May 2008 Archives

One Huge Problem With Jesse Ventura

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I should preface this by saying that I voted for Jesse Ventura when he and Mae Schunk "shook the world" in 1998. And I would have voted for him again had he sought re-election, but Jesse has his flaws. He's smug. He's egotistical. When he spoke at my college, many of my fellow students thought that he had feigned weeping while discussing his deceased parents in an effort to manipulate the crowd in some fashion. I also distinctly remember him asking "don't it?" over and over, precisely the sort of grammatical boner one would not want to make in front of several hundred college students. Still, I voted for him. I desperately wanted to see a third party candidate break through the two party duopoly and Jesse Ventura, it seemed, was just the person to do it.


Of course, his quasi-libertarian brand of common sense populism was a refreshing change, too.

Now that Jesse has returned to the national spotlight with Don't Start the Revolution Without Me, I have been listening to him again. I find myself nodding along, agreeing with Ventura on many points, especially his critiques of the farcical two party system we've got going in this country. I also find myself shaking my head, grinning and grimacing whenever the Governor brings up spurious information to bolster a particularly dubious point. Still, I'd love to see him run for office again. Like he says, every time he throws his hat into the ring, people pay attention to the elections, real issues enter into the debates, and voter turnout increases exponentially.

But there's one thing he's said recently that really, really sticks in my craw. In an interview with Meria Heller, Ventura makes this statement:
I don't watch much TV, but I do something else: I read books. And last year I read sixteen books. Now, certainly not all of them on 9-11. But, I love to read history books. I don't read fiction because I have my own imagination and I don't need some writer to try to take my own imagination from me, so I like to read history and what I consider somewhat factual books...
You can hear it for yourself by clicking on the link below (the passage I quote can be found between the 36-minute, 47-second mark and the 37-minute, 10-second mark).

Okay, maybe it's because I work with literature on a daily basis, but Good Lord, what a thing to say! Especially coming from an actor (that's fiction) and a professional wrestler (um...that's not really "somewhat factual," is it?). I mean, really, fiction doesn't take one's imagination away; it engages it. Sheesh, This is what I'd like to say to Jesse: good fiction gets people thinking. It energizes our minds and encourages us to talk about issues we mightn't talk about otherwise. Albert Camus once said that a novel is a philosophical work in narrative form, a text designed not just to entertain but to teach, inspire, and motivate. (Of course, one could argue that history is not so much fact as interpretation, too. But that's another, more post-structural topic). And, really, didn't George Orwell's fiction get people talking about the things you yourself discuss today? C'mon, Jesse! Do you mean to tell us that you battles with Jimmy Superfly Snuka and Hulk Hogan mean nothing?

CNN's Stephanie Busari reports that "[h]umanitarian aid workers and United Nation peacekeepers are sexually abusing small children in several war-ravaged and food-poor countries." Charges of child pornography, rape, prostitution, sexual assault, and sex trafficking of children as young as six have been made against some of the world's most well-respected organizations.


For More Details:
Save the Children has issued a report titled "No One to Turn To," which can be downloaded from CNN.

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Don't Bring Your iPod to Canada

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From Canada.com:


"The federal government is secretly negotiating an agreement to revamp international copyright laws which could make the information on Canadian iPods, laptop computers or other personal electronic devices illegal and greatly increase the difficulty of travelling with such devices."

"The deal would create a international regulator that could turn border guards and other public security personnel into copyright police. The security officials would be charged with checking laptops, iPods and even cellular phones for content that "infringes" on copyright laws, such as ripped CDs and movies."

"Anyone found with infringing content in their possession would be open to a fine...They may also have their device confiscated or destroyed, according to the four-page document."

In an article in The Independent, Martin Hickman reports that Coca-Cola, the world's largest manufacturer of soft drinks has decided to phase out the use of sodium benzoate in its beverages "where technically possible" by August. Although sodium benzoate is a naturally-occurring chemical and is found in some common fruits, the concentration of the substance in products such as Diet Coke tends to be extremely high.


Widely used as a preservative, sodium benzoate has been shown to damage DNA in yeast cells and, according to a study conducted by researchers at England's Southampton University, sodium benzoate (E211) is "one of seven E-numbers found to worsen hyperactivity" in humans. Furthermore, "[i]f combined with vitamin A, sodium benzoate can form a potentially carcinogenic substance, benzene."

It is not known whether sodium benzoate, which is also found in several popular Pepsi products, will affect human DNA.

What Public Funds Could Do When Spent on Non-Military Stuff

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In what may be another byproduct of the money pit that is the war in Iraq, the nation's wildlife refuges have fallen into disrepair. Responding to the proliferation of illegal drug farms and prostitution rings within America's understaffed and underfunded refuges, Evan Hirshe, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and chairman of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), recently told Congress that "[w]ithout adequate funding, we are jeopardizing some of the world's most spectacular wildlife and wild lands" and recommended an eighty million dollar funding increase for the 2009 fiscal year.


Such an increase would bring public funding of our nation's wildlife refuges to $514 million, a figure that is still well below the $765 million CARE estimates is the minimal adequate amount to maintain the one hundred million acres of land under the protection of the National Wildlife Refuge System. As a result of budget-related staff cuts, the system only cannot afford to pay staff more than 180 of the 845 law enforcement officials needed to ensure the safety of the refuges' many visitors.

With more than forty million visitors a year, the nation's wildlife refuges bring in an estimated $1.7 billion to the American economy and provide well over 25,000 jobs.

With Wind Power, Norway Could Become "Europe's Battery"

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From Reuters:


"Norway could become 'Europe's battery' by developing huge sea-based wind parks costing up to $44 billion by 2025, Norway's Oil and Energy Minister said on Monday."

"Norway's Energy Council, comprising business leaders and officials, said green exports could help the European Union reach a goal of getting 20 percent of its electricity by 2020 from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydro or wave power."

This could be wonderful if the windmills are far enough offshore or restricted to certain regions of the coastline. . . but, if we're talking about ruining the fjord vistas, this is a terrible development. Let's hope for the former.

One Last Note on the Libertarian Debate

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Did anyone notice that no one actually answered the first question posed by the moderator during Saturday evening's Libertarian Party presidential debate? When Jim Pinkerton asked which philosopher's ideas most resembled his own, Bob Barr replied that he was most fond of and influenced by Ayn Rand, not that his ideas are similar to hers. Each subsequent candidate made similar statements about a philosopher they discovered or found to be influential when the question reached them. In other words, while such answers could be interpreted as roundabout ways of saying such-and-such a person's ideas are like mine, they are not, in fact, answering the question.


Wouldn't it have been nice, too, had the candidates not stuck to the predictable Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman references and mentioned less blatantly objectivist or libertarian folks?Seriously, how great would it have been to hear "Arthur Shopenhauer is most like me" or "I feel like Albert Camus's conception of the absurd is pretty consistent with my own life philosophy"?

Bob Barr + Wayne Allyn Root = Yuck.

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I am not a Libertarian Party member and never have been one, so some people will dismiss my comments as uninformed and irrelevant. That's fine; I make no claim to be an expert on libertarian philosophy. Still, I find I sympathize with some elements of the Libertarian Party and share many of the values central to libertarian thought.


I am also a fan of Mike Gravel, though I never really thought he would win the Libertarian nomination. Having met the man, having listened to him speak, having discussed issues I care about with him, I was pleased when he joined the Libertarian Party, which I do think espouses a set of beliefs that are closer to his philosophy than, say, the Democratic Party. To be honest, I think Gravel was more interested in running for president than in running for president as a libertarian. At the same time, as much as I like libertarianism, the fact that so many of the party's ideological purists reject Gravel is exactly why I couldn't join the party. I am about as much a libertarian as Senator Gravel and, it would seem, the Libertarian Party says it is not libertarian enough. Though he's dropped out of the race, I may still write him in.

That said, although I didn't expect Mike Gravel to win the nomination today, I was very interested in the Libertarian convention and I really hoped that they would field a strong ticket. Bob Barr, it seems to me, was a solid choice for the presidential nomination. He has the political experience and the name recognition the party's past nominees have largely lacked. Accordingly, CNN and other major news outlets have provided the party with a level of mainstream media exposure unheard of in the almost forty-year history of the Libertarian Party. This is good.

Like many Americans my age, I cannot stand the two party system we've got in this country. As someone who has lived abroad for several years, I have seen parliamentary governments with six or seven parties working together and long for a day when Americans can say that we have Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, Socialists, et cetera, in Congress, in proportion to the numbers of people voting for them. I also realize that we must work with what we have and, right now, we need a viable third party to make a push for the White House to show people that a vote for a third party is not a vote thrown away.

As the third-largest political party in the United States, the Libertarian Party has had the best chance to make that sort of impact and this afternoon's nomination of Bob Barr will ensure that people pay attention to the party. With the Greens lacking a big name candidate, the Libertarians sat poised to be the third party in this election.

Wayne Allyn Root will ruin that chance. As Barr will readily admit, he does not come across as particularly charismatic or energetic, but he does come across as a seasoned politician with the ability to communicate his ideas (and those of his party) to a much broader audience than anyone other than Ron Paul, who was the Libertarian Presidential nominee in 1988. Root, while energetic, will not appeal to most Americans. Seriously: even if his ideas are consistent with the libertarian ideological core, his grating public personality is better suited to infomercials for real estate schemes at three in the morning than to serious political discussions. He comes across as glib, self-obsessed, obnoxious, and an amalgam of every horrible stereotype you can come up with for lawyers, used car salesmen, miracle cure-hawking mountebanks, and...well, I imagine you get the picture. I would not buy a salad shooter or a home gym from this guy, let alone a plan for fixing America and I suspect I am far from being the only one. And that's a problem. Even if he is nice, even if he is sincere, he does not project that sort of authenticity.

Had Barr urged voters to pick someone else instead of making a deal with Root, he stood a real chance to achieve major party status for the Libertarians.

Having seen Jesse Ventura win the gubernatorial race in Minnesota a decade ago, I know it is possible for a third party to field a candidate able to win an election, but until we see that sort of success on the national stage, such a victory will be the exception and not the rule.

Unless the Green Party somehow snags Al Gore, we won't see a third party candidate in this year's election do much more than act as a spoiler. Barr gives the Libertarians the chance to step up. Root takes it away.

We need someone with the money of a Ross Perot and the popular appeal of an Al Gore to do it.

So, no, I'll not be voting Libertarian this election. I agree with quite a bit of the libertarian platform, but not enough to justify voting for two men I do not like. And I sure as hell won't vote for Obama, Clinton, McCain, or Nader, either.

I just hope Barr wins the five percent to make the LP a major party. Then, at least, our country will have made a step towards dismantling the two party system. After all, the Libertarians have the long history and core believers the Reform Party lacked when it made its splash in the nineties. But, man, I just can't bring myself to help the Libertarians this time around, not with Barr and Root bearing the banner.

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Mike Gravel Retires From Politics

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After losing the Libertarian Party presidential nomination to former Georgia congressman Bob Barr, former Alaska senator Mike Gravel has effectively ended his political career.


"I just ended my political career," Gravel said shortly after he was eliminated. "From 15 years old to now, my political career is over, and it's no big deal. I'm a writer, I'm a lecturer, I'm going to push the issues of freedom and liberty. I'm going to push those issues until the day I die."

Bob Barr Wins Libertarian Nomination

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Well, it's official, former Republican congressman Bob Barr has won the Libertarian Party's nod for president, thanks largely to Wayne Allyn Root's endorsement. In return, it seems, Barr has committed political suicide by endorsing Root for the vice presidential slot. Mary Ruwart, the party's presidential nominee in 1984 and vice presidential candidate in 1992, was eliminated after Root endorsed Barr. She would have been a wonderful candidate and would certainly have been a much stronger vice presidential nominee than a person most people associate with online gambling. Of course, Ruwart would never allow herself to share a ticket with Barr. It's a shame because that sort of union could have united a party threatening to schism. Right when it seems the Libertarians are poised to make their presence felt on a grand scale (Barr may well be invited to presidential debates in the Fall), their presidential nominee goes and makes himself a joke by taking on the walking punchline that is Wayne Allyn Root...


After the first round, it seems, the VP will be either Steve Kubby or Root. Wow.

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Observations on the 2008 Libertarian Debate

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A few of my observations and opinions on the Libertarian Party candidates after watching this year's Libertarian National Convention Presidential Debate on C-SPAN, listed by candidate, which I posted on thirdpartywatch.com:


Bob Barr: I've never been a particularly big fan of the former congressman, but Bob Barr does strike me as one of only three candidates (the others being Mike Gravel and Mary Ruwart) in this year's batch to have any real chance of making an impact in November. Barr clearly recognizes this fact and, consequently, projected an air of confidence and composure throughout tonight's debate. From what I could gather, the assembled crowd included some pretty big Barr enthusiasts, but a hefty number of vocal detractors as well. That said, Barr answered most of the questions directly, with practiced eloquence, and with suitable deference to a party he has only been a member of for a relatively brief period. He did address having authored the Defense of Marriage Act and seemed to use it to launch into a "I'm really one of you" spiel, but it seemed genuine enough. If anything, it was a less forced political gesture than, say, Dennis Kucinich's awkwardly contrived "Look here: I carry a copy of the Constitution in my pocket!" faux pas. As an experienced politician, Barr clearly knows how to speak in public, but does not really inspire much confidence and lacks the charisma one would like to see in a third party candidate struggling to get media exposure.

Mike Gravel: To be fair, I have always been a big Mike Gravel supporter, dating from the time he was a registered Democrat, so there will probably be some bias in my views -- but this is a blog, so I reckon it should be okay. At any rate, Gravel seemed to receive more cheers than any of the candidates save for Ruwart. I am not certain if this means that he simply has a louder group of supporters or if the former Alaska senator has more support than most other candidates, though I am hoping for the latter. As always, Gravel exuded a tremendous amount of energy, spoke eloquently and intelligently, and played to the audience. Of course, the senator made certain to emphasize the National Initiative and, like fellow recently-minted Libertarians Barr and Wayne Allyn Root, occasionally seemed eager to emphasize his Libertarian-ness. For the most part, though, the views Gravel expressed during the debate seemed consistent with those he has espoused for years as well as those embraced by many Libertarians, although he seemed to fumble when faced with a question on health care. While he has always expressed a desire to push for the privatization of health insurance, he has also spoke favorably of some state-sponsored health care systems at odds with right-leaning Libertarian economic policy. Still, like Barr and Ruwart, Gravel emerged as extremely well-qualified for a presidential campaign and seemed to enjoy a warm enthusiasm from the crowd when discussing such key topics as gay marriage, immigration, drug decriminalization (though, to be fair, all candidates seemed about the same on that issue), military expenditure as well as when he critiqued some of the party's more unrealistically utopian ideas. To my mind, Gravel remains the best candidate in the field, though I am not certain (given the number of tokens he received) if the party's core members will agree with me, a decidedly independent -- though interested -- onlooker.

George Phillies: As an academic, I really feel for Dr. Phillies. He's intelligent, very active in Libertarian Party affairs, and is extremely well-versed in Libertarian philosophy. I won't say he's the purest libertarian in the group, but he's close at the very least. The problem, as he is well aware, is that he does not look or sound like a good candidate. If words alone would be enough to convince people, he would be up there with Gravel, Barr, and Ruwart, in terms of his ability to win support but, unfortunately, he often comes across as a hopelessly nerdy intellectual -- certainly not the type of person able to compete with the photogenic Barak Obama, the media-minded Hillary Clinton, or the jingoistic John McCain. And it's a shame. I get a real sense that Phillies cares about people and wants to make the world a better place -- two qualities one almost never finds in a candidate.

Michael Jingozian: Jingozian, like Phillies, appears to really care about Libertarian ideas and has a sense of humor that most politicians lack. Unfortunately, while he seems to toe the party line on most issues, he seems lost among candidates like Gravel, Barr, Steve Kubby, and Root, who are considerably more experienced with the media. As a result, Jingozian does not inspire much confidence as a leader. Again, like Phillies, I think he's really, really good for the Libertarian Party and, I suspect, people more interested in promoting an idea and embracing a set of values than winning an election or achieving major party status will consider voting for him. And that isn't a bad thing. Like Root, Jingozian is a businessperson and brought a decidedly entrepreneurial spirit to the debate, planning ahead for party development. I get the feeling that he won't come close to the nomination, but if he remains behind the scenes, he'll do some great things for the eventual nominee.

Mary Ruwart: An extremely eloquent woman, Dr. Ruwart was quite eager to mention her long (and distinguished) track record within the Libertarian Party. Like Phillies and Kubby, Ruwart has been a Libertarian for quite some time and, while perhaps a bit more left-leaning than some, is pretty consistent with the majority of Libertarians on most major issues. She does occasionally project a certain cockiness, but she backs it up with knowledge and real well-thought-out arguments. She is possibly the best "Libertarian" candidate in the party and will speak well and represent the party with dignity and grace if nominated, but she lacks the media connections of Barr, Gravel, and Root. She did try to capitalize on her gender, positioning herself as poised to take advantage of the tide of gender politics stirred up by Hillary Clinton, but her best selling point, really, is her track record. She is a Libertarian and she knows what she is talking about.

Steve Kubby: I was pleasantly surprised by Steve Kubby. For some reason, I was expecting him to be less eloquent, but he spoke extremely well and, while he emphasized his experience with drug decriminalization throughout the debate, fielded questions in all areas with an intelligent and good-humored thoughtfulness. Like Phillies and Ruwart, Kubby discussed his long history working within the party and seems to really appeal to traditional Libertarians for precisely that reason. Like Ruwart, especially, Kubby strikes me as a left-leaning Libertarian with all the "right" stances but, unlike her, he doesn't seem to be a personality that will appeal to many non-Libertarian Americans, which is unfortunate. He's got a lot of good things to say.

Wayne Allyn Root: By far the worst candidate, Wayne Allyn Root is disturbingly unctuous, utterly supercilious, and seems phonier than anything Holden Caulfield would have had nightmares about at Pencey Prep. Truth be told, Root struck me as resembling the kind of kid who talks too much at parties, tries to be everyone's friend, and doesn't realize that everyone finds him obnoxious and a bit creepy. He'd be terrible as a candidate, though he's eager to promise how dynamic he'd be. Ultimately, the only people who will buy Root's schtick will be the sort of nine-to-fivers that shell out hundreds of dollars to attend vacuous Tony Robbins lectures.

Criminal Goes to Jail

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From the Associated Press:


"A former Los Angeles police officer who participated in home invasion robberies staged to look like police raids was sentenced Monday to 102 years in prison."

"William Ferguson, 35, was convicted of participating in more than 40 phony raids from early 1999 to June 2001 at homes in working-class neighborhoods while he worked at the department's scandal-ridden Rampart Division."

When Forgetfulness Equals Wisdom

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From the New York Times:


"Some brains do deteriorate with age. Alzheimer's disease, for example, strikes 13 percent of Americans 65 and older. But for most aging adults, the authors say, much of what occurs is a gradually widening focus of attention that makes it more difficult to latch onto just one fact, like a name or a telephone number. Although that can be frustrating, it is often useful."

"For example, in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand. That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it."

"Such tendencies can yield big advantages in the real world, where it is not always clear what information is important, or will become important. A seemingly irrelevant point or suggestion in a memo can take on new meaning if the original plan changes. Or extra details that stole your attention, like others' yawning and fidgeting, may help you assess the speaker's real impact."

Men Married to Educated Women Live Longer

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According to a recent study undertaken by researchers in Norway, married men can live up to thirty-five percent longer if wed to a well-educated woman. Since women are often more health-conscious than men and because women often prepare food and otherwise care for their spouses, the study suggests, men married to more educated women (who are, in turn, more likely to research nutrition and fitness than their less educated counterparts) live healthier lives. The level of a man's education, on the other hand, seems to have no effect on his partner's longevity. While Norwegian media outlets such as Verdens Gang seem to focus on the effects of a woman's education on her spouse in heterosexual unions, the findings are only a small part of a much larger study published in Social Science & Medicine's most recent issue. The full study, entitled "Brittle bones, pain and fractures -- Lay constructions of osteoporosis among Norwegian women attending the Nord-Trondelag Health Study (HUNT)" may be purchased for $31.50.

This Isn't Good

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From the New York Times:


"Scientists do not quite know what to call them, they are so new. But folks in the damp coastal belt south of Houston have their own names (some of them printable) for the little invaders now seemingly everywhere: on the move underfoot; infesting woodlands, yards and gardens; nesting in electrical boxes and causing shorts; and even raising anxiety at Hobby Airport and the Johnson Space Center."

"The ant is a previously unknown variety with a staggering propensity to reproduce and no known enemies. The species, which bites but does not sting, was first identified here in 2002 by a Pearland exterminator, Tom Rasberry, who quickly lent his name to the find: the crazy rasberry ant."

"Variants of the species found in Colombia have been known to asphyxiate chickens and even attack cattle by swarming over their eyes, nasal passages and hooves, according to the Center for Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M, which is conducting much of the research on the ants."


Most Moronic Teacher Award?

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Japan's Mainichi Daily News reports that the parents of a junior high school student in Chiba have joined their son in filing a lawsuit for ten million yen "for emotional distress after a teacher announced him as the most disliked person in his class" according to a survey the elementary school teacher passed out to the class.

SDSU Appears to Be a Normal School, Sadly

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From CNN.com:

"Among those arrested were 75 students, some of them working toward criminal justice or homeland security degrees. One criminal justice major was charged with possession of guns and cocaine, authorities said."

"Authorities say they infiltrated seven campus fraternities and found that in some, most of the students were aware of drug dealing by fraternity brothers."

"One student allegedly dealing cocaine was a month short of obtaining a master's degree in Homeland Security and worked with campus police as a student community service officer."
[Full story]

Is it bad that I am wholly unsurprised by the idea of cops-to-be breaking laws and frat brothers selling drugs?

"I Choose You!"

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From the Associated Press:

"Doctors know some patients needing lifesaving care won't get it in a flu pandemic or other disaster. The gut-wrenching dilemma will be deciding who to let die.

Now, an influential group of physicians has drafted a grimly specific list of recommendations for which patients wouldn't be treated. They include the very elderly, seriously hurt trauma victims, severely burned patients and those with severe dementia."

"To prepare, hospitals should designate a triage team with the Godlike task of deciding who will and who won't get lifesaving care, the task force wrote. Those out of luck are the people at high risk of death and a slim chance of long-term survival. But the recommendations get much more specific, and include:

-People older than 85.
-Those with severe trauma, which could include critical injuries from car crashes and shootings.
-Severely burned patients older than 60.
-Those with severe mental impairment, which could include advanced Alzheimer's disease.
-Those with a severe chronic disease, such as advanced heart failure, lung disease or poorly controlled diabetes."

"If followed to a tee, such rules could exclude care for the poorest, most disadvantaged citizens who suffer disproportionately from chronic disease and disability, he said. While health care rationing will be necessary in a mass disaster, 'there are some real ethical concerns here.'"
[Full story]

Scary. Real damn scary.

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