Skepticism, Religion Archive

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Response to an E-Mail Supposedly Summarizing Dr. Charles Krauthammer's Views on Obama

ObamaWell, I got another e-mail that I couldn't help but respond to, and that I figured was worth publishing my response on this blog. I don't mean to makethis blog too political (there are a lot of other things I like much more than politics), but recycling e-mails is an easy way to come up with blog entries.

Anyway, like normal for these things, I've formatted the entry to put the original e-mail in blockquotes, followed by my responses (edited just a bit from the e-mail version). My responses are not meant to be a complete point by point refutation of the e-mail, but only cover the most outrageous statements.

Krauthammer's Views on President Barack Obama

Dr. Krauthammer is on Fox News. He is an M.D. and he is paralyzed from the neck down. Be forewarned on what is happening. A friend went to hear Charles Krauthammer. He listened with 25 others in closed room. What he says here, is NOT 2nd-hand, but 1st.

Last Monday was a profound evening, hearing Dr. Charles Krauthammer speak to the Center for the American Experiment. He is brilliant intellectual, seasoned and articulate. He is forthright and careful in his analysis, and never resorts to emotions or personal insults. He is NOT a fear monger nor an extremist in his comments and views. He is a fiscal conservative, and has a Pulitzer Prize for writing. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News and writes weekly for the Washington Post. The entire room was held spellbound during his talk. I have shared this with many of you and several have asked me to summarize his comments, as we are living in uncharted waters economically and internationally.

According to Krauthammer himself, this is not an accurate representation of his talk. Remember not to trust anything in an e-mail until you've seen independent confirmation somewhere else.

The authorship says nothing about the validity of the claims. However, realize that it means that these are just the thoughts of somebody with an e-mail account, not those of somebody with the credentials of Krauthammer.

1. Mr. Obama is a very intellectual, charming individual. He is not to be underestimated. He is a cool customer who doesn't show his emotions. It's very hard to know what's behind the mask. Taking down the Clinton dynasty from a political neophyte was an amazing accomplishment. The Clintons still do not understand what hit them. Obama was in the perfect place at the perfect time.

Nothing to refute, since it's just claiming that Obama is a good politician.

2. Obama has political skills comparable to Reagan and Clinton. He has a way of making you think he's on your side, agreeing with your position, while doing the opposite. Pay no attention to what he SAYS; rather, watch what he DOES!

Nothing to refute here, either. It's simply saying that, as with all politicians, pay attention to their actions, not their campaign promises.

3. Obama has a ruthless quest for power. He did not come to Washington to make something out of himself, but rather to change everything, including dismantling capitalism. He can’t be straightforward on his ambitions, as the public would not go along. He has a heavy hand, and wants to level the playing field with income redistribution and punishment to the achievers of society. He would like to model the USA to Great Britain or Canada .

Seems a bit hyperbolic, don't you think? A bit inconsistent, too, claiming Obama wants to dismantle capitalism, while at the same time claiming Obama wants to model the US after the UK and Canada, both of which are capitalist.

As far as leveling the playing field, yes Democrats do favor a bit more redistribution than Republicans. I tend to agree with some redistribution which I've already explained previously. I have to admit to benefiting from that redistribution myself, since I took advantage of government scholarships to help pay for my college (actually, I know very few people who went to college without some sort of financial aid from the government).

4. His three main goals are to control ENERGY, PUBLIC EDUCATION, AND NATIONAL HEALTH CARE by the Federal government. He doesn't care about the auto or financial services industries, but got them as an early bonus. The cap and trade will add costs to everything and stifle growth. Paying for FREE college education is his goal. Most scary is his healthcare program, because if you make it FREE and add 46,000,000 people to a Medicare-type single-payer system, the costs will go through the roof.. The only way to control costs is with massive RATIONING of services, like in Canada . God forbid.

As I've said many times, economics isn't my strong point. I'm sure a carbon cap and trade system will raise prices somewhat, but how else do we pay for the development of technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Even if Krauthammer or the author of this e-mail have a different proposal than a cap and trade system, the money for that development has to come from somewhere, which ultimately means from us, either in higher taxes or higher prices on goods.

Is a free college education really that bad of a thing? Does the author think higher education should be reserved only for those that can afford it?

As far as health care, I'm getting a bit sick of hearing people only refer to Canada or the UK when complaining about universal health care (and stretching the truth when referring to those two countries, as well). Why doesn't anyone ever talk of the Netherlands, France, or Spain? On this blog, I've already referred previously to a good article comparing health care in the U.S. to the rest of the industrialized world. Here it is again.

Here's another link, this one from the World Health Organization. In 2000, it ranked the U.S. health care system 37th in the world.

As far as the rationing comment, the only way to control costs of any health care system with finite resources is through some sort of rationing, which is currently being done in the U.S. primarily by the private insurance companies. In the real world, where we don't have unlimited money to spend, some amount of rationing has to be done, no matter how much we may dislike it.

I've written a bit more on the health care issue here.

5. He has surrounded himself with mostly far-left academic types. No one around him has ever even run a candy store. But they are going to try and run the auto, financial, banking and other industries. This obviously can’t work in the long run. Obama is not a socialist; rather he's a far-left secular progressive bent on nothing short of revolution. He ran as a moderate, but will govern from the hard left. Again, watch what he does, not what he says.

This author really thinks Obama has surrounded himself with the far left? The main complaint I've seen on more liberal sites is that Obama is too far right. He's made a point to include many moderates and even Republicans in his appointments.

I think the words that this author used perjoratively are interesting. For example, 'far left academic types'. Is he implying that educated and liberal are the same thing? Does he have a problem specifically with educated people? The other interesting term was 'secular progressive'. What's wrong with secular politicians? We have a secular government. Most activities we perform are secular. Does this author want a theocracy?

And what's with the hyperbole with 'revolution'?

6. Obama doesn’t really see himself as President of the United States , but more as a ruler over the world. He sees himself above it all, trying to orchestrate and coordinate various countries and their agendas. He sees moral equivalency in all cultures. His apology tour in Germany and England was a prime example of how he sees America , as an imperialist nation that has been arrogant, rather than a great noble nation that has at times made errors. This is the first President ever who has chastised our allies and appeased our enemies!

This isn't even consistent. Obama supposedly sees himself as ruler of the world, yet travels the world apologizing for our mistakes? And why do people consider it unpatriotic to own up to mistakes?

7. He is now handing out goodies. He hopes that the bill (and pain) will not come due until after he is re-elected in 2012. He would like to blame all problems on Bush from the past, and hopefully his successor in the future. He has a huge ego, and Mr. Krauthammer believes he is a narcissist.

Not enough of substance here to refute.

8. Republicans are in the wilderness for a while, but will emerge strong. We're pining for another Reagan, but there will never be another like him. Krauthammer believes Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindahl (except for his terrible speech in February) are the future of the party. Newt Gingrich is brilliant, but has baggage. Sarah Palin is sincere and intelligent, but needs to really be seriously boning up on facts and info if she is to be a serious candidate in the future. We need to return to the party of lower taxes, smaller government, personal responsibility, strong national defense, and state’s rights.

Not really much to comment on here, since it's a statement of subjective preferences. The only thing is that I would prefer to see 'fiscal responsibility' rather than 'lower taxes.' When the government has to increase spending, the only responsible thing to do is pay for it. And I'll skip commenting on the quality of those particular people (except 'death panel', 'global warming isn't real' Palin - I still can't believe she was a candidate for VP).

9. The current level of spending is irresponsible and outrageous. We are spending trillions that we don’t have. This could lead to hyper-inflation, depression or worse. No country has ever spent themselves into prosperity. The media is giving Obama, Reid and Pelosi a pass because they love their agenda. But eventually the bill will come due and people will realize the huge bail outs didn’t work, nor will the stimulus package.

These were trillion-dollar payoffs to Obama’s allies, unions and the Congress to placate the left, so he can get support for #4 above.

I know this e-mail is about Obama, but how can Republicans claim the high ground on fiscal responsibility? With Reagan and Bush senior, the national deficit increased. We had a brief respite and a budget surplus under Clinton. Then, after 6 years of Republican controlled House, Senate, and executive, we had huge deficits. Yes, we were fighting a war under Bush Jr., but how can you justify lowering taxes when you know there's going to be increased spending?

As far as the recession, the current consensus among economists is that it seems to be getting better. I realize people will argue over the cause until the cows come home, but I think a fair case can be made for the government's intervention actually helping. At any rate, if the consensus is correct, it certainly puts to rest the claims that the current policies are only going to make matters worse.

10. The election was over in mid-September when Lehman brothers failed, fear and panic swept in, we had an unpopular President, and the war was grinding on indefinitely without a clear outcome. The people are in pain, and the mantra of change caused people to act emotionally. Any Dem would have won this election; it was surprising it was as close as it was.

I agree that the war and the economic crisis pretty much did guarantee that the Democrats would win the presidential election. But this author's surpised it was so close? Obama had the largest percentage of the popular vote in decades - the largest by the non-incumbent party since FDR.

11. In 2012, if the unemployment rate is over 10%, Republicans will be swept back into power. If it's under 8%, the Dems continue to roll. If it's between 8-10%, it will be a dogfight. It will all be about the economy. I hope this gets you really thinking about what's happening in Washington and Congress. There is a left-wing revolution going on, according to Krauthammer, and he encourages us to keep the faith and join the loyal resistance. The work will be hard, but we're right on most issues and can reclaim our country, before it's far too late.

Well, we'll just have to wait and see what happens in 3 years.

Anyway, I apologize for the recent glut of politcal entries, but I have to confess that I have a few more in the works right now. I probably wouldn't write so many, though, if politics wasn't so full of people claiming things that weren't true. Hopefully I can get this all out of my system and get back to writing about less controversial topics, like evolution and religion.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Website Update-New Pamphlet Added to Religious Essays

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI've added a new pamphlet to my Religious Essays section, A Brief Introduction to Non-Belief. I can be a bit long winded, and although I like all of the points I made in the main essays, I realized that their length might discourage people from reading them. This new pamphlet covers the most common question and misconceptions I encounter when people first learn I'm an atheist. It's short enough that it fits onto a single 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper (as long as you print on both sides). I also corrected numerous typos from the other essays while I was at it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Universal Health Care

CaduceusUniversal health care has been a hot topic for debate for a while now, but has just recently begun making big headlines with the new proposed health care plan by the Obama administration. I've never really had a huge respect for the knowledge of our country's population (e.g. 1 in 4 Americans think the Sun goes around the Earth), but some of the statements I see coming from the right wing on this are just mind numbingly ignorant - or extremly dishonest.

I've briefly mentioned universal healthcare in a previous entry. Here's what I had to say back then:

If May was referring to something other than the stimulus packages, the policy I've personally heard referred to as socialism the most often is universal health care. I don't understand why everyone is so against it. Compared to industrialized nations with universal health care, the U.S. spends about twice the amount on health care (from either a per capita or GDP basis), but our quality of care isn't any better and we have less access to physicians (

Now, if you follow the link from the above quote, you'll find data comparing the health care systems of various prosperous democracies (mostly Australia, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand, The UK, and The USA, with a bit of data for other countries). Note that the U.S. is the only one of those countries without universal health care. What the data show is that, in addition to what was already stated above about the U.S. spending far more per capita (around double) than the other countries in the comparison, that in most measures of quality of health care, the U.S. does worse than almost all the other countries, with the exceptions being Canada and the UK for certain issues.

Now, I was getting pretty used to conservatives simply pointing to Canada and the UK as examples of why universal healthcare was a bad idea. And I'd point out that there are other types of universal health care plans out there, and that we don't need to emulate the worst examples. But it seems that recently, even just pointing to the two worst plans wasn't enough, and now I'm starting to hear just out and out falsehoods about healthcare in the UK and Canada, and falsehoods about the president's new plan.

There's a decent article in the Guardian about some of the claims coming out about the UK's health care system. As I said already, given how poor the UK system is compared to other universal health care systems, you'd think conservatives would just stick to cherry picking data, and wonder why they would resort to lying about the UK's system.

Probably the most famous example of misrepresenting Obama's plan is the whole 'death panel' fiasco. Palin made headlines on that, and now other conservative leaders, such as Gingrich, have even backed up her statements. And it's not as if I chose two radical fringe elements to be easy targets - one was the vice presidential candidate, and the other was the Speaker of the House. (At least other Republicans, like Senator Murkowski and Senator Isakson have tried to set the record straight.) You've got to wonder about what these people are thinking. Are they really that ignorant? Are they lying because they'll do anything to keep from having socialized medicine in any form? Is it simply to appease their base? Whatever the reason, it boggles the mind that they can state such blatant untruths, and still have a sizeable portion of Americans support them.

When it comes to universal health care, I do support it, but in a rather guarded way. Looking at that link I provided earlier about health care in other countries, it's clear that universal health care can be either a boon or a bane, depending on how it's implemented. It's neither a guaranteed utopia, nor a guaranteed descent into becoming a new USSR. Considering our government's track record with big programs (they've done good with things like NASA and the FDA, but not so good with things like the TSA), this is something that needs to be watched closely.

Universal health care also makes sense considering the system that we already have in place. I've already written my thoughts on this in a comment on The New Minority blog, which I'll paraphrase here.

One issue is that we already do have a de facto national health care system. Publicly funded hospitals cannot turn away anyone for a life threatening emergency. And honestly, I like that. I don't want to show up at a hospital bleeding out, and have to wait on some clerk to clear my insurance before the surgeons fix me up. And I don't want paramedics to be the ones making decisions on whether or not I get treated when the ambulance shows up.

Accepting that means that insured and non-insured alike get treated, and some of the treatments are too expensive to ever be paid off by the people that received them (even if you garnished 100% of their wages for the rest of their lives, as I've heard some people suggest). So, the bills for those treatments get footed by the rest of us, through raised insurance premiums and higher taxes.

Now, consider that some of those emergencies, like heart attacks or strokes, could be avoided through preventative treatment, which in many cases are cheaper to implement than the emergency care. So, if you accept that hospitals are going to provide emergency treatment to everybody, the question becomes, is it cheaper to provide everybody with ongoing healthcare to avoid those emergencies, or to just stick to the status quo? I think a strong case can be made for the former.

Looking rationally at the data that's already out there, we know that our health care system here in the U.S. isn't the best one out there. What I would really like to see on this issue is for both sides to work together, rather than have one side continually muddying the water with falsehoods, and the other side being distracted with simply setting the record straight. Just imagine what could happen if that same amount of effort was put into coming up with the best possible health care plan.

Numerous typos were corrected after this entry was originally posted. Additionaly, the sentence, "And it's not as if I chose two radical fringe elements to be easy targets - one was the vice presidential candidate, and the other was the Speaker of the House," was not in the original entry.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Beware the Spinal Trap

Last year, Simon Singh wrote an article in the UK Guardian that was critical of chiropractics. In response, the British Chiropractic Association sued him for libel, and actually won the case. Singh is obviously appealing the judgment, but unfortunately, in the UK, the burden of proof in libel cases is on the accused, not the accusers.

Today, apparently, a bit of a grass roots movement has been started to re-post Singh's article on multiple websites and blogs. Since I agree with Singh's article, and since I think the UK libel laws are very bad for free speech, it seemed that joining in and re-posting the article on this site was the thing to do. So, below is the infamous article that got Singh in hot water. Following Orac's example, I'm posting the original article in full, with those statements that a few others have decided to edit out in bold (another re-post with more details of Singh's case is at the Science Based Medicine site.)

Beware the Spinal Trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all but research suggests chiropractic therapy can be lethal

Simon Singh
The Guardian, Saturday April 19 2008

This is Chiropractic Awareness Week. So let's be aware. How about some awareness that may prevent harm and help you make truly informed choices? First, you might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that, "99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae". In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer's first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

I can confidently label these treatments as bogus [changed to "utter nonsense" in the scrubbed version] because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: "Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck."

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Professor Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

Bearing all of this in mind, I will leave you with one message for Chiropractic Awareness Week - if spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

- Simon Singh is the co-author of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial

Keep Libel Laws Out of Science

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hard Working Conservatives vs. Bleeding Heart Liberals

I received another of those e-mail forwards that prompted me to write a response to the person who forwarded it to me. This was a long one, so I'm not going to include it here or my full response (after a little googling, here's the original blog entry the e-mail was copied from). It's pretty typical of what you hear coming from the right these days - a handful of things I agree with, a few things that are objectively wrong, a few things I subjectively disagree with, and a lot of complaining.

Anyway, one of the major themes of themes of the e-mail was something I hear a lot from my more conservative friends, about how they've worked hard, and don't want to have their tax dollars going to support lazy people who don't work as hard as them. To simplify their viewpoint just a bit, they see America as the land of opportunity, so the only reason most unsuccessful people are unsuccessful is because they don't work hard enough, and they consider those who want to help the unsuccessful to be bleeding heart liberals. So, I've adapted the portion of my response to the e-mail that addressed that sentiment and put it in this blog entry.

There's no doubt that many successful people have worked hard to get where they are, but I think a little perspective is needed.

I'll use myself as an example. I feel I've done pretty well so far. I studied hard in school, kept my act together, stayed out of trouble, and I feel I have a pretty good work ethic. But, I recognize how extremely fortunate I was to be born into the family I was. I had two parents in a stable relationship, who were both very supportive and who had/have an active interest in what I did, and who weren't so busy working multiple jobs that they were unable to be involved in my life. They made enough money to keep a stable lifestyle - never having to worry about where the next meal was coming from, or whether or not we'd get evicted because we couldn't make the rent. Even college was assumed - I knew my parents would pay for whatever I couldn't get covered by scholarships.

Now, compare that to someone I know (but who would rather I didn't use her name on this blog). Her dad died when she was 4. She left to a new country, and started elementary school without knowing a lick of English. Her mom did remarry, but the man was, to put it frankly, an asshole. But, because of her mom's religious convictions, she didn't divorce the man until much later than she should have. My acquaintance dropped out of school before starting high school so that she could work full time to help support her younger brothers and sisters, but she still managed to study on her own and get her GED the same year she would have graduated from high school. When the opportunity arose, she put herself through college and got her degree. But, being a bit naive because she didn't have any high school guidance counselors to give her advice, she didn't realize the opportunities she had for financial aid, and so ended up paying for a good portion of her education through credit cards and out of pocket.

So yes, I know I've worked to get where I am, but comparing it to someone like my acquaintance, it's obvious just how many more obstacles she had to overcome, and how much harder she had to work to get to where she is today. It's no surprise that all of my parents' children got college degrees, while my acquaintance was the only one in her family that managed to do it.

Now, whether or not you think kids that were born into less fortunate circumstances deserve a helping hand from the government and our tax dollars is still a subjective question, but I'm not going to be so smug as to say that if those kids just worked as hard as I did, that they'd end up as successful as I have.

On a related note, I wanted to discuss generally the concept of helping others in society. Even if you ignore compassion, there can be pragmatic reasons for doing so. For example, where the e-mail discussed drug addicts, look at it this way. Assume that there's a person addicted to a dangerous drug like heroin. You can ignore the problem, but because of his desparation to get money to support his addiction, he'll probably end up turning into a criminal, and may end up robbing your house or injuring you or your family. You could lock him up in prison, but then we're stuck supporting him with taxpayer money, and he's nothing more than a burden on society. And once he's back out, he's liable to go right back to his drug habit and criminal behavior. Or, you could get him treatment, after which he can go back to being a productive member of society. A little up front cost could end up being a better investment.

For a non-hypothetical case, consider homeless alcoholics. Seattle recently started a pilot program where 75 homeless alcoholics received free housing, no strings attached, not even requiring the residents to quit drinking. In the first year, Seattle saved over $2 million due to reduced jail/medical costs. So, even if someone doesn't think those people deserve help, or considers it a free ride, the end result is that it still helps save taxpayer money.

I'm not saying that there aren't problems in government programs that need to be fixed (I still like Eric Jones's idea of compulsory birth control drugs while on welfare - if you can't even support yourself, why create another life you can't support), but it doesn't do any good to pretend that we have complete control over our own destinies, and that people are in dire straits simply because they're lazier than us. As the old saying goes, don't judge a person till you've walked a mile in their shoes.


Selling Out