPORTERS

Supporters of the Affordable Health Care for America Act

List of organizations supporting the reform.

Physicians for a National Health Program

Non-profit research and education organization of 17,000 physicians, medical students and health professionals who support single-payer national health insurance. Check Single-Payer FAQ; also lots of other helpful references on single-payer systems are available including overview, facts and myths, economics and financing, quality and malpractice, problems of for-profit care, and more.

Boehner Claims He Doesn’t Know Doctors Who Support House Health Bill, Trashes AMA For Endorsing It

The opposition wants you to think that doctors do not support health care reform.

Doctors Support the Public Option

Doctors overwhelmingly support either a public option or a public system.

Consumers Union

A prominent consumer advocate supports the reform (see also ‘Consumer Reports’ Chief Backs Health Overhaul).

Not All Republicans on the Train to Crazy Town

There are a number of prominent Republicans coming to the fore to endorse health care reform, unfortunately, none of them happen to be in Congress.

THE OPPOSITION

Rewriting Conservatives for Patients’ Rights’ Script

Check the credentials of this spokesman (video/analysis).

Betsy McCaughey’s Ideas Called “Hyperbolic… Dangerous” By Jon Stewart

Betsy McCaughey, who originally suggested that health care reform would result in “death panels” (she did not call them that, though), explains her understanding of the health care bill (three videos; analysis). Now, Betsy McCaughey has ideas on improving health care of her own, like cutting Americans aged 65 to 69 from the Medicare program. It’s good stuff.

Bill Kristol Extended Interview

A key ideologists of the reform opposition admits that government-run health care is the best, but Americans do not deserve it… seriously (video).

Steele: Don’t Raid Medicare To Fund Health Changes

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele opposes a government-run health care system, as do most members of his party, but he seems to like the government-run Medicare… or does he (NPR; audio/podcast/transcript)?

Joe Wilson’s Dirty Health-Care Secret

Rep. Joe the “You [President Obama] Lie” Wilson (R-SC) is passionate about stopping government-run health care… unless it’s his health care.

GOP-Cited Firm Owned By Insurance Company

Information on Lewin Group which “research” and projections data are cited by the reform opponents (SEIU).

Healthcare foes use fear, not reason

Leonard Pitts reflects on the tactics used by the opponents of the health care reform (Maiami Herald).

Who’s Afraid Of Public Insurance?

Mostly people who haven’t tried it.

ALTERNATIVE PLANS

No Alternative: An Analysis of the GOP Plan

Analysis of the health care plans by Republican Senators Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint.

A Critque of the Republican Response to Obama’s Health Care Speech

Review of the Republican response to President Obama’s health care reform speech.

Do health insurers even want to sell across state lines?

A new paper from Georgetown University researchers suggests a third possible outcome: Absolutely nothing at all will happen. They looked at the three states – Maine, Georgia and Wyoming – that have passed laws allowing insurers from other states to participate in their markets.

LIES AND LIARS

Frank Luntz warns GOP: Health reform is popular

In a 26-page confidential report, Dr. Frank Luntz, a top Republican consultant on the language of politics, gives examples of the talking points that the opposition should use (the ones you hear all the time now).

Conservatives Push ‘End of Life’ Smear

Lies, lies, and more lies… (video).

Drag Me to Health

Republicans warn health care reform will be the worst thing ever (video).

Top Five Health Care Reform Lies—and How to Fight Back

Rebuttal to the most common lies about the health care reform with supporting data.

Truth-telling and Responsibility in Health Care

Jim Wallis talks about one important moral principle for the health-care debate: truth-telling.

Americans Lives vs. Insurance Company Profits: The Real Battle in Health Care Reform

The real story of Shona Holmes — the current poster girl for the liars slandering Canadian health care in an attempt to discredit reform — who alleges she was horribly endangered by Canada’s health care system.

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly Criticizes “Astronomical” Top Tax Rate That “Shocks The Conscience”

Fox’ claims on tax burdens debunked (video/analysis).

Call ‘Em Out: Bachmann

When it comes to lying about health reform, Michele Bachmann is in a class by herself.

Huckabee: Kennedy Was Fighting Cancer To Deny Cancer Patients Ability To Fight The Disease

Huckabee is a lier, too.

HEALTH INSURANCE INDUSTRY

Bill Moyers Journal: Wendell Potter — Profits or Patients

Wendell Potter, a former health insurance insider, explains what is fundamentally wrong with the for-profit health insurance industry (PBS; video/transcript).

Rep. Stupak Questions Witnesses On Rescission Triggers

Over the past five years, almost 20,000 individual insurance policyholders have had their policies rescinded by the three insurance companies: Assurant, UnitedHealth Group, and WellPoint; the CEOs of these three companies confirm that they will continue the practice (video/transcript).

State attorney general targets health insurers

The nurses union said some of the companies had denial rates between 27% and 40% during the first 6 months of 2009. PacifiCare rejected 39.6% of claims it received, Cigna 32.7%, Health Net 30%, Kaiser Permanente 28.3%, and Blue Cross 27.9%.

Profit and the Insurance Industry

Ezra Klein argues that the insurance industry is not a particularly profitable industry.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) calls out health insurance company practice

Sen. Jay Rockefeller summarizes major issues with health care industry.

Sick for Profit

Do you know that UnitedHealthcare CEO Stephen Hemsley makes over $100,000/hour? What is his value added to health care?

The Health Insurance Racket

CIGNAs Edward Hanway spends his holidays in a $13 million beach house in New Jersey. Meanwhile, regular Americans are routinely denied coverage for the care they need when they need it most.

Anthem BCBS Of Maine Proclaims Entitlement To Profits, Demands Government Guarantee 3 Percent Profit

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine, argued [in court] that the government must guarantee the company a 3% profit.

Someone Else’s Money

Very insightful and entertaining episode examining health care industry from different angles (NPR; audio).

POLITICS

Legislators for sale

Keith Olbermann slams members of Congress for acting more in the interests of their health industry campaign donors than their constituents who so clearly favor health care reform (MSNBC; video).

Senate Republicans Block Own Amendments on Health Care Bill

Sen. Mike Enzi (R) refuses to allow approval of 64 Republican amendments in an attempt to obstruct the process.

Bill Moyers: Robert Reich

Former Labor Secretary talks about the influence of lobbyists on policy, the economy, and the ongoing debate over health care (PBS; video/transcript).

Let Congress Go Without Insurance

Nicholas Kristof offers a modest proposal: If Congress fails to pass comprehensive health reform this year, its members should surrender health insurance in proportion with the American population that is uninsured.

The Politics of Spite

If Republicans think something might be good for the president, they’re against it — whether or not it’s good for America.

The End of Politics

The New Republic and the American Prospect both had good editorials this month on the underlying realities of our politics that have been exposed by health care.

Alan Grayson: “If the President has a BLT tomorrow, the Republicans will try to ban bacon.”

This is Alan Grayson discussing health care on the floor of the House on 10/8/09 (see also Congressman Alan Grayson Says Don’t Get Sick [HQ]; this clip includes quotes from prominent Republicans).

How Drug-Industry Lobbyists Got Their Way on Health Care

Karen Tumulty and Michael Scherer explain how the drug lobby influences the politicians.

ABORTION

Does Health Care Cover Abortion?

Steven Waldman offers a very comprehensive look at aspects of health care reform related to abortion (Wall Street Journal).

In Health Care Battle, a Truce on Abortion

Neither abortion opponents nor abortion rights advocates would use the overhaul effort to advance their agendas.

Abortion and the Baucus health care bill

PolitiFact analyzes the issue of abortion in the Baucus bill.

US VS. THEM

How Does the Quality of U.S. Health Care Compare Internationally?

This brief brings together available evidence on how quality of care in the U.S. compares to that of other countries and comments on the implications of the evidence for the health reform debate.

The U.S. Health System in Perspective: A Comparison of Twelve Industrialized Nations

This analysis concentrated on 2010 OECD health data for Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Health care spending in the U.S. towers over the other countries. The U.S. has fewer hospital beds and physicians, and sees fewer hospital and physician visits, than in most other countries. Prescription drug utilization, prices, and spending all appear to be highest in the U.S., as does the supply, utilization, and price of diagnostic imaging. U.S. performance on a limited set of quality measures is variable, ranking highly on five-year cancer survival, middling on in-hospital case-specific mortality, and poorly on hospital admissions for chronic conditions and amputations due to diabetes. Findings suggest opportunities for cross-national learning to improve health system performance.

Sick Around the World

A Frontline documentary (available online) in which T.R. Reid examines pros and cons of health care systems in United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan (adopted universal health care in 1995), and Switzerland (adopted universal health care in 1995); there is also a good comparative summary (PBS). See also T.R. Reid’s follow-up interview with Charlie Rose. There is also an interesting interview (audio/podcast) in which T.R. Reid explains to Terry Gross (Fresh Air) the four basic health care models and how U.S. has all of them; he also describes treatment options — for his wounded shoulder — that he received in different countries (NPR).

Sick Around America

A follow-up to the “Sick Around the World” documentary that focuses on the problems with health care in the U.S. (PBS). Note: T.R. Reid did not like this sequel.

5 Myths About Health Care Around the World

T.R. Reid explains how different industrial countries implemented health care (Washington Post).

5 Myths About Our Ailing Health-Care System

Shannon Brownlee and Ezekiel Emanuel dispel a few myths about how health care works (Washington Post).

The health of nations: here’s how Canada, France, Britain, Germany, and our own Veterans Health Administration manage to cover everybody at less cost and with better care than we do

Ezra Klein compares quality and costs of health care in Canada, France, Britain, Germany, and U.S. Veterans Health Administration (The American Prospect).

How Does the Quality of U.S. Health Care Compare Internationally?

A study by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation examines where the U.S. health care does well, and where it does not, as compared to other countries.

Lessons From the French Health-Care System

Compared with the U.S. health-care system, the French system covers everyone, spends less, and sees its costs rise more slowly.

Why France’s Health Care Is So Good, The Public Option So Bad and the Co-Ops So Incomplete: An Interview With Kent Conrad

Ezra Klein spoke to Conrad about what Americans can learn from other health-care systems, why he opposed the public option and what had felled the Gang of Six.

Beyond Hysterics: The Health Care Model That Works

As America agonizes over remaking health care, it might check out a private/public system that has been in place for years–the one in Germany (Forbes Journal).

Six out of every seven doctors agree: Our health-care system doesn’t work

The nonprofit Commonwealth Fund surveyed primary care doctors in 10 industrialized countries. American doctors turned out to have the lowest rates of job satisfaction. When asked whether our health-care system worked well, about 15 percent agreed.

OH, CANADA!

Everything you ever wanted to know about Canadian health care in one post

Guide to the Canadian health care system.

Does Canada’s Health Care System Need Fixing?

Sarah Varney discusses pluses and minuses of Canadian Health care (NPR).

Universal Health Care Message to Americans From Canadian Doctors & Health Care Experts

Canadian doctors and health care officials speak about their health care system (video).

Canadian healthcare: Fact vs. fiction

Flaws in Canadian system due to lack of democracy and funding, not lack of privatization.

REFORM

Obama Health Care Speech

Video extracts, full video, and transcript (see a critique by Healthcare Economist).

Healthcare Napkins All

Slide show explaining the reason and purpose of health care insurance reform.

Frequently Asked Questions About Health Insurance Reform

White House answers to common questions about the reform.

Get the facts about the stability and security you get from health insurance reform

White House offers some facts.

8 Questions About Health-Care Reform

Answers to common question addressing affects of the proposed health care reform on different people and economy.

Health Insurance Reform in Three Steps

A simple graph that makes the effects of the reform more clear.

What health care reform really looks like

Chart shows how health care would work under H.R. 3200.

How Does The Baucus Mark Handle The Most Contentions Issues Of Reform?

Answers to the most common questions (abortion, etc).

Explaining the excise tax: part 2

Ezra Klein explains how the proposed excise tax is supposed to work.

Obamacare Myths Debunked

Jennifer Bard, a law professor and director of the Health Law Program at the Texas Tech University School of Law to explains what provisions do and do not exist in Obamacare, and what the reform will mean for the average consumer in America.

FAQ: Everything you need to know about Obamacare’s coverage options, in one post

A short primer on what the Affordable Care Act will change about insurance benefits come 2014.

MEDICARE

Tapping Medicare to Pay for the Uninsured

Dean Baker comments on The New York Times article discussing the effects of the health care reform on Medicare.

Michael Steele: GOP Opposes Government Health Care, But Supports Medicare

Republican Party and Medicare (see also McConnell Opposes Medicare Cuts He Once Championed and Better Message Discipline, Please).

Health Reform and Medicare: Part I

Thomas L. Greaney reflects on the history of Medicare (see also Medicare and Health Reform: Part II).

PUBLIC OPTION

Robert Reich Explains the Public Option

Very short but clear explanation (video).

What Is the Public Option?

Tim Foley explains the meaning of the public option in the current version of the health care bill.

Grassley Flustered When Challenged By Schumer On Public Option

Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) admitted that Medicare is part of the “social fabric” of America and praised the competition between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage, but he could not explain why younger Americans should be afforded the same choice of coverage.

Shep Smith destroys GOP senator on public option

A voice of reason from a Fox News anchor.

HEALTH CARE IN STATES

Why We Should be Listening to Howard Dean

The Commonwealth Fund has completed a state-by-state scorecard which “assesses states’ performance on health care relative to achievable benchmarks for 38 indicators of access, quality, costs, and health outcomes.”

IMMIGRATION

Immigration + Health Care = Run Away

For ten years, our members of Congress and our Presidents from both parties told us it was intolerable for kids to have to go to the emergency room for asthma attacks… unless they weren’t born here.

Do we spend too much on immigrant health care?

Not as much as it is commonly believed.

What The Congressional Research Service Report Really Says About Immigrants And Health Care Reform

Seriously, what does it say?

Why Democrats Should Not Submit To Nativists’ Health Care Demands

Quote: “Another study by the Government Accountability Office found that documentation requirements used to prove medicaid eligibility caused thousands of eligible U.S. citizens to lose Medicaid coverage without saving taxpayers any money: for every $100 spent by taxpayers to implement documentation requirements in six states, only 14 cents were saved.”

Sen. Kay Hutchison Blames Texas Uninsured Rate On ‘Illegal Immigrant Population’

People say illegal immigrants are a large part of the uninsured population (in Texas) but according to the studies by the Texas Department of Insurance, it’s less than 20% of uninsured are illegal immigrants.

Louisiana Senator Says Health Care Reform Will Benefit Undocumented Immigrants Because “It Always Does”

In the case of Medicaid, citizenship requirements led to thousands of Americans being denied or losing coverage, new administrative costs that “far exceeded the savings” by millions of dollars, and only a small handful of undocumented immigrants were caught all within the first two years alone.

Stephanopoulos Checks Pawlenty On Verification: “They Spent $8 Million,” “Caught 8 Illegal Immigrants”

Another case in point: when Colorado passed a series of stringent measures requiring applicants for most state benefits to prove their immigration status, it cost the state $2 million in its first year alone and state officials could not prove that any undocumented immigrants applied for the program in the first place.

Shout Draws Focus to Illegal-Immigrant Issue

“Will some illegal immigrant get [help]? Probably. Will it be this big problem? Probably not,” said Gerald Prante, an economist with the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

Immigrants, Health Reform, and “Lies”

This controversy should remind us that immigrants remain in a sort of health care purgatory, caught in our two most dysfunctional systems — immigration and health care.

The Case for Insuring Illegal Immigrants

The problem isn’t that health-care reform won’t include illegal immigrants. It’s that it doesn’t, and it should.

Mexico’s health care lures Americans

Thousands of American retirees have quietly found a health care plan with no limits, no deductibles, free medicines, tests, X-rays, eyeglasses, even dental work — all for a flat fee of $250 or less a year… in Mexico (USA Today).

Americans Find A Retirement Haven In Paris

Forbes recommends retiring Americans to move to move abroad, partly because of great health care offered over there.

RELIGION

MSNBC Talks About President Obama’s Meeting with Religious Leaders

Jim Wallis talks with MSNBC about President Obama’s conference call with faith leaders.

Three Moral Issues of Health Care

Three fundamental moral issues that the faith community can focus on and call our political leaders back to: the truth, full access, and cost.

COST OF REFORM

The Baucus Bill: CBO Luvs It

According to Congressional Budget Office, the health care bill will keep reducing the deficit as time goes on.

Baucus: Medicaid Expansion Will Not “Cost States Nearly As Much As Was Originally Feared”

The Medicaid costs with expansion are not going to cost states nearly as much as was originally feared.

Health Reform Subsidy Calculator

Online tool that allows the user to start with the provisions from one of several proposals and examine the impact at different income levels.

CBO Estimates for the Gazillionth Time that Public Option Saves Money

No more, no less.

The Obamacare Shell Game?

Johathan Chait explains how Obama and the republicans are treating fiscal policy.

TAXES

Debunking the NY Post’s Health Care Tax Hysteria

Clear explanation of how health care tax would affect incomes: 1%-1.5% tax is on the incomes above $280K/$350K actually applies to the difference, e.g. if your income is $280,100/year (single), your health care surtax will be 1% of $100 = $1.

To Calculate Huge Top Tax Rate, Fox Pretends All Of Health Reform Will Be Paid For With Tax Increases

Fox News falsely claimed that the entirety of the $1 trillion cost of health care reform is going to paid for with tax hikes on the richest one percent of Americans; not true.

Over Ten Years, Bush Tax Cuts Cost 2.5 Times As Much As House Democrats’ Health Care Plan

Comparison of the Bush’s tax cuts to the cost of the health care reform.

“DEATH PANELS?”

Commentology: Obama and End-of-Life Care

A member of a hospital geriatric emergency team gives her perspective on end-of-life issues.

RESOURCES

Health Care Blog

Daily updates and analysis of events related to health care reform.

Wonk Room

Wonk Room follows offers analysis of economics and political news including health care issues.

Daily Kos: The State of Nation

Focuses on many issues including health care reform.

Healthcare Economist

Jason Shafrin is a Ph.D. Economist aggregates info related to healthcare policy and economics, the health insurance market and, and Medicare research.

The Health Care Blog

Everything you always wanted to know about the health care system but were afraid to ask.

Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein is an associate editor at the American Prospect; he writes on various topics including the health care reform.

Robert Reich’s Blog

Former Secretary of Labor writes about politics, economics, health care and other issues.

HUMOR

Healther Skelter – Obama Death Panel Debate

The Daily Show correspondents debate their preferred form of death panel (video).

Alright Republicans, We Give Up

Rahm Emanuel’s brother will not kill Sarah Palin’s baby (Daily Kos).

What’s Not to Like?

Jonathan Alter: Reform? Why do we need health-care reform? Everything is just fine the way it is (Newsweek).

Drag Me to Health – Universal Health Care

Sam Bee and John Oliver argue over whose country has the worst universal health care system, while Wyatt Cenac is thankful to be an uninsured American (video).

The Bright Side of Death

Satirical song about Blue Cross Blue Shield (video).

Glenn Beck’s Operation

Glenn Beck praises health care which he trashed just a little over a year ago (video).

Don’t Ruin American Healthcare!

Really funny ad (video)!!!

Protect Insurance Companies PSA

Hollywood speaks out to help insurance companies (another funny ad; video).

SNL: Update Thursday: Part 1

The real story of Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie” outburst (ha-ha; video).

TOOLS

Health Reform Subsidy Calculator

Online calculator that shows what health care premiums would cost under different proposals (bills) adjusted for various conditions (age, family size, etc).

US Health Care Spending: Who Pays?

The data visualization graph that illustrates historic health care cost distribution.