When I had a traditional 9-5 job, I found it tough to keep up with all but the most significant of current events. I worked all day, battled traffic to get home at night, threw together something to eat, then fell into bed watching just enough TV to dull my brain so I could fall asleep. The next day, I did it all over again.
Every day, I trusted the world not to blow itself up, and that was the extent of my political involvement: Trust.
These days, times are tough and people seem more tired to me than ever before. Those who are engaged in current events are getting numb from the seemingly daily deluge of revelations about government leaks, scandals or impasses, so I “get” why the headline below didn’t garner more attention.
It should have. In my view, the story behind the headline should be water-cooler material because it’s important. Really important. It should chill the blood of every American with a pulse, but because dog fanciers have been the proverbial canaries in the coal mine for years, I suspect we should take special notice.
In a nutshell, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) wants to require health care providers to include “social and behavioral” data in Electronic Health Records and link them to a patient’s records to public health departments. According to a solicitation posted by the Department of Health and Human Services headed by Katherine Sebelius, the National Academy of Sciences has been commissioned to study how best to add these factors to electronic health record reporting.
The CMS, by the way, covers 100 million people through Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Hospital Insurance Program and is tasked with running the Affordable Care Act, euphemistically called “Obamacare.”
The article falls in line with today’s New York Post article reporting that in addition to questions about behavior, health care providers are instructed to inquire about a patient’s sexual activity. Doctors and hospitals that don’t comply with the government’s electronic-health-records requirements forgo incentive payments, but starting in 2015, they’ll face financial penalties from Medicare and Medicaid if they don’t comply.
The agency believes that, “adding social and behavioral data to patients’ online records will improve health care.”
Let’s put aside the obvious intrusion into our privacy. Put aside, too, that these requirements force a doctor to violate his or her Hippocratic oath to keep their patients’ records confidential.
Focus, instead, on the scores of things you do in a week that could be reported as a “behavior.” We know it can’t be ownership of a firearm. Section 2716 of the Affordable Care Act law bars the federal government from compelling doctors and hospitals to ask if you own a gun because the NRA saw to this. Everything else is fair game: Knitting, rock climbing, collecting buttons, showing your dog…..
And once “behaviors” have been identified, what determines if they’re normal or aberrant? If “normal” is defined by behavior of the majority of the population, dog fanciers are already in trouble just by doing the math since what proportion of the population, do you suppose, defines itself as a “dog fancier,” let alone “dog breeder?”
What if it’s an individual or committee that determines “normal?” What if they determine that your chosen hobby or sport is “abnormal?” Would insurance cost you more? Would you be singled out for home visits by social services? Could you be denied health care?
Would it be a stretch to imagine the day when breeding a dog is deemed a mental condition?
While it’s true that I have a vivid imagination, I don’t see purple wombats climbing the walls. The voices in my head tell me I don’t. Still, the distance between being regarded merely cruel and immoral for having multiple dogs or breeding them, and being regarded as emotionally disturbed for the same thing is shrinking, thanks to animal rights groups and the shrillest of shelter and rescue advocates.
As John Yates of the American Sporting Dog Alliance pointed out, “…when we call ourselves ‘responsible breeders,’ responsible to whom? Who defines ‘responsible’ and ‘irresponsible?’ Some bureaucrat? A politician? Animal rights cretins who say there is no such thing as a responsible breeder? If we say we are not breeders, it makes us ‘pet hoarders.’ We are tarred as mentally ill people in need of psychotherapy.”
The drip drip drip of persuading the hearts and minds to conclude as much has been steady:
- Nightly, gut wrenching images of sad-eyed cats and dogs flash on television screens as the Humane Society of the United States begs for donations to save them from certain death. It works. Over $130,000,000 has been donated to the HSUS but less than 1% is actually seen by animal shelters. In 2012, a Center for Consumer Freedom polls conducted by Opinion Research Corporation found that 71% of Americans believe that HSUS is a pet-shelter umbrella group while 68% believe that HSUS gives most of its money to pet shelters – both incorrect. Only 3 of the 28 ads that HSUS ran on television contained a disclaimer that HSUS is independent from local humane societies, and ads that did have a disclaimer didn’t air very often: Less than 100 airings, compared to more than 20,000 airings of ads with no disclaimer;
- PETA’s website: “Dogs across the country are dying because people choose to purchase animals from pet shops or breeders instead of adopting from animal shelters.”
Note that they don’t distinguish substandard breeders from ethical, caring and responsible ones;
- From the Dog Breeders are Evil Facebook page: “Every breeder is condemning a shelter dog to death for each puppy or kitten that you produce. Adopt, don’t Shop!”
In addition to messaging that ranges from the subliminal to the outright, legislative laws with “teeth” are attempting to put a bite into breeding whether the breeder has integrity or not. In 2009, the author of A Bitter Cynoanarchist wrote, “There are a disturbing number of laws putting limits on the numbers of intact dogs a breeder can own, wending their way through state legislatures right now. They are billed as ‘puppy mill’ laws, but what they really are is ‘make dog breeding so expensive and troublesome that no one will do it’ laws.”
She had it right. Three years later – this week, in fact – the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS) released the finalized version of new federal regulations. Intended to bring internet-based breeders and sellers under the regulation of the Animal Welfare Act, the rule expands the USDA’s oversight of pet breeders to include people who have more than four “breeding females” and sell even one pet “sight unseen.” This last part is problematic to caring, responsible breeders who want to sell a puppy to a loving home which has had the breeder’s dogs in the past but live out of town.
Despite thousands of letters, e-mails and phone calls expressing concern over flaws with the rule, APHIS largely ignored them by adopting the rule in much the same form it was originally proposed. In the war with dog breeders, the Department of Agriculture won a significant battle, and the animal rights faction helped.
According to its own tax returns, HSUS spent $17.3 million to lobby candidates, legislators and governments between 2005 and 2009. As if that wasn’t enough, it helps to have friends in high places. Former HSUS litigation attorney, Sarah Conant, is now employed by the Department of Agriculture, while Deborah Dubow Press, a known animal rights activist, was hired by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack as an enforcement specialist (and parenthetically, Mr.Vilsack has a very different spin on the importance of agriculture which should frighten the bejeebers out of farmers and ranchers). Let me put it more plainly: Known animal rights members were hired to work for the same department that crafted the language and now enforces a regulation that impacts every responsible breeder in the country.
It’s a little like a vegan planning the menu for a cattlemen’s banquet.
It doesn’t end there.
According to her biography, Lois Lerner, the embattled official of the Internal Revenue Service who apologized for improperly scrutinizing conservative groups, is also an active member of the Humane Society of the United States.
By wondering out loud what other government agency has among its employees active members of radical animal rights groups, I come full circle. What political animal wouldn’t salivate over having social and behavioral data about an electorate? What animal rights advocate wouldn’t love to have the power to declare dog breeding a mental illness?
What if the person in charge of assessing behavior for the Affordable Care Act is an animal rights advocate?
What if you got a letter one day informing you that because of your dog activities, you’ve been determined to be unstable?
What if the month after that, everyone who purchased a pack of cigarettes got the same letter?
And what if the month after that, every Facebook subscriber who has ever expressed dissent with the government or a politician gets the same letter?
If you’re a dog fancier, you already know what it’s like out there. If you’re not, give it time. At some point, you will probably and unwittingly break a law or regulation you never knew existed. At some point, a benign activity that you like to do right now will be deemed immoral, indecent, insane or illegal by powerful people you don’t know because they disagree with you. It is elitism at its worst. Where does it end?
I have no answers on how we come back from this point, but I am certain of this: “Trust” is no longer an adequate means of engagement with current events.
I conclude with the “Tin Hat Song,” a charming little ditty for all us future crazies. Sing it with me, now.