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An Rx for Rick Berg

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An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby Uncle_Leaver » Thu Aug 20, 2009 4:10 pm

Wow, Isthmus, it's tough to find good help, huh?

Once again you've surrendered a half page to the fact-eviscerated and delusional ramblings of Rick Berg, a man whose only qualification for publication would seem to be that he sports a shirt from The Onion with the words "Area Commentator" in bold across the front. And that's about as seriously as this party hack should be taken. In truth, if it had been printed in The Onion, his latest column (An Rx for the Dems, Vol. 34, No. 34) might come across as satire ... except for the parts where he tries to be funny, which simply come off as pedestrian and lame.

If Isthmus feels the need to try its hand at the whole Fox "fair and balanced" operational model, so be it, but you'd think your editors could scrounge up a conservative contributor who can back up at least one assertion per piece with something akin to fact. But no dice. And since your editorial staff is apparently content to erase the line between legitimate dissent and unabashed propaganda, please allow me to speak briefly to the loom of misinformation upon which Mr. Berg weaves his threadbare thesis.

Outrageous Lie #1: "A dwindling minority is buying the claim that you can extend coverage to another 46 million or so people without raising taxes, rationing health care, or both."

FALSE. First, it remains to be seen whether public opinion has significantly changed on this point, and in fact the answer hinges far more on how one asks the question than any shift resulting from actual debate (big surprise, since there's been almost none of that). Obama never suggested he could do this without raising taxes. Conversely, he's suggested we accomplish this by rolling back the Bush tax cuts. Yep, that's raising taxes all right ... on the upper 1% of income earners. And last I checked, what with not being a member of that elite minority, most Americans were just fine with that idea, to the tune of 70 plus percent. Mr. Berg must be earning a hell of a lot from his writing exercises if this one's keeping him up at night.

As for rationing of coverage, what fantasy world is Rick Berg living in? Does he honestly not believe care is rationed under the current system on a constant basis? Observe organ transplant recipient wait lists. They are prioritized based upon anticipated quality of life outcomes, current health condition, age, etc. The majority of people on those lists never make it to the top before the hit bottom and end up six feet under. And if denying benefits because of pre-existing conditions isn't rationing of health care, then I'll eat Berg's shoe. Any bill addressing that loophole alone would do more for equity of care in this country than all other measures combined, the sole exception being actually getting everyone covered in the first place.

Outrageous Lie #2: "Palin touched a nerve with her Facebook comment about "death panels," prompting members of Congress to remove the "offending language" on mandatory end-of-life counseling for older Americans from the bill."

FALSE. Such counseling sessions would not have been mandatory. The only thing mandatory about them would have been that your insurer would have had to reimburse your doctor for any such counseling session requested by the patient. This was one of a handful of truly bipartisan measures in this whole effort which would have provided some financial relief for those patients concerned about making sure their desires are heeded when they can no longer advocate for themselves. Yep, Palin scared that language right out of the bill, all right. Now we can all thank her for the bill that arrives when we decide it's time to tell the Doc whether or not to pull the plug when the big one comes (see, Mr. Berg, this is as much a matter of ensuring ongoing life support for the terminally ill as it is about denying heroic measures to those terminally ill patients who don't desire them). But hey, such legislation might mean no more cases like Terri Schiavo upon which the Republicans can assert their moral superiority and feign pious outrage. So there you go.

(Also, memo to Mr. Berg: When you have to put "air quotes" around something you're "outraged" about, you've just undermined your "argument." Deftly played.)

Outrageous Lie #3: "Then there's the unnerving language giving the government unprecedented access to citizens' personal financial records."

If I understand what Mr. Berg is referring to here--and that's a stretch given how poorly he substantiates his weak-ass arguments to begin with--this is a big fat FALSEHOOD. This provision would have allowed for payment of some fees, deductibles, etc. using something along the lines of direct deposit, directly eliminating paper shufflers in between and thereby improving efficiency. Do you honestly believe this would represent "unprecedented" access to your financial records, Mr. Berg? Ever hear of a thing called the IRS? Ever hear of the Patriot Act? Your man Bush signed that one, giving government authorities unprecedented access to virtually every aspect of your life, including your phone conversations. But you're worried about a debit card transaction. And we wonder why our civil liberties erode with each passing day. Oh, if only your kind really cared about right to privacy.

Well, that's about it, I guess, as there's not much more of actual substance to address. The beginning of Berg's screed is the sort of wrote regurgitation one might elicit from a Tea Partier picked at random from one of these sorry town hall meetings we've been seeing. As for the conclusion of the piece (and I'm abbreviating that nominal clause in the interest of civility), well, I'd love to comment but I appear to have misplaced my Gibberish-to-English dictionary. Show me a reader who can make sense of that journalistic dunghill and I'll show you a ready candidate for Mendota. Yep, there's my argument for mental health parity right there.

Again, airing the opposing viewpoint is one thing, Isthmus. But just because a guy is capable of grunting forth 700 words of opinion for opinion's sake every third week doesn't mean you have to waste ink on it. If the goal is to make space for a half page of unchecked propaganda from time to time, where do you draw the line? Do the birthers get a berth next?

The medical establishment could take a lesson from you, Isthmus. Rick Berg's piece arrived on your doorstep DOA and you breathed life into the sucker by printing it, and in so doing lent credibility to a woefully misinformed piece, itself written solely with the intent to misinform (though why Mr. Berg thinks Isthmus a suitable outlet for this effort is anyone's guess). With your lackadaisical editorial approach--allowing Berg to preach his message of fear, facts be damned--you've stooped to the level of fake outrage aggregators like Fox News.

For shame. If I had a subscription to cancel, I would.

James Leaver
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby Velveeta » Thu Aug 20, 2009 4:29 pm

Well said. But to steal words from Barney Frank, arguing with this piece would be like arguing with a dining room table.

While I understand this is Op-Ed, Isthmus is degrading their own paper by not choosing a conservative who can assemble a thoughtful argument based on facts. Instead they choose someone who wastes space parroting conservative propaganda.
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby Uncle_Leaver » Thu Aug 20, 2009 9:05 pm

Er ... "rote" regurgitation, that is.


Dammit!
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby Donald » Thu Aug 20, 2009 10:24 pm

And if you glance over at page 8 opposite Berg's screed you'll see an article that describes some of the generous work being done by med students and some medical professionals to provide at least a minimum of health care to some of those without coverage. I thank Isthmus of juxtaposing these articles. The page 8 article shows why the author of the page 9 needs to go before the death panel.
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby nevermore » Fri Aug 21, 2009 7:55 am

Wow. Isthmus could do a lot worse than printing James' post as a counterpoint.
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby TheBookPolice » Fri Aug 21, 2009 8:41 am

This is so much better than a post from Uncle Fester, whose name I first thought of when I saw the topic author.

There have to be some intelligent conservatives in Madison, right? How does Isthmus find the most idiotic and offensive tandem to give space to? More importantly, how long can they continue to justify the "traffic is traffic, eyeballs are eyeballs" defense for maintaining the platform from which Blaska and Berg spew their crap?
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby blueders » Fri Aug 21, 2009 9:59 am

I'm glad that James Leaver and others took the time to respond, to challenge what Rick Berg had to say. I tend to agree with the criticisms that were voiced. I also found the column infuriating.

But I take issue with the assertion that, in giving space to Rick Berg, Isthmus is committing an act of appalling irresponsibility. Not everyone sees the world the way I do, or James Leaver does. Berg is sounding themes that are quite common among the political right. And, from what I've seen, he is not as loony tunes as Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh.

I would defend Berg's points to this extent. He claims there is dwindling support for health care reform. I believe that is true. He argues that part of the reason is that people believe that reform will end up costing them more. I believe this is true too. Americans are not altruistic; they don't want to pay for somebody else's care and they think that is what will happen here.

I think the case can be made that an effectively run national health care system could provide a high level of care to everyone at considerably less cost than what we are now paying to provide no care to some and inadequate care to others. But Obama and the Dems have undercut their ability to make this argument effectively by eschewing the one approach, single payer, that would most likely achieve this end.

Berg puts the term "death panels" in quotes because even he realizes this is not a fair characterization. He then notes that members of Congress have removed the provision in response to criticism. Leaver is quite right to point out that the provision did not create a death panel mandate but merely extended coverage for people who seek end-of-life consultations. Now and in the future, apparently, these will not be covered by Medicare.

But this being the case, why did members of Congress pull the provision? It's because they are spineless cowards, eager to back down at the first hint of controversy. That they did so has weakened the proposal and undercut the cause of reform. Conservatives are right to point this out.

I think it remains to be seen whether Barack Obama, who is now hinting that he may agree to remove a call for a public option, ever really intended to fight for true reform. I think it is equally possible that he will betray the people who voted for him by bunkling under at every turn. His old slogan, the one that got him elected, was: Change You Can Believe In. His new one seems to be: Change You Can Forget About.

No one has a lower opinion of the intelligence of the American public than I do. But even still, I think that if we are going to have a discussion we should bring in all points of view and trust that the public -- some of it, anyway -- will be able to sort out good arguments from bad ones. I don't think it is a requirement of responsible journalism that we shield readers from perspectives like Berg's. James Leaver and others seem quite up to the task of fighting back. Too bad Barack Obama and the Democrats don't seem as willing to do the same.
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby TheBookPolice » Fri Aug 21, 2009 10:19 am

Good arguments from bad? Yes, leave it to readers to be intelligent.

Good arguments from misleading arguments? Dunno about that. The worst kind of misleading argument is the one that looks good on the surface. There are at least 4,333 Americans who could probably attest to that right now, if they were alive.
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby Ned Flounders » Fri Aug 21, 2009 10:20 am

blueders wrote:No one has a lower opinion of the intelligence of the American public than I do.


I assume you're joking, because that's a strange and deeply depressing attitude for a journalist to have. Your career is presumably based on the idea that there's some value in trying to provide thoughtful, informative analysis of current events to the American public! Why would you devote your career to an entirely futile undertaking?

But even still, I think that if we are going to have a discussion we should bring in all points of view and trust that the public -- some of it, anyway -- will be able to sort out good arguments from bad ones. I don't think it is a requirement of responsible journalism that we shield readers from perspectives like Berg's.


"Perspectives like Berg's" are available to anyone, free of charge, on cable news, radio, the internet, and the editorial pages of many once-respectable newspapers. You can hardly avoid them! The only way Isthmus could "shield" readers from exposure to boilerplate right-wing propaganda on a day-in, day-out basis would be to ship them to a desert island or lock them in a room with no media access.

The idea that you need to further increase the availability of perspectives like Berg's for the sake of some kind of "discussion" is silly. You can best promote this national discussion by giving your limited page space to writers who will present reasoned, careful, and fact-based analyses of current events.
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby supaunknown » Fri Aug 21, 2009 11:10 am

blueders wrote:I think the case can be made that an effectively run national health care system could provide a high level of care to everyone at considerably less cost than what we are now paying to provide no care to some and inadequate care to others. But Obama and the Dems have undercut their ability to make this argument effectively by eschewing the one approach, single payer, that would most likely achieve this end.

It's a shame, really. Obama needs to play hardball on this and do his best to convince folks it's the right move at the right time. Obviously he won't be able to sway everybody. Nationalizing our health care system would be one of the biggest undertakings in American history. There are going to be selfish individuals and groups attempting to derail the process at every turn, but once the public starts benefitting from a better system, the naysayers will have nothing to complain about.
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby Uncle_Leaver » Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:39 pm

blueders wrote:Berg is sounding themes that are quite common among the political right. And, from what I've seen, he is not as loony tunes as Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh.

Well there's a high hurdle to clear! His tone may be more civil than that of Rush et al., fine, but his argument is no less disingenuous. Again, why does the fact his arguments are based upon utter nonsense (which has been definitively debunked time and again) not raise an editorial red flag?

Okay, truthfulness aside, he may be expressing common themes, but he's doing so inartfully and without any compelling support, factual or otherwise. He's sniping. Hey, free speech, right? Sure, but this is tripe I can find at any hour of the day just by spinning the AM dial. If Isthmus intends to air the dissenting opinion (a decision I don't really take issue with), it should be as concerned with quality as it is with word count. Berg's journalistic style is puerile and embarrassing in its vacuity. This piece wouldn't pass college entrance essay muster. Not even at Dartmouth.

He claims there is dwindling support for health care reform. I believe that is true.

I don't buy it. Unlike a lot of what gets debated in DC, this is an issue that touches nearly every American family. Odds are you know someone who's been denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition or you know someone who's uninsured and struggling under debt incurred from essential medical services. There's a new poll out today showing 77% of respondents rate the choice of a public option as either "quite important" or "extremely important" (table #2). I ask you: When have we ever seen such consensus among the voting public?

Anyway, if Berg believes public support is not there, why doesn't he back up his assertion with some sort of statistic? Oh, because that would be a journalistic effort ... my bad!

Leaver is quite right to point out that the provision did not create a death panel mandate but merely extended coverage for people who seek end-of-life consultations. Now and in the future, apparently, these will not be covered by Medicare.

But this being the case, why did members of Congress pull the provision? It's because they are spineless cowards, eager to back down at the first hint of controversy. That they did so has weakened the proposal and undercut the cause of reform. Conservatives are right to point this out.

Wait a minute ... let me get this straight. Democrats may be cowards, I won't fight you on that point as a general characterization. But conservatives are right to point out that the lies they propagated regarding "death panels" were successful in snuffing the provision thus weakening the proposed bill? Conservatives are right to trumpet that their underhanded tricks work and that they've successfully cheated the public out of a valuable benefit? Well, points awarded for honesty, I guess. But you've got a weird definition of what's right, Mr. Leuders. Right with a capital "R" maybe, but that's not the definition my momma taught me. It's also not very Christian, which the majority of these righties purport to be. But since when have they let a little heretical hypocrisy stop them, right?

I think it remains to be seen whether Barack Obama, who is now hinting that he may agree to remove a call for a public option, ever really intended to fight for true reform.

Okay, that's cynical. But I'm lost as to how this pertains to my protest here. I'm hardly defending everything the Dems have done. I'm condemning the tactics of those like Berg who can't fight in good faith. Again, if you want to publish a critique of the Left, fine. There are, no doubt, plenty of examples of Democrats' foibles to be exploited by a shrewd conservative. But that ain't Rick Berg, whose every point is predicated upon a pile of pure crap. Did you also publish an account of how the moon landing was faked in light of the recent anniversary? How about a piece from the Flat Earth Society in your next issue?

No one has a lower opinion of the intelligence of the American public than I do.

Well, that at least explains the appearance of Berg's silly ravings in your pages. Thanks for supplying the answer to my overarching question.
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby O.J. » Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:59 pm

I think Berg's a gasbag, too, but I think it's clear that support is waning. There's no doubt that this is at least partially attributable to some of the disturbing lies being used by the opposition, but the fact remains that support for this issue has been sliding.

http://abcnews.go.com/PollingUnit/Polit ... id=8373563

If you ask me, it seems like the right has done a better job of fomenting opposition to reform than the left has done in articulating its position.

Unfortunately, fear is a very successful tactic.
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby blueders » Fri Aug 21, 2009 1:07 pm

I thought I was being reasonable but I see that arguing with you is like arguing with a kitchen table. Unfortunately for me, I have been known to argue with my kitchen table.

Yes, I think it matters that Rick Berg is less extreme and more responsible than some other conservatives who are weighing in on this debate. You think he is inartful, and worthy of hurled invective. I disagree. I think he's reasonably cogent and thought-provoking. He certainly has succeeded in provoking thoughts from you.

You deny there is dwindling support for reform. Fine. Others think there is. I just finished looking over an article by Joe Tarr about how Tammy Baldwin is less optimistic than before about the prospects for reform. She could be wrong too, along with me and Rick Berg.

Yes I think conservatives are right to call attention to the hasty retreat that so-called proponents of reform made on the "death panels" issue. They probably think this shows the proposal was faulty; I think it says more about the lack of political will on the part of Congress. Either way it's a blow for reform.

I admit it was wrong of me to say that no one has a lower opinion of the intelligence of the American public than I do. Clearly, you have a much lower opinion. I think the public, at least the portion of it that reads Isthmus, can be exposed to a dissident, even obnoxious point of view without being led down the primrose path to perdition. You think the paper is wrong to present his views, no one matter how thoroughly they engage your attentions.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree, Would that be okay?
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Wherein I answer my own question

Postby TheBookPolice » Fri Aug 21, 2009 1:19 pm

TheBookPolice wrote:More importantly, how long can they continue to justify the "traffic is traffic, eyeballs are eyeballs" defense for maintaining the platform from which Blaska and Berg spew their crap?

Jury's out; they're still going with it.

blueders wrote:I think he's reasonably cogent and thought-provoking. He certainly has succeeded in provoking thoughts from you.
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Re: An Rx for Rick Berg

Postby Uncle_Leaver » Fri Aug 21, 2009 1:41 pm

blueders wrote:I thought I was being reasonable but I see that arguing with you is like arguing with a kitchen table. Unfortunately for me, I have been known to argue with my kitchen table.

Don't let it get you down. A kitchen table would typically blow the IQ curve among the sort I typically find myself arguing with.

Yes, I think it matters that Rick Berg is less extreme and more responsible than some other conservatives who are weighing in on this debate.

I don't think it's the least bit responsible to argue from a point of unabashed dishonesty. But I don't think we're going to get past that point. That's why you're the editor.

You think he is inartful, and worthy of hurled invective. I disagree. I think he's reasonably cogent and thought-provoking. He certainly has succeeded in provoking thoughts from you.

My dog provokes thoughts in me too, and she's been known to literally eat shit. Just saying, it's not a barometer of much. "Hurled invective" is a little harsh though, I think. I'm not taking cheap shots at Berg personally. All my jabs are aimed at his "craft," and if he can't handle the fact that some people are likely to think he's a crappy writer ... well, there's the door to the kitchen. Given the thinly veiled snark that pervades Berg's pieces, I'll have no regrets about sticking to my comments which is why I signed my real name. If he's worth his salt as a writer and has found my critique offensive, he can defend himself. What I've said is only slightly more harsh than some criticism I've levied in writers' workshops (where the best tend to develop thick skin), and I don't think that's out of line given that he's writing commentary.

You deny there is dwindling support for reform. Fine. Others think there is. I just finished looking over an article by Joe Tarr about how Tammy Baldwin is less optimistic than before about the prospects for reform. She could be wrong too, along with me and Rick Berg.

That's the thing, the jury is out. As I said in my original post, the percentage who support reform appears to vary wildly based on how the question is presented. I'm not saying my perception is right, I'm saying if Berg is going to state so definitively that his is correct, it would behoove him to cite at least one poll that supports that claim. Embrace The Google, Rick.

I admit it was wrong of me to say that no one has a lower opinion of the intelligence of the American public than I do. Clearly, you have a much lower opinion.

That's cheap, Bill. Seriously. I've been reading your paper pretty faithfully for over twenty years. So if what I've written here is as meaningless to you as a heap of hurled invective, I'd suggest your opinion of your readers' intelligence is lower than mine of humanity as a whole.

I think the public, at least the portion of it that reads Isthmus, can be exposed to a dissident, even obnoxious point of view without being led down the primrose path to perdition.

Of course they can. And unless they live in a cave, they are exposed to such daily without any help from you. Again, it's not the publication of a dissenting opinion that bothers me. It's that I think you can do better. You disagree. That's pretty much that, I guess, but you're not going to dissuade me.

I honestly think Berg's work is the proverbial turd in the punchbowl that is Isthmus. If you think that opinion is born of some juvenile need of mine to be mean, I probably can't change that perception, but it's my honest opinion. And an opinion is an opinion, right? Mine is based as much in fact as anything I've seen spilling from Berg's keyboard.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree, Would that be okay?

I'm waaay ahead of you, Dude.
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