Daily Archives: October 7, 2014

El Jefe brings a chicken to the doctor

Sometimes I wonder if John McClaughry is serious, or if he’s just trolling us all.

I don’t comment on his opinion pieces very often, because he’s so far beyond the pale that it’d be kind of like commenting on an alien civilization. One that considers Ayn Rand a creeping pinko.

Well, this time I’m pretty sure that El Jefe General is under the bridge, snickering. Because his latest effort, dutifully posted by VTDigger, betrays a woeful ignorance of our history. Or at best, a view of our history through coke-bottle-thick rose-colored glasses.

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 1.01.59 PMIn it, El Jefe calls for a return to those Good Old Days when health care was a matter of mutual aid instead of government intervention.

We’re not talking the days before Obamacare, or the days before Medicare. We’re talking pre-Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Because as we all know, FDR ushered in the decline and fall of True America. Take it away, El Jefe…

Health care a century ago relied largely on “friendly societies,” that first appeared in the UK as early as 1793. These were self-governing mutual aid societies that promoted ethical behavior, healthy lifestyles, and “the temperate interchange of social feeling” for the afflicted. They also provided medical care, sick pay, and funeral arrangements for members and their families.

… In the U.S. clones of the friendly societies began to appear in the early 1800s under the name “fraternal organizations,” exemplified by the Odd Fellows and the Loyal Order of Moose. These lodges established orphanages, hospitals, banks, schools, retirement homes, newspapers and insurance companies. They sponsored “lodge practice,” where the local lodge members selected and employed a doctor.

Ah yes, the Good Old Days, when all you had to do is join — freely, without a hint of coercion — with your fellows to ensure that all your needs would be met. McClaughry bemoans the repression of these free movements at the hands of the medical establishment, insurance companies, and, of course, the Big Bad Government.

El Jefe paints an attractive picture. Too bad it’s conveniently incomplete. If you were subject to the tender mercies of a “lodge doctor,” before the days of medical regulation and licensing, your life and health were probably in the hands of a quack or a well-meaning tradesman with little or no training.

Let’s just imagine a “lodge doctor,” even a well-intentioned one, trying to cope with the complexities and marvels of modern medicine. (Hey, let’s put him in charge of Ebola containment!)

For more, let us turn to one of my favorite texts: “The Good Old Days — They Were Terrible!” by noted historian/archivist Otto Bettmann, founder of the Bettmann Archives. Published in 1974 and still in print, it’s a breezy, compact deflation of cherished myths about the olden times. Many of which are dearly held by El Jefe.

“The country doctor of old… was actually no more than a venturesome prescriber. Because his diagnosis was based on guesswork his therapy was totally unreliable. Sometimes it cured — often it killed. …general practice in the United States was backward, commercial and often fraudulent.

“The lack of education and proper licensing exposed the sick to hordes of ignoramuses masquerading as doctors. More a trade than a profession, medicine attracted not the sons of the elite — who preferred law or theology — but mediocrities who saw a chance to get rich quickly.” 

Many of America’s “medical schools” were little more than diploma mills, offering a sheepskin after a few months of training.

“Doctors had little professional prestige; indeed many were considered ‘crude, coarse and ignorant, contributing to social butchery by keeping their patients ill.'”

This was American medical care during John McLaughry’s Golden Age of unfettered liberty. Considering all of that, I guess it’s no wonder that John’s little boys’ club, the Ethan Allen Institute, hasn’t hired its own lodge doctor.

Honestly, McClaughry’s essay makes Sue “chicken to the doctor” Lowden look like Anya Rader-Wallack.



Waving the bloody shirt in Pennsylvania

The scoundrel finds his last refuge.

The scoundrel finds his last refuge.

Tom Corbett is a desperate man.

The Republican Governor of Pennsylvania is way, way down in the polls in his fight for re-election. Somewhere between 15-20 points down to Democrat Tom Wolf. And there’s a really messy scandal coming to light about his time as state Attorney General: eight of his staffers were enthusiastically sharing porn by email. Two men who became top Corbett Administration officials have had to resign. Others are hanging by a thread.

So Tom Corbett could use a nice big fat distraction. And he’s got one, courtesy of Goddard College’s commencement invitation to Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Corbett’s response: a proposed bill that would bar convicted criminals from seeking publicity from their crimes. The bill is now fast-tracking its way through the Legislature; if it gets into law, expect it to be struck down as a violation of the First Amendment.

But no matter. Corbett’s not seriously interested in the bill; all he wants to do is wave the bloody shirt, and turn the spotlight away from the cratering of his political career.

The bill, according to lead sponsor Mike Vereb, “would allow crime victims or prosecutors acting on their behalf to bring a civil action to halt conduct by an offender if it causes the victim or the victim’s family severe mental anguish.” He slammed Goddard for giving Mumia a platform to deliver a “taxpayer-funded rant.”

Let’s take the latter first. Mumia’s remarks, according to those — unlike Vereb — who actually read them, were the usual blandly inspirational stuff of commencement addresses. He did not speak of the crime that put him behind bars for life. He did not mock the family and friends of the late Officer Danny Faulkner. He did not recite the lyrics to “Fuck Tha Police.” 

If the family and friends of Danny Faulkner are suffering any severe mental anguish, it’s not because a small liberal-arts college in a small Vermont town invited Mumia to give a brief recorded address to 20 students. It’s because of all the conservative ragemongering that capitalized on the event.

Mike Vereb said, “The words of the victims should be louder than the criminals.” Well, they would have been if people like Mike Vereb had let the Goddard event pass quietly by.

In fact, they still were louder. A whole lot louder. How many people actually heard Mumia’s words? And how many have heard the words of Faulkner’s family, friends, and supporters?

It’s people like Mike Vereb and Tom Corbett who are indulging in taxpayer-funded rants. They are the ones causing “severe mental anguish” by endlessly reciting the details of the crime and pushing the Faulkner family back into the spotlight. And, figuratively, waving Danny Faulkner’s bloody shirt for a brief moment of political advantage.

Could somebody please draft a bill that would bar public officials from going on taxpayer-funded rants that cause severe mental anguish?

We’re Number 39! We’re Number 39! We’re Number 39!

A survey of women’s representation in elective office came out a few days ago, and it found good old progressive liberal hotbed Vermont way down in 39th place among the 50 states.

And who was number one? That neighboring hotbed of retrograde conservatism, New Hampshire. Best in the nation. 38 places ahead of us.

The survey comes from a group called Representation 2020, which is working toward gender parity in public office. It measured each state by proportion of women in Congressional delegations, statewide elective offices, state legislatures, mayoralties, and county executive positions. (Oops, Vermont doesn’t have any of those.) And it assigned a score to each state, on a scale of 1 to 100. A score of 50 would indicate gender parity.

No state got there, naturally. The top six states managed to get into the 30s.

Vermont? To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, we go all the way to eleven.


We get top marks in one category — women in the lower house of the legislature. 42% of our state representatives are women; we earned ten points for that. Which means, of course, that we really suck at everything else. The only other point we got was for State Treasurer Beth Pearce. To tick off some of our dismal statistics:

— We’ve never elected a woman to Congress.

— We’ve only had one female governor, Madeleine Kunin.

— Although we do very well in the state House, we don’t do so well in the Senate: only eight women out of 30, roughly 26%.

— None of our five largest cities has ever had a female mayor. EVER.

— Currently, only one of our eight cities has a female mayor.

So, House of Representatives aside, why is Vermont politics such a pickle party? I spoke with Sarah McCall, executive director of Emerge Vermont, a nonprofit whose goal is “identifying, training and encouraging women to run for office, get elected, and to seek higher office.” The most notable graduate of EV’s first training round is Windham County Democrat Becca Balint, who’s virtually assured of a seat in the state Senate after finishing second in the party primary. (Two seats up for grabs; no Republicans running.) She will replace the departing Peter Galbraith, which I mention only because I never get tired of saying “the departing Peter Galbraith.” Tee hee!

McCall says Vermont has a “great track record” in the House, but there seems to be a glass ceiling above that. She identifies a number of factors limiting women’s upward mobility:

— Small state, small number of high-level seats.

— “No term limits,” and “incumbency is very strong in Vermont.”

— A lack of women in the positions that usually feed into high office: mayoralties, and the State Senate.

McCall describes the next few years as a critical time, because the members of our Congressional delegation will retire sooner or later, and Governor Shumlin will likely move on after another term or two. “Madeleine Kunin thought there’d be women following in her footsteps,” she says, but there were none. We lost a whole generation. Now, “we’re building the pipeline, making sure we have women in position, ready to go, when opportunities open up.”

Of course, they’ll face a challenge from the men of the next generation, who’ve been biding their time waiting for our gray-haired solons to retire. I suppose it’d be too much to ask those men to set aside their own political aspirations for the sake of some equity.

And before anyone starts yammering about “affirmative action” and “choosing the most qualified,” here are a few words on that subject from Ms. McCall.

She says there’s a “misconception” that women need to beef up their resumes to be competitive. It’s the other way around, in fact: “Women are usually more qualified, because they believe that they need to be overprepared before running for office.”

I’ve seen the same phenomenon in the ranks of the clergy: just about every female minister/pastor/priest/rabbi/etc. I’ve ever met has struck me as extremely qualified: learned, intelligent, and empathetic. It’s because a woman still has to jump through a lot of hoops to get into the clergy, so only the best and most determined get in.

Emerge Vermont, by the way, is currently seeking applicants for its second round of training. The application deadline is November 10, and the training starts in January. Prepare now, to run in 2016!

Also, EV is having its big annual celebration on Wednesday, October 15 at the Shelburne Museum. They’ll be honoring Madeleine Kunin on the 30th anniversary of her election as Governor. Information on all this good stuff at EV’s website.

I wish them well. We could certainly use a lot more gender equity in Vermont. In this category at least, New Hampshire puts us to shame. How ’bout we start closing the gap?