Thursday, October 11, 2007

A weird CHIP on their shoulders

Via This Modern World, I ran across a story that seems to have been generating an enormous amount of angry ranting in the right-wing assholosphere.

The issue is a bit complex and involves the ever-exciting topic of American health-care policy, but it does seem to speak to a wider issue as well, so bear with me.

The background boils down to this:

There is a government programme (with federal money being administered by individual states) called the 'State Children's Health Insurance Program' (SCHIP). As the Baltimore Sun describes it,
Popular with the states, the health insurance program, also known as SCHIP, covers 6.6 million children from modest-income families that are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
(Note for non-Americans: Medicaid is the public health insurance programme for poor people.)

Democrats, with support from a number of Republican representatives and senators, passed an act (H.R. 976) aimed at making changes to SCHIP: the programme was to be expanded to include some 4 million more children at a cost of $35 billion over the next five years, the costs to be funded out of increased tobacco taxes.

President Bush signalled his intention to veto the act when it reached his desk.

In response, Democrats invited a 12-year-old boy, Graeme Frost, to deliver their response to the president's weekly radio address.

Now, I have my own qualms about this kind of emotive political message-making: I don't know why rational adults can't have a reasonable discussion about social policy without having to push the sympathy button.

But in the world of American politics, these sorts of things are standard operating procedure, something Republicans know all too well, and this has long been the case, particularly in issues related to education, families, and disability.

Then, too, perhaps 'putting a human face' on abstract policy questions isn't always a bad idea.

Context, after all, is sometimes helpful. (For example: $35 billion over five years is indeed a lot of money, but it pales in comparison to the as much as $190 billion which may be spent next year alone in fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a figure that itself excludes all other military spending.)

And Graeme, in this case, fit the role, as the Sun notes:

Graeme and his 9-year-old sister, Gemma, were passengers in the family SUV in December 2004 when it hit a patch of black ice and slammed into a tree. Both were taken to a hospital with severe brain trauma. Graeme was in a coma for a week and still requires physical therapy.

Bonnie Frost works for a medical publishing firm; her husband, Halsey, is a woodworker. They are raising their four children on combined income of about $45,000 a year. Neither gets health insurance through work.

Having priced private insurance that would cost more than their mortgage - about $1,200 a month - they continue to rely on the government program. In Maryland, families that earn less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level - about $60,000 for a family of four - are eligible.

So, the story so far:

1. there's an established health care programme;
2. a bill has been passed through both houses with bi-partisan support to expand it in response to a real social change;
3. the president threatened to veto it;
4. the bill's supporters presented a family as an example of the kind of people who might be assisted by this bill and their son appeared in a radio broadcast.

So far, so good.

However, the president (who had proposed increasing the funding for the programme by only $5 billion over five years), made good on his promised veto.

Which is bad enough.

But the really disgusting part of the story is the hateful campaign by the more wingery-nuttery right-wing bloggers to smear the family.

Think Progress summarises the sort of bile being spewed:

Conservatives have more recently turned their targets on young Graeme Frost himself. A poster at the Free Republic propagated information alleging that Frost was actually a rich kid being pampered by the government. Among other bits of information, the post by the Freeper “icwhatudo” asserts that Graeme and his sister Gemma attend wealthy schools that cost “nearly $40,000 per year for tuition” and live in a well-off home.

The smear attack against Graeme has taken firm hold in the right-wing blogosphere. The National Review, Michelle Malkin, Wizbang, Powerline, and the Weekly Standard blog have all launched assaults on the Frost family. The story is slowly working its way into traditional media outlets as well.

Very good antidotes to this toxic brew are available from Joe Gandelman, Whiskey Fire, Lawyers, Guns and Money, Atrios, Ezra Klein, and John Cole.

I've browsed around in the links provided by Talking Points, and really, you have to shake your head.

There is a lot of discussion, for instance, among right-wing bloggers about how this family is 'not really poor' and a great number of snide comments along the lines of 'ah, they can send their kid to private school but they need assistance getting health insurance' and speculation regarding their house and small business.

A lot of this has involved just plain lying, as TP points out:

Here are the facts that the right-wing distorted in order to attack young Graeme:

1) Graeme has a scholarship to a private school. The school costs $15K a year, but the family only pays $500 a year.

2) His sister Gemma attends another private school to help her with the brain injuries that occurred due to her accident. The school costs $23,000 a year, but the state pays the entire cost.

3) They bought their “lavish house” sixteen years ago for $55,000 at a time when the neighborhood was less than safe.

4) Last year, the Frosts made $45,000 combined. Over the past few years they have made no more than $50,000 combined.

5) The state of Maryland has found them eligible to participate in the CHIP program.

It is also noted there that:

Right wing bloggers have been harassing the Frosts, calling their home numerous times to get information about their private lives.

One of those apparent blogger-stalkers, it seems, is someone called Michelle Malkin, who has gone probing around the Frosts' property and who, at her blog, makes all kinds of unfounded speculations about them. I've never heard of her before but she's a nasty piece of work, and undoubtedly for this reason she seems to have become some kind of right-wing super blogger. And part-time cheerleader. Or something.

But if this is what passes for investigative journalism on the right, then I'm very disappointed.

Leave that family alone. What the fuck is wrong with you people!?

But in a revealing comment, Mark Steyn points out that--despite the enormous amount of almost psychotically obsessive energy he and his cohorts have used in trying to expose the sinister truth behind an ordinary lower-middle-class family who are having difficulty with paying the health bills--none of this really matters:

But one thing is clear by now: Whatever the truth about this boy's private school, his family home, his father's commercial property, etc, the Frosts are a very particular situation and do not illustrate any social generality - and certainly not one that makes the case for an expensive expansive all-but universal entitlement.

A more basic point is made very robustly by Kathy Shaidle: Advanced western democracies have delivered the most prosperous societies in human history. There simply are no longer genuinely "poor" people in sufficient numbers. As Miss Shaidle points out, if you're poor today, it's almost always for behavioral reasons - behavior which the state chooses not to discourage but to reward. Nonetheless, progressive types persist in deluding themselves that there are vast masses of the "needy" out there that only the government can rescue.
Mm hmmm...

Interesting: how does Steyn know that the Frosts don't 'illustrate any social generality'? And how can he say that, having determined that the truth about them doesn't matter? That seems logically impossible to me.

Moreover, pointing out that nobody in the West lives like a medieval peasant, while true, is...well, sort of bizarre.

There was no shortage of commentators in the Victorian era who said exactly the same thing about poverty as Steyn (i.e., not that it is often caused by personal failures or inadequacies--which any sane person knows--but that it has only that sort of cause), while at the same time there were millions of people who were living in a situation that most Republicans (maybe even Steyn) probably recognise as wretched. But in many ways, the poor of nineteenth-century Manchester were probably living better than many human beings who had gone before them. However, the value of that statement is completely lost on me. What is the timeless and unchanging definition of poverty Steyn would use?

More to the point: why is he making that point when what is under discussion here is not giving the Frosts some kind of free luxury car, but helping them to pay for affordable health care.

But I don't think Steyn is really interested in poverty. Not at all. In fact, I'm quite sure of it.

And here a further insight into this mind-set, from the 'robust' Ms. Shaidle whom Steyn cites so approvingly:

That's why I don't care about the poor. They're no more real than Bigfoot. Those we and these lefty Christians call "poor" are "poor" because they've made a series of stupid choices; spend all their (actually, my) money on lottery tickets, beer, tattoos and manicures; are suffering from undiagnosed but easily treated mental illnesses; had too many kids too young; smoked behind the gym while I spent recess in the library, etc etc etc.

I grew up with them. They were jerks and losers.
There is definitely something to appreciate here: witness the true voice of blinding anger that motivates a large segment of the right-wing without all that sweet vaporous talk about 'compassion'.

Ah, the moment of clarity.

In all their bug-eyed fury, though, the point that she, Steyn and all the rest seem to miss in this particular discussion is that CHIP is (rather explicitly) not aimed at 'the poor'. Were the Frosts 'poor', they might be eligible for Medicaid.

Moreover, CHIP is aimed at the children of the families to which it would apply. (The act mentioned above would remove most adults from eligibility in those states that have decided to include them, targeting it more clearly at children.) I'd be interested in knowing how they can be blamed for their predicament. (Perhaps all that time spent enjoying recess.)

The political philosophy, if we can call it that, of Shaidle and many other like her seems to add up to this: 'I'm doing fine, so fuck you!'. It's a sentiment that nicely encapsulates the growing right-wing contempt, not only for the long-term (and maybe even multi-generational) poor, such as the legendary 'welfare queens' of yore, but also for any kind of failure whatsoever.

While it might be obvious that if you're irredeemably dysfunctional enough, you will likely end up poor, I'm not sure why it is necessary for right-wing pundits to drone on about this at such length, unless it's just to allow them to feel all good and superior about themselves by looking down on other people.

Liberals already know that not all the poor are noble.

It is, however, also possible to spend your recesses in the library, not take drugs, avoid teenage pregnancy, and work hard all your life and still end up, at some point, losing out or being blindsided by one of life's many nasty little surprises (illness, injury and unemployment most obviously among them).

As I've noted before, anyone, can point to instances of people who land in poverty through bad choices. Big fucking deal.

I've also known many people (and known many more people who've known people) who have ended up in difficult financial situations--too much debt, no health insurance, crap job, no education, whatever. Some of these were bad choices, some were bad luck. Most were some combination of those.

But even if someone is struggling to get by (even on a Western lower-middle-class level that puts them well above the quality of life in the stone age) due to 'bad choices', I don't see the point or value or morality in denying them--or their children--access to medical care.

The weird caricature of reality offered by Steyn and Shaidle is intriguing though: The right-wing used to just demonize the presumably idle poor; now it seems that they are offering a more big-tent version of hatred, taking aim at those who work but nevertheless are finding it difficult to make ends meet. They think that if you find yourself in such a difficult impasse and seek any variety of public assistance you are, by definition, a loser.

However, the notion that social problems are simply based upon 'behavioral reasons' is absurd. In an economic slowdown, for instance, unemployment and poverty go up: is that simply due to an increase in loserdom?

As the New York Times reported earlier this year, the numbers, for instance, of the uninsured in America have been growing steadily, and the fastest growing group are 'solidly middle-class people'. A mad outbreak of loseritis? A generation coming of age that is suffering the after-effects of smoking behind the gym rather than sitting in the library at recess? A sudden plague of irresponsibility striking the land?

Or maybe--just maybe--it's a sign that there is something wrong with the way health insurance is supplied and that an incremental expansion of government assistance in some cases might be in order.

Or consider the wide variation in the percentage of people without health insurance across America: in the Midwest it's about 11.4%, in the South about 19%. Are Southerners simply 66% more loserish?

Finally, the vehemence of the right-wing attacks is all the more bizarre, since, as John Cole points out, the Frost family appears to have all the characteristics most Republicans say American families should have:

If you look through this family’s dossier, it appears they are doing everything Republicans say they should be doing- hell, their story is almost what you would consider a checklist for good, red-blooded American Republican voters: they own their own business, they pay their taxes, they are still in a committed relationship and are raising their kids, they eschewed public education and are doing what they have to do to get them into Private schools, they are part of the American dream of home ownership that Republicans have been pointing to in the past two administrations as proof of the health of the economy, and so on.

In short, they are a white, lower-middle-class, committed family, who is doing EVERYTHING the GOP Kultur Kops would have you believe people should be doing. They aren’t gay. They aren’t divorced. They didn’t abort their children. They aren’t drug addicts or welfare queens. They are property owners, entrepeneurs, taxpayers, and hard-working Americans. I bet nine times out of ten in past elections, if you handed this resume to a pollster, they would think you were discussing the prototypical Republican voter. Hell, the only thing missing from this equation is membership to a church and an irrational fear of Muslims and you HAVE the prototypical Bush voter.

Or, as a commenter at Whiskey Fire eloquently put it:

Let me get this straight. This guy's a cabinet maker, and these geniuses are leering about how nice his cabinets are?

Given that those people basically live in downtown Baltimore, I'd be willing to bet that they bought a a rundown house in a gentrifying neighborhood on the cheap so that Mr. Frost, who is good with his hands, can fix the place up and they can turn the house around for a profit. His business, which is a couple of blocks away in downtown Baltimore, basically comes from all the people fixing up all the old brownstones in the area.

In the meantime, he has to send his kids to school and the public schools in Baltimore don't really seem like the ideal option. So he looks around, and finds that he can send them to a private school using their assistance program.

But given that $45000 dollars, while a decent living all things considered, isn't a whole hell of a lot of money, especially when there are six mouths to feed, after everything's said and done with he just can't make things work with health insurance (when it comes down to it, after the mortgage, food, clothes and all the rest of the expenses of raising a family, even another $600 is no small potatos).

Then the children get into a catasrophic accident, the family is suddenly looking at medical bills it can't pay. They are in such bad straits that the school is doing fundraisers for them. This government program helps them; makes their lives better in a fundamental way.

And these jokers are pissed off about it.


Apparently, the only thing the far-right can come up with in fighting this issue is to launch a scummy personal attack on a family and indulge in a lot of back-patting self-aggrandisement that seems to have resulted more from reading Atlas Shrugged than paying much attention to reality.

What losers.

PZ Myers has also joined in, with a post that is particularly relevant to residents of Minnesota.
Bitch Ph.D. (I'm linking to the main site so you can track updates) has lots of constructive political-action type info for anyone who wants to assist in overturning this veto.


Pangloss said...

Here's the problem with your rant. The Frosts are already eligible to receive SCHIP assistance. The changes were intended to roughly double the funding of SCHIP. The Frosts were really irrelevant to the question of whether to raise funding. It makes sense to do some reporting about SCHIP so that people can know whether to ask their representatives to support the increase or not. That is after all the raison d'etre of representative government, no? Participation based on knowledge of the facts?

Since the newspapers and television were not doing any reporting on the Frost family, who placed themselves front and center in the debate for their own reasons, it fell to bloggers to do the reporting. Malkin did not stalk the family. She drove past their house (in a part of town where most houses sell for about a half million) once to see what it looked like from the outside so she could report on its rough value. Not a half million house, she reported. She talked to someone at or near the dad's place of business. He's having financial difficulties and the person she talked to is a rabid Marxist, she reported. That's it. I cannot speak for others who may have called the family at all hours. That's one of the rotten irritations that comes with sudden fame.

This family made about $45,000 last year. The average American family makes about $50,000 a year. They are barely under the average yearly income. And they already qualify for SCHIP. Yet the democrats want to double the spending on SCHIP. Who will benefit then? This is a valid question. And the answer is that more than poor kids will benefit. SCHIP has no asset testing. And it counts 25 year olds as kids. If a 25-year-old living on his own has millions of dollars in a trust that is appreciating at a million dollars a year, but has a declared taxable income of $15,000, then he is already eligible for SCHIP. He doesn't have to buy insurance. The state will give it to him with money taken from people who are poorer than he is. People who buy their own insurance with their own money. People who take responsibility for their own life. With the funding doubling, the opportunity for this kind of gaming the system gets even worse. If the funding doubles, most likely the average American family will now be eligible for SCHIP. The result will be that employers will drop their employees' children from insurance rolls and throw them on the mercy of the government, which is funded by taxpaying people who have their own financial issues. This puts the average American parent in the position of having one insurance plan for self and spouse and a different insurance plan with much more red tape for children, plus when the wife gets pregnant all her care gets thrown to the government insurance. Plus the average American is paying taxes (as the smoker tax won't be sufficient) plus a handling fee to the government to provide this hellish separate and unequal insurance plan for their children. The result will be worse care for children and pregnant women than for adults who are employed.

The revenue stream that is supposed to fund this growth in the program is also worth studying. The plan is to add $.65 a pack to cigarette taxes and raise other tobacco taxes by some 1200% (12 times). Is that revenue stream going to be steady, or is it likely to dip once the punitive taxes take hold? And who will pay? The overwhelming majority of smokers in the US make little enough money that their children would already be eligible for SCHIP if they had them. The limits for SCHIP will go up if funding goes up. The government is taking money from poor people to give it to less poor people, while skimming a handling fee off the top. Now is this a sensible plan? What happens when tobacco taxes don't pull in enough money? It comes out of the general fund. In other words, there is no clever way to fund this without raising the deficit. Thus the increase in the program needs to be evaluated on the basis of the increased program, not the chimera of clever taxation.

And that takes us back to doubling the program and splitting the insurance coverage in average American families with the kids getting the short end of the stick. Plus increasing the lure for trust fund babies and millionaires to shelter their earnings so they don't have to buy their own insurance. But haven't we already been over this ground? Isn't this the reason why lowering the tax rates increased tax revenues, when people with money stopped sheltering income and simply paid the tax that they believed was now fair? Plus they put their money into more productive investments and made the economy, and their own situation, more efficient. Result being growth.

I haven't even gotten into the reason why an emergency appendectomy in the Bahamas costs $3,000 while one in the USA costs $23,000. Hint: Lawyers such as John Edwards.

The bottom line is that SCHIP is a complex issue. It needed to be reported on truthfully. It wasn't. It was reported on as a Marxist class struggle, with emotional appeals. Bloggers filled in the blanks. You have been getting the emotional appeal of proponents without any facts to ground them. If you hadn't responded to the emotion then you wouldn't be a good person. But now that you know a little more about the facts, perhaps you can see where the emotions were truthful and where they were a swindler's ruse.

J. Carter Wood said...


Hmmm... Nicely cut and pasted... Methinks we have a Troll on the premises. Ah well, just for the hell of it:

1) 'Rant': what a wonderful opening for dialogue.

2) The Frosts were invited to give their statements about how SCHIP had helped them in the past, as an example of the kind of people the programme could assist. How exactly is this irrelevant to the question of whether it should be expanded?

3) Many of the links I provided contained a great deal of information and facts (including a reference to a very useful Wikipedia page on the programme and to the act itself). Some of them were quite directly oriented at correcting misinformation being spread by right-wing bloggers, with whom you may or may not identify yourself, so I'll avoid any ad hominem abuse for now.

4) As to Malkin's behaviour, your characterisation of her take on this is far too benign: she is acting as a vehicle for commentary on the Frosts that is hateful, irrelevant to the issue and in some ways downright ridiculous. If she wants information on them, why doesn't she call them?

Would you really call what _she_ is doing to be 'encouraging participation based on knowledge of the facts'?

As you may have noticed I linked to her site so that people can go and find out for themselves (in the interests of encouraging participation based on knowledge of the facts, no?).

5) The family indeed entered the public sphere when they agreed to do this. Yes. Do you think that one who does so thereby makes themselves open to vicious personal attacks and speculations about their personal life? If so, either you or the assumptions of American political discourse are seriously lacking.

Do you agree, for example, with Mark Steyn that 'the boy is fair game'? If not, have you written him to correct him on _his_ 'rant'? Really? Why not?!

6) I think the commentary about the family goes to far. That was my main point which you might have noticed. Therefore, my references to them are not 'irrelevant'.

Please read before you type next time, if you feel there must be a next time. (But don't make an extra effort on my account.)

7) Your hypothetical trust fund kid example is amusing. Yes, I am sure that there will be a run of pampered rich kids rushing to get on this plan and blowing up the deficit. And I'm interested: just how relevant is _your_ example to the issue of the Frosts? Not very, it would seem.

8) 'Who will benefit then?' you ask with fear and trembling. Well, quite clearly, as one source that I linked to notes, families making 300% of the federal poverty line will be eligible. This is neither a mystery nor a secret. This is apparently currently equal to $62,000 for a family of four. The Frosts have a six-person family. They also have the problem of pre-existing conditions, which, as you must know, is a serious hindrance to getting affordable health insurance. So: what's the problem?

9) As I pointed out, this programme amounts to peanuts when you see what the government spends on other things. I don't buy your nightmare scenario about the 'hellish' conditions this programme would usher in, not least since your crack about John Edwards reveals you to be simply another rabid partisan mouthpiece...

10) ...which this kind of comment confirms:

"It was reported on as a Marxist class struggle, with emotional appeals."

(Yes, the old Marxist class struggle--visible every night on the ABC News...visit a place called reality much? How much Marx have you actually read? You can't have, as 'emotional appeals' have little to do with Marxist analysis.)

I don't think you have much interest in reasoned debate, really, but I wanted to humour you.

Thanks much.

R. Sherman said...

Greetings. I discovered you via David Thompson and have enjoyed poking around. I shall be back.

I agree regarding the diversion of this debate from one of the merits of the bill and the underlying philosophy of government spending to one of whether a particular family is worthy of assistance. There are some of us who wouldn't mind expanding benefits but wonder why doubling the number of those benefited requires a seven fold increase in spending, which is to be funded by a tax which has a greater adverse effect on the poor we're trying to help in the first instance.

Underlying all of these discussions, of course, are the questions of personal responsibility v. societal responsibility and where the shift from society and individual should be, and why?

Those questions are never discussed because people are too busy taking pot shots at children or accusing others of desiring to "fiddle while kids" die.

As you say, its time we grew up.

(BTW, my wife is German. I have these sorts of discussions all the time, with a minimum amount of German curse words or plate throwing.)

Pangloss said...

Sorry if you didn't like the word rant. I in return don't like the word troll. I'll refrain from counterfisking your fisking of my comment. But let me clarify by re-stating my main points.

a. SCHIP is it stood before being increased was sufficient to help the Frosts. It does not need to be increased to help the Frosts. Therefore any emphasis on the Frosts themselves as a justification for an increase in aid is irrelevant. You know this means that I, like you, think the emphasis on the Frosts is silly.

b. If the level is increased to three times poverty level, or roughly $60,000 for a family of four, then the average American family of four will be eligible for it. This will cause employers to offload insurance costs to the Government. I think the effects will be disastrous, as the majority of American families will be forced into socialized health care. That's a direction that the majority of Americans do not want to go, and they don't want to be lured into it by misleading legislation.

c. The actual payments are handled by the states. 48 states and DC do no assets testing, so the trust fund example is apropos. In fact, if Paris Hilton had no *earned* income in a year, she would be eligible for SCHIP in California. Is that a well-crafted law?

d. Wikipedia is a good resource for such a contentious issue? Are you sure of that?

e. Malkin was reporting. She's a journalist. Some of her commenters go over the line. But she doesn't censor them routinely. You don't either. I'm glad about that. Demonizing her isn't going to mend any fences, so please stop.

f. As for my equating the politically correct ranting of Ezra Klein and others with Marxist class struggle disinformation tactics, we will have to agree to disagree. Or I will start ranting, and that's something I prefer not doing to you on your nice blog.

Cheers! Drink a Hefeweizen for me, for we have no good ones where I am.

J. Carter Wood said...

r sherman: Thanks for your comment and at least the agreement on the main drift of my argument. There may be good policy qualms about this bill, though from what I've read the benefits of this programme appear to be worth the costs. I'm a great believer in personal responsibility (as are, you may note, many liberals or progressives or leftists); however, I think that compared to other industrialised nations, the US has a long way to go before it needs to start worrying about lavishing too much socialist love on its poor and middle class.

Other countries have managed, I think, to provide far more comprehensive forms of social insurance without thereby undermining personal responsibility for the vast majority of their citizens.

Thanks for coming by, and remember to duck when those plates start flying...


J. Carter Wood said...

pangloss: Ok, sorry about calling you a 'troll', but to be honest I don't think I've ever had that lengthy a comment before, and I couldn't quite believe you'd invested all that work just to respond to lil' ol' me. (And I'm sorry if it took a while for your second comment to appear: I do check comments before they're posted, and I will 'censor' them if anything too violent or deranged is contained in them.)

But it seems that there is just a lot that we're going to have to agree to disagree about.

To your points:

a) I still don't agree with you that the Frosts were illegitimate spokespeople for SCHIP. They benefitted from the 'old' SCHIP and their experience stands for the kind of situation the programme is aimed to address. That they were eligible under the old rules is, to me, neither here nor there.

Another option would have been, of course, to find a family who _would_ benefit under the new plan but who were not eligible under the old (or current) one: however, these people would _not_ in that case have been able to talk about the benefits of the programme. And I am sure that if the Democrats had taken that route, they'd have been condemned for having such a hypothetical example and the same sniffer dogs would have been sent out to examine and harass the family in question.

And it is this sort of treatment that was one of my main targets.

Here, it seems we must disagree.

b) I, apparently unlike you, do not have a problem with extending government assistance to 'average' families. Particularly since a lot of those average people in the US have difficulty with this particular issue, i.e., health care. So, throw all the scare stories you like at me about how middle-class people will be assisted by this and it won't matter.

Secondly on this point: I don't see anything in this bill that will 'force' people into 'socialised health care'. There are extreme words, I think, which do not bring this debate forward at all.

Just as background: I have long been a supporter of a single-payer system and went door-to-door trying to assist the campaign for one as far back as 1992; I also worked for a private health insurer and saw from the inside how well they work--I was not impressed; I have experience with the kind of health care poor Americans receive, as I had to assist a close friend in trying to get care when she became mentally disabled and had no insurance: it is a nightmare; and I have since had experience with health care in at least one part of Europe, and I have to say that all those experiences have been positive (though I know that their systems are also not perfect).

The nightmare scenario for many Americans is not being 'forced' into 'socialized medicine' (which is not in any case on the horizon) but having no insurance whatsoever or being crushed by the costs of paying for it: particularly people -- as I believe is the case with the Frosts -- who have 'pre-existing conditions' in their families.

So, here again, we have quite different views of the problem and the dangers. And I don't really feel that we're going to convince one another.

c) The lack of 'asset testing' is one of the things I actually like about SCHIP. Look: the fact that someone owns a house worth $250,000 (on paper) is not going to help them buy insurance when they become unemployed. That is precisely the point and aim of extending this programme: to help people who may be 'average' (and therefore home-owners) but who need help in paying for health insurance.

But also on this point: it is interesting to see anti-'big-government' types so eager to impose the more onerous form of bureaucracy (and government poking around in peoples lives) that adding an asset test would involve.

Furthermore, I don't expect people to sell off all their property so as to be able to afford insurance. This programme is aimed at helping to keep families _out_ of poverty, not compelling them to go into it in order to receive assistance.

Again: I don't have a problem with providing such assistance, and I think your Paris Hilton example--while perhaps technically accurate, I don't know--is not really relevant. A few billionaire freeloaders become eligible for state health insurance? OK.

So here we'll just have to disagree.

d) Wikipedia is a fine source for basic factual information. That was all that I used it for, along with linking to other reputable sources. So, yes, I think my use of it was legitimate.

e)I'm not 'demonizing' Malkin; nor, however, do I see her as a 'journalist', at least one who is to be taken seriously. I can assure you, though, that I am unlikely to comment on her again, as having to read her on this story made me ill. So, I don't feel the need to mention her ever ever ever again. OK?

f) In return for point (e), you might stop demonising poor Mr. Klein by associating him with 'Marxist' ranting. I've only recently discovered Klein's blog, but I see nothing in it that remotely resembles Marxism. 'Marxist', rather like 'fascist', is one of those thought-killing words that too often get thrown around for no purpose. It is cheap.

But please, let us agree to disagree on _that_ topic, since I'm not confident that further discussion along _those_ lines would be good for either of us.

Thanks, as ever, for stopping by.