THE INCOMPETENCE, THE INCOMPETENCE: We recalled Kurtz's famous cry!

MONDAY, AUGUST 5, 2019

The human monologues:
As late as this very morning, we didn't know where to begin.

We'd returned, late Thursday night, to our sprawling campus in the heart of Maryland's 7th congressional district.

Mister Trump had made the district famous during the time we were gone. During that same period, we'd witnessed an endless parade of human dumbness, not all of it during CNN's Democratic "debates."

Even this morning, we'd still didn't know where to start! Finally, we decided we'd start with the first new thing we'd read.

The column in question appears in this morning's Washington Post. Hard-copy headline included, the column starts like this:
JAYAPAL (8/5/19): The facts about Medicare-for-all

In the wake of the second Democratic presidential debate, it is clear that Medicare-for-all has become a defining issue of the 2020 election. Earlier this year, when I introduced our comprehensive, 120-page “Medicare for All Act of 2019,” I expected attacks from Big Pharma and for-profit insurance companies. But I did not expect misrepresentations from Democratic presidential candidates about what the bill is and is not.

Let’s be clear about the scale of this crisis. The United States currently spends an astronomical $3.6 trillion per year on health care—almost double what peer countries spend—and it is set to increase within 10 years to $6 trillion annually. Pharmaceuticals such as basic insulin cost up to 10 times less in Canada for the exact same drugs...
In what follows, you're going to think that we're picking nits. In thinking that, you'll be wrong.

The column was written by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who represents the 7th congressional district in the state of Washington. Nancy Pelosi has described her as "a rising star in the Democratic caucus."

Jayapal is seen with increasing frequency on cable news programs. It seems quite clear that she would do well on an IQ test.

For that reason, we were struck by her description of this nation's health care costs. You'll think we're picking nits about this, but in fact we aren't.

In the statement we have highlighted, Jayapal says the U.S. "spends an astronomical $3.6 trillion per year on health care." She says this is "almost double what peer countries spend," seeming to cite Canada as one such country.

Our question:

Why would anyone be surprised to hear that we spend twice as much on health care as Canada does? Most people will suspect—perhaps even know—that we have a much larger population than our frozen neighbor to the north.

We have way more people than they do! The numbers go something like this:
Estimated population, 2018/2019
United States: 327.2 million
Canada: 37.6 million
The United States has a much larger population than Canada! In terms of population, we're also substantially larger than other "peer countries" such as Germany, England, France.

Given these facts, why would anyone be surprised to hear that we spend substantially more on health care than these smaller countries do? Why wouldn't Jayapal's statement disappear into the air?

"But that isn't what Jayapal meant," you will hotly exclaim. We'll of course agree with you—but that is what she said!

Alas! Watching Democrats discuss health care is a bit like watching the apocryphal fish as they try to ride those bicycles. The same is true of mainstream journalists, of course. These depressing facts became clear once again during last week's "debates."

Why did Jayapal actually mean by her fuzzily stated remark? Presumably, she meant to describe the state of affairs laid out in the data shown below—data the public will never see, or see discussed, in the Post or the New York Times:
Per capita spending, health care, 2018
United States: $10,586
Germany: $5986
Canada: $4974
France: $4965
Japan: $4766
United Kingdom: $4070
(South) Korea: $3192
More detailed data are available from the OECD. But what difference does it make?

Presumably, Jayapal meant to say that we spend two to three times as much per person as comparable nations do. Answers to several major policy questions are lodged within that remarkable fact:

Why do we run such a large federal deficit? What keeps wages from growing? Why are so many people unable to afford health care at all?

Answers to all those questions are lodged within those remarkable data—remarkable data a rising star fails to describe with clarity in today's Washington Post.

The tribal impulse will urge you to think that we're just picking a nit. That tribal impulse will be wrong—but it's deeply bred in the bone, and it runs the world of human affairs.

It runs the part of the human world which acted in El Paso this weekend. It runs the part of the human world which determines the way this young Yazidi woman was treated after she was freed from slavery to ISIS.

(We strongly recommend that Washington Post news report.)

That tribal impulse also runs the part of the human world within which we liberals and progressives react to the others. For today, we'll only say this:

Subscribers to the Post and the Times never see the remarkable numbers we have posted above. For that reason, they're never exposed to a serious discussion of those remarkable numbers.

Where's all the extra money going in our health care spending? Members of our own self-impressed tribe rarely wonder about that. To all intents and purposes, the question is never raised for their perusal—not by major mainstream news orgs, not by rising political stars.

This isn't the only major topic where basic ignorance rules. Readers of the Post and the Times are never told about the size of the achievement gaps within our public schools. At the same time, they're never told about the large academic gains which have been recorded by all demographic groups.

When Flint became a major topic, our tribals were never shown the data about lead in the water of other American cities. We were never told about the gigantic blood lead levels which existed all over the country until recent years.

Our candidates recite all kinds of bullshit as they pretend to debate. Our major journalists don't utter a peep as they pretend to moderate these ersatz debates. But this is the basic human condition, as found in our own current world.

The fact is, we humans aren't wired to care about matters like these. We care about the tribal drives which tell us who to loathe.

The dumbness around you in the past ten days testifies to this fact about the human project. We'll be exploring that dumbness all week—a dumbness so ubiquitous in the past ten day that we didn't know where to begin as we rose this morning.

Jayapal's fuzzy characterization tells us something basic about ourselves, about our tribe, about the human project. So did those cattle call "debates." So does the truly pathetic New York magazine essay to which Maureen Dowd referred in yesterday's column.

As we watched the spreading darkness last week, we thought of the dying Kurtz, as quoted by Joseph Conrad:

"The horror! The horror!" the strange fellow said. Or at least, so we're told at the end of Conrad's famous report.

We're going to go with a different word—"incompetence." But it's all much the same in the end.

Tomorrow: To our eternal sorrow, we decided to click Dowd's link

17 comments:

  1. "Why did Jayapal actually mean by her fuzzily stated remark?"

    Nothing. Dembot and zombie politicians (but I repeat myself) say the words their handlers insert into their empty skulls. They don't mean anything.

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  2. Bob is 100% correct on this issue. Morons like mao are happy that we waste hundreds of billions on health care and don't cover everybody.

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    1. Mao is just summarizing Somerby. It is Somerby who is the moron, because he chooses to attack Jayapal, whose proposal recognizes the vast role of the drug and insurance companies in driving up health care costs and directly challenges them. He takes her serious discussion of the issue and reduces it to a criticism of “fuzzy phrasing.”

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. It's always best to get the basic facts straight. However, most readers should be able to discern what she meant.

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    4. For all we know, an editor may have introduced the mistake or fuzziness.

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  3. Somerby should have stayed in Maine without Internet access. He would have spared the world this breathtakingly frivolous, dishonest post.

    Because Jayapal fails to recite the one health-care related talking point that Somerby has ever developed, her op-Ed must be slimed as incompetent, dumb, uncaring.

    In reality, hers is a serious proposal, and the online version of her op-Ed (the size of which is limited by newspaper policy, by the way) is full of dozens of links that lead to further information, such as her own proposal (https://jayapal.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Medicare-for-All-Act-of-2019-Bill-Text.pdf).

    There is also a link (https://fortune.com/2019/02/21/us-health-care-costs-2/) that makes it clear that the US health care spending figure is larger than *the entire GDP of many other countries.*

    Oh, and that oecd link that Somerby provides that “the public will never see?” (https://data.oecd.org/healthres/health-spending.htm) ... That’s a link in the fortune article listed above. We suspect that’s where Somerby found out about it.

    Somerby asks “Where's all the extra money going in our health care spending? Members of our own self-impressed tribe rarely wonder about that. To all intents and purposes, the question is never raised for their perusal—not by major mainstream news orgs, not by rising political stars”, we note that Jayapal says “Pharmaceuticals such as basic insulin cost up to 10 times less in Canada for the exact same drugs.” She also says “we simply cannot expect to bring down the costs of health care in the United States without taking on the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical corporations, which are raking in billions of dollars at the cost of American lives.” For “all intents and purposes”, Jayapal dealt with the very issue Somerby accuses her of ignoring.

    She also states “The average American family with employer-sponsored insurance incurs more than $28,000 dollars in health-care costs per year.” That is a lot to the average family, and the average family is acutely aware of this. This is a more cogent fact to the average family than what other countries spend for their healthcare.

    Somerby, the “media critic”, continues to attack Democratic politicians rather than the media, and to do so in ridiculous ways. It’s almost as if that is the point.

    He should have cut out the narcissistic melodrama and stayed in Maine.

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    1. Somerby is not a media critic. He is a critic of liberals and a gallant defender of Trump, Roy Moore etc.

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    2. Hence the "scare quotes" around the words "media critic" above.

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  4. Another example where Jayapal writes nonsense: She writes, "Pharmaceuticals such as basic insulin cost up to 10 times less in Canada for the exact same drugs..." So suppose a U.S. citizen pays $100 for a drug. Ten times that amount is $10,000. Thus, for the Canadian to pay "10 times less" would mean that the Canadian paid 1000 - 10,000, or -9,000 dollars. That is, he or she paid nothing but instead received a gift of $9,000 for ordering the drug. That's a nice deal. What does Jayapal really mean by "10 times less"? Perhaps she means "one-tenth as much."

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    1. Are you serious? Hard to tell if this a parody of Somerby or not. It is a standard English phrasing. At any rate, the story Jayapal (under “10 times”) links to makes it clear:

      “So, Greenseid led a small caravan last month to the town of Fort Frances, Ontario, where she and five other Americans paid about $1,200 for drugs that would have cost them $12,000 in the United States.”
      https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/06/16/as-insulin-costs-soar-american-diabetics-drive-to-canada/

      But by all means, let’s quibble over Jayapal’s phrasing.

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    2. You've got mishmash going on in your head. If a person in the US pays $100, someone in Canada would pay $10. I don't understand any of your math gymnastics, other than to note that 10 times 100 is not 10,000, but 1000.

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  5. The number $3.6 trillion immediately follows a sentence about the scale of the problem. It is not about the comparisons that come later in the paragraph. Somerby's quibble arises from ignoring the context of her statement and disrupting the flow of ideas and information. It is a dishonest manipulation intended to make Jayapal look foolish.

    Why would someone who has railed about health care costs here for years want to attack a female politician who is finally addressing that issue? Why would a supposedly liberal person do that?

    Today Somerby is advancing Trump's latest talking point, his attacks on women of color in Congress. Jayapal isn't one of the squad, only because she wasn't newly elected in 2018, but as Somerby notes, she is becoming more visible and successful due to her activities in Congress, and that makes her a target for conservatives, Bernie bros, and bigots. So Somerby must manufacture some flaw to raise the rabble and earn his rubles.

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  6. "We're going to go with a different word—"incompetence." But it's all much the same in the end."

    When you write a column criticizing Jayapal, then lump a bunch of other people into a paragraph, including Maureen Dowd and a stupid New York Magazine article, and Quentin Tarantino, then talk about incompetence, who are we supposed to think Somerby is referring to?

    Most of the article is about Jayapal, who is manifestly far from incompetent.

    This is like saying: Harry Truman nearly lost his election as President... lots of other stuff about Truman... then in the last paragraph mention Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and the sum up by saying it is all about incompetence. Are we supposed to include Truman with those really evil dictators and does incompetence really capture their essence? But why are they in there, along with Truman, if the summary judgment doesn't apply to him?

    Dowd is trying to be the cool girl again, turning phrases with a nastiness that ignores whether her complaints are apt. Somerby cannot use words the way she does, but he matches her for meanness. Neither talks about Tarantino's penchant for portraying sadistic violence against women. And Jayapal's crusade to lower health care costs is irrelevant to anything at the end of today's screed. But are we supposed to accept that Jayapal is incompetent? Only in Somerby's fever dreams. Somerby should be cheering her on -- why isn't he?

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  7. Somerby continues his attack on liberals, nitpicking as usual. Somerby is a true Trumptard, whose sole goal in life is to attack liberals.

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  8. Here’s a quibble: According to the online edition of the Post, Jayapal’s article appeared Aug 1, not today, August 5, which Somerby gives as the date. Jayapal tweeted about her op-Ed on August 1st. Perhaps they waited till today to publish the op-Ed in the hard copy. Who knows? But color me skeptical that that was the “first new thing he (Somerby) read”, on a day when new info is coming in about the gun massacres and Trump vomits forth some “response”.

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