Little Red Ribbon-Hood: July 2007: Archives

July 31, 2007

Is Treating The Indigent A Measure Of Morality? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

Medicine And Morality

A popular topic of debate between people of faith and those who do not believe in a deity centers on moral behavior and the motivations that influence people to act appropriately. Many believers argue that in the absence of god, civility would evaporate since the fear of god serves to keep people's unsavory inclinations in check.

Non-believers of course disagree and cite numerous examples of improprieties committed under the guise of divine inspiration as well as great acts of altruism executed by those who denied the existence of god.

Every now and again a piece of research into actual human behavior is released which provides some scientific measure of relevance to the debate...as well as some intriguing insight into the complexities of human nature. Such a study, conducted by the University of Chicago, is being reported by Reuters.

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. physicians who identify themselves as religious are no more likely to care for poor, underserved patients than those who have no religious affiliation, researchers have found.

The study suggests doctors in the United States who see religion as a "master motive in their lives" are not more likely to care for the poor than others.

"Religious physicians are not disproportionately caring for the underserved," Dr. Farr Curlin, of the University of Chicago, said in a telephone interview on Monday.

Curlin, who considers himself religious, said he undertook the study because many religions include a call to serve the poor.

"I was curious about whether doctors who are more formed in their religious beliefs are more likely to take care of patients who are poor," said Curlin, whose study appears in the Annals of Family Medicine.

What they found was physicians who were deemed more religious as reflected by intrinsic religiosity or frequency of attendance of religious services were not more likely to report caring for underserved patient populations -- those that tended to be poor, uninsured or on Medicaid, the federal program for the poor.

"It suggests, I think, that when doctors are making the connection between being people of faith and the practice of medicine, that connection does not seem to lead them ... to an added commitment to caring for the underserved," Curlin said.

I realize that one study is far from conclusive but it begins to confirm what non-believers have argued for many years...that morality is not the exclusive domain of those who assert a belief in god. Further, the fact that one may report to be religious may not necessarily indicate that one's actions will be altruistic or morally superior.

In my opinion, one of the key identifying traits found in many who report a belief in god is a certainty about what is and isn't moral...regardless of their ability to uphold that morality. Further, such beliefs frequently lead these individuals to feel comfortable in making judgments about others; with particular attention paid to those who do not believe.

Granted, the above statement involves a degree of generalization...and while I feel comfortable in making the anecdotal observation...by no means am I suggesting that all believers act accordingly...just as I don't believe that all atheists act with a definitive consistency.

Nonetheless, the study suggests that acts of altruism are not dependent upon religious faith and, as such, it serves to invalidate the notion that immorality would ensue in the absence of a prevailing belief in god.

As I've previously argued here at Thought Theater, morality born of a fear of god may well be a lesser morality than that which is chosen voluntarily without fear. Ultimately, what resides in the heart of the individual is the essence of the individual...and it no doubt supersedes whatever we may choose to self-report. Perhaps that simply affirms what has been stated for years, "Actions speak louder than words".

Lastly, the study reinforces an argument I've made on a number of occasions with regard to issues of morality. Morality lived is far superior to morality espoused. As such, acts of altruism need not be motivated by a belief in god or a fear thereof. A simple belief in the sanctity of our fellow human beings can and should be ample motivation.

I'll close by taking liberty with a well known saying reserved for those in the medical field...one that should arguably hold true for all of us...and one that I'm suggesting is relevant to people of faith, "Christian, heal thy self".

Tagged as: Atheism, Christianity, Healthcare, Morality, Physician, Poverty, Religion

Daniel DiRito | July 31, 2007 | 3:23 PM | link | Comments (0)
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July 30, 2007

President Bush Says No To Insuring More Children genre: Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

For The Children

Sometimes comparison proves to be the best means to understand the intentions of those who have been elected to public office…especially since the spoken word is often the tool by which politicians manipulate voters. When it comes to understanding President Bush, comparison is necessary…and the results offer a string of contradictions that defy the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism.

In a New York Times article, Paul Krugman provides readers a look into the position of the President with regard to the expansion of programs to cover uninsured children…programs that the President supported in the past…but programs that the President is opposed to expanding despite their success.

When a child is enrolled in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip), the positive results can be dramatic. For example, after asthmatic children are enrolled in Schip, the frequency of their attacks declines on average by 60 percent, and their likelihood of being hospitalized for the condition declines more than 70 percent.

Regular care, in other words, makes a big difference. That’s why Congressional Democrats, with support from many Republicans, are trying to expand Schip, which already provides essential medical care to millions of children, to cover millions of additional children who would otherwise lack health insurance.

But President Bush says that access to care is no problem — “After all, you just go to an emergency room" — and, with the support of the Republican Congressional leadership, he’s declared that he’ll veto any Schip expansion on “philosophical" grounds.

The House plan, which would cover more children, is more expensive, but it offsets Schip costs by reducing subsidies to Medicare Advantage — a privatization scheme that pays insurance companies to provide coverage, and costs taxpayers 12 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare.

Strange to say, however, the administration, although determined to prevent any expansion of children’s health care, is also dead set against any cut in Medicare Advantage payments.

Well, here’s what Mr. Bush said after explaining that emergency rooms provide all the health care you need: “They’re going to increase the number of folks eligible through Schip; some want to lower the age for Medicare. And then all of a sudden, you begin to see a — I wouldn’t call it a plot, just a strategy — to get more people to be a part of a federalization of health care."

Looking at this particular situation offers ample opportunities for relevant and informative comparisons. First, let me suggest that the President’s position is neither conservative nor compassionate. There has been little disagreement that George Bush’s Medicare prescription drug program was the largest expansion of entitlements in recent memory and most analysts believe it will cost far more than the original estimates.

On its surface, one might argue that adding a prescription drug benefit was an act of compassion…and to a degree that conclusion has some merit. However, this is where comparison becomes an enlightening tool.

It is well known that the President is in favor of privatizing entitlement programs and one could argue that the prescription drug benefit was a logical step in that direction and likely the only means by which he could initiate such a plan…given that is has the appearance of compassion. One can look at the high costs of the program as the essential seed money for turning the corner towards privatization.

As we know, the program has been viewed to have achieved mixed results but there is no doubt that it provided insurance companies with a subsidized entrée into the living rooms of millions of Americans. Let me attempt to explain. The prescription drug benefit allows those on Medicare to purchase the benefit from an array of private providers…a move that begins to put in place a ready made structure for further privatization.

Such a plan achieves two important goals for a President in favor of privatization. One, it begins to give insurance companies an expanding role in providing care for the millions of seniors on Medicare…a move that is good for large corporations in the business of health care…including drug manufacturers. Two, it is an important incremental step in taking the government out of the health care business and entitlement programs.

Coming back to the Schip program, one can begin to use comparisons to uncover actual motivations. The number of uninsured Americans is well documented as a politically charged issue. In approving a plan to cover a number of uninsured children, the President achieved points for compassion just as he did with the prescription drug benefit. These programs also helped to hold off calls for universal government health care…a direction which this President opposes.

When one looks at the Bush administration position on the relative costs for the Schip plan and Medicare Advantage, we see that compassion and conservatism are secondary to the ideology of privatization. Granted, one could argue that the ultimate goals of the measures endorsed by the President have conservatism at their core…meaning less government and more market determined programs and costs.

In that regard, perhaps these spending measures…which are seemingly incongruent with conservatism…and which have raised the ire of traditional conservatives…have been shrewd considerations and calculations on the part of the President intended to push the country towards more privatization.

Now, why should Mr. Bush fear that insuring uninsured children would lead to a further “federalization" of health care, even though nothing like that is actually in either the Senate plan or the House plan? It’s not because he thinks the plans wouldn’t work. It’s because he’s afraid that they would. That is, he fears that voters, having seen how the government can help children, would ask why it can’t do the same for adults.

And there you have the core of Mr. Bush’s philosophy. He wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.

This sounds like a caricature, but it isn’t. The truth is that this good-is-bad philosophy has always been at the core of Republican opposition to health care reform. Thus back in 1994, William Kristol warned against passage of the Clinton health care plan “in any form," because “its success would signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment that such policy is being perceived as a failure in other areas."

But it has taken the fight over children’s health insurance to bring the perversity of this philosophy fully into view.

Krugman’s analysis is valid but perhaps it stops short of identifying the ultimate misconceptions that underlie such a philosophy. George Bush is no doubt a product of privilege and in that reality his ability to comprehend the struggles of those at the opposite end of the spectrum is undoubtedly insufficient.

There is an inherent risk for those who "have" to infer that those who "have not"…deserve not…that what they lack results from their lack of effort and that if they are coddled by the government, they will never demonstrate the necessary initiative to alter their situation absent the assistance of the government.

Clearly, there have been situations that have given such arguments credibility…particularly the welfare reform seen in the 1990’s (though one could argue that the strong economy played a larger role in that success than the simple act of refusing to toss people a government subsidized lifeline).

Regardless, refusing to provide care to needy children seems to be punishing the innocent amongst us for all of the wrong reasons. Ideology aside, children lack the ability or the autonomy to effect their status. Allowing them to be political pawns seems wrong by whatever comparative means one may choose to employ.

Sadly, I view this situation as one of many examples whereby George Bush has demonstrated his predisposition to implement and impose his absolute ideological views despite the detrimental impact they may inflict upon those who do not serve to advance his narrow objectives.

Tagged as: Children, Congress, George Bush, Healthcare, Medicare, Paul Krugman, Privatization, Schip

Daniel DiRito | July 30, 2007 | 10:42 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 10, 2007

George W. Bush: Get Your Religion Out Of Our Science genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

Voodoo Science

It looks to be one of those days...a day that one might argue is filled with moments of hyper-reality...a day where the news is a constant reminder of all the things one finds wrong with the state of one's country and those who are in charge at the highest level of government.

I've previously written about the President's nominee to serve as the next Surgeon General, James Holsinger. Holsinger has a strong background in medicine...but as with so many of those who are chosen to serve this president, he appears to be, first and foremost, an evangelical ideologue who lacks the ability or the willingness to sort science from scripture.

With the Senate conducting hearings on Holsinger's nomination this week, Reuters has a new article in which former Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona, who served from 2002 to 2006, details the degree to which ideology trumped his abilities to conduct his office as it should be intended...consistent with sound scientific evidence.

The Gavel also has a number of video clips from Henry Waxman's opening remarks at the hearing as well as footage of testimony from former Surgeon Generals C. Everett Koop and Dr. Carmona.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The first U.S. surgeon general appointed by President George W. Bush accused the administration on Tuesday of political interference and muzzling him on key issues like embryonic stem cell research.

"Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried," Dr. Richard Carmona, who served as the nation's top doctor from 2002 until 2006, told a House of Representatives committee.

"The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science, or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds. The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party," Carmona added.

Carmona said Bush administration political appointees censored his speeches and kept him from talking out publicly about certain issues, including the science on embryonic stem cell research, contraceptives and his misgivings about the administration's embrace of "abstinence-only" sex education.

"Political interference with the work of the surgeon general appears to have reached a new level in this administration," said Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to which Carmona testified.

Carmona said the administration prevented him from voicing views on stem cell research.

"I was blocked at every turn. I was told the decision had already been made -- stand down, don't talk about it," he said.

I simply do not believe the role of the president is to apply his particular religious doctrine to the nation's scientific endeavors. Even worse, when that doctrine is shown to be at odds with scientific evidence...and it is allowed to direct scientific policy, one must wonder why we even have positions like that of the Surgeon General if they are denied the autonomy to exercise their expertise.

If the power of the President is allowed to overrule science, it seems to me that it will be impossible for the Surgeon General, the National Institute of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control to develop a cohesive and comprehensive health policy...as well as to recruit talented scientists.

Under the current dynamic, these departments are vulnerable to wholesale shifts in strategy each time we elect a new president...shifts that have little to do with the actual body of scientific evidence and that would likely disrupt important research initiatives, force research companies to hesitate to tackle difficult issues, and slow down the progress to find and develop meaningful treatments for sick Americans in great need of new discoveries.

Lastly, one must consider the money that is being squandered on programs that have proven to be inadequate; including the insistence upon abstinence only education here in the United States as well as with regards to the U.S. efforts to combat HIV in Africa.

The hypocrisy attached to programs that cost millions of dollars and do little more than support ideology is beyond justification and indicative of the need to reaffirm the separation of church and state...and to reject the candidacy of those who would support and promote more of the Bush administration's "Dark Ages" demagoguery.

Image courtesy of www.tetherdcow.com

Daniel DiRito | July 10, 2007 | 3:53 PM | link | Comments (1)
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GWB: Promoting HIV One Missing Condom At A Time genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

Unlock The Condoms

I've written about the Bush administration's HIV/AIDS efforts in Africa a number of times...here, here, here, and here...and while I applaud the expanded funding that have been committed to that effort, one cannot ignore the fact that a significant portion of the money is being spent to affirm a view of morality held by the President and his evangelical supporters...despite evidence that the money spent on promoting abstinence only is leading to added infections.

Michelle Goldberg offers the latest view on the controversial abstinence only program...a program that requires that a full third of all prevention funding be exclusively for that effort.

Frankly, I can't state it any clearer than this...the ideology of religious absolutism and the fanatical adherence to such dogma is going to kill people in Africa. As such, one can only conclude that we have now reached the point at which "compassionate conservatism" has completed the natural journey of absolutist ideology...it has granted itself status as judge, jury, and executioner.

Further, as is often the case when this happens, there is no limit to the efforts to manufacture facts in order to support the beliefs and actions of those who are blinded by their need to affirm that they are right and that they are doing the work of their god.

NAIROBI, Kenya -- On July 5, Beatrice Were, the founder of Uganda's National Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS, stood before hundreds of other HIV-positive women in Nairobi's vaulted city hall and denounced the Bush administration's AIDS policies.
Like many in attendance, Were contracted HIV from her husband, a common occurrence in a region where women make up the majority of new infections and marriage is a primary risk factor. For those like her, the White House's AIDS prevention mantra -- which prescribes abstinence and marital fidelity, with condoms only for "high risk" groups like prostitutes and truck drivers -- is a sick joke.

"We are now seeing a shift in recent years to abstinence only," she said. "We are expected to abstain when we are young girls and to be faithful when we are married to men who rape us, who are not necessarily faithful to us, who batter us." The women in the audience, several waiting to share their own stories of marital rape, applauded.

Were exhorted her audience to "denounce programs that are not evidence-based, that view AIDS as a moral issue, that undermine the issues that affect us, women's rights. I want to be very clear -- the abstinence-only business, women must say no!" Again, there were hollers and applause.

I find the sanctimonious and arbitrary indifference to scientific evidence the equivalent of the Catholic Church's unwillingness to acknowledge the clear and calculated murder of Jews during the Holocaust. In fact, it may actually be worse given the fact that while the Church may have sat on its collective hands, the Bush administration is actually participating in a practice that leads directly to unwarranted and unnecessary deaths. That is inexcusable.

In her brilliant new book, The Invisible Cure: Africa, The West, And The Fight Against AIDS, Helen Epstein shows what some of the ideologues' policies have meant on the ground.

Epstein, who has a background in biology and public health, argues that people in East Africa, where the spread of AIDS has been especially catastrophic, don't have more partners over a lifetime than people in other regions, but they are more likely to have simultaneous long-term relationships. Citing the work of the sociologist and statistician Martina Morris, she writes that concurrent liaisons "are far more dangerous than serial monogamy, because they link people up in a giant web of sexual relationships that creates ideal conditions for the rapid spread of HIV."

Uganda's initial response to AIDS addressed this, and urged partner reduction, or "zero grazing," which was not the same as abstinence. Condoms played a role as well. "HIV infection rates fell most rapidly during the early 1990s, mainly because people had fewer casual sexual partners," Epstein writes. "However, since 1995, the proportion of men with multiple partners had increased, but condom use increased at the same time, and this must be why the HIV infection rate remained low."

Yet in a grotesque irony, PEPFAR funding has refashioned Uganda's anti-HIV campaign to fit the distorted notions of American conservatives (and their allies among Uganda's evangelical revivalists, who include First Lady Janet Museveni). "The policy is making people fearful to talk comprehensively about HIV, because they think if they do, they will miss funding," says Canon Gideon, an HIV-positive Anglican minister from Uganda who has been a leader in the clerical response to the epidemic. "Although they know the right things to say, they don't say them, because they fear that if you talk about condoms and other safe practices, you might not get access to this money."

Today, Uganda's infection rate is once again rising.

A few weeks before I came to Kenya, I spoke with Stephen Lewis, who until last year was the United Nations Secretary General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. I asked how he understood the balance between the harmful and the helpful aspects of Bush's AIDS initiative. "It really is difficult to quantify," he said. "The only thing one can categorically say is that the overemphasis on abstinence probably resulted in an unnecessary number of additional infections." That this policy is celebrated as Bush's greatest moral achievement shouldn't be understood as praise.

Note what UN Envoy Lewis is actually stating...he is clearly arguing that the President's actions may be consistent with his moral imperatives (religious dogma), but those imperatives are going to kill more Africans...and that certainly deserves no praise.

I'll offer one other observation that further demonstrates the degree to which fanaticism knows few, if any, limits. The latest polling on the approval of the President is, by any measure, dismal...some of the worst for a sitting president. Nonetheless, he still has the support of slightly less that 30 percent of the American public.

I'll suggest that those individuals share one key affinity with George Bush...they remain committed to imposing their notions of morality and their version of theology upon the whole of the United States...and they have a cavalier disregard for all those they deem to function outside of their moral template...so cavalier that the lives of fellow human beings have become expendable consequences of their "Christianist crusade".

Daniel DiRito | July 10, 2007 | 12:45 PM | link | Comments (0)
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