Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
February 21, 2010

Those of you who watched this year's telecast of the Super Bowl have good reason to wonder whether by this time next year any taboos at all will have survived to set limits to Madison Avenue's brazen and blatant exploitation of depravity in the interests of peddling products. And the very same question pops into mind at the sight of certain billboards now sprouting up throughout the Metro, disfiguring decent neighborhoods and adding unwelcome ugliness to our most heavily traveled roadways. On this latest abandonment of standards that once were taken for granted the well-known satirist Joe Queenan said it best in the Wall Street Journal for February tenth. Here is what he had to say.
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Super Game, Stupid Ads
By: Joe Queenan
Wall Street Journal. February 10, 2010

People who don't like sports tend to dismiss professional football players as crass, sexist and stupid. Well, take a look at the ads that appeared on this year's Super Bowl, and decide who's crass, sexist and stupid. It seems the "creatives" on Madison Avenue have our professional athletes beat in all three departments.

With a few exceptions-David Letterinan's Super Bowl party with Oprah and Jay Leno, Google's heartwarming tale of a Parisian romance built entirely via search engine--the ads screened during the stoppages of play seemed to have been designed by morons. And not especially gifted morons. A creature visiting from another planet and viewing these commercials could easily assume that this was a civilization in an advanced state of decline. In fact, a creature visiting from England-where they actually know how to make clever ads-might think that.

The ads fell into three basic categories: Some were aimed at drunks, some were aimed at slobs, and the rest were aimed at men unsure of their sexuality. There was quite a bit of overlap here. In one ad, women were fed popcorn after popping out of the water like trained seals. In another, a young man whose "girlfriend has removed his spine" follows her sheepishly through the lingerie department with a red brassiere draped over his shoulder, a badge of dishonor for shopping with her on game day. In a series of spots, nubile young women tore off their clothing while feminist Nascar driver Danica Patrick looked on. In one of the most staggeringly ingenious spots, a man abandoned his wife to the tender mercies of a gang of thugs rather than part with his beloved Bridgestone tires. The man had misheard the threat "Your tires or your life" as "Your tires or your wife"....

The men dominating the ads were mostly charter members of Ninny Nation. There were lots of men without pants; men in stupid gym clothes, men with geeky haircuts, men with dorky eyeglasses. Very few of the smurfs and hobbits in these ads looked like they had ever played football....

The beer ads, admittedly more clever than most of the other promos, encouraged America to get drunk. If an asteroid is about to hit, get drunk. If you're stranded on a desert island, get drunk.  If the bridge outside has collapsed, form a human viaduct so the beer truck can reach town and everyone can get drunk. Or maybe I am exaggerating here. Perhaps the ads were suggesting: If an asteroid is about to wipe out planet Earth, remember to drink sensibly.

The Super Bowl has long been a showcase for the most ingenious ideas the advertising business has to offer. It also provides people at Super Bowl parties who are not actually interested in football ... with something to talk about. Judging from the results, advertising has now joined car manufacturing as an industry we should probably leave to foreigners. Perhaps we should try outsourcing this stuff to Pakistan. They've got a sense of humor.

Sunday night provided the best and brightest minds in the advertising community with their annual opportunity to show what they can do. Chickens in space. Beavers playing the fiddle. A fat basketball player stuffing his face. Naked women in bathtubs .... Men without pants.

Maybe its just me, but it's starting to feel a little bit like Rome, 475 A.D., around here, with the barbarians outside the gates and a bunch of slightly better-dressed barbarians inside.

Don't believe me? Consider this: The Super Bowl also featured an ad where a woman talked about how much she loved her son, the legendary Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. She intimated, rather than explicitly stated, that she had once considered not bringing him into the world, but luckily had changed her mind.

THIS, incredibly, was the most CONTROVERSIAL of all the ads that aired. I suppose it just wasn't crass, sexist and stupid enough to go unnoticed.
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To switch to a different topic, it would seem that President Obama's trillion dollar program for the reform of our nation's health care is for the moment locked tight in the deep freeze, though the Speaker of the House, Ms. Nancy Pelosi, is sending ominous signals about resorting to a procedure called "Reconciliation" in order to dispatch a slightly modified bill through labyrinthine ways to the President's desk. In the judgment, however, of many knowledgeable observers success for such a venture is unlikely.

Regardless of one's views about particular proposals, most of us will no doubt agree that there are major flaws in our present system, flaws that need to be addressed. And alternatives to the proposals in the Obama plan are by no means hard to find, alternatives less expensive and focused more precisely upon the problems that cry out for correction. A thoughtful agenda listing TEN BASIC STEPS towards expanding coverage while trimming costs was presented-where else?-in The Wall Street Journal, in the very same issue (February tenth) that carried Mr. Queenan's remarks.  This agenda, including measures that in recent years have been gaining more and more support, was proposed by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and by John C. Goodman, president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis. May I offer it here as food for thought on an issue with profoundly moral implications.

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Ten Ideas For Health Care Reform
By: Newt Gingrich ad John C. Goodman
The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday February 10, 2010

"If you have a better idea, show it to me." That was President Barack Obama's challenge two weeks ago... regarding health-care reform.  He has since called for a bipartisan forum, not to start over on health reform but to "move forward" on the "best ideas that are out there."

The best ideas out there are not those which consist of more spending, more regulations and more bureaucracy .... Here's where [we] should start:

Make insurance affordable. The current taxation of health insurance is arbitrary and unfair, giving lavish subsidies to some, like those who get Cadillac coverage from their employers, and almost no relief to people who have to buy their own. More equitable tax treatment would lower costs for individuals and families. Many health economists conclude that tax relief for health insurance should be a fixed-dollar amount, independent of the amount of insurance purchased. A step in the right direction would be to give Americans the choice of a generous tax credit or the ability to deduct the value of their health insurance up to a certain amount.

Make health insurance portable. The first step toward genuine portability-and the best way of solving the problems of pre-existing conditions-is to change federal policy. Employers should be encouraged to provide employees with insurance that travels with them from job to job and in and out of the labor market. Also, individuals should have the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines. When insurers compete for consumers, prices will fall and quality will improve.

Meet the needs of the chronically ill. Most individuals with chronic diseases want to be in charge of their own care. The mother of an asthmatic child, for example, should have a device at home that measures the child's peak airtlow and should be taught when to change his medication, rather than going to the doctor each time.

Having the ability to obtain and manage more health dollars in Health Savings Accounts is a start. A good model for setf-management is the Cash and Counseling program for the homebound disabled under Medicaid. Individuals in this program are able to manage their own budgets and hire and fire the people who provide them with custodial services and medical care. Satisfaction rates approach 100% according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

We should also encourage health plans to specialize in managing chronic diseases instead of demanding that every plan must be all things to all people. For example, special-needs plans in Medicare Advantage actively compete to enroll and cover the sickest Medicare beneficiaries, and stay in business by meeting their needs. This is the alternative to forcing insurers to take high-cost patients for cut-rate premiums, which guarantees that these patients will be unwanted.

Allow doctors and patients to control costs. Doctors and patients are currently trapped by governmeizt-imposed payment rates.  Under Medicare, doctors are not paid if they communicate with their patients by phone or e-mail. Medicare pays by task-there is a list of about 7,500-but doctors do not get paid to advise patients on how to lower their drug costs or how to comparison shop on the Web. In short, they get paid when people are sick, not to keep them healthy.

So long as total cost to the government does not rise and quality of care does not suffer, doctors should have the freedom to repackage and reprice their services. And payment should take into account the quality of the care that is delivered. Once physicians are liberated under Medicare, private insurers will follow.

Don't cut Medicare. The reform bills passed by the House and Senate cut Medicare by approximately $500 billion. This is wrong. There is no question that Medicare is on an unsustainable course; the government has promised far more than it can deliver. But this problem will not be solved by cutting Medicare in order to create NEW UNFUNDED LIABILITIES for YOUNG people.

Protect early retirees. More than 80% of the 78 million baby boomers will likely retire before they become eligible for Medicare. This is often the most difficult time for individuals and families to find affordable insurance. A viable bridge to Medicare can be built by allowing employers to obtain individually owned insurance for their retirees at group rates; allowing them to deposit some or all of the premium amount for post-retirement insurance into a retiree's Health Savings Accounts, and giving employers and younger employees the ability to save tax-freefor post-retirement health.

Inform consumers. Patients need to have clear, reliable data about cost and quality before they make decisions about their care. But finding such information is virtually impossible. Sources like Medicare claims data (stripped of patient information) can help consumers answer important questions about their care. Government data-paid for by the taxpayers- can answer these questions and should be made public.

Eliminate  unk lawsuits. Last year the president pledged to consider civil justice reform. We do not need to study or test medical malpractice any longer: The current system is broken. States across the country-Texas in particular-have already implemented key reforms including liability protection for using health information technology or following clinical standards of care; caps on non-economic damages; "loser pays" laws; and new alternative dispute resolution where patients get compensated for unexpected, adverse medical outcomes without lawyers, courtrooms, judges and juries.

Stop health-care fraud. Every year up to $120 billion is stolen by criminals who defraud public programs like Medicare and Medicaid, according to the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association. We can help prevent this by using responsible approaches such as enhanced coordination of benefits, tliird-party liability verification, and electronic payment.

Make medical breakthroughs accessible to patients. Breakthrough drugs, innovative devices and new therapies to treat rare, complex diseases as well as chronic conditions should he SPED to the market. We can do this by cutting red tape BEFORE AND DURING review by the Food and Drug Administration and by deploying information technology to monitor the quality of drugs and devices once they reach the market-place.

The solutions presented here can be the foundation for a PATIENT-centered system....
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