Monthly Archives: July 2011

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Real State of America Atlas’ Somewhat Flawed by Blatant Biases of Authors

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

  • BOOK REVIEW: 'The Real State of America Atlas' Somewhat Flawed by Blatant Biases of Authors
Reading about “The Real State of America Atlas: Mapping the Myths and Truths of the United States” by Cynthia Enloe and Joni Seager (Penguin Books, 128 pages, $22.00) I had high hopes. After all, an attractive beyond belief graphic look at statistics that most readers find too dry to read about — let alone contemplate — cannot be anything but a good thing.

I was disappointed when I quickly discovered that the authors, professors at two liberal universities in Massachusetts, all too often used the numbers to bash individual states — all of them Red — political parties — invariably Republican — and organizations like the National Rifle Association that they blame for  mass shootings and what they consider excessive gun ownership. A state can have too many Walmarts, in their view.

Virtually the only part of the book that was presented without bias was the one titled “State Profiles” beginning on page 104. The numbers on percentage of races per state, per capita income, population, land area, etc. are drawn from the 2010 Census. But even here, the authors include loaded categories like poverty level (always a difficult number to deal with, so they use the official ones provided by the state, commonwealth (Puerto Rico) or territory; the number of Walmart SuperCenters in a state (and they don’t consider that a high number a good thing, you can take that to the bank);  and the percentage of people living in households with guns.

About that statistic, I was surprised to see my current state of Texas so low at 36 percent; Vermont, which all liberals and progressives profess to  love, is much higher at 46 percent and West Virginia, which is generally deplored by liberals  despite not having a death penalty, is even higher at 58 percent. Wisconsin, another favorite of “progressives,”  is higher than Texas at 44 percent. The percentage is a low 13 percent in Massachusetts, where the authors live.

What the authors fail to point out is that states are much more complicated than the numbers would indicate; from my ten years reporting news in Wisconsin I quickly learned that the state is both Red and Blue, with most of the state Republican or conservative Democratic, both loving their guns, including hunting rifles, with only islands of liberals in Madison and parts of Milwaukee. After all, right-wing icon Sen. Joe McCarthy was a Wisconsin native. The same is true of, say, Texas, with liberals concentrated in Austin, and conservatives living with their beloved guns everywhere else.

The authors use hog production and chicken slaughtering to bash the diet of Americans, showing a distinctly vegan bias. The statistics on obesity are generally based on Body Mass Index (BMI), which has been discredited by many researchers. Mississippi is the most obese part of the U.S., with 68% obese (U.S. 61%)., while they say the District of Columbia is the least obese area, with “only” half of the people, 50%, considered obese.

I would dispute the latter, since I’ve seen plenty of fat people waddle about DC in my trips to “Taxation Without Representation” land (that’s the slogan on the license plates, since racist Southern Democrats long ago declared the heavily black (58 percent according to this book) area to be forever without voting representation in Congress. Yes, you heard me correctly, Cynthia and Joni: Southern DEMOCRATS ruled that DC would be forever lacking in representation despite a 2010 population of 601,723, higher than sparsely populated Wyoming (563,626), and only slightly less populated than the biggest state in area, even more sparsely settled Alaska (with 710,231 people and  “you betcha” lot more moose).

From the publisher’s blurb:
“Packed with fascinating facts and illustrated throughout with clear, easy-to-read, four-color graphics, “The Real State of America Atlas” draws back the curtain on our complex nation to reveal the myriad realities of the American experience-from our changing demographics to patterns of home ownership to the kinds of food we eat. Cowritten by two esteemed scholars, this comprehensive and enlightening work upends many long-held myths and shows us who we are today. It is the perfect read for anyone who wants to better understand our ever- changing nation.”

I have no qualms about the numbers, for the most part, that the two “esteemed scholars” present in lively graphic form; it’s the conclusions that they draw from the numbers, including blaming the National Rifle Association (NRA) for murder rates, while neglecting to note the high murder rates of Chicago and New York and DC, where strict gun laws are in effect. Target shooting, my hobby,  is a respected Olympic activity, represented in both the winter and summer games, so I don’t have to apologize to anyone for my own NRA membership, let alone membership in a local gun club.

As a libertarian who would like to see an end to our self-appointed “World Policeman” role, I’m appreciative of the statistics on military aid to countries, mostly in the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia), but also to Pakistan and other countries that hate our guts. My solution: end the military aid to everybody. I would also like to see an end to military bases on which, like the old British Empire, “the sun never sets.” Thanks, “esteemed” authors, for pointing out these numbers.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, as long as you can separate the biases from the raw numbers. Any number of writers (my favorite being Darrell Huff’s  “How to Lie With Statistics” originally published in 1954 and republished thereafter; it’s readily available on Amazon.com) have pointed out that numbers can be dangerous.

“Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” is a well-known saying attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. It was popularized in the U.S. by Samuel L. Clemens, much better known as  Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Either way, it’s important to remember to approach statistics with care.

About the authors
Cynthia Enloe is research professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and has appeared on NPR and written numerous articles on feminism, militarization, and globalization.
Joni Seager is professor and chair of global studies at Bentley University in Boston and recently served as a consultant to the United Nations on environmental and feminist policy issues. 
Publisher’s websites: www.penguin.comwww.myriadeditions.com

BOOK REVIEW/COMMENTARY: Joe Nye Dissects His Favorite Subject in ‘The Future of Power’

By David M. Kinchen

BOOK REVIEW/COMMENTARY: Joe Nye Dissects His Favorite Subject in 'The Future of Power'

Breaking news: GE plans to move X-ray unit to China

BEIJING (AP) July 28, 2011 — GE Healthcare, a maker of diagnostic imaging equipment, said  it is moving its X-ray global headquarters from the United States to Beijing as it seeks to tap China and other emerging markets.

The General Electric Co. unit is the first business of the industrial and financial giant to relocate to China.

Anne LeGrand, vice president and general manager of GE Healthcare Global X-Ray, told a news conference that the decision to move from Waukesha, Wisconsin, was made two years ago and will be completed by early fall.
* * *

Question: Why is GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, on President Obama’s job creation board, taking jobs from hard-pressed Wisconsin and giving them to the Chinese? Could Immelt be the real Manchurian Candidate?

I’m not making this up in this unorthodox review of Joseph S. Nye Jr.’s “The Future of Power” (PublicAffairs, 320 pages, $27.99). China has embraced Nye, as have other countries, as the nature of power has shifted to what he called “soft power” in a previous book. Nye’s new book is an invaluable resource on power and may provide clues on moves by GE and other companies (General Motors does very well in China, too, manufacturing Buicks and other iconic GM brands there) and their corporate moves.

Jeff Immelt purports to save American jobs, but in his capacity as GE’s CEO, he’s eliminating them, much as did his predecessor Jack Welch — AKA “Neutron  Jack” for his ability to eliminate jobs while leaving infrastructure untouched — but vacant.
I heard about the X-Ray division’s departure on “The Five,” an excellent show on FOX News Channel, and it brought to mind an earlier piece of information from satirist Andy Borowitz in his July 28 column:
“China Puts US on eBay…Government Sold Separately,’ Sales Listing Says

BEIJING (The Borowitz Report) – Showing its impatience with the debt ceiling stalemate in Washington, China today took the extraordinary step of putting the United States of America on eBay.

Officials at the online auction site said they believed it was the first time a major Western nation had been listed for sale there “if you don’t count Greece.”

In Beijing, the Chinese Finance Ministry said that it had considered waiting until August 2 to see if the US would ever pay back its multitrillion-dollar obligations, but ultimately decided to cut its losses.

“We think we’ll attract a buyer on eBay,” the Ministry said.  “Say what you will about the US, it’s still one of the top fifty countries in the world.”

The sales listing for the US contains some interesting information, such as China’s description of the former superpower as being in “fair to average condition.”

The listing also includes the stipulation “government sold separately,” which the Finance Ministry took great pains to explain.

“We thought that including the government in the sale might turn off potential buyers,” the Ministry said.  “Plus, the US government isn’t ours to sell anyway – it’s owned by the Koch brothers.”

With no bidders in the first 24 hours on eBay, China admitted that it would be challenging to unload the US, but it still held out hope that a buyer would step forward: “We’ve got our fingers crossed for Zuckerberg.”

At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said that he understood China’s decision to sell the US, but warned that a buyer would have to turn up on eBay before August 2: “After that, the Internet gets shut off.” 

* * *

No, I’m not blaming Nye for helping the Chinese, the Indians, the Vietnamese and just about everybody else suss out power (I  AM blaming Immelt for depriving Americans of jobs in what has become a vast post-Industrial wasteland, where almost 50 percent of the jobs created in the recent past have been in one state — Texas.  It’s not a pretty picture as a member of Obama’s jobs panel GE has been an investor disaster underImmelt.
The Wall Street Journal reports that “By any measure of shareholder value, GE has been a disaster under Jeffrey Immelt. Investors haven’t made a nickel since he took the helm as chairman nine years ago. In fact, they’ve lost tens of billions of dollars.”

The story continues: “the stock, which was $40 and change when Immelt took over, has collapsed to around $16. Even if you include dividends, investors are still down about 40%. In real post-inflation terms, stockholders have lost about half their money.”

What about his salary, surely it has suffered. Yeah, sure! During the same period the 54-year-old Cincinnati-born buddy of Barack “has racked up around $90 million in salary, cash and pension benefits.”  GE is quick to point out that Immelt skipped his $5.8 million cash bonus in 2009 for the second year in a row, because business did so badly. And so he did. Yet this apparent sacrifice has to viewed in context. Immelt still took home a “base salary” of $3.3 million and a total compensation of $9.9 million. His compensation in the previous two years was $14.3 million and $9.3 million. That included everything from salary to stock awards, pension benefits and other perks.

Meanwhile, in the Milwaukee metro area, which I covered as a reporter for The Milwaukee Sentinel from 1967 to early 1976, another source of well-paying jobs has disappeared.

In February 2009, Immelt, a Republican,  was appointed as a member to the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board to provide the president and his administration with advice and counsel in fixing America’s economic downturn.

On January 21, 2011,  Obama announced Immelt’s appointment as chairman of his outside panel of economic advisers, succeeding former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. The New York Times reported that Obama’s appointment of Immelt was “another strong signal that he intends to make the White House more business-friendly.” Immelt will retain his post at G.E. while becoming “chairman of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a newly named panel that President Obama is creating by executive order.”

And people inside the Beltway wonder why ordinary Americans think the swamp that is Greater D.C.  is filled with ignorant, evil creatures.

Nye, the influential policy thinker who coined the term “soft power”,  examines the changing nature of power since the Cold War, the new ways in which it is exercised, and how those changes impact America’s role in the world.

Nye writes that in the era of Kennedy and Khrushchev, power was expressed in terms of nuclear missiles, industrial capacity, numbers of men under arms, and tanks lined up ready to cross the plains of Eastern Europe. By 2010, none of these factors confer power in the same way: industrial capacity seems an almost Victorian virtue, and cyber threats are wielded by non-state actors. Politics changed, and the nature of power—defined as the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes you want—had changed dramatically. Power is not static; its story is of shifts and innovations, technologies and relationships.

Nye is a long-time analyst of power and a hands-on practitioner in government. Many of his ideas have been at the heart of recent debates over the role America should play in the world: his concept of “soft power” has been adopted by leaders from Britain to China; “smart power” has been adopted as the bumper-sticker for the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. This book is the summation of his work, as relevant to general readers as to foreign policy specialists.


About the Author

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is University Distinguished Service Professor and former Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He has served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and a Deputy Under Secretary of State. The author of many books, he is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the British Academy, and the American Academy of Diplomacy.

COMMENTARY: The United Nations of Hypocrisy, Part II

  • Joseph J. Honick
               Joseph J. Honick

Within a month or so, the United Nations will have before it a craftily, expensively and stubbornly promoted effort to establish a Palestinian state along the lines of the end of the 1967 Six-Day War.  This was a war fought by the State of Israel against not one but several Arab states of much larger size even individually.

That there ought to be an independent Palestinian State has hardly been disputed even by Israel, but in the words of the old time salesman “It ain’t whatcha do; it’s how you do it that counts!”

And it is in the “how” where the conflict and tomfoolery lie.

Apart from the reality that not one single Arab state gave a hoot about the stateless Palestinians for untold centuries, until Israel became a reality in spite of Arab unified assault to prevent even the birth of the state, there are additional hypocrisies that have been carefully glossed over courtesy of some well paid PR operations.

Among other things, the UN response to assassination of Israeli Olympic athletes was quite short and hardly sweet but certainly bereft of much indictment of the sponsors of that terror.

When Palestinian terrorists, raided a school in Ma’a lot, Israel, killing two score kids and others, it was a comparative blip in the operations of the UN.

When old men at prayer in Paris, and a cripple on the Achille Lauro pleasure ship were likewise slain, the UN had other business to do.

  But just a few years ago, and despite his baldfaced involvement in the PanAm airline disaster that killed a couple of hundred innocent travelers and his reneging on compensation to victims’ families, the hypocritical UN, with the warm assistance of Messrs Tony Blair and George Bush, proudly welcomed Muammar Qadaffi back to what was termed the “family of nations” and even put Libya on the Human Relations Council.

 Throughout all these hypocricies, most of the UN was quite happy to offer resolution after resolution to punish Israel which survived, won innumerable Nobel and other rewards for contribution to the world and must now confront a new piece of nonsense in September.

It is not as if the Palestinians will benefit from the cunning and heavily promoted idea of an independent state with much of the operational and financial aspects out of their control by nations who used those folks pretty much as slave labor for centuries.  Resistance to and veto of such an effort in the UN by the United States will only put us once more in a difficult position as we work to solve our own problems.

There is of course much more to the saga, but, at the end, if we ever see one, the UN will look like anything “united” and more like a Unified and Hypocritical combination with a singular prejudice it is determined to inflict.  And all this happens as the hypocrisy that warmly welcomed Qaddafi back to the “family” now wants him tossed out, perhaps indicted for crimes, and welcomes a “rebel” group whose goals, identity and leadership are unknown to anyone apparently but topsiders at our State Department and only a few others.

But guess who pays the  most into that UN budget.  If you are an American taxpayer, you know the answer.

                                                             * * *
 Joseph J. Honick of Bainbridge Island, Washington is an international consultant to business and government and writes for many publications, including www.huntingtonnews.net

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb’: A Woman in Full

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb': A Woman in Full

 

“Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it.”

Despite that disclaimer, of course, the 32-inch high Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump Stratton (1841-1919) DID in large measure allow her size to determine her future, as Melanie Benjamin’s historical novel “The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb” (Delacorte Press,  a Random House imprint, 448 pages, $25.00, also available as an eBook) so eloquently demonstrates.

After all, if she hadn’t left the family farm of John and Huldah Bump in Middleborough, Mass. (her mother was a Warren, a name she preferred in her show business career), giving up her short (no pun intended!) career as a primary school teacher to tour the Mississippi River on a showboat operated by her presumptive Colonel Wood, Vinnie — as most of her friends called her —  wouldn’t have come to the attention of the premier showman of the day, Phineas T. Barnum (1810-1891)  of American Museum and later Barnum & Bailey circus fame. Of course, Benjamin tells of Barnum’s famous “This Way to the Egress” sign to move people quickly through his exhibit, with “egress” being a Latinate form of “exit.”

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb': A Woman in Full
Vinnie photographed by Brady
In Benjamin’s novel, Vinnie, back from a more or less disastrous tour of the Mississippi Valley with Wood (who may or may not even have been a relative), writes to Barnum and quickly becomes  one of the most famous people on the globe as a personality in her own right and later as the wife of Charles Stratton, much better known as General Tom Thumb. Both were born with a glandular malfunction that produced proportionate dwarfism, with all the body parts in perfect proportion.

Their wedding, during the Civil War, pushed the bloody conflict off the front pages as the world marveled at the union of the two perfectly downsized human beings, who insisted on being treated as full-size, real human beings rather than as freakish living dolls. Lavinia and Charles never had a child, as she feared what happened when her younger sister Huldah Pierce Warren Bump, known as Minnie, died giving birth to a normal-sized child. Minnie, also a proportionate dwarf, had married another little person in the Barnum menage. Vinnie and Minnie  had normal sized siblings.

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin

In her previous bestseller “Alice I Have Been”, Melanie Benjamin imagined and re-created the life of the woman who inspired Lewis Carroll’s novel “Alice in Wonderland.”  In her new novel, Benjamin  explores the life and times of a marvelous woman she discovered in the pages of E.L. Doctorow’s historical novel “Ragtime.”

Vinnie comes across as a fully realized human being, with all the virtues and faults of a normal sized one, plus the peculiar ones of a miniature woman. This is particularly evident in Benjamin’s telling of the extremely complicated relationship with Barnum — one even more complicated  than her marriage, which is saying a lot.

Charles Stratton, AKA Tom Thumb, is afflicted with even more angst than Vinnie, as Benjamin shows us when the couple was trapped in the Jan. 10, 1883 Newhall House hotel fire in Milwaukee and Charles Stratton feels shame because he couldn’t rescue his wife, who was guided out of their smoke-filled room by another man, while he clung to the back of his rescuer. Stratton died later that year, some say of a broken heart as well as complications of injuries suffered in the fire  The  blaze claimed 71 of the 300 occupants of the hotel.

Comparisons with “Ragtime” and other period piece novels will be inevitable, but I found a distinctive Melanie Benjamin voice in “The Autobiography of Mrs.  Tom Thumb.” If anything, a better comparison would be to novelist Sara Gruen, author of “Water for Elephants” and “Ape House” (see my Sept. 8, 2010 review of “Ape House” at  http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/columns/100908-kinchen-columnsbookreview.html.

Both Benjamin and Gruen take facts and people, real and/or imagined, and turn them into works of art, as of course  does Doctorow in his historical novels   “Ragtime,” “World’s Fair,” “Billy Bathgate,” “Welcome to Hard Times,” and “Homer & Langley,” about the hoarding champions of all time, the Collyer brothers of New York City (see my Sept. 11, 2009 review of this “Homer & Langley” at:  http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/columns/090911-kinchen-columnsbookreview.html).

Without being an out-and-out feminist screed, “The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb” succeeds as a story of a woman who finally succeeded in living her life her way in all aspects, a woman in full, to borrow part of a title of Tom Wolfe’s novel. It’s full of humor, too, despite the tragedy of Minnie’s death and the fire in Milwaukee. If you love well-crafted historical novels as much as I do, “The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb” will be perfect summer reading.

About the Author
Melanie Benjamin is a pseudonym for Melanie Hauser, the author of two contemporary novels. Her first work of historical fiction as Melanie Benjamin was “Alice I Have Been”. She lives in Chicago, where she is at work on her next historical novel. Her website: www.melaniebenjamin.com.

COMMENTARY: National Do Not Call Registry: A Model for Other Federal Agencies

By Rene A. Henry

Rene A. Henry

Rene A. Henry

Seattle, WA  – Remember how irritating it was when you had just taken your first bite of dinner and then the telephone rang? Or it was in the last few minutes of a tied football or basketball game you were watching and your favorite team was poised to win? But just in case it might be something important, you answered the phone, and a telemarketer began talking at you with an unsolicited sales pitch.

With the exception of politicians during election time and charitable organizations, most of those interruptions are now history thanks to the National Do Not Call Registry. Not only does this federal registry provide an important and valuable customer service, but the cost of its operation is nearly self sufficient.

If it was allowed to keep the revenue from the civil penalties and fines it collects, the Registry might even show a profit. So might other federal entities,  including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Instead the money collected goes into a general fund which is a deep, dark hole somewhere in Washington that becomes a slush fund for Congress to spend.

Consumers should thank Representatives John Dingell (D-Michigan) and Wilbert J. “Billy” Tauzin II (R-Louisiana) for sponsoring H.R. 395 in 2003 that gave the Federal Trade Commission the authority to establish the Registry. Since then more than 200 million residential land lines and cell phone numbers have been registered.

The law has been amended so a phone number needs to be registered only once. When there was a rumor in 2005 that cell phone companies were going to sell directories to telemarketers, the FTC stepped in to have consumers register cell phones. Fax numbers do not need to be listed since it is illegal to send an unsolicited fax.

According to Mitchell J. Katz, spokesperson for the FTC, telemarketers pay to access the Registry. “It is a violation to do interstate telemarketing without buying the list and then scrubbing it against a call list before making calls,” he says. “The first three area codes are free and there is a maximum cost they have to pay each year to get numbers for all area codes.”

Katz says that the Registry still receives some 1.3 million complaints every year. “Telemarketers who violate rules face fines of up to $16,000 for each illegal call and it can add up quickly,” he adds. The largest civil penalty assessed to date was against DirecTV which paid $5.3 million for calling consumers and then calling them back again after they asked not to be called.

There are some exceptions to unwanted and unsolicited calls. The Registry applies only to residential phones and not business lines. Of course Congress naturally exempted politicians. Even automated, robocalls for political purposes are not illegal. This prompted Citizens for Civil Discourse, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, to lobby for a change and create a website, Stop Political Calls. Unfortunately, the CCD’s registry has no legal standing. What is interesting is that only three Democrats – Nancy Boyde (Kan.), Mike Carter (Mo.) and Lori Alexander (Va.) – and three Republicans – Virginia Fox (N.C.), Matt Salisbury (Idaho) and Michael Crimmins (Calif.) – signed a pledge to support the effort. Only Boyde and Fox are member of Congress.

A person can still receive unwanted calls from non-for-profit organizations but not from a paid telemarketer. There are exemptions for people who are conducting surveys; from companies the consumer is doing business with or has done business with in the previous 18 months; and creditors and bill collectors, unless the individual has filed for bankruptcy protection.

“When a complaint is received staffers at our Consumer Response Center enter it into the Consumer Sentinel, the nation’s largest consumer complaint database. This unique cyber tool provides more than 2,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies with access to complaints made by consumers,” Katz says. “This allows complaint information to be sorted so we can see if there are multiple complaints against one firm or one phone number. This is then used by our investigators when they look into possible violations.”

Consumers can register their land lines and cell phones and file complaints by going to www.donotcall.gov. Katz adds that the FTC always seeks public comments on how to improve the system regarding caller identity, fraud and telemarketers trying to get around the rules. While there is no registry for spam or junk or fraudulent email, the commission is studying this issue and comments can be sent to uce@ftc.gov.

Officials in a few states are making a concerted effort to target junk emailers and spammers. Rob McKenna, Washington State’s attorney general, is one of the most progressive. His office has worked closely with Microsoft to send some abusers to jail and fine others out of business. McKenna’s office also is a member of the Consumer Sentinel Network.

With the amount of junk mail I received every day, I believe that a National Do-Not-Email Registry would be immediately self sufficient and be a major income producer for the government.

Rene A. Henry, a native of Charleston, WV and a resident of Seattle,  is the author of seven books and writes on a variety of subjects including customer service, crisis management and communications, travel and tourism, sports and business. Many of his widely published articles are posted on his website atwww.renehenry.com.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Berlin Boxing Club’: Max Schmeling Helps His Jewish Friends in Young Adult Novel That Can Be Enjoyed by All

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Berlin Boxing Club': Max Schmeling Helps His Jewish Friends in Young Adult Novel That Can Be Enjoyed by All

If you have a teenager — girl or boy — in your family, or if you’re one yourself, get a copy of Robert Sharenow’s “The Berlin Boxing Club” (Harper Teen, an imprint of HarperCollins, 416 pages, $17.99) and learn about Nazi Germany’s descent into madness in the 1930s — and how ordinary Germans, and an extraordinary one — reacted to a Jewish family’s persecution.

The extraordinary one is heavyweight boxing champion and German national hero Max Schmeling, who in this novel is a friend of Sigmund Stern, his wife Rebecca and their children Karl and Hildy. Karl is 14 when the novel opens in 1934 and he — like the rest of his family — is a thoroughly assimilated, basically nonobservant,  Jew. Karl and his mother have no distinctive Jewish features — the kind  Nazis like Julius Streicher stereotyped  with hooked noses and fat lips, but Sigmund and Hildy lack the “Aryan” protective covering of Karl and Rebecca. Sigmund runs an art gallery and was — as Karl later finds out — a war hero veteran of the Great War, who declined the nation’s highest honor, the Iron Cross.

After Karl is attacked and beaten at his school by a gang of bullyboy Hitler Youths, Schmeling takes Karl under his wing and introduces him to a boxing gym he frequents, the Berlin Boxing Club of the title. Karl becomes a proficient boxer, and muscles up much like the “Captain America” title character played by Chris Evans (but without the mad scientist details).

Robert Sharenow

Robert Sharenow

Sharenow says in the book he got the idea from a 2005 nonfiction book by David Margolick, “Beyond Glory,” about Max Schmeling and his matches with Joe Louis. By one of those  unbelievable coincidences, I reviewed the book in December 2005 and I’m quoting liberally from my review to put “The Berlin Boxing Club” into context, especially for those who’ve forgotten — or never knew — the history of Jewish prizefighters: 

The year 1938 was notable for two sporting events that have become iconic: The match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral at Pimlico in Baltimore Nov. 1, 1938 was ably chronicled by Laura Hillenbrand in a book and later hit movie; the June 22, 1938 heavyweight title fight between champion Joe Louis (he won the title from “Cinderella Man” Jimmy Braddock) and German fighter Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Vanity Fair contributor David Margolick ably describes the fight and the events leading up to it and its aftermath in “Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink” (Knopf). It’s a cultural history of Depression America that reads like a well-crafted thriller.

Schmeling, who died earlier this year [2005] a few months shy of his 100th birthday – he was born in 1905, nine years before Louis – was an unlikely “Aryan.” Glorified by the Nazi regime, especially propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Schmeling (pronounced Schmayling) was a dead ringer for Jack Dempsey, with a heavy-browed, almost Neanderthal visage (fittingly enough, the Neanderthal is a valley in Germany!). He never joined the Nazi Party and had among his entourage an observant Jewish manager, Joe Jacobs. The 1938 fight – a rematch of the bloody 1936 pummeling of Louis by Schmeling – was promoted by another Jew, Mike Jacobs, no relation to Joe Jacobs.

Occurring as it did during a period of racism and anti-Semitism that was as virulent in much of the U.S. as it was in Europe, the fight was more than just another boxing match, Margolick says: it was a seminal cultural event in the last year of what passed for peacetime in the awful 20th Century – the bloodiest in the history of mankind.

Joe Louis was promoted as the anti-Jack Johnson, the flamboyant black fighter who won the heavyweight title in 1910 and who openly dated white women, drove flashy cars and lived large. Alabama-born and Detroit reared Louis, a worker in the Ford plant, was touted as a “good Negro,” a man who was happily married and who stayed away from liquor and white women.

In the 1936 bout, the previously undefeated Louis was felled by Schmeling spotting a flaw in the “Brown Bomber’s” technique. He was aided in his quest by observation of fight films and by Joe Jacobs, a consummate manager.

Margolick doesn’t portray Schmeling as a hero – as so many revisionist writers have done – but as a man who was interested in accumulating as much wealth as possible. This aspect was played down by Goebbels and other Nazis, who considered it to be a Jewish characteristic. Schmeling was an opportunist with good qualities; not long after the Seabiscuit-War Admiral race, during the Kristallnacht pogrom, Schmeling sheltered two young Jewish boys in his Berlin hotel room. One who survived the war as a refugee in the U.S. attested to the German boxer’s good qualities and love of America.

After his service in the German Army’s paratroopers, Schmeling parlayed his good connections in the States to a Coca-Cola distributorship in West Germany. He was a lifelong friend of Louis. His complexity is captured by Margolick.

That incident recounted by Margolick about Schmeling rescuing two Jews during the pogrom called “Kristallnacht” (night of the broken glass, Nov. 9-10, 1938) and sheltering them in the  luxurious hotel suite that he shared with his wife,  Czech actress Anny Ondra, was used as a plot point by Sharenow in a somewhat disjointed novel that is nonetheless an exciting page turner.

“The Berlin Boxing Club” — which adult readers will enjoy, too — should serve to educate as well as entertain, especially in light of the right-wing mass murders in Norway. It’s important to remember that hatred of others — Jews, Gypsies, Muslims, Gays — has never died out in what British historian Mark Mazower called “the Dark Continent” in his brilliant history of Europe–called  Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century (Knopf, 1999).     Characterization is especially well handled by Sharenow, the author of “My Mother The Cheerleader”, which is currently being developed into a feature film by Julia Roberts’ production company. I think that his ability to create fully realized people comes from his career as an award-winning writer and television producer. Karl and Hildy are delightful kids, with Hildy displaying the uncertainty of a young woman in early puberty, complicated by the anti-Semitism of 1930s Germany. The way Sharenow ends the book leads me to believe there will be a sequel. I’ll say no more, other than to add that I recommend this book without reservation for readers of all ages.
About the author
Robert Sharenow is an award-winning writer and television producer who currently serves as Senior Vice President of Non-fiction and Alternative Programming for A&E Network and Bio Channel. He is responsible for supervising the development and creation of all of A&E’s non-fiction programming including the network’s signature real-life series, justice franchises, critically-acclaimed documentary series, A&E IndieFilms, and lifestyle programming. He also oversees original program development for the Bio Channel.ng TV Nation and the Emmy-award-winning children’s series Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego.He is a graduate of Brandeis University who received his Master’s degree from New York University where he held a fellowship in the American Studies department. He lives in New York with his wife, Stacey, two daughters, and their dog, Lucy. His website: http://robertsharenow.com.

OP-ED: AARP The Magazine Evaluates ‘Affordable’ Retirement Destinations

Posted on July 24, 2011

By David M. Kinchen

I’ve seen so many lists of great places to move to when you retire that I’ve long since abandoned my respect for the vast majority of them, be they lists or books of communities. After all, most people will “retire in place” — not move too far, if at all, from their residence when they retire.

 They might not even retire in the traditional sense, in view of the miserable state of the economy. Working part time or starting a new business or career might be in the cards for many “retirees”;  they’ll probably find many opportunities where they already live.

So it was with trepidation that I examined a list of “Affordable” retirement communities that will be published in the Sept.-Oct. 2011 issue AARP The Magazine.

I’ve been an AARP member for 22 years now, but I won’t have to wait until the magazine arrives in my mailbox in our  retirement community of Port Lavaca, TX.  It’s available online now at: http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/livable-communities/info-07-2011/affordable-cities.html)

Most lists serve up absolutely unaffordble retirement locales, like Honolulu or Carmel or San Diego.   AARP  The magazine has previously produced issues on the best college towns, the healthiest cities and other lists to help people figure out where to retire. Believe it or not, this is the first time AARP has focused on affordability. In my opinion, If it’s a college town, toss affordability out the window. Pick a town that’s convenient to colleges and universities, but not necessarily nestled among them.

“Given the economy, we were interested in finding places that were less expensive to live,” says Gabrielle Redford, editorial projects manager for AARP The Magazine. The issue will be released on July 24. and should be arriving by the end of the month.

The destinations that AARP selected are not just dirt cheap. The selections were based on a number of criteria, such as property and sales tax rates, recreation, and health care, among others.

Although cities in the coldest parts of the country tend to be among the least expensive to live in, the study made sure to include a variety of climates. “We threw some livability criteria into the mix,” Redford  told a reporter for USA Today. And they also decided to exclude cities that have high rates of unemployment and home foreclosures.

The top five destinations:

Portland, Maine
Median housing price: $202,800.
What a steal: A dozen raw oysters at J’s Oyster, overlooking the bay; $11.50.
Best night on the town: Shakespeare in Deering Oaks Park: free.

Tulsa, Okla.
Median housing price: $125,600.
Best way to spend $10: Admission to the Philbrook Museum of Art, an Italian Renaissance villa built in the 1920s and converted to a museum, is just $7.50.

Gainesville, Ga.
Median housing price: $141,800.
Best way to spend $10: Grab a drink and a small plate at Recess Southern Gastro Pub on the square, then check out events downtown, including free concerts.

Wenatchee, Wash.
Median housing price: $192,000.
What a steal: All those dams provide enough power to give the region some of the nation’s cheapest utility bills. Residents pay about 3 cents per kilowatt hour.

Winchester, Va.
Median housing price: $151,500.
Best night on the town: Shenandoah University has an exceptional music conservatory, with 100-plus professionals on staff. Evening performance: $27.

Runners up:
Cheyenne,Wyo.
Columbus, Ind.
Harrisburg,Pa.
Ithaca, N.Y.
Midland, Texas

* * *

I was glad to see a Texas town included in the list, but, frankly, Midland wouldn’t be my choice; If I wanted to live inland — which I don’t — I would  prefer a town in the Texas Hill County outside of San Antonio. I prefer the coast, so here we are about 125 miles south of Houston, with plenty of water.

Midland is a sizable city, with 130,000 or so residents; Port Lavaca has 12,248, in a county, Calhoun, of   21,381 residents, according to the 2010 census. Calhoun County — which includes smaller towns like Seadrift, Port O’Connor and the less than 1,000 population town of Point Comfort across the Lavaca Bay causeway from Port Lavaca — grew modestly from 2000 to 2010, gaining 3.6 percent. This compares with a growth rate of 20.6 percent for Texas from 2000 to 2010.
According to a news story in the Port Lavaca Wave, our countywide twice a week newspaper,  Port O’Connor is the grayest part of the county with 24.4 per cent aged 65 and older. Port Lavaca is the most youthful  with 12.9 per cent over 65 and the county averages 15.1 percent.

Males made up 50.7 per cent of the county population and 49.9 per cent of Port Lavaca, making a theoretical balance of the two sexes.

Some of the numbers regarding race show the county 81.5 percent white, 46.4 percent Hispanic or Latino (predominately of Mexican descent), 4.4 percent Asian (mostly Chinese descent) and 2.6 percent black. Port Lavaca is 56.6 per cent Hispanic.

Port Lavaca serves an industrial and agricultural area, and it’s not a retirement community per se. We do get “winter Texans” from the colder states and there are several RV parks for them. We have more than adequate shopping, including a Walmart Superstore,  with much more available in Victoria, a city of over 50,000, about 30 miles inland, with malls, big box electronic stores, bookstores and a multiplex theatre with stadium seating

In Port Lavaca, we have a twin-screen theater, where I just saw “Captain America,” and we have several nice restaurants, including seafood places (the town is a shrimping port), authentic Mexican restaurants, and a very good barbecue restaurant. The public library is outstanding, with a main branch in Port Lavaca and branches throughout the county. We have a number of festivals throughout the year, with my photos illustrating some of them. We have a lively live theatre group, the Port Lavaca Main Street Theatre, performing in the refurbished old movie theatre in Old Towne P.L. It’s a good place to live; we’ve been here three years and are satisfied.

Here are some numbers, mostly from 2009, that show how affordable Port Lavaca is:
Estimated median household income in 2009: $43,096 (it was $33,626 in 2000)

Port Lavaca:  

$43,096

Texas:  

$48,259

Estimated per capita income in 2009: $19,552

Port Lavaca city income, earnings, and wages data

Estimated median house or condo value in 2009: $72,793 (it was $50,900 in 2000)

Port Lavaca:  

$72,793

Texas:  

$125,800

Mean prices in 2009: All housing units: $78,350; Detached houses: $87,332; Townhouses or other attached units: $59,082; In 2-unit structures: $83,390; In 3-to-4-unit structures: $63,734; Mobile homes: $22,425; Occupied boats, RVs, vans, etc.: $6,748

Median gross rent in 2009: $615.

Yes, rent is an important number, because quite a few retirees are renters. It gives them flexibility to “feel free to move about the country” in the words of a Texas icon, Southwest Airlines.

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ON NASCAR: Supersize Indy: NASCAR’s Road and Track Weekend At The Brickyard

  • By Cathy Elliott


Cathy Elliott

Cathy Elliott
This new “old” joke just in from the NASCAR humor files:

How old is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

So old that the first vehicles to ever race at the track were balloons.

It’s true. According to the speedway’s website, IMS hosted a balloon race in June of 1909. In a preview of bigger and louder things to come, however, the balloons were powered by gas. On July 31, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will return to the legendary track for the 18th running of the Brickyard 400.

In the world of professional sports, a select few venues have achieved a level of recognition rivaling that of the teams and events featured inside. Over the years, places like Augusta National, Daytona International Speedway, Churchill Downs, Wimbledon and the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field have become every bit as famous and revered as the athletes who have passed through their gates.

The quality that sets these facilities apart from others is something that can’t be built, and can’t be bought — they have charisma, that intangible blend of charm and mystery that attracts people like a magnet. Of what value is a star, after all, without a unique sky in which to shine?

Many longtime race fans – my hand is up on this one – will tell you that the first names they knew well were Richard Petty and Mario Andretti. See how easily they roll off the tongue together? They even rhyme.

But the relationship between the Daytona 500’s brand of high-speed, fender-banging stock car racing and the open-wheel style of competition showcased in the annual Indianapolis 500, considered more elegant by its fans, wasn’t always so smooth.

That’s odd, because NASCAR and Indy Car have been linked for decades. In the book “Bill France Jr.: The Man Who Made NASCAR,” author H.A. Branham notes that IMS served as a sort of prototype for Daytona. NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. had worked at Indy during the 1930s, and dreamed of constructing a similar landmark facility for his newly-formed NASCAR. But when France and his wife visited IMS in 1954, they found their welcome less than warm. In short, they were thrown out.

“Legend has it,” Branham writes, “that Bill Sr. told people he and his wife decided they would go back to Florida and build their own damn speedway.”

That plan worked well. The result, Daytona International Speedway, remains the gold standard in stock car racing. The relationship between NASCAR and the American Automobile Association, sanctioning body of the Indianapolis 500, didn’t shine quite so brightly.

The competitors didn’t care. No matter what adjectives you use to describe it, a race is a race, and these were the two biggest in their respective arenas. As the years passed, drivers couldn’t resist the urge to hop that retaining wall separating NASCAR and Indy Car. Sometimes the grass proved pretty green on the other side; Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt both managed to win the Daytona 500, and in 1994, John Andretti became the first driver in history to compete in both Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 – 1,100 miles of racing — on the same day.

April 14, 1993 was a momentous day in racing history, when at last an agreement was reached and the announcement was made that the inaugural  HYPERLINK “http://www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com/brickyard400” Brickyard 400 would take place on Aug. 6, 1994. The race has subsequently become a red-letter day on the NASCAR calendar, perhaps second in prestige only to the Daytona 500.

The last remaining bit of wall between the tracks and the two racing series crumbled on July 6, when NASCAR announced that the NASCAR Nationwide Series and GRAND-AM Road Racing will join the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for four exciting races during the inaugural Super Weekend at the Brickyard. The weekend will mark the first time in IMS’ long history that races will be held on both the 2.5-mile oval and the 2.534-mile road course during the same weekend.

“The Super Weekend at the Brickyard will offer non-stop excitement for every auto racing fan with the addition of the NASCAR Nationwide Series and GRAND-AM Road Racing,” said Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president and chief executive officer.

“There will be competitive, fender-rubbing action from many different types of machinery for four days, featuring established stars and rising talents, on both the IMS oval and road course.

“This will be an unforgettable event and the start of a great new racing tradition at the Speedway.”

It took a half century or so, but once again, teamwork carried the day.

It is interesting to note that construction on the RMS Titanic began in the same year — 1909 — that IMS opened for business. The Titanic, dubbed “unsinkable,” literally went down in history in 1912, but IMS has masterfully navigated its way through seas both calm and choppy, and over a century later, is still riding high.

* * *
Cathy Elliott, the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway, is a syndicated columnist for NASCAR and author of the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR.” (for David M. Kinchen’s review on this site:http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/columns/100423-kinchen-columnsbookreview.html). Contact Cathy at.cathyelliott@hotmail.com

MANN TALK: ‘Home to the Mother’

  • By Perry Mann

 Perry Mann

Perry Mann

“I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth. Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.”

The above is from “Shine, Perishing Republic,” a poem by Robinson Jeffers (l887-1962), an American poet who never had to work a day for a living and who was a   misanthrope, a nature lover and a prescient thinker. He was born into wealth and classical culture. He married; and with the help of his twin sons he built himself a house of boulders on a height in California, where he immured himself, contemplated man and nature and wrote into his poetry his  ruminations.

I don’t know when Jeffers wrote “Shine, Perishing Republic,” but it doesn’t matter when. What matters to me is how current is the thinking in it. How could America’s present be better stated in so few words: “While this America settles in the mold of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire, / And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,….”

When I grew up in the Thirties this nation was isolationist to the core. The Monroe Doctrine was viable. This country’s standing army was a few thousands soldiers,  many of whom trained with wooden guns and cardboard tanks. In 1936 at Langley Field I saw all of  the Army Air Corps’  heavy bomber force: seven B-17s.  And I saw at Newport News, VA,  the just-built aircraft carrier Yorktown, one of the few flat-tops available to the navy and one of  a number sunk by Japanese action.   America was a republic,  inferior in military might to Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan  and perhaps Russia. And even though the times were in the depth of the Depression there was nothing like  the ill distribution of the nation’s wealth that is today so conspicuous and divisive.

When war came with Japan and Germany and their allies, every able-bodied youth from farm, factory and  university, of common  blood or of blueblood, of pallid or red neck, either enlisted or was drafted. It was a citizens’ army that fought and died for the democracy that was America in 1941. My two closest  prewar buddies, buddies with whom  I worked in  fields and  hunted in  woods,  sailed to Europe in convoy, marched with other farm boys across the Old World — one of them  having helped to take the bridge at Remagen — and were there when the end came. The Greatest Generation was made of everyone, from everywhere, high and low in social status, and the sacrifices were more equitable than, say, in Vietnam.

Then, there was a man in the White House who damned the Robber Barons of old and their successors of his day and talked about equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth and social justice, and eyed them with  be damned to those who whined that he was promoting class warfare. He curbed the corporcrates and put the bureaucrats to work for the people.

Then came Reagan with his premise that government isn’t the solution but the problem and his favoring the wealthy over the poor. Since, America has slowly  but surely metamorphosed from democracy, admittedly less than perfect, to a plutocracy, a government of the  wealthy, which is ruled by bought politicians and gold-plated  corporcrates. And it has so increased the power,  so expanded the might of the military, so extended its power around the world that  it is on the brink of empire and the rule, not just of the wealthy and the corporcrates,  but as well  the rule  of  the protectors of their wealth and power, the military. Thus  has been the metamorphosis from bloom to fruit to rot of  republics in Athens and  Rome and wherever they have risen to power and wealth.

There  are  grounds for optimism, though. Hear Jeffers: “But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption / Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.”  And  there is where I am and where my children were reared and it has made all the difference.

I live with one foot in the 21st century and another in the 19th century. My roots are in the land, in planting in spring and harvesting in fall, in preserving the bounty of the earth, walking the fields in April’s green birth and in October’s golden demise, watching the drama of weather and  its storms and serenities, smelling the flowers and hearing the birds and  having access to a  mountaintop where  in day one can see in circle the whole of the horizons and view at night the heavens in full scope with  all the starry sights undiluted by man’s  ubiquitous incandescence. And my children have “keep their distance from the thickening center” of vulgarity and corruption, a blessing unparalleled by any other  blessing  on earth and probably in heaven.

“You making haste, haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly / A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.”

“Time is money” say the  money changers from Christ’s day to this day, when all of them squat and role the dice in the  columned temples on Wall Street.  Haste is a virtue  to those who measure virtue by high, low and close. Society needs those whose careers are meteoric but it needs as much  those who build on rock and endure as the mountains.

And who can argue with Jeffers’ advice to his sons: “And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master. / There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught — they say — God, when he walked the earth.”

But there is further reason for  optimism amid all the decadence and cynicism. Nature renews and recreates. Barren and worn soil is rejuvenated and made fertile again once man abandons it. And nature does so in every corner of its  jurisdiction whether on land or in seas,  and   throughout the heights and depths and widths of the universe. The law is that sooner are later all goes home to mother to become the seeds and sustenance of future births.

* * *

Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He turned 90 this year; he was born in Charleston, WV in 1921.


PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Robert Reich Speaks Out Again on ‘Medicare for All’ Saying It’s Not the Problem — It’s the Solution

  • By David M. Kinchen
Robert Reich

        Robert Reich
 Editor’s note: This updates my June 6, 2011 column, which in turn updated my May 28, 2011 column on Medicare for all — a subject on which I’ve blogged repeatedly (If I blog anymore on this self-evident solution to our broken health-care system, I’ll go blind!)  So I’m quoting liberally from Robert Reich’s July 23 blog, which states that “Medicare Is the Solution, Not the Problem” to what ails the nation’s broken health-care industry.
Reich:
 Not only is Social Security on  the chopping block in order to respond to Republican extortion. So is Medicare.

But Medicare isn’t the nation’s budgetary problems. It’s the solution. The real problem is the soaring costs of health care that lie beneath Medicare. They’re costs all of us are bearing in the form of soaring premiums, co-payments, and deductibles.

Medicare offers a means of reducing these costs — if Washington would let it.

Let me explain.

Americans spend more on health care per person than any other advanced nation and get less for our money. Yearly public and private healthcare spending is $7,538 per person. That’s almost two and a half times the average of other advanced nations.

Yet the typical American lives 77.9 years — less than the average 79.4 years in other advanced nations. And we have the highest rate of infant mortality of all advanced nations.

Medical costs are soaring because our health-care system is totally screwed up. Doctors and hospitals have every incentive to spend on unnecessary tests, drugs, and procedures.

You have lower back pain? Almost 95% of such cases are best relieved through physical therapy. But doctors and hospitals routinely do expensive MRI’s, and then refer patients to orthopedic surgeons who often do even more costly surgery. Why? There’s not much money in physical therapy.

Your diabetes, asthma, or heart condition is acting up? If you go to the hospital, 20 percent of the time you’re back there within a month. You wouldn’t be nearly as likely to return if a nurse visited you at home to make sure you were taking your medications. This is common practice in other advanced countries. So why don’t nurses do home visits to Americans with acute conditions? Hospitals aren’t paid for it.

America spends $30 billion a year fixing medical errors – the worst rate among advanced countries. Why? Among other reasons because we keep patient records on computers that can’t share the data. Patient records are continuously re-written on pieces of paper, and then re-entered into different computers. That spells error.

Meanwhile, administrative costs eat up 15 to 30 percent of all healthcare spending in the United States. That’s twice the rate of most other advanced nations. Where does this money go? Mainly into collecting money: Doctors collect from hospitals and insurers, hospitals collect from insurers, insurers collect from companies or from policy holders.

A major occupational category at most hospitals is “billing clerk.” A third of nursing hours are devoted to documenting what’s happened so insurers have proof.

Trying to slow the rise in Medicare costs doesn’t deal with any of this. It will just limit the amounts seniors can spend, which means less care. As a practical matter it means more political battles, as seniors – whose clout will grow as boomers are added to the ranks – demand the limits be increased. (If you thought the demagoguery over “death panels” was bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.)

Paul Ryan’s plan – to give seniors vouchers they can cash in with private for-profit insurers – would be even worse. It would funnel money into the hands of for-profit insurers, whose administrative costs are far higher than Medicare.

So what’s the answer? For starters, allow anyone at any age to join Medicare. Medicare’s administrative costs are in the range of 3 percent. That’s well below the 5 to 10 percent costs borne by large companies that self-insure. It’s even further below the administrative costs of companies in the small-group market (amounting to 25 to 27 percent of premiums). And it’s way, way lower than the administrative costs of individual insurance (40 percent). It’s even far below the 11 percent costs of private plans under Medicare Advantage, the current private-insurance option under Medicare.

In addition, allow Medicare — and its poor cousin Medicaid — to use their huge bargaining leverage to negotiate lower rates with hospitals, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies. This would help move health care from a fee-for-the-most-costly-service system into one designed to get the highest-quality outcomes most cheaply.

Estimates of how much would be saved by extending Medicare to cover the entire population range from $58 billion to $400 billion a year.  More Americans would get quality health care, and the long-term budget crisis would be sharply reduced.

Let me say it again: Medicare isn’t the problem. It’s the solution.”

                                                                * * *

Right on, Dr. Reich!  (I know, his doctorate is a Ph.D., but he’s the kind of doctor who can fix our medical-industrial complex!)  As I said back in June:

Republicans are slow learners but — in the wake of May’s GOP defeat in a special election in Upstate New York where Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated a Republican in a solidly GOP district — they may finally discover that Medicare is really a deadly “Third Rail” that will electrocute anyone who touches it.

President Clinton’s labor secretary Robert Reich cites the district’s rejection of Rep. Paul Ryan’s  (R-WI) Medicare “reform” plan in his blog, repeating an idea that he’s proposed before and which I cited in my Jan. 27, 2011 Parallel Universe column in which I praised Reich. And, to top it off, one of the world’s most respected economists, Paul Krugman, has declared that Vouchercare is no substitute for Medicare for all.

First, Reich says that Ryan’s plan “would turn Medicare into vouchers that funnel money to private health insurers.” His May 26 comments can be found at www.robertreich.org:

“Former President Bill Clinton counsels Democrats not to say Medicare is fine the way it is. He’s right. But instead of talking about Medicare as a problem to be fixed, Democrats should start talking about it as a potential solution to the challenge of rising health-care costs – as well as to our long-term budget problem.

Can we be clear about that budget problem? It’s not driven by Medicare. It’s driven by the same relentlessly soaring health-care costs that are pushing premiums through the roof and causing middle-class families to shell out more and more money for deductibles and co-payments.

Some features of Obama’s new healthcare law will slow the rise – insurance exchanges, for example, could give consumers clearer comparative information about what they’re getting for their insurance payments – but the law doesn’t go nearly far enough.

That’s why Democrats should be proposing that anyone be allowed to sign up for Medicare. Medicare is cheaper than private insurance because its administrative costs are so much lower, and it has vast economies of scale.

If Medicare were allowed to use its potential bargaining leverage over America’s hospitals, doctors, drug companies, and medical providers, it could drive down costs even further.”

Joining Reich in his call for Medicare for all is Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, a professor at Princeton and a New York Times columnist. (He won the Nobel in 2008). On Monday, June 6, Krugman wrote (link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/ 06/06/opinion/06krugman.html? nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212):

So let me make two points. First, Obamacare was very much a second-best plan, conditioned by perceived political realities. Most of the health reformers I know would have greatly preferred simply expanding Medicare to cover all Americans. Second, the Affordable Care Act is all about making health care, well, affordable, offering subsidies whose size is determined by the need to limit the share of their income that families spend on medical costs. Vouchercare, by contrast, would simply hand out vouchers of a fixed size, regardless of the actual cost of insurance. And these vouchers would be grossly inadequate.

But what about the claim that none of this matters, because Medicare as we know it is unsustainable? Nonsense.

Yes, Medicare has to get serious about cost control; it has to start saying no to expensive procedures with little or no medical benefits, it has to change the way it pays doctors and hospitals, and so on. And a number of reforms of that kind are, in fact, included in the Affordable Care Act. But with these changes it should be entirely possible to maintain a system that provides all older Americans with guaranteed essential health care.

Consider Canada, which has a national health insurance program, actually called Medicare, that is similar to the program we have for the elderly, but less open-ended and more cost-conscious. In 1970, Canada and the United States both spent about 7 percent of their G.D.P. on health care. Since then, as United States health spending has soared to 16 percent of G.D.P., Canadian spending has risen much more modestly, to only 10.5 percent of G.D.P. And while Canadian health care isn’t perfect, it’s not bad.

Canadian Medicare, then, looks sustainable; why can’t we do the same thing here? Well, you know the answer in the case of the Republicans: They don’t want to make Medicare sustainable, they want to destroy it under the guise of saving it.

Exactly! I’ve repeatedly blogged about opening up Medicare, one of the most beloved of federal programs since it was inaugurated in 1965,  as a public option to all who are willing to pay for it. This is called expanding the risk pool and it’s what insurance is all about: The more people in the risk pool, people of all ages, the better off the insurer and the people who are insured. Before I became a journalist in January 1966, I worked for almost four years as an insurance claims adjuster for a major insurance company, so I can claim some expertise in the matter. (I stand by my claim to some degree of expertise,  despite the disparaging remarks from a respondent to my previous column, who misspelled my name and said my tour of duty in the insurance industry, before I became a journalist,  wasn’t relevant).

Canada’s Medicare works because the government uses its clout to negotiate lower prices on, for instance, prescription drugs. Generic Plavix (clopidogrel) sells online for $68 (U.S.)  for 200 75 mg  pills in a pharmacy in a Vancouver, BC suburb.  I couldn’t find 200 pills at Walgreen’s online site, but the big chain sells 180 75mg generic Plavix pills for $136.75 — twice what we Yanks pay for 20 fewer pills from the British Columbia pharmacy.

Reich,  Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, says “Let the GOP go after Medicare. That will do more to elect Democrats in 2012 than anything else. But it would be wise and politically astute for Democrats to go beyond just defending Medicare. Strengthen and build upon it. Use it to reform American health care and, not incidentally, rescue the federal budget.”
Good advice from a guy who knows what he’s talking about and who was one of Clinton’s best cabinet members, if not the best.  And good for Krugman for pointing out the facts about Canadian Medicare and its dedication to keeping medical costs down. He’s right: Vouchercare is no substitute for Medicare.