Monday, January 16, 2012

Military Spends $363 Million on Weight Loss Surgery

KIRO-TV reporter Chris Halsne has uncovered $363 million in military expenditures on bariatric weight loss surgeries and tummy tucks through a Freedom of Information Act request.  The military acknowledged that between 2001 and 2010, it spent $362,971,831 on weight loss surgeries for the spouses of military members, as the chart below clearly demonstrates:

The military insists that the long-term benefits more than justify the outlays for weight loss surgeries, but that explanation strains credulity, because Halsne found that "83% of active duty troops quit and move their families onto another health insurance system before qualifying for free lifetime health benefits." In other words, the long term savings are impossible to quantify because they really don't exist for the majority of active duty troops whose spouses will take the free surgery while taxpayers foot the bill for their morbid obesity.

Even though the military discontinued coverage of bariatric surgery for active duty personnel in 2007, it has spent $2.4 million. What's more, Halsne's investigation uncovered another startling trend: Tricare is covering elective cosmetic surgeries for military spouses as medically necessary.

Though the military offers free gym memberships and various programs designed to prevent weight gain or to aid in the loss of weight, free bariatric surgery is the preferred remedy.  It's free, and free healthcare equals greater utilization.  A simple deductible cost would likely deter spouses from utilizing the surgery, which averages around $18,000 per procedure, and it would likely steer them towards exercise and personal responsibility in their diets.

But why bother?  When the taxpayer is footing the bill for your decision to overeat and live a sedentary lifestyle, you have no incentive to pursue any alternative.  It should come as no surprise to any of us that this sort of fiscal profligacy is going on, given that our military cannot track as much as 25% of its annual spending.  According to Stephen Glain, who has written extensively on waste at the Pentagon, when financial reporting was instituted in 1991, the Pentagon could not account for hundreds of billions. Since that time, the total estimated amount of missing funds has risen to as high as $10 trillion.

At least the military has shown the ability to track the money its spending on bariatric weight loss surgery and tummy tucks.  It is apparently easier to account for $363 million than it is to keep track of $10 trillion.  Such is the way of our military and its lax accounting, which by itself constitutes a graver threat to our national security than any ignorant, backwards, cave-dweller living on the Afghan-Pakistan border.  When you watch the television and hear pundits screaming about military spending cuts threatening our national security, just remind yourself that the size of the proposed spending cuts is usually around 20 times less than the amount of money the military has already lost track of over the past twenty years.  

Sibel Edmonds: Kill the Messenger Documentary


Naked Bias: Mainstream Media and Tim Tebow

Nobody loves a goody-goody, and insofar as football is concerned, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is the very personification of a goody-goody.  He's a man who doesn't curse, drink, smoke, or gesture profanely on the football field after a touchdown.  He doesn't gloat after a win, nor does he denigrate his opponents in the lead up to a game.  He's a virgin who's in his mid-twenties.

Much of what Tim Tebow is, and much of what he is not, stands in marked contrast to the rest of the National Football League.  He is atypical in every sense of the word, and to the media at large, he is a cause for consternation.  Tebow bows after big plays and says a silent prayer.  Were it not for the cameras zeroing on in him, his bowing would likely be a non-issue.  In many respects, that's the issue: the cameras and the media behind those cameras.

Tim Tebow never volunteered that he was a virgin.  He was solicited to at a press conference for the SEC Media Day, during which a member of the media asked him if he was saving himself until marriage.  The question had nothing to do with football; however, the members of the press still wanted to know the answer. In that moment, Tim Tebow didn't get defensive.  He didn't act embarrassed, which is what many in the world at large would consider an appropriate reaction to be.  He laughed at the reporter.  An entire room full of other reporters laughed as well, because the question was absurd.  It's not any of our business, and Tebow would have been well within his rights to say as much.  Instead of being pointed and snide in his response, he acknowledged that he was in fact a virgin.

This sort of abject audacity when it comes to sexual purity pisses people off because they think adult virgins are defective.  It's not merely an individual choice that someone can make to wait until they're married; no, it's an offensive position to take and the world at large takes umbrage with anyone who dares to be a virgin of their own volition past a certain age.  With that said, Tim Tebow didn't make his virginity an issue; the media did that for him.  One of their own made an inappropriate query, and then the media at large had the audacity to get snide with Tebow for answering the query honestly and without a hint of shame.

It is the same with Tim Tebow's practice of kneeling down to pray after a touchdown pass or run.  At just about every point that I've ever seen Tebow kneel to pray, what I've been struck by is that fact that he isn't necessarily making a display of his prayer.  He generally kneels on the sideline.  The only people making an issue of what Tim Tebow does in this context are the producers in the booth who call for a closeup of Tim Tebow on his knee.

The decision to make an issue of Tebow's decision to pray after scores, or to pray during football games, is solely that of the media.  If the media felt that Tebow's religiosity was inappropriate, they could decide to point the camera elsewhere.  They don't, and it isn't because they feel that his religiosity is appropriate; on the contrary, the media loathes Tim Tebow's public prayer. Secularism isn't merely content to drive religion out of government, it has to go further than that: it has to make an issue of religious gestures in public, period.  Secularists feel as though you should be ashamed to pray, even silently, in public.

For whatever reason, secularism has become the new fundamentalism, bellicose, intolerant of any alternative viewpoint, and determined to eradicate competing practices and points of view to the point of banishing them to private areas.  For the better part of eleven years, I was an atheist in Alabama. I heard football announcers at high school games request moments of silence, pray over intercoms, and I even saw students gathering at the flagpoles to pray.  It was not a big deal.  No one made me pray.  Hearing other people pray, or seeing them bow their heads and close their eyes while others prayed, did not strike me as a form of persecution designed to provoke me as an atheist.  Even if it had been, I was confident and mature enough in my convictions to manage.

Faith was a part of the culture in the region where I grew up. It was interwoven into everything we did as though it were one thread with everything.  It was so ubiquitous that you barely even noticed it as anything special or unusual.  Everyone I know from my hometown has been to a Vacation Bible School, and I mean everyone. I know Vietnamese and Cambodian kids from Buddhist families who got on the bus or the van to go to the Vacation Bible School of the First Baptist Church of Bayou La Batre.  Over cookies and Kool-Aid, we all discovered our common humanity.  We hardly noticed the fervent religiosity burning insidiously all around us.  It was a week of fun in the summer.  We got to grow our own beans and build things out of ice cream sticks.  If this was our madrassah, all I can say is this: everyone should be so fortunate to encounter fundamentalism that benign.

The world at large denigrates such practices and customs, and misses no opportunity to denigrate even the most benign forms of religious gestures.  The free exercise of religion is supposed to take place behind closed doors now, even though this is a free country.  It's part of a larger pattern where supposedly enlightened self-appointed majorities decide that we will exercise our rights in set zones and nowhere else.  In the Bush Administration, protesters were cordoned off the main parade routes when the president came to town, and those cordoned off areas were called free speech zones.  Oh, what times we live in when one has to be quarantined for exercising the rights that a president's authority exists to ensure!  And oh, what times we live in when a quarterback kneeling on a sideline has to deal with a media that focuses on his bowing to the exclusion of everything else in the game!  Moreover, when that quarterback has to have a press conference interrupted with an invasive, rude, inappropriate, and wholly irrelevant question about his celibacy, things have gone too far.

I realize that in a media as biased as ours is, and as dominated by a contemptuous attitude towards faith as our media possesses, it is a little much to request some basic decency and respect for those whose openly religious lifestyles make them the equivalent of lambs before the wolves.  But consider this: Tim Tebow might be religious, but he's not a jerk.  He doesn't go around offering his viewpoints unsolicited.  Other people wanted him and his mother to talk about abortion on that ad, and they paid for the airtime.  All Tim Tebow did was what he was asked to do, and he did it in a classy manner. He didn't insinuate or state outright that abortion was murder or that women who have abortions were whores.  He simply asked people to choose life for the unborn as opposed to a medical procedure designed to cut life off entirely.

He's not Rick Santorum when it comes to expressing his faith.  He is understated, polite, and decent.  I can respect that, and it really irritates me that our media cannot.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Half a Shit News: Jon Huntsman to Withdraw from the GOP Race

In the news you can give less than half a shit about, Jon Huntsman, milquetoast extraordinaire, former governor of Utah, former ambassador to China, and Republican candidate for President of the United States of America, will withdraw from the race for the GOP nomination.  Huntsman's distinguishing characteristic is having fewer testicles than his three daughters, who, over the course of his campaign, showed more fortitude in their respective groins than their old man had in his.

Huntsman leaves behind a record of expanding the budget of the state of Utah in triplicate, while professing his belief in man-made global warming in order to convince the wine and cheese crowd of his status as an adult peer.  The only people left in this world who believe that the data exists to substantiate man-made global warming are traders looking to make a fortune off of carbon credits and the scientists paid to offer a patina of legitimacy to the theory by passing off the imprimatur of hard science.  Oh, that and those wine and cheese types who work over at Brookings and, and their boss pays them well for their slavish obeisance.  His name?  George Soros.

Earlier tonight, before I imbibed the staggering number of Shiners I have consumed to this point, someone tweeted to me that my earlier article on why the Republicans cannot win was "tabloid like" in tone.  Well, that's the direction I went in to make my point, which is that the Republican Party at this point has become worthy of a tabloid and little else.  Newt Gingrich's dating life belongs in a tabloid.  It does not belong in the discussion of nominees for the GOP's nomination, and it is a sign of how weak the field is and how feckless evangelicals have become that he even had a shot at the nomination in the first place.

The only reason that Newt Gingrich didn't wind up going the way of Herman Cain is because Newt Gingrich marries the victims of his sexual harassment. Otherwise, we'd be hearing about settlements that were roughly around the same amount as Gingrich's tab at Tiffany's.  What is so utterly disgraceful about the Republican Party is that it has become the type of party where an inability to speak basic English with proper enunciation and pronunciation has become a bona fide rather than liability.  I remember when the Republican Party was the party of English only candidates, and today its candidates cannot even speak the language with an acceptable measure of proficiency.

I'm fucking embarrassed of what the GOP has become over the course of my lifetime.  I had one election where the candidate was someone I could actually support in good conscience; in point of fact, my first election back in 1996, where I walked across the street to my high school and cast my vote for Bob Dole.  In 2000, I, a young man raised on Bork and Buckley and Will, had to suffer the indignity of watching the Republicans nominate a man whose self-acknowledged weakness was his inability or unwillingness to read a big book.  I had to pick between Al Gore and a guy who spoke the Kennebunkport by way of Houston version of Ebonics.  The only qualification George W. Bush had for that nomination was his last name.  I wound up going with Harry Browne, Libertarian candidate for president in 2000; who, by the way, if he had ever been allowed on a debate stage with the other two candidates, would have kicked their asses for vapidity on general principle.

It got super stupid from that point onwards.  George W. Bush spent and spent and spent.  He was, for all intents and purposes, a Democrat who called himself a compassionate conservative. Prescription drug benefit for Medicare in excess of $1 trillion?  That's an affirmative.  Expanding the budget of the Department of Education even though eliminating that department used to be a plank of the party platform?  Sure, why not?  Federal intervention in education in the form of No Child Left Behind? Let's just pile it on!

I heard people say on 9/11 that they were glad Bush was the president.  I wasn't.  As time went on and we found out that Bush was briefed in August of an Al-Qaeda plan to hijack planes and smash them into buildings, I was irritated with people who thought Bush was a great guy.  His failure to set the wheels in motion to interdict said plot, which had plenty of advance notice, resulted in the deaths of over three thousand Americans.  Al Gore is a moron, but I believe that he would have taken the briefing seriously enough to ask, given the reported reaction he had to a debate in the Clinton Administration about going and grabbing terrorists off of the street:

"Snatches, or more properly "extraordinary renditions," were operations to apprehend terrorists abroad, usually without the knowledge of and almost always without public acknowledgement of the host government.... The first time I proposed a snatch, in 1993, the White House Counsel, Lloyd Cutler, demanded a meeting with the President to explain how it violated international law. Clinton had seemed to be siding with Cutler until Al Gore belatedly joined the meeting, having just flown overnight from South Africa. Clinton recapped the arguments on both sides for Gore: Lloyd says this. Dick says that. Gore laughed and said, "That's a no-brainer. Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass."

                                                        -Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies, pp. 143-44.

And even if it weren't Gore, it would have been John McCain, who most certainly would have taken the necessary steps to interdict and prevent 9/11, even though he likely would have a goddamned idiot about everything else.  This whole idea that only Bush, Bush and Bush alone, would suffice to confront terrorism, is completely fatuous.  Let's consider what happened on 9/11: nineteen Saudi Arabians, the overwhelming majority of whom should have never made it into this country in the first place, and many of whom should have been deported well before 9/11, managed to defeat the intelligence and military defense apparatus of this country with under half a million dollars in funding.  Not just any nineteen Saudi Arabians, either: these guys liked cocaine, strippers, porn, and alcohol!  In other words, these guys were the Tau Kappa Epsilon of terrorism: drunken frat guys who wandered around acting conspicuously like complete dumbasses in the months leading up to 9/11.

I'm sorry, but this strains credulity.  It strains credulity to say that George W. Bush's incompetence was not a contributory factor in the deaths of those who met their untimely and utterly unnecessary ends on 9/11.  This whole cult of Bush worship that has arisen among GOP voters and evangelicals must be called what it is: the political equivalent of Bieber fever.  You will never hear a Belieber offer up a mixed review of Justin's latest offering; and you will never hear a Bush fan capable of a succinct and adult review of his Lord and Master W, the slayer of evildoers and the political vicar of Christ on Earth.

I don't care that this comes across as tabloid in tone; because I am tired of watching the party I grew up revering sink to ever lower nadirs as time marches on.  Limited government my ass, these guys are allowing candidates like Rick Santorum to contend for the nomination when Rick Santorum doesn't want you and your wife to be able to determine when you'll have kids.  No, he wants the federal government to intervene in that intimate decision by prohibiting birth control.

I remember when Republicans stood for something; when they had wit and style and verve and could actually write and speak in complete sentences, compound-complex sentences at that!  I remember when Republicans weren't fucking Luddites, when our nominee wasn't the lesser of two evils but was in fact a genuine alternative.

Those days and those personalities are gone.  In their place we have men and women who can barely be bothered to formulate a policy position beyond the following points:

a. I support Israel no matter what.
b. I hate gays no matter what.  Oh, wait: that's supposed to be we hate the sin and love the sinner.
c. Abortion is wrong.
d. United States good, terrorists bad, even though the United States trained and armed a lot of these guys.  See what government intervention leads to?  It always bites us in the ass.
e. Tax cuts will grow the economy and starve the beast.  Let's see: we've been cutting taxes for thirty years and government hasn't decreased in size yet.  You know what will cut government? Laws that repeal earlier mistakes, er, laws, and eliminate entire agencies.  How about you cut government first, then cut taxes, and that way we don't have to borrow money to finance a deficit?

This is Momus, otherwise known as Jay Batman, and I'm going to rip the Republican Party over and over again because I never had a stake in the Democratic Party.  I expect Democrats to act like, well, Democrats.  It's why I don't fucking like the Democratic Party.  What I resent is a Republican Party that absolutely destroys any legitimate concept of capitalism by lending to, subsidizing, and bailing out private business.  Quickest way to delegitimize capitalism in the eyes of the population: pick the winners in an economic downturn by giving some people money and denying it to others.  What is so terrible about this is that the people who most need to understand capitalism and how capitalism alone can lift them from poverty and hopelessness to empowerment through ownership come to conflate this command economy and the nepotism thereof of ours with capitalism.  This is not a free market.  It is not capitalist.  To call this economy and our stock market capitalist or free market is to do a tremendous disservice to both capitalism and free markets.

I have been a libertarian because I could not in good conscience support the GOP.  I have grown towards minarchism because I see government as the problem and not the solution.  And I am a free thinker and a free man who refuses to abdicate his capacity for discretion and independent thought to buy into the mirage.  It's time for those of us who are in fact pro-life, capitalist, free market, limited government, proponents of individual rights to stop buying this notion that the GOP is going to change.  It's had 44 years to change, and in those 44 years, just 16 have been spent under Democratic administrations.  The problem is the GOP establishment, and it is not going to do anything about abortion, bailouts, subsidies, tariffs, or encroachments by expanding federal power against individual liberty. Wake up.

Why the Republicans Cannot Win

The presidential election of 2012 is, for all intents and purposes, over.  Barack Obama has been re-elected. There are those who will quibble with me, and even violently disagree with my writing this piece, but the fact of the matter is that no viable opposition for Obama exists among the ranks of the existing candidates for the Republican nomination. The reason is quite simple: the media may not have vetted Barack Obama in 2008, and you can bet every cent you own that they will not vet him in 2012, but they will vet the Republican candidates.

And, oh, what candidates we have!  It's a disaster of gaffes, missteps, and outright cannibalism.  Mitt Romney is the front-runner, the establishment's choice to win.  He's a businessman, a former governor, and he's worth over a quarter of a billion dollars. He is one of them: an Ivy League educated, East Coast scion and primogenitor of a former Michigan governor.  He's also a man with a history as the head of a private equity firm.  That may not be a problem with core Republicans, who firmly believed that leveraged buyouts are part and parcel of capitalism, but for the wider electorate, it's a record that will result in a lot of headaches for Romney should he achieve the nomination.

And then there is Romney's past as an elected official. He was pro-gay rights before he was anti-gay marriage; moreover, he was pro-choice before he was pro-life.  He raised taxes and fees in excess of $700 million as governor of Massachusetts and he gave the state Romneycare. To boot, Romney is a Mormon. You could not conjure up a more perfect recipe to alienate the evangelical Christians and fiscal conservatives who show up to every GOP convention.  These are not people who compromise on the aforementioned issues, and Romney has a trust issue with both constituencies.

The wider electorate is in dire straits.  We have 8.5% official unemployment, and real unemployment of around 22%. Credit cards are being swiped again.  Student loans have risen to over $1 trillion, and there are no jobs available that would enable recent graduates to repay their debts.  American banks are exposed to European sovereign debt and risk in ways that no one cares to fathom.  Around 12.5% of Americans are surviving on  transfer programs for food, medical care, and housing assistance.  The jobs that are being generated in this economy aren't the jobs that enable people to meet their obligations.

The government is so integrated into the economy at all levels that it consumes over half of our gross domestic product on an annual basis. If you cut its spending, you cut jobs.  For eighty years, our federal, state, and local governments have pursued Keynesian ideology and they have achieved a command economy as a result.  The biggest windfalls for the healthcare industry have not come from innovation; they have come from the knowledge that the federal government intends to make everyone buy insurance while handing the prescription drug manufacturers hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.

Despite all of this, the economy has the appearance of beginning a recovery.  Official unemployment is declining, consumer spending in the form of credit cards is up, and it seems as though President Obama might be able to point to the statistics thereof as proof that his policies worked, and just in time for the 2012 election.  The greater issue is that all of the toxic assets that led to the mortgage market's collapse are still around, and they are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. More bailouts are on the way.  We threw $29 trillion in secret and public bailouts at this problem, and we received nothing but a stock market bubble for our troubles.  The underlying issues were not solved.

We have a president who can claim that according to the statistics, his policies are working, even if the  recovery isn't felt in the living rooms of average Americans.  President Obama can also point to his withdrawal from Iraq, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  He doesn't have to: Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry do not appeal to the wider electorate. Moreover, the fact that they were in the race for the Republican nomination likely scares the bejesus out of half the population.  Nobody cares for Newt Gingrich, a man whose unbridled ambition and moral hypocrisy has led him to two failed marriages and multiple infidelities, not to mention stabbing his own fellow Republicans in the back.  Ron Paul is electable, until you get around to the fact that his own party elders would rather see their own nominee lose in the general election if that nominee were Ron Paul.  These are the people who count the votes and own the country in terms of voting stock shares, and they know good and damned well that Ron Paul will veto any future bailouts of their banks, hedge funds, insurance corporations, and automakers.  Jon Huntsman is left, but he has less fight in his blood than any one of his daughters.  He's a Mormon who tripled the size of the Utah budget as governor.  He has the exact same problems as Mitt Romney, only he also believes in man-made global warming.

Gary Johnson was the candidate to elect. He was a former governor who balanced his budget, eliminated 1,200 government jobs without firing a single person, and he cut taxes 14 times.  He never raised taxes. He won re-election as a Republican in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a 2-1 ratio. Gary Johnson never made it onto a debate stage. The only thing you heard about Gary Johnson was that he admitted to inhaling as a medicinal marijuana user.

The appellation of conservative has become so meaningless that we now have conservative candidates who run a race to the bottom defending Marines who micturate on corpses.  There was a time, long ago, when conservatism reacted negatively to anything involving urine, specifically the notion that a photo of a crucifix could be submerged in a jar of urine and exhibited as "Piss Christ."  When an artist constructed a portrait of the Virgin Mother with dung, conservatives everywhere recoiled in indignation.  Today, conservatives are fans of corpse desecration involving golden showers.  We can excuse such unsanitary incivility as just being part of the fog of war.

We can acclaim the likes of TARP supporting Rick Santorum as a conservative, too, even though his record on government spending was deplorable.  The Medicare prescription drug benefit, No Child Left Behind, expanded spending for the Department of Education, all of these items and two Bridges to Nowhere were supported by Rick Santorum.  Because Rick declaims against any attempt to legitimate gay rights or gay marriage, people see him as a conservative.

Michele Bachmann is more or less a female version of Rick Santorum, with a husband whose mannerisms give one pause.  Marcus Bachmann would be the most flamboyant First Lady we've ever had.  Seriously, I often wonder how people look at Marcus Bachmann and fail to recognize the obvious, but then I think of Ted Haggard and Jim Bakker and I realize that it if wraps itself in the Bible, the fact that it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and even is a duck can be disguised by the cover of Holy Scripture.

Mene mene tekel upharsin was on the wall back in the early stages when everyone from Mitch Daniels  to Chris Christie to Jeb Bush declined to run in 2012.  Republican candidates with a shot of winning the White House didn't want the gig, while every second-tier candidate without a snowball's chance did.

And that leaves us with Barack Obama, a man who didn't prosecute a single Wall Street banker for the rampant mortgage fraud and the outright financial fraud that led to the economic implosion. Obama gave us trillion dollar deficits for the foreseeable future, a dead Bin Laden, and presided over a doubling of the price of a gallon of gasoline and a gallon of milk.  Packages became smaller and stayed at the same price lest consumers become aware of the inflationary realities of our economy, and most of us went for it.   Our foreign policy was directly tied to the massive liquidity created by the Federal Reserve, because $29 trillion in bailouts and handouts and interest free loans was used to pump up commodities speculation abroad, driving the price of food throughout North Africa and the Middle East to unsustainable levels. Arab Spring, anyone?

The present, and dare I say next, President of the United States of America: Barack H. Obama.  Way to go, Grand Old Party.  You managed to take the worst president since Roosevelt and turn him into a re-electable candidate.  Granted, his failures will make your task in 2016 easier, but what of the country of large?  It is no matter to the establishment of the Republican Party, because Party trumps country and has for over forty years.