24 March 2010

A Guide to the Flaws in the Arguments Against Health Care Reform

Much has been made about yesterday's historic signing into law of Health Care Reform (HCR, for our purposes) by President Barack Obama, and what's interesting is that for the first time in a very long time, being signed into law hasn't stopped the debate.  Indeed, it seems to have only inspired more vehement hatred from its opponents.  I would like to characterize the opponents of HCR as a fringe element of the right, but the truth is that every single Republican in the House of Representatives voted against it.  Every single Republican spoke the same arguments from what appeared to be a template during the debate.  Here are the claims, and what's wrong with them:

"We're for health care reform, just not this legislation."

Why it's wrong: Republicans have already made it clear they intend to sabotage the implementation of HCR legislation, going so far as to insist that Congress doesn't even have the authority to reform health care.  If they were really in favor of reform, they wouldn't insist that reform isn't even allowable under the law because that would, obviously, mean they couldn't reform it their way, either.

"The Democrats forced this legislation through Congress, using underhanded means."

Anyone who knows anything at all about politics knows that deal-making is how things get done.  This isn't something I say with any ounce of cynicism.  How else would you get anything accomplished?  How else should a representative democracy work?  Of course concessions were made along the way.  But they weren't made to a specific congressperson for his or her own sake; they were made because that person's job is to represent the wants and needs of their constituents.  It's a shame that the Republicans elected not to participate at all in the writing of this legislation.  Their job is to represent their constituents, and if their constituents are, indeed, in favor of reform as we're told they are, then they abandoned the opportunity to participate in this legislation for reform.  My representative in the House is Geoff Davis, and he did not represent me at all by refusing to partake in the construction of this bill.

But, Travis, didn't he represent his constituents who did oppose it? you ask.  The only ones he represented were those who are in opposition to the idea of reform.  There was no legislation to oppose at the time; there was only an opportunity to help shape that legislation, and for all intents and purposes, he simply folded his arms and said, "I'm not playing."  He could have represented the concerns of his constituents while participating in the crafting of this legislation, and he didn't.

"There's no room for the government between a patient and a doctor."

This only makes any sense to someone who has never--and I mean never--had to be seen by a doctor.  If you don't have insurance, you already know about clinics and the wait times and somewhat impersonal treatment patients receive because you can't afford to see a private physician.  If you do have insurance, then you're bound to have had a doctor tell you about a test that's needed to better understand your symptoms or injury, only to have your insurer say they won't pay for it.  Just what is it that government involvement would make different from the experiences of the uninsured or the insured?

The truth is, insurance companies only have one priority and that is appeasing their shareholders.  Those shareholders are only appeased if they make money, and they don't make money by actually paying for the tests and treatments that your physician thinks you need.  They make money by collecting your premium every two weeks and getting out of paying for anything they can.  A representative government, on the other hand, is answerable to The People and must operate with their goodwill in mind.

"This is about a socialist  government takeover of private industry."

President Ronald Reagan was absolutely right when he said that people can decide better for themselves than government can decide for them what is best for them.  Where HCR comes into play is, it addresses an area where private individuals are powerless to make a decision on their behalf.  No one chooses to develop medical conditions, or to sustain injuries.  HCR is not about some kind of paternalistic control over our lives; it's about making sure that people with needs are able to get on with making those decisions for themselves that President Reagan rightly said we were better suited to make for ourselves.

"The Democrats ignored the will of the people."

The Democrats won in 2008 in large part because President Obama promised to work on delivering health care reform to the American people.  They were elected by constituents who believed in HCR, and wanted this to happen.  They are the majority party for this reason.  Are there polls that suggest people are against what has happened, and have there been increasingly volatile protests?  Of course.  It's disingenuous for anyone to ever think "The will of the people" represents all Americans.  But to characterize this as a fringe group of zealous politicians scheming to impose legislation in defiance of all Americans is flat-out wrong.

Is the HCR legislation perfect?  Of course not.  For some, it goes too far; for others, not far enough.  But anyone who believes that the Republicans sincerely wish to see reform is willfully ignoring the obvious facts.

10 March 2010

45th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards - Predictions

Entertainer of the Year
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band
I know; "purists" decry whether Swift even belongs in the country genre.  But you know what?  Swift writes her own material, from her own experiences.  She may not sing about being at home with three kids and a cheating alcoholic husband, but we wouldn't buy it if she did.  It's been quite some time since I was in high school, but when I hear "Fifteen" or "You Belong with Me," this very talented young woman takes me back in time.  Not enough to win Entertainer?  How about her sky-high sales in a time when only about 1% of all releases sell well enough to even be certified Gold?  How about being one of the few people ever to host Saturday Night Live...and perform as its musical guest (the only other country artists to do this have been Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks)?  A popular tour, an appearance on C.S.I. and a performance in the recently released film Valentine's Day have only added to her visibility.

Top Male Vocalist of the Year
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban
I hate not picking George Strait whenever he's a nominee, but Paisley's American Saturday Night album and tour have had a better run than those of his competitors.  I feel good about his chances this year.

Top Female Vocalist of the Year
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Lee Ann Womack
Personally, I'd love to see this go to Miranda Lambert.  But given the reasons I cited for predicting Swift's win for Entertainer of the Year make her impossible to ignore in this category.

Top Vocal Group of the Year
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Randy Rogers Band
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band
Say what?  A group not named "Rascal Flatts" for Group?  Yeah, I said it.  The perennial winners didn't have a particularly memorable year last year, and Lady A have taken the world by storm in that time.  They're hot, even among non-country listeners, and that translates into buzz...and sales...and awards.

Top Vocal Duo of the Year
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland
Some voters might be tempted to present one last award to Brooks & Dunn before their retirement tour this year concludes their stellar career together, but I think Sugarland has already cemented their ownership of this award.

  • Luke Bryan
  • Jamey Johnson
  • Chris Young
What makes Jamey Johnson the favorite here is that he's been a songwriter familiar to voters before becoming a performer.  His debut album was on just about every year-end list I saw, whether the focus was on country music or not.  And I suspect that many voters will consider a ballot cast for him to be a check against the youthful direction of Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum.

TOP NEW VOCAL DUO of the Year 
  • Bomshel
  • Joey + Rory
  • Steel Magnolia
I've really got no strong reason for this, other than the fact that I loved their debut album (The Life of a Song).

  • Eli Young Band
  • Gloriana
  • The Lost Trailers
I can't attest to being terribly familiar with any of these three aside from a free song from each that came my way from iTunes last year, but Gloriana were well promoted last summer and fall.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR [Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company(s)]
  • Lady Antebellum - Lady Antebellum (Capitol Records Nashville)
    Produced by:  Victoria Shaw, Paul Worley
  • Play On - Carrie Underwood (19/Arista Nashville)
    Produced by: Mark Bright
    "Quitter" Produced by Max Martin & Shellback for Maratone Productions and Mark Bright
  • Revolution - Miranda Lambert (Columbia Nashville)
    Produced by: Frank Liddell, Mike Wrucke
  • The Foundation - Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground / Bigger Picture / Atlantic)
    Produced by: Keith Stegall, Zac Brown
Revolution was on quite a lot of lists at the end of 2009, and deservedly so.  One reviewer (and I can't think now who) remarked that on this album, Lambert evolved from being a country artist to a singer/songwriter, and I think this is true.  "White Liar" was her first number one single, the album was a critics' darling and she deserves to win this Album of the Year award.

Single Record of the Year [Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company(s)]     
  • "Need You Now" - Lady Antebellum (Capitol Records Nashville)
    Produced by: Lady Antebellum, Paul Worley
  • "People Are Crazy" - Billy Currington (Mercury)
    Produced by: Carson Chamberlain, Billy Currington
  • "Red Light" - David Nail (MCA Nashville)
    Produced by: Frank Liddell, Mike Wrucke
  • "Toes" - Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground / Bigger Picture / Atlantic)
    Produced by: Keith Stegall, Zac Brown
  • "White Liar" - Miranda Lambert (Columbia Nashville)
    Produced by: Frank Liddell, Mike Wrucke
If the voters listen to radio at all, I think this one is a lock.  I personally have given up radio nearly entirely, and yet it seemed that no matter what time of year or day, I could expect to hear "People Are Crazy" if I stayed tuned in for more than ten minutes (twenty if you included advertising spots).

Song of the Year [Awarded to Composer(s)/Publisher(s)/Artist(s)]
  • "Cowboy Casanova" - Carrie Underwood
    Composers:  Mike Elizondo, Brett James, Carrie Underwood
    Publishers:   Brett James Cornelius Music (ASCAP), Carrie Okie Music (BMI), Rincon Ave Music (ASCAP), Stage Three Songs (ASCAP) 
  • "Need You Now" - Lady Antebellum
    Composers:  Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott
    Publishers: EMI Foray Music (SESAC), Darth Buddha (ASCAP), Dwhaywood Music (BMI), Hillary Dawn Publishing (SESAC), Radiobullets Publishing (BMI), Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. (BMI), Year Of The Dog Music (ASCAP)
  • "People Are Crazy" - Billy Currington
    Composers:  Bobby Braddock, Troy Jones
    Publishers:  Crozier Music Enterprises LLC (BMI), Mighty Nice Music (BMI), Sony/ATV Tree Publishing (BMI), Tiltawhirl Music (BMI)
  • "White Liar" - Miranda LambertComposers:  Natalie Hemby, Miranda Lambert
    Publishers:  Pink Dog Publishing (BMI), Sony/ATV Tree Publishing (BMI), Tiltawhirl Music (BMI)
  • "You Belong With Me" - Taylor Swift
    Composers:  Liz Rose, Taylor Swift
    Publishers:  Sony/ATV Tree Publishing (BMI), Taylor Swift Music (BMI), Barbara Orbison World Publishing (SESAC), Potting Shed Music (SESAC)
I don't have a strong feeling for this category.  I won't be surprised at whichever song wins, but I'm feeling good about "White Liar" for the win here.

Video of the Year [Awarded to Producer(s)/Director(s)/Artist(s)] (Off Camera Award)
  • "Boots On" - Randy Houser
    Producer: Eric Welch
    Director: Eric Welch (Drake footage: Vickie Vaughn)         
  • "Need You Now" - Lady Antebellum
    Producer: Clarke Gallivan
    Director: David McClister
  • "Welcome To The Future" - Brad Paisley
    Producers: Mark Kalbfeld, Jim Shea, Peter Tilden
    Director: Jim Shea
  • "White Liar" - Miranda Lambert
    Producer:  Tameron Hedge
    Director: Chris Hicky
  • "You Belong With Me" - Taylor Swift
    Producer: Randy Brewer
    Director: Roman White
I don't have a strong feeling here, but my policy is to always bet on Brad Paisley in a video category (unless Johnny Cash is a competitor).

Vocal Event of the Year [Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/ Record Company(s)] (Off Camera Award)
  • "Hillbilly Bone" - Blake Shelton featuring Trace Adkins (Reprise Records / Warner Music Nashville)
    Producer: Scott Hendricks
  • "Honky Tonk Stomp" - Brooks & Dunn featuring Billy Gibbons (Arista Nashville)
    Producer: Ronnie Dunn, Terry McBride
  • "I Told You So" - Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis (19/Arista Nashville)
    Producer:  Mark Bright
  • "I'm Alive" - Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews (Blue Chair/BNA)
    Produced by: Buddy Cannon, Kenny Chesney
  • "Seeing Stars" - Jack Ingram featuring Patty Griffin (Big Machine Records)
    Produced by: Jack Ingram, Jeremy Stover
I was personally happy to hear Underwood cover this on her sophomore album, Carnival Ride, as I'm a long time Randy Travis fan.  When they added his newly recorded vocals to her cover version, it cemented the song for me.  It's interesting to hear how differently the song works as a duet, adding a different dynamic than was present when Travis wrote and recorded it more than 20 years ago.  This version was a big hit on radio and iTunes, as well.

Note: There is also a chance that voters will give the nod to Brooks & Dunn and Billy Gibbons to ensure that the most successful duo in music history don't go home empty-handed.  I think there's a sense that this is something of a "lesser" award, where giving this to them won't be as conspicuous or controversial as it would be to pass over Sugarland for Duo of the Year.

06 March 2010

2010 First Quarter Reflections

This time last year, I had posted the bulk of my 2009 posts.  Why have I skimped so much this year?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  First, I've made it a point to post DVD reviews only after viewing all bonus material (including listening to any and all commentary tracks).  Of late, I've been passing on bonus features in favor of viewing more movies.  There are three reasons for this.

Firstly, we went Blu back in November!  We've upgraded a handful of titles to Hi-Def, but there's really not enough reason to post reviews for many of them.  Most titles simply ported over the bonus materials from the DVD release without adding anything new.  I know it doesn't speak well of me that I can't be bothered to post, "The same as last time, only much better looking!" three times a week, but there it is.  As for the new titles and handful of bonus features, I can only watch them in the living room, which cuts down on my lie-in-bed-and-watch-bonus-material time (a necessary variable in the title reviewing equation).

Secondly, sparked by the Blu-ray upgrade, we've actually been making use of our Netflix account recently.  You'd think this would actually encourage me to post more reviews, since I'm watching more stuff, but there's a flaw in the slaw.  As I've already noted, I can't just lie in bed watching bonus materials these days with the Blu-ray Discs.  To protect against another lapse of Netflix discs collecting dust, I've been foregoing bonus materials almost entirely recently to make sure I get them back in the mail pronto and keep 'em comin'.

Now, there are only three shows on TV I make it a point to watch.  As it happens, Burn Notice just ended its season this past Thursday night, and Psych's finale is this upcoming Wednesday.  Without those on the air, I'm left with only The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson to cut into my movie-watching time.  Unfortunately, 12:35 at night is prime bonus material viewing time for me, and Ferguson has been on a creative rampage since the New Year began.  Add into this the fact that we recently found Jeeves & Wooster: The Complete Series on DVD for a much more reasonable price than A&E's list price, and it's just been hard to fit in as many reviewable viewings as I'd like.

Now, here's the awkward part.  Even though I haven't posted much to my own movie blog lately, I have been active elsewhere.  Flickchart.com is a hyper-addictive website based on a ridiculously simple premise: you choose between two randomly selected movies.  You have the option of saying you haven't seen one, or both, but eventually you come face to face with two movies you have seen and you have to pick which one you like more, or which you think is "better" (whatever that means to you), etc.  They have a User Showcase in their official blog, and yours truly has been invited to contribute.  I've posted twice there already, and if you've read this far, then I don't feel too bad asking you to take a gander at my humble efforts there.

Finally, as you may be aware, the Academy Awards will be presented tomorrow night.  I've been participating in the annual Academy Awards movie challenge on DVD Talk, which has been a great impetus for me to (finally) watch some of our cheap blind buys that have remained unwatched until now.  For instance, A Beautiful MindThe Aviator and Syriana were a mere $2 or $3 in a Black Friday sale a couple years ago.  Because each won some Oscars, they were eligible for the challenge and I finally watched them.  Turns out, they're all very good movies and I enjoyed them.  Who knew?