Thursday, December 18, 2014

One Nation

A few months ago I started following and being followed by a guy named Marshall (@ernie_bbuilderx) on Twitter. He's a conservative. He builds boats, and I mentioned to him how my great-uncle (paternal grandmother's brother) Everett Arthur built wooden sailboats by hand in Gulfport, MS, 50-60 years ago. We had a few tweet discussions that stayed civil. A couple of times when I trolled some of his retweets, other conservatives were not so civil. The conversations degenerated into name-calling (on their part) - so now I am officially a hypocrite and, proudly, a libtard.

I still follow Marshall, in the hope of drilling a tiny hole between the conservative Fox News echo chamber and the liberal MSNBC echo chamber. I read this book at his behest; he agreed to read my review, which follows. Note, I have never read a book like this before, i.e., a book written by someone wanting to run for president.

"One Nation" is the title of the 7th and latest book by Ben Carson, M.D., published in May, 2014. It is subtitled "What We Can All Do to Save America's Future". Dr. Carson is a retired black neurosurgeon who was raised by a single mother in inner city Detroit and Boston. Per Wikipedia, "He is credited with being the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head." Hah, he is 3 months younger than I am - 1951 birthdays rule!

He came into the political spotlight when he delivered the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast (for the second time, the only person besides Billy Graham to do so) in 2013. The address, which is reprinted in the book's preface, came under fire - by Fox News pundits?!?!? - for being overly politicized and critical of President Obama, who was seated 10 feet away. But this made him a darling to conservatives.

His next big burst of publicity came from comments he made about gay marriage. From Wikipedia:

Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition.

The gays didn't particularly appreciate being lumped in with pedophiles and practitioners of bestiality.

Dr. Carson in his wife founded the Carson Scholars Fund in 1994, which gives scholarships and trophies for academic achievement in grades 4-11, attempting to give academic achievement the same type of recognition that is given to athletic achievement. The fund has given out 5700 awards - a very laudable enterprise, IMO.

He had not been a member of any political party, but then, again per Wikipedia, "on the day of the 2014 midterms he joined the Republican Party as "truly a pragmatic move" because of the possibility of a presidential run in 2016."

The book is a quick and easy read - it is 256 pages in hardback, I read it in around 4 hours. It has a preface, 17 chapters in 3 parts of 6, 6, and 4 short chapters (chapter 1 comes before part 1), and an epilogue. The 3 parts are "Causes of Disunity and Decline", "Solutions", and "Who We Are".

Each chapter begins with a biblical quote from Proverbs - he reads from Proverbs every day, and the authorship of Proverbs is attributed to the biblical figure Solomon, which is his middle name. Chapters 2-16 each end with 4 "Action Steps" - exercises for the reader. (I didn't do the exercises, altho some of them were things I had already done.)

The book is peppered with anecdotes from his years of medical practice and growing up in the inner city.

So, where did I agree with Dr. Carson? I am 100% on board with his emphasis on education and reading. His mother made him and his brother turn off the TV and read. When our kids were growing up we had a hard-and-fast rule: "No TV after supper on a school night". And I tell all new parents, read with your kids, get them to love reading, and they will excel in their school work.

Reviewing the book to write this, Dr. Carson really doesn't have much of a plan to improve education, other than saying that the current state of our citizens' education is not good and emphasizing that it is mostly up to the individual, guided by their parents, to educate themself. Odd. He also did not comment on how in recent years our children have become a $M cost center for testing companies.

Chapter 2 of the book is titled "Political Correctness", which Dr. Carson attacks. I have a tag in this blog "politically incorrect", so I would have to confess that on occasion I am guilty of straying outside politically correct boundaries. But I think you should not allow a dislike for the, what, restrictiveness and maybe hypocrisy, of political correctness to make you think you have a license to be insensitive, particularly to groups who have been oppressed, maligned or otherwise downtrodden for centuries or millennia. Here's Dr. Carson:

They forbid the use of the word slavery by conservatives, the mention of Nazism by conservatives, or the mention of homosexuality in anything other than a positive context, to name a few of their rules.


I had my own run-in with the PCP when I said that I thought Obamacare was the worst thing in our country since slavery.

Conservatives compare many things to slavery, and I have never heard one of them that is actually even vaguely comparable, to any somewhat rational person, to the horror that was and is slavery - a horror whose legacy we are still living with in this country. And using "Nazism" - it is a truism on the Internet that once you start comparing things or people to Hitler or Nazis, whatever argument you were in is over. You've lost the argument, you're just trying to inflame your opponent. So, if we are trying to hold rational discourse, why do you want to stick your finger in the other person's eye?

I think Dr. Carson still stings a little bit from the flack he got over his gay remarks quoted above and this slavery comparison.

Note, I just used the word "sensitivity". Dr. Carson calls out "hypersensitivy" as stifling dialogue - but who draws the line between the two? Dr. Carson I think agrees with this well-known liberal, atheist homosexual:

I personally believe the more polite thing to do is to err on the side of not hurting someone else's feelings - particularly someone who comes from a group that has suffered oppression - unless they are being unreasonable and indeed "hypersensitive", in which case, you're probably better off keeping your mouth shut.

In this chapter Dr. Carson also introduces us to Saul Alinsky, whose book Rules for Radicals he says is the bible of the "political correctness police". I had never heard of either, I guess I will have to check them out.

I agree with Dr. Carson on most of Chapter 11, "Becoming Informed". This is a good reminder:

As a neuroscientist I can tell you unequivocally that it is impossible to overload the human brain with information.
In chapter 12, "Wisdom and Knowledge", we get into Dr. Carson's "Vision for a Wiser Health Care System".
I believe everyone should have a health savings account (HSA) and an electronic medical record (EMR) at the time of birth
The EMR is a great idea. Europe has had these for years. Everytime I get my annual physical, I have to fill out the same medical history form - what bad tech, in this day and age! Where is my smartcard with a chip to keep my whole medical history? In the US, tho, this kind of thing tends to be opposed by fundamentalist christians who equate such systems with "the mark of the beast" from the book of Apocalypse. Sigh :-(

The rest of Dr. Carson's system involves getting rid of health insurance companies, and instead having consumers interact directly with health care providers. I like getting rid of health insurance companies, the rest not so much, as we'll discuss below. But, there is next to no chance of his plan moving forward. Obamacare was originally a conservative program, which forestalled a single-payer system by keeping the insurance companies in place. The health insurance industry is one of the most powerful lobbies in DC. Everyone knew that a single payer system would have no chance of being passed, and could create too much chaos taking all the currently insured off their current plans. So Obamacare, designed by conservatives, was the compromise. So, again, the chances are really slim for Dr. Carson's system, even if it were desirable.

He also would like tort reform, which is a reasonable idea, within limits. But, the lawyers are as powerful a lobby in DC as the doctors and insurance companies are - not to mention that a large majority of legislators are lawyers. Ah, doctors vs lawyers, what's not to like?

I disagree with Dr. Carson far more than I agree, so I'm afraid this next section will be a good bit longer than the previous one. I will try to hold down the snark here, but, I've been a smart-ass my whole life, and I am indeed an old dog.

Overall, as a non-believer, I take issue with using religion as a basis for public policy making. For example, on taxation:

And when I pick up my Bible, you know what I see? I see the fairest individual in the Universe: God. And He’s given us a system. It’s called tithe.
But worse than this overall approach is the standard right-wing, conservative view of the US as being in decline. For example, as soon as he was told about the prayer breakfast address
I ... immediately begin praying for the necessary wisdom and words to gently address the spiritual, financial, and moral decline of America
Or from Chapter 1:
The secular progressive movement completely denies any moral backsliding and feels that we have made substantial progress as a nation with respect to great moral issues like abortion, gay marriage, and helping the poor, but in reality we are losing our moral compass and are caught up in elitism and bigotry.
So I guess he has not read Stephen Pinker's book "The Better Angels of Our Nature", which contains numerous statistics showing that all forms of crime have greatly decreased in recent decades.

And he hasn't heard of the Flynn Effect, which notes that IQ scores have been going up for as long as they have been measured. [snark] Or, he has heard of it but chooses to use that favorite conservative practice of ignoring any science that doesn't agree with their ideology.

And he probably doesn't think that plummeting teenage pregnancy and abortion rates, particularly in states like Colorado with free contraception, are a good thing, since maybe some of these young women are having (gasp) recreational sex.[/snark]

Whenever conservatives say "moral decline", it's usually about sex. The out-of-control individual and corporate greed that has become business-as-usual since Reaganomics and the 80s is OK tho. It's not at all a sign of "moral decline" - it's just the healthy free market at work! Dr. Carson has no comment on this.

"Spiritual decline" usually means that conservatives don't like young people rejecting their mega-churches with their "gospel of prosperity" and their patriarchal christianity. Many of the young people I know are very spiritual, but it is more about connecting with and saving our planet, rather than waiting for the rapture or pie-in-the-sky dished out in the afterlife by the big sky father.

"Financial decline" I totally have to take issue with. The US controls 40% of the wealth and income in the world, and that has not been declining. Our middle class has been hurt badly, with union membership down by a factor of almost 3 as manufacturing jobs have been shipped to China by our patriotic corporations, but overall, we are still by far the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. Note, shipping those jobs to China did help raise 10s of millions of Chinese out of poverty.

The US dollar is also the world's de facto currency, and challenges to that status have fizzled in recent years, particularly with the difficulties in the Eurozone keeping the future of the Euro uncertain.

Chapter 3, "Elitism", I found somewhat hard to understand. Elites are trying to oppress the rest of us?

In order for elitism to flourish, there has to be another class of people who are willing to acknowledge the superiority of the chosen ones. Elites cultivate this obeisance by providing goodies to the less fortunate ones. In our society today, those goodies consist of multiple kinds of entitlement programs. As the dependency on these programs grows, the position of the elite class is solidified because they will always be seen as the providers who need to be protected from any threats of power redistribution.


the liberal policies of the elite class have done little to improve the lot of those who depend so much on them.

??? So are you only "elite" if you are in favor of "liberal policies" ???

I also wonder that Dr. Carson does not consider physicians in the highest-paying specialities to be an elite. The average neurosurgeon in the US makes $346,791/year, with the top neurosurgeons making over $700,000/year.

Chapter 4 is titled "Ignorance and Forgetfulness". It really has a lot not to like.

Dr. Carson starts by engaging in one of the conservative practices that I find most annoying: channelling the founding fathers.

Our founders were deathly afraid that our government would do the same thing that virtually all other governments had done previously: expand continually, developing a voracious appetite for the resources of the people.
I have never heard a quote from one of the founding fathers in this vein, and Dr. Carson does not supply one. I did find this quote tho:

Ha ha, I'll leave this one here, as a lesson in, "don't trust the Internet", but our crackerjack fact-checkers here at "Portrait of the Dumbass" have determined that it is likely that Madison never said this. It's OK, TJ makes the point quite well enough.

I see a big, democratic, federal government as the only thing that can save us from the corporations and banks and their owners, the oligarchs. Dr. Carson has nothing to say about this clear and present danger which the founding fathers were indeed concerned about - except to disrespect the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was largely responsibly for pushing this critical issue into the public dialogue:
the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was replicated in many parts of the country, shows how easily physically destructive actions that compromise the rights and property of others can be incited in those who have been educated this way and also have an entitlement mentality.
Dr. Carson points out that "The Constitution ... arranged for the federal government to remain small, allowing state governments to be responsible for most of the legislation." Those days are over. The states don't have a chance - most of them are smaller than the biggest corporations, and even the richest individuals. Look at how the Koch Brothers pretty much bought the Wisconsin state government. Now their organizations are even moving down to the local level of city councils and school boards.

Dr. Carson very much beats the jingoist USA drum. I'm guessing he hasn't read Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States"

By emphasizing these things and other wrongdoings, revisionists attempt to paint the United States as an opportunistic, uncaring, and savage nation in dire need of change.
Since the release of the CIA torture report, with Republicans flocking to Darth Cheney's "torture is OK" banner, it's looking more and more like allowing torture is going go be a plank in the next Republican platform. I wonder how Dr. Carson, who took the Hippocratic Oath, is going to feel about that?

He also mentions several times how important it is that the USA remain the world's "pinnacle power".

Furthermore, it is important that we maintain our pinnacle status, because if we lose it, we will be replaced by another world power that is unlikely to be nearly as benign.
I personally think we will all be much better off when every nation in the world is a "pinnacle power". Then maybe we can end the current war-without-end-for-profit. Plus cut our military spending, which almost equals that of the rest of the world put together. We have 11 aircraft carriers, Italy has 2, and no other country has more than 1. I know, I'm a dreamer.

In the section "Forgetting Out Christian Heritage", Dr. Carson gets even more scarily religious:

They can justify anything based on their ideology because in their opinion, there is no higher authority other than themselves to overrule them. They have a visceral reaction to the mention of God’s word, because it tears at the fabric of their justification system.
Ugh, rule by holy book. Yeah, that's really going to work out well. Look how well it's working for Islamic countries with Sharia Law.

Chapter 5 is titled "Bigotry". It has long sections about racism, religious bigotry (the longest section, which of course includes reference to the "War on Christmas"), sexism, ageism - and then 2 short paragraphs on homophobia. The 2nd of these paragraphs has a nice "right wing dog whistle" in it:

the mantle of hatred has been taken up by the other side, which feels that hateful speech and actions toward anyone who doesn’t embrace the gay agenda is justified.
So, what is "the gay agenda"? I'm guessing if I watched Fox News I would know, but, I really don't have a clue. I'm going to guess that "the gay agenda" is that they want the same rights as everyone else. So how is that "the gay agenda"? Isn't that "the human agenda"?

Chapter 6 is titled "No Winners In Political Fighting". Why is congress so dysfunctional?

polarizing influences — such as unions that want what they want, gay rights groups, isolationists, and others who cannot or will not consider the opinions of others — have become stronger in recent years, robbing from the pool of moderate legislators and increasing the numbers of extreme legislators.
Seriously? Seriously? Unions have become stronger in recent years? Following Reagan's opening salvo on August 5, 1981, when he fired 11,000 striking air traffic controllers, and aided by "right-to-work" laws in, of course, southern states, union membership has plummeted from 32% of the workforce in 1950 to under 12% now. And as the unions have declined, so has the middle class.

And of course he does not mention the fact that the Tea Party is by far the leading source of "extreme legislators" that I can remember in my lifetime.

Next we get some swipes at the Affordable Care Act - ACA or Obamacare.

A program that was supposed to reduce costs and allow people to keep their insurance if they wanted to, is raising costs and making it impractical for people to keep their previous insurance. It is also rapidly expanding the number of part-time workers in our country because the law does not require employers to provide health care insurance for part-time workers.
Quoting Hudson from "Aliens", "Maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events", but the ACA seems to be doing very well: lowering costs, increasing the number insured, adding more insurers offering more plans in the 2nd year, and freeing many workers who were "insurance slaves" to their employers to start their own companies.

Another Fox News "scandal of the day":

the IRS targeted Tea Party organizations for intense scrutiny and unfair treatment.
Investigations found out that liberal groups and Occupy Wall Street were targeted as well, but, of course, you'll never hear that on Fox News.

I am going to put forward my theory of the cause of current congressional gridlock: that the libertarian Koch Brothers and other groups who want a federal government "small enough to drown in a bathtub", in a brilliant and utterly cynical move, created the Tea Party, fueled by the shock felt by (perhaps subconsciously, to give them the benefit of a doubt) racist whites, particularly in the south, at the election of our first black president.

And the Republican leadership, even as Obama was being sworn in, met and vowed to do all they could to make him a failure, welfare of the country be damned. This congress, led by the Tea Party, sees getting nothing done as a feature, not a bug.

Chapter 7 it titled "Enslaving Out Children - Don't Sell The Future". It's about the deficit. We get the standard "China will pull the rug from under us" thinking:

If the rest of the world, and especially China, loses confidence in America’s ability to handle its fiscal responsibilities and calls for repayment of the money we owe them, an unimaginable economic crisis would likely ensue.
Currently 34% of our debt is held by foreign countries, with China holding the largest piece at 7%. I don't think they have grounds to foreclose on us. If the Wall Street banks are "too big to fail", the US government is 10x so. More on economics later.

We're now into Part 2, "Solutions". Chapter 8 is titled "Pushing Back". It starts with Dr. Carson recounting a story of standing up to a bully as a kid. There are a couple of other stories on this same theme in the book. I personally have a "standing up to a bully" story from my childhood. I wonder how many (non-bully) males do?

So who are the modern bullies in our society? Per Dr. Carson they are:

  • the PC police, elites, historical revisionists, bigots, dividers, and spenders mentioned in the previous sections;
  • the media;
  • politicians;
  • academia;
  • businesses who ban their employees from saying "Merry Christmas".
This is not the list I would have made up. I would list as bullies:
  • the financial industry, which is constantly trying to find ways to separate us from our money, and which currently is leading both the Republicans and the Democrats around by their noses;
  • the military-industrial complex, say, for example, Lockheed Martin, which was rewarded for its $7M in lobbying with an additional $240M for 2 of its F-35 fighters, which ‘can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run’ and which the Pentagon didn't want, in the recent CROmnibus budget;
  • the fossil fuel industry, which continues to receive $B in subsidies to produce products which are destroying the planet;
  • the NRA and its masters, the firearms companies, who have produced a public health menace, unknown in every other advanced country, with their opposition to even the most reasonable restrictions on firearms;
  • fundamentalist christians and their allies, who insist on trying to cram their outmoded, patriarchal beliefs down the throats of the rest of us, particularly women.
I think the bullies in my list are far more powerful, better funded, and more in control of things than the bullies in Dr. Carson's list. But, government, Nazi Germany, Hitler, argle blargle ... and hold on to your guns!
Throughout history many societies have failed to push back and have allowed an overly aggressive government to expand and dominate their lives. Nazi Germany is a perfect example of such a society. One can only wonder what would’ve happened if people had not tolerated the foolishness of Adolf Hitler’s appeal to the baser instincts of greed and envy and his institution of an official weapons confiscation program.
A section titled "Know Your Enemy" starts with this:
A final word on bullies: It is very important to know who your “enemies” are. They are not your average fellow Americans.
Man, does this not remind you of McCarthy? Or of every [inflammatory text]fascist of the last century?[/inflammatory text] "You're not a real American!!!". There's another one like this later.

Chapter 9 is titled "Respectful Disagreement". He lists several of the issues that divide us today. The first is Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice. He doesn't say which he is, but he does make these statements, and I don't think it is too much of a stretch to see these as the basis for a ban on abortions after 10 weeks:

Recent scientific observations have led observers to conclude that a fetus can experience pain as early as ten weeks of gestation. This means that most abortion procedures produce extreme discomfort for the fetus before it dies


I suspect that over the course of time, the age line for abortions will continue to shift depending on political winds and further scientific information regarding fetal existence.

A quick discussion with The Google does not immediately turn up any support for the "10 week fetal pain" theory, but I did not look hard.

Other issues in the chapter are welfare; doctors versus patients; the rich versus the poor. On this last topic, Dr. Carson seems to think that a poll tax is a reasonable thing:

serious problems arise when a person who pays nothing has the right to vote and determine what other people are paying.
And he is not the most compassionate of 1%ers:
Not only is this kind of taxation both divisive and unsustainable, it is especially offensive to individuals like me who have worked extremely hard throughout life to achieve success and who give away enormous amounts of money to benefit others.

Chapter 10 is titled "The Art of Compromise". Ha ha, I think Dr. Carson needs to work on his compromise skills some.

I firmly believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, I see no reason why any two consenting adults, regardless of their sexual orientation, cannot be joined together in a legally binding civil relationship that provides hospital visitation rights, property rights, and so on without tampering with the definition of marriage. This would give the gay population what they want, while leaving the traditional definition of marriage intact. This is what compromise is about.
Actually, I'm guessing that what the gay population wants is to be married, like other (heterosexual) couples, so those damn playground bullies can't taunt their kids with "your moms aren't married". Here's my compromise: we define marriage as "a legally binding relationship between two (or more if you're a polygamous mormon) consenting human adults (oops, there went the Utah polygamists)". That makes the gay population happy; it excludes NAMBLA and the animal lovers and, for now, the Japanese guy who married his video game girlfriend.

Meanwhile, we'll let Dr. Carson call what he and his wife have "a traditional marriage". Now that's compromise!

Dr. Carson frames his discussion of the national debt in "we're good, you're bad" terms:

The Democrats, led by the president, appear to be relatively unconcerned about the debt and are happy to continue spending, borrowing, and expanding entitlements. The Republicans, on the other hand,


One side is concerned about preserving entitlements and the other is concerned about preserving our nation’s future.

It's so interesting to me that Republicans weren't worried about the national debt at all when, for the first time in our nation's history, we started not 1 but 2 wars without raising taxes to pay for them. Instead, we got the exact opposite with the Bush tax cuts! But once the black guy got saddled with that debt, it's a crisis. The national debt is indeed a problem, but I think it is easily solvable if everyone starts paying their fair share - more later.

Dr. Carson makes reference to the informal conspiracy in which Republican business organizations engaged in their desperation to do whatever it took to discredit our 1st black president, the country be damned:

Big businesses have trillions of dollars sitting on the sidelines waiting for a friendlier business environment before investing.
But businesses got tired of that strategy and most have started investing again - wanting to discredit Obama is all well and good, but we're talking profits here. Plus, Obama has not been at all anti-business.

Ha ha, Dr. Carson makes the standard conservative argument that demonstrates abysmal ignorance of economics:

As far as the growing debt is concerned, it should be treated the same way that personal debt is treated by thinking and pragmatic families.
No, no, no! Countries with their own currencies can print money, which families cannot do. And sometimes it the right thing to do. When the Fed tripled the money supply in 2008, conservatives howled about hyperinflation. When the Fed started quantitative easing later in 2008, 12 conservative economists signed a letter predicting runaway inflation. The inflation never occurred, but the conservative economists refuse to admit they were wrong. "We said there might be inflation." [snark]Man, wouldn't it be nice for a conservative just once to admit they were wrong? About anything?[/snark]

With Japan in deflation for 20 years, Europe heading towards deflation (Sweden is there), and interest rates at the zero lower bound, what we need is government stimulus programs, particularly to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. Note that, annoyingly, in the graph below the bottom of the Y-axis is not 0, it is 225.

The government can right now borrow money at close to 0% interest, and the fiscal multiplier effect lets that money circulate through the economy multiple times.

We then get back to taxes, which should, of course, be based on the model of tithes from the bible.

As soon as you depart from a proportional taxation system, you introduce ideological bias, making arguments endless.


Even with the loopholes, the top 10 percent of the populace in terms of income pay 70 percent of the income taxes while earning 46 percent of the taxable income, which means they are indeed paying more than their fair share.

I'm not sure where where he got those last figures. Nothing in the book references any hard data. But, I think I can get behind his idea that everyone should pay the same tax rate. According to Piketty (my review/summary here), the bottom 50% by income pay about 50% of their income in taxes - not just federal and state income taxes, but also sales, excise, property and other taxes. This is a good target tax rate. It is about what it takes the European countries to maintain a birth-to-grave social net with universal health care and free college for all who are qualified. The next 40% pay 40-45% of their income in taxes. The top 10% pay 30-35% of their income in taxes. And the very top, the 1% and even more so the top 0.01%, pay 10-15% - think Mitt Romney. So, let's tax carried interest, capital gains, and dividends at a rate above wages instead of well below, and then use the progressive income tax rate to make up any difference left and get everyone's total rate up to 50%. I think that will work wonders for the deficit!

Note, I've been studying economics (slowly) for a couple of years now. And a lot of it, particularly when you are in a liquidity trap as we have been since 2008, is very counterintuitive. So beware of "common-sense" economics.

Chapter 11, "Becoming Informed", I said I mostly agreed with up above. But then you get this:

By not focusing on the “fast and furious” scandal, the Benghazi debacle, the IRS scandal, the government surveillance revelations, and so on, the hope is that the public will simply forget about these horrendous shortcomings and move on.
Ah, so many nice Fox News "scandals of the week".
  • "Fast and furious" was stupid but has been dealt with - and it doesn't begin to compare to something like the Iran-Contra scandal under Reagan.
  • We just had, what, the 8th congressional investigation of Benghazi, led by Republicans, find no wrong doing. [snark] But, they've got ANOTHER ONE going now, I'm sure it will get to the truth! [/snark] I wonder if that would be the case if congress investigated the 13 attacks and 60 deaths that occurred under George W. Bush.
  • The IRS scandal we've already noted did not solely target conservatives.
  • I don't think anybody is going to let the government surveillance issue go away anytime soon.
  • "and so on" I'm guessing includes other Fox "scandals" like securing the release of Bowe Bergdahl, capturing the guy behind the Benghazi attack, the president wearing a tan suit, "and so on", ad nauseam.

Chapter 12 is titled "Wisdom and Knowledge". We talked a little bit about Dr. Carson's "Vision for a Wiser Health Care System" above. Now for the bad news on his system.

If I was told of this system without knowing who designed it and was asked, "Who designed this system?", I would answer, "A doctor". The insurance companies go away, and we are left with a free market.

most people would become interested in saving by shopping for the most cost-effective high-quality health care plans available.


most of the relationships would be doctor-patient relationships, the doctors certainly would not order things without regard to price, and patients would not permit excessive depletion of their HSA’s by careless expenditure. With everybody becoming cost conscious, price transparency would be of paramount importance and fair competition would cause prices to be consistent and reasonable.

I personally have no interest in "shopping for the most cost-effective high-quality health care". I want to go the primary care provider of my choice. For acute care, I want to go to the closest doc-in-a-box. In an emergency, I want to go to the closest emergency room. For a serious operation, I want to shop around and pick the doctor with the best record of results.

The insurance companies do currently serve one useful purpose: they bargain with providers, using the clout of the numbers they represent, to get lower prices. A free market might do that better - and Adam Smith would surely approve - if it weren't for the American Medical Association (AMA).

For decades, the AMA has held the number of new medical schools opening to a trickle, to maintain the artificially high salaries of physicians in the US. On average, US physicians make around twice what physicians make in the rest of the developed world. So there is not a free market. There is a market in which the supply of services is tightly constrained to keep prices high.

Here in KY, 10 years ago there was a shortage of pharmacists. Hospitals and retailers had to compete for the scarce pharmacists with increased salaries and benefits, including repayment of student loans. Then, in 2008, a 2nd pharmacy school opened. With the shortage curtailed, pharmacist salaries have stabilized greatly.

So I find Dr. Carson's system to be self-serving. He is retired, but I think that the desire to hold on to their supply-side stranglehold is engrained in lots of US physicians, particularly those in the highest paying specialities like neurosurgery.

Another really bad side effect of the AMA's monopoly is that they let pseudo-medicine like chiropractic, homeopathy, etc. go unchallenged so that they can say "look, we're not a monopoly".

The other part of his plan is the lifetime health spending account (HSA) that every citizen gets at birth.

The HSA could be populated with funds supplied by an employer, the owner, relatives, friends, and governmental sources


It is natural to ask what happens if a man needs an operation and does not have enough money in his HSA to cover the cost? The system would be designed in such a way that allows members of his immediate family to shift money from their HSA accounts to his without any penalties. In essence, this would make each family unit its own private health insurance company with no unnecessary middleman increasing costs. I would also make it possible for people to pass the money in their HSAs to family members at the time of their death.


A portion of the money in the account could be used to purchase bridge or catastrophic insurance,


It could also be made possible for any adult to donate up to a certain predetermined amount of money from their account to any other person’s account for charitable reasons. This becomes an easy way for churches and other organizations to provide charity care at their discretion. It also would encourage those people with massive amounts of money in their accounts to think charitably toward others.

So, families can share, and you can do kickstarter for an operation. Rich people can help out if they like. But I don't see how this keeps medical bills from bankrupting a family - there doesn't seem to be any of the risk pool that you have with insurance. But he does mention purchasing "catastrophic insurance" - so are there still health insurance companies, or not? Or does the (evil) federal government become the insurer of last resort?

I would personally prefer a single payer system, with health care professionals compensated in a range that depends on their results, as hospitals are now under Obamacare. Medicare runs 2% overhead, as opposed to 20% for private health insurance companies - and they used to routinely exceed this before Obamacare capped their overhead at 20%. Vermont is supposed to be trying a Medicare-for-all plan soon. So we'll probably get a chance to see how that works before we get to see if Dr. Carson's plan would be at all workable.

More wisdom from Dr. Carson: rein in that pesky EPA! And this guy is a physician?!?!? When does a physician put "energy independence" above the health risk that pollution produces? Very disappointing.

The Environmental Protection Agency feels it has a duty to protect every aspect of the environment under all circumstances, and that priority has been placed above energy independence.


I thoroughly believe that we have a duty to protect our environment not only for ourselves but for the next generations. However, we also have a duty to develop our economic potential and free ourselves of unnecessary stress and dependency on volatile foreign sources of energy.

Chapter 13, "My Brother's Keeper", is the last chapter of this part. Basically he says, people need to do more to care for the handicapped and elderly in their homes, rather than in government subsidized institutions. And, if we have to sacrifice to do it, so be it.

During the time in America when these kinds of questions were not asked, people didn’t necessarily have to have multiple vehicles, flat screen televisions, multiple cell phones, iPads, and a host of other “necessities.” This begs the question: Is it more important to take care of your extended family or have the creature comforts pop culture demands?
Not entirely invalid. But, I'll follow Dr. Carson's example and share some personal experience. For the last 9 months I have been involved a few days a week in caring for a 56YO relative with Downs Syndrome - mental age 3YO - in his home. And it is the wrong way to do this. He is very social and needs much more community than we can provide at home. And as he ages, he will need more and more professional help, particularly as Downs Syndrome carries with it an increased probability of early onset Altzheimer's. Finally, informal caregiving takes a toll on the health of the informal caregiver. I seem to remember from a seminar I went to that full-time informal caregivers lose 1 month of life expectancy for every year spent in caregiving. You'd think a physician would know that.

Similarly, we need to care for the poor and needy without the big bad government. There are sections titled "The Problem of Government Dependency" and "Rolling Back Welfare". In the section titled "Compassion for the Poor" he says

Compassion, however, should mean providing a mechanism to escape poverty rather than simply maintaining people in an impoverished state by supplying handouts.
But he offers no real plans to implement this, other than through "churches and other charitable organizations" - because government assistance programs "create dependency and robs people of their God-given dignity". I really think that this is the last of poor and hungry peoples' worries.

I found this next quote offensive. I have never dealt with any government employee at any level who was not professional and courteous. I guess this is just more of the conservative canon.

Other types of organizations, especially government agencies, are frequently staffed by people who only see it as a job, know they have job security, and therefore treat people without respect or compassion.
I'll end the discussion of this chapter by noting the title of another of its sections: Socialism: A Deterrent to Charity. I would like live in a society where no one had to depend on charity to live. I know christians work at shelters, feed the homeless, etc, and that these activities help them feel better about themselves and their Escalades. But the bottom line is, if this system worked, we would not have 1/3 of our children in the US living in poverty. And I don't think Dr. Carson's exhortations to people to "just do more to help" are going to be very effective.

Part 3 of the book, "Who We Are", does not contain much new content. Chapter 14, "Without a Vision", has another bullying anecdote, and some more constitution worship (there is actually a section titled "Revering the Constitution"). He also exhorts Republicans to "stand on principle" and not "cave in to pressure at the last minute." So much for that "compromise" thing. These do indeed appear to be important principles to Republican voters.

And we also get another nice exhortation to be on the alert for thoughtcrime:
We need people who ... are willing to point out who among their compatriots are deviating from the Constitution and why.

Chapter 15 is titled "Role Models". Talking about growing up in the inner city, Dr. Carson says that the main role models of economic success were drug dealers and factory foremen, but also, "one could occasionally see a well-dressed and polished physician driving off in a beautiful car." Not what most physicians I know normally give as their inspiration for becoming doctors.

He proposes as role models parents, teachers, and inventors - but, absolutely NOT Miley Cyrus. He had earlier given some props to Margaret Thatcher, I got a chuckle out of this one:

This is why people like Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, and John F. Kennedy are widely admired.
How did Ronald Reagan, and for that matter JFK, wind up in that group?

Chapter 16 is titled "The Origin of Morality". Ugh. Let's include his setup of the discussion of morality in its entirety:

Who Says?

What is right? What is wrong? And who gets to determine the answers to these questions? For a nation to be truly united, most of its citizens must agree on the answers to these questions—or at least agree that there are answers to be found. For years, most Americans have turned to a belief in God and the Bible for answers. From the Creation story to the Ten Commandments to the Gospels to the Epistles, the Bible provided an explanation for the meaning of life and instructed us in moral principles. We held to a Judeo-Christian standard while respecting the beliefs of those who didn’t share them, and that standard saved us from confusion. Today, fewer people believe in the Bible, or even in absolute truth, and our rejection of an objective moral standard has thrown our society into disarray. If in fact we do really believe in God and His word, many of the moral “gray” issues of today become black and white.

So, yeah, let's order us some bible-based moral absolutism! Woo-hoo! [snark]Wow, I'm really curious, what does the bible say about abortion (inquiring minds want to know)?[/snark]
According to God’s word, life begins at conception rather than at the time of delivery or at some arbitrary point during gestation.


In the Book of Exodus, chapter 21, verses 22–24, it is made quite clear that God considers the life of the unborn to be just as valuable as the life of an adult. When you couple this belief with the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), it is clear that abortion is rarely a moral option.

But he still hedges his bets and doesn't come right out and say he's for banning abortion. [snark]There's some moral integrity for you.[/snark]

Next we get, of course, Leviticus on homosexuality. Ha ha, I liked this one. Leviticus also forbids tatoos! (And eating pork. And eating shellfish. And cutting your forelocks. And ...)

Sodom and Gomorrah. Evolution. Dogs and cats sleeping together. Immorality is around us everywhere!!!

Finally, he discusses "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. At least he mentions that these words "were subquently added" - but he doesn't mention that they were added in 1954. Huh, the pledge was written in 1896 and only adopted officially in 1942. Who knew? Somebody must have been doing some serious channeling of the founding fathers, who were very sorry that they did not think of the pledge Back In The Day.

Chapter 17 is "Take Courage". Mostly rah rah stuff, but Dr. Carson wants to make sure he can hold on to his "beautiful car":

Why did all of these people toil so relentlessly for an idea? It is because they had a dream of ... a nation where people could choose how to disperse their own wealth after contributing a small, but reasonable amount of their resources to conduct the affairs of government.
"Small but reasonable"? I guess he's onboard with my 50% overall tax rate, yay! Piketty guesses you might have to go to a top tax rate of 80% to make things work. At least that's not as bad as that commie Eisenhower in the '50s, when the top tax rate was 94%.

That's concludes my review of what Dr. Carson talked about. What didn't he talk about? I've already mentioned his silence on the ongoing transformation of our democracy into a plutocracy / oligarchy / corporatocracy.

No mention of increasing the minimum wage, which was supposed to be a livable wage, other than to mention that he worked a number of low-paying jobs as he was growing up "all of which provided some knowledge and skill sets that were useful, no matter how low-skilled and low-paid they were". I agree with him on that. I worked doing yard work, bagging and cleaning produce at Kroger, as a welder and a shipfitter at JeffBoat, and delivering airline tickets in Boston before I got a high-paying job. I enjoyed and learned from all those jobs. But so what? This doesn't help the people, and there are an increasing number of them since the unions have been gutted, who will never get a decent paying job.

But more notably, I searched the ebook for "climate change" or "global warming". Zero hits, no mention whatsoever of the climate crisis, the greatest challenge to human civilization in its entire history, a challenge which we are grievously failing to address adequately. [snark]I guess "saving America's future" doesn't include keeping our costal cities from being underwater.[/snark]

So, what did I learn from this book? There was no hard data and no verifiable references, so not much in the way of facts. Instead there are Fox News talking points and "scandals of the day", right wing dog whistles, real-life anecdotes, references to scripture, and unsupported opinions presented as fact. But again, as I said above, this is the 1st book of this type I have read, so maybe they are all written that way.

The main thing I learned is that the right wing echo chamber is as reality-challenged in print as it is in electronic media. "Reality has a well-known liberal bias".

My wife recently read Elizabeth Warren's book, and she liked it a lot. I may try that in a month or so and see if it as devoid of data and facts that can be verified by the references (not) provided as this book is. But, I definitely need a breather. I'll read some good escapist science fiction or fantasy, some factual science books, and some more economics text books. Maybe after that I'll try another book by a politician.

Is Dr. Carson presidential material? He kind of reminds me of our own Random Paul: rote parroting of Fox News talking points, but with their own weird stuff thrown in. For Random Paul (also a physician), his odd stuff comes from the Libertarian principles he learned at his pappy's knee. For Dr. Carson, his odd stuff seems to come from his background as a physician, and his religious belief. [joke]Quite frankly (pun), if either of them were to get elected president, I will probably move to France. (And good riddance to me, I know!)[/joke] Of the two, Dr. Carson is a little scarier to me I think. In addition to his theocratic leanings, his McCarthy-like and thoughtcrime statements reminded me of the government in "V for Vendetta" or "1984".

Well, Ernie, I read the book, and I did try to find things to agree with - and I did find a few. But overall, I'm sorry this book did not affect me as you had maybe hoped. If I read the Elizabeth Warren book and like it, maybe I'll recommend it to you, and you can go off on it. ;->

1 comment:

Chris Heinz said...

Re Chapter 7, China has indeed for the majority of the last 2 years been selling more than $100Ms of our debt. Market results? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Dr. Carson's predictions completely wrong. He's no economist. No sir, he's no economist.