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Archive for December 1st, 2018

John Boehner Is Now Leading the Charge to Privatize the VHA

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John Boehner continues to ally himself with bad ideas. Suzanne Gordon writes in the Washington Monthly:

The hospital industry’s stake in the privatization of the Veterans Health Administration was on display on October 22, when former speaker of the House John Boehner played a major role in the Cleveland Clinic’s Medical Innovation Summit 2018.  Borrowing Silicon Valley’s favorite term, the conference theme was “Disruption: Reimagining Healthcare.” In front of an audience of 800 doctors, health industry entrepreneurs, and manufacturers, he reimagined a healthcare system that is totally dominated by healthcare corporations and devoid of all government programs.

As Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Tom Mihaljevic, who is also a physician, sat by his side, Boehner argued that “Medicare and Medicaid are bankrupting the federal government.” The private sector, he continued, plays a more important role in research than the National Institute of Health. Boehner reserved his most pointed words for the Veterans Health Administration. The VHA, he said, was “hopeless and unnecessary and provides substandard care for our veterans who deserve the best care.”  A total assault on the VHA’s 11,000 physicians—and, by extension, thousands of other healthcare professionals—Boehner added that, “If you’re a real doctor, you’re probably not working at the VA.”

Boehner’s remarks ignited a  protest from veterans, advocates, VA doctors and the union that represents the VA’s workers, the American Federation of Government Employees. “While it’s certainly not surprising to hear Mr. Boehner spread such vile and slanderous statements about our country’s largest and best health care system,” said AFGE’s National President J. David Cox Sr., “it’s quite disheartening to the hundreds of thousands of women and men who have dedicated their lives to caring for our nation’s veterans.”

Thomas B. Horvath, the former VA Chief of Staff at the DeBakey Houston VA Medical Center, has pointed out in a letter to the clinic that the Rand corporation and several peer reviewed studies showed that “the VA is as good or better as any other health care system and even the Cleveland VAMC stacks well with respect to yours. It is uncollegial to provide a platform for Boehner’s ignorant assertions.”

Faced with such a heated response, the Clinic is, not surprisingly, trying to distance itself from Boehner’s remarks. In response to a critical letter, the head of the Cleveland Clinic’s Corporate Communications department, Eileen Shiele said it was “very disappointed with that comment and it does not reflect the position of Cleveland Clinic whatsoever.” In an email to the Washington Monthly, Shiele emphasized that Mihaljevic said he did not agree with Boehner’s statements while they shared the stage.  When asked to provide a transcript of Mihaljevic’s exact comments, she said she would try to locate a transcript. As of this writing, we have not received one.

Boehner’s remarks are, of course, part of a broader assault on the VHA and other government programs—which are designed to sap public trust in government. As the Monthly has reported previously, these broadsides against the VHA aren’t only delivered by the Koch brothers and their ultra-right allies, but by hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic that are playing a major role in promoting VHA privatization.

Between 2014 and 2016, for example, former Cleveland Clinic CEO Delos “Toby” Cosgrove served as a co-chair of the VA Commission on Care, which was established under the VA Choice Act, to deliberate on the VHA’s future. In those discussions, commissioners were informed that, while American hospitals may abhor government-supported healthcare programs, their business model depends on the flow of billions of taxpayer dollars into their coffers.

The commissioners were supposed to engage in group discussions and then come to a consensus about their final report. Cosgrove and the six other commissioners with close ties to the industry violated this agreed-upon protocol and held a series of secret meetings in which they developed a document—the Strawman Proposal—that recommended the VHA privatization. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2018 at 11:09 am

7 foods a nutritionist would never eat

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I also would never again eat these foods.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2018 at 11:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Why we stopped trusting elites

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William Davies has an interesting long read in the Guardian:

For hundreds of years, modern societies have depended on something that is so ubiquitous, so ordinary, that we scarcely ever stop to notice it: trust. The fact that millions of people are able to believe the same things about reality is a remarkable achievement, but one that is more fragile than is often recognised.

At times when public institutions – including the media, government departments and professions – command widespread trust, we rarely question how they achieve this. And yet at the heart of successful liberal democracies lies a remarkable collective leap of faith: that when public officials, reporters, experts and politicians share a piece of information, they are presumed to be doing so in an honest fashion.

The notion that public figures and professionals are basically trustworthy has been integral to the health of representative democracies. After all, the very core of liberal democracy is the idea that a small group of people – politicians – can represent millions of others. If this system is to work, there must be a basic modicum of trust that the small group will act on behalf of the much larger one, at least some of the time. As the past decade has made clear, nothing turns voters against liberalism more rapidly than the appearance of corruption: the suspicion, valid or otherwise, that politicians are exploiting their power for their own private interest.

This isn’t just about politics. In fact, much of what we believe to be true about the world is actually taken on trust, via newspapers, experts, officials and broadcasters. While each of us sometimes witnesses events with our own eyes, there are plenty of apparently reasonable truths that we all accept without seeing. In order to believe that the economy has grown by 1%, or to find out about latest medical advances, we take various things on trust; we don’t automatically doubt the moral character of the researchers or reporters involved.

Much of the time, the edifice that we refer to as “truth” is really an investment of trust. Consider how we come to know the facts about climate change: scientists carefully collect and analyse data, before drafting a paper for anonymous review by other scientists, who assume that the data is authentic. If published, the findings are shared with journalists in press releases, drafted by university press offices. We expect that these findings are then reported honestly and without distortion by broadcasters and newspapers. Civil servants draft ministerial speeches that respond to these facts, including details on what the government has achieved to date.

A modern liberal society is a complex web of trust relations, held together by reports, accounts, records and testimonies. Such systems have always faced political risks and threats. The template of modern expertise can be traced back to the second half of the 17th century, when scientists and merchants first established techniques for recording and sharing facts and figures. These were soon adopted by governments, for purposes of tax collection and rudimentary public finance. But from the start, strict codes of conduct had to be established to ensure that officials and experts were not seeking personal gain or glory (for instance through exaggerating their scientific discoveries), and were bound by strict norms of honesty.

But regardless of how honest parties may be in their dealings with one another, the cultural homogeneity and social intimacy of these gentlemanly networks and clubs has always been grounds for suspicion. Right back to the mid-17th century, the bodies tasked with handling public knowledge have always privileged white male graduates, living in global cities and university towns. This does not discredit the knowledge they produce – but where things get trickier is when that homogeneity starts to appear to be a political identity, with a shared set of political goals. This is what is implied by the concept of “elites”: that purportedly separate domains of power – media, business, politics, law, academia – are acting in unison.

A further threat comes from individuals taking advantage of their authority for personal gain. Systems that rely on trust are always open to abuse by those seeking to exploit them. It is a key feature of modern administrations that they use written documents to verify things – but there will always be scope for records to be manipulated, suppressed or fabricated. There is no escaping that possibility altogether. This applies to many fields: at a certain point, the willingness to trust that a newspaper is honestly reporting what a police officer claims to have been told by a credible witness, for example, relies on a leap of faith.

A trend of declining trust has been underway across the western world for many years, even decades, as copious survey evidence attests. Trust, and its absence, became a preoccupation for policymakers and business leaders during the 1990s and early 2000s. They feared that shrinking trust led to higher rates of crime and less cohesive communities, producing costs that would be picked up by the state.

What nobody foresaw was that, when trust sinks beneath a certain point, many people may come to view the entire spectacle of politics and public life as a sham. This happens not because trust in general declines, but because key public figures – notably politicians and journalists – are perceived as untrustworthy. It is those figures specifically tasked with representing society, either as elected representatives or as professional reporters, who have lost credibility.

To understand the crisis liberal democracy faces today – whether we identify this primarily in terms of “populism” or “post-truth” – it’s not enough to simply bemoan the rising cynicism of the public. We need also to consider some of the reasons why trust has been withdrawn. The infrastructure of fact has been undermined in part by a combination of technology and market forces – but we must seriously reckon with the underlying truth of the populists’ charge against the establishment today. Too often, the rise of insurgent political parties and demagogues is viewed as the source of liberalism’s problems, rather than as a symptom. But by focusing on trust, and the failure of liberal institutions to sustain it, we get a clearer sense of why this is happening now.

The problem today is that, across a number of crucial areas of public life, the basic intuitions of populists have been repeatedly verified. One of the main contributors to this has been the spread of digital technology, creating vast data trails with the latent potential to contradict public statements, and even undermine entire public institutions. Whereas it is impossible to conclusively prove that a politician is morally innocent or that a news report is undistorted, it is far easier to demonstrate the opposite. Scandals, leaks, whistleblowing and revelations of fraud all serve to confirm our worst suspicions. While trust relies on a leap of faith, distrust is supported by ever-mounting piles of evidence. And in Britain, this pile has been expanding much faster than many of us have been prepared to admit.

Confronted by the rise of populist parties and leaders, some commentators have described the crisis facing liberalism in largely economic terms – as a revolt among those “left behind” by inequality and globalisation. Another camp sees it primarily as the expression of cultural anxieties surrounding identity and immigration. There is some truth in both, of course – but neither gets to the heart of the trust crisis that populists exploit so ruthlessly. A crucial reason liberalism is in danger right now is that the basic honesty of mainstream politicians, journalists and senior officials is no longer taken for granted.

There are copious explanations for Trump, Brexit and so on, but insufficient attention to what populists are actually saying, which focuses relentlessly on the idea of self-serving “elites” maintaining a status quo that primarily benefits them. On the right, Nigel Farage has accused individual civil servants of seeking to sabotage Brexit for their own private ends. On the left, Jeremy Corbyn repeatedly refers to Britain’s “rigged” economic system. The promise to crack down on corruption and private lobbying is integral to the pitch made by figures such as Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro or Viktor Orbán.

One of the great political riddles of recent years is that declining trust in “elites” is often encouraged and exploited by figures of far more dubious moral character – not to mention far greater wealth – than the technocrats and politicians being ousted. On the face of it, it would seem odd that a sense of “elite” corruption would play into the hands of hucksters and blaggards such as Donald Trump or Arron Banks. But the authority of these figures owes nothing to their moral character, and everything to their perceived willingness to blow the whistle on corrupt “insiders” dominating the state and media.

Liberals – including those who occupy “elite” positions – may comfort themselves with the belief that these charges are ill-founded or exaggerated, or else that the populists offer no solutions to the failures they identify. After all, Trump has not “drained the swamp” of Washington lobbying. But this is to miss the point of how such rhetoric works, which is to chip away at the core faith on which liberalism depends, namely that power is being used in ways that represent the public interest, and that the facts published by the mainstream media are valid representations of reality.

Populists target various centres of power, including dominant political parties, mainstream media, big business and the institutions of the state, including the judiciary. The chilling phrase “enemies of the people” has recently been employed by Donald Trump to describe those broadcasters and newspapers he dislikes (such as CNN and the New York Times), and by the Daily Mail to describe high court judges, following their 2016 ruling that Brexit would require parliamentary consent. But on a deeper level, whether it is the judiciary, the media or the independent civil service that is being attacked is secondary to a more important allegation: that public life in general has become fraudulent. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2018 at 9:24 am

Soap Commander’s homage to Klar Kabinett better than the original

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Soap Commander’s Love shaving soap has a true rose fragrance as it says right there on the lid, and it is a very fine fragrance indeed—and the lather is excellent, created this morning with the Simpson Persian Jar 2 Super. As I worked the lather into my stubble and was enjoying the fragrance and thinking about my Klar Kabinett experience, I realized that this soap is in fact better than Klar Kabinett. I don’t recall the fragrance of KK, but Soap Commander’s lather is definitely better—the shea butter content may well have something to do with it.

Three passes with my Feather AS-D1 and, after a little blade buffing, perfect smoothness. I changed the blade after the shave, and in this razor I always use Feather blades because they work well and I assume the design engineers made damn sure that the razor was tuned to Feather blades.

A small drop of D.R. Harris Pink After Shaving Milk, also a nice rose fragrance, and the weekend is launched.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2018 at 8:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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