Friday, December 11, 2009

The Right is Left, right?

The GOP has gone to the (blue?) dogs, according to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). Here's the blurb from The Hill:
Conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on Wednesday called out the leadership of the Republican Party for straying too far from conservative principles.

DeMint, in an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network, also said that he is trying to recruit a new crop of GOP lawmakers to challenge the party establishment.

"The problem in the Republican Party is that the leadership has gone to the left," he said. "I need some new Republicans."
Rush Limbaugh took a swipe at the GOP leadership for not saying "no" enough, says The Hill:
“They are up there adding amendments. There’s no question they’re adding amendments to it. McConnell’s office did call here and say that they are opposing this, so I don’t know if adding amendments is a strategery [sic] to bollix it up and slow it down. But I — I disagree. They just need to say no; there’s nothing wrong with saying no to this!” Limbaugh said Tuesday.
Not to be outdone, the Tea Party and the Social Security Institute slammed the GOP for "collaboration with the enemy."

GOP moderates are the real threat, Stephen Colbert cautions, and the GOP's new purity test is the "perfect" response, "a party of white, Christian men who call Obama a Nazi pushing the concept of purity."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It’s Not Real Reform If It Doesn’t End The Need For This

From the National Association of Free Clinics event going on now in Kansas City, MO:

Over at Firedoglake, nyceve has more. At timestamp 3:06, she starts losing it:

(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Nevadans Not Wild About Harry

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake has been warning that Harry Reid will pay a steep price if he doesn’t do whatever it takes (including using reconciliation) to pass a Senate health care bill with a public option intact.

A recent Mason-Dixon poll shows that Reid has plenty of trouble ahead even without incurring the wrath of the blogosphere.

Two potential Republican challengers – former Nevada basketball star, Danny Tarkanian, and former state GOP chair and former television anchorwoman, Sue Lowden – both outpoll Reid by a minimum of six percentage points. Both outpoll Reid among independents by double digits.

Politics Daily suspects there may be “an anybody-but-Reid sentiment at work more than a preference for a Republican.”

That and the voter enthusiasm gap mean Reid had better not fail on health care.

(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama White House Seeks Delay On Declassification

Secret agencies like their secrets secret. Even old secrets. The Boston Globe reported Sunday that “roadblocks” and “turf battles” among government agencies will likely delay the release of millions of pages of documents scheduled to be declassified on December 31. Some date back to World War II.

In spite of President Obama’s pledge to bring new openness to government, the executive order drafted to replace one signed by President Bush in 2003 “is meeting resistance from key national security and intelligence officials, delaying its approval.” To head off the deadline, the new draft order may have to modify the “automatic declassification” provisions of a Bush Executive Order:

Section 3.3(e)(3) By notification to the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, before the records are subject to automatic declassification, an agency head or senior agency official designated under section 5.4 of this order may delay automatic declassification for up to 3 years for classified records that have been referred or transferred to that agency by another agency less than 3 years before automatic declassification would otherwise be required.

When is “automatic declassification” not automatic? When agency officials can drag their feet indefinitely. To meet the looming deadline, the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News reports, “several agencies would have to forgo a review of the affected historical records, which they are unwilling to do. And so it seems they will simply be excused from compliance.”

According to the Boston Globe:

“They never want to give up their authority,” said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, a research center at George Washington University that collects and publishes declassified information. “The national security bureaucracy is deeply entrenched and is not willing to give up some of the protections they feel they need for their documents.”

Our documents, they need to be reminded. The Globe concludes by acknowledging that even declassification does not render a document public:

Officials estimate that there are 400 million pages of historical documents that have been declassified but remain in government records centers and have not been processed at the National Archives, where the public can view them.

One such document is the official crash report on the B-29 that crashed during a test flight near Waycross, GA in 1948. Writing for the New Jersey Post-Courier in 2003, Matt Katz laid out the details fifty-five years later. The crash killed nine, including three civilian contractors from RCA. The contractors’ widows tried in vain to find out what happened in their husbands’ last moments. After the widows filed a lawsuit charging negligence, the government quashed the case by declaring the official crash report a state secret. United States v. Reynolds (1952) was the landmark case that formally recognized the state secrets privilege.

Only by accident did the daughter of one contractor come across the Air Force accident report – declassified in 2000 – for sale on the Internet. An engine had caught fire. The plane broke apart in mid-air. But there was more, Katz writes: “Failure to follow procedure. Failure to carry out special safety orders. Pilot error. These were the causes identified by the Air Force – all evidence that could have been used 50 years ago to support the claims of negligence.”

There was more:

• Two Air Force orders calling for changes in the exhaust system – "for the purpose of eliminating a definite fire hazard" – were not complied with. The fire began in the exhaust system.

• An Air Force order requiring the inspection of rivets was ignored. Loose rivets may have been a factor in the crash.

• The plane needed "more than the normal amount of maintenance." It had been out of commission because of technical problems 97 of the 189 days before the crash.

The victims’ families in this case only had to wait half a century for their answers from the military. Now, after extensions by presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, America’s secret agencies will get yet another extension from the Obama administration “of an undetermined length - possibly years,” according to the Globe report.

Change deferred. Is it change denied?

(Cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Corporate Ventriloquism

Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake had a dustup a few weeks ago with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) over an amendment to H.R. 3200 that Eshoo sponsored governing the licensing of biologic drugs. Hamsher, a three-time breast cancer survivor, contended that a loophole allowed manufacturers to extend their twelve-year exclusive license to drugs by making minor tweaks to the molecules.

Eshoo got testy about being called out, saying, “My amendment prohibits by its plain language exactly what Ms. Hamsher alleges it would encourage.” But other experts contended that Eshoo didn’t understand the “plain language” of her own amendment, that it said just the opposite of what she thought. Also, Energy and Commerce chair Henry Waxman’s statements supported Jane’s contention that the provision contained a loophole that allowed Big Pharma to “evergreen” its exclusive licenses to biologic medications.

This morning, Marcy Wheeler pointed to an NYT piece describing the pushback from Big Pharma. They worked at getting congresscritters from both sides of the aisle to enter their talking points into the Congressional Record:

Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.


Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.


Members of Congress submit statements for publication in the Congressional Record all the time, often with a decorous request to “revise and extend my remarks.” It is unusual for so many revisions and extensions to match up word for word. It is even more unusual to find clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists.

It would be nice to see those e-mails, by the way. It makes you wonder who wrote the “plain language” for Eshoo’s anti-evergreening amendment.

(Full disclosure: This writer has had Roche as a client.)

(cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Which Public Is That?

The Beltway cognoscenti keep telling us that a bipartisan solution to health care reform is what the public wants. Just what public is it that's more interested in process than results?

Conventional wisdom says that Obama has failed to make Washington more bipartisan if Democrats ram through a health reform bill without Republican support. That would be the Republican support that House Republican whip Rep. Eric Cantor just swore Democrats will never get. “[N]ot one Republican will vote for this bill," Cantor told a “tea party” crowd on Thursday.

Republican strategist Mike Murphy from Thursday’s Morning Edition (NPR):

… I think the great mistake of the Obama presidency, the thing that has taken his numbers among the critical independents who put him in office from very high to low now, is they were elected as a bipartisan problem solver, almost a post-partisan politician. But from the day they've been in, they got a little drunk on the power and they've governed as a one-party liberal party. It's been more of the Democratic dogma, particularly in the House under Pelosi.

And while they have the pure political power to force some things through with their majorities, the Democrats, in my view, are governing too far to the left. They're losing the middle of the country.

Put aside for a moment the up-is-downisms. The public is disillusioned because, as Murphy suggests, Democrats aren’t being bipartisan enough? Or is it really because they have accomplished too little in trying to placate an avowedly obstructionist opposition party?

Observe the coverage of the off-year elections. It is the end of the honeymoon, says Murphy. The media made it out to be a turning point for the White House -- picking up two House seats is, of course, bad news for the Democrats. It's a wonder television news didn't brand the coverage with a catchy name and trademarked graphics.

This should give health care reformers in Congress pause, suggest our media mavens. Why?

Suspense, drama, conflict and histrionics are the stuff of good TV. One would think the media would be egging on Democrats to use the reconciliation process to pass health care reform – with a public option. Think of the ratings. You ain't seen nothin' yet.

See Rep. John Boehner crying on the House floor, streaking his bronzer! Hear Congresswoman Michele Bachmann declare President Obama the antichrist on the steps of the Capitol! Experience the riveting oratory of Joe the Bummer! Watch conservatives in Congress rend their garments as tea partiers fling themselves onto a pyre of burning Constitutions!

Now that’s must-see TV. So why is our “liberal” media suggesting that that would be the worst that could happen? For whom, exactly? It is because the corporate titans behind mass media have a vested interest in seeing health reform fail?

There are more questions than answers.

What public is it that would rather have a bad bipartisan bill rather than a more robust single-party one? The public that's disenchanted because health reform has not been passed already? The majority of Americans that consistent polling shows want a bill with a public option? The people already suffering under a failed and costly health care system? The pragmatic average Joes who go to see Larry the Cable Guy shout "Git ‘Er Done!" from the stage?

That public is more interested in process than results?

Cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lions and tigers and "progressives"

We received this second attack flyer on Saturday, just in time for Tuesday's local elections.

Both candidates won handily.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Lucky or Good?

The congressman’s staffer said her goodbyes and left the service desk. The cashier, pleasant-looking and about fifty, had listened to the health care conversation from behind the counter. Now that it was just the two of them, she opened up to my wife.

It has been a bad three years. She had been healthy, she said, until she developed a blood disorder. After the diagnosis, her health insurance was cancelled.

There has been a string of cancers diagnosed in her family – six or seven – including her father. The stress on the family is severe. Her mother had a stroke.

But she is lucky – blessed she said – to have this new job. And in this economy, she’s right. The health benefits are especially good. The women’s clothing company is a big supporter of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure movement to fight breast cancer.

Lucky for her again. Since taking the job, she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, her employer is supportive.

Because what with her mother’s stroke, she didn’t want to stress her parents further. She avoided telling them about her breast cancer until she began radiation treatments recently.

They say it’s better to be lucky than good. That is employer-based health care in America. The lucky get treatment until they are too sick to work and their employer has to let them go. Business is business.

It is a good thing the cashier likes her new job. She had better not lose it – for any reason. She’ll lose her insurance too.

Wide-eyed, it had never occurred to her that she could call her congressman or senators and tell them her story, that they might actually listen. My wife urged her to visit or call, and soon.

Because very soon, all of America will find out if they’re listening and if we're lucky.

(Cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The End Is Always Nearer on the Right Side of the Street

A friend sent me a link received in one of those multi-forwarded, zombie right-wing chain mails that spammers use for harvesting emails for their lists. The email was headed, "Obama to sign away US freedom in December?"

With the forward came this plaintive request:
Please give me your opinion on this fellow - and give me some material to shoot back to the idiots sending it to me
The link (which I won't bother to embed) is to a YouTube clip of one Lord Christopher Monckton, a former Maggie Thatcher advisor and climate change skeptic, speaking before a Minnesota Free Market Institute meeting in mid-October.

There's a climate change treaty to be signed in Copenhagen this December. "In the next few weeks," says Monckton, "unless you stop it, your president will sign your freedom, your democracy and your prosperity away for ever, and neither you nor any subsequent government you may elect will have any power whatsoever to take it back again."

The end is near. Again.

Exaspberated, I replied (tongue firmly in cheek):
But, but, but ... he's melodramatic. He has a classy British accent. He quoted Churchill. He kisses our American asses and says he "so loves and admires" us. He can't be a kook, can he?

Now, you thought they thought Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and defeated communism, and, being a Thatcherite, surely Monckton does. Au contraire! Monckton said Obama will sign our freedom away to a "communist world government" and once done, it cannot be undone. OMG!

Okay, there is that bit about the Congress having to ratify treaties, what with all their pages and pages of exemptions, but why should we let that minor detail get in the way of some good, old-fashioned conservative red baiting?

I mean, it's like that time in 1988 when that pinko Ronald Reagan sold out the the ol' US of A by signing the UN Convention Against Torture (the one Congress didn't ratify until 1994?). That commie rat bastard Reagan signed away America's sovereign, God-given right to torture people! We could have used torture against those Islamofascist bastards, al Qaida, ya know?

But NOOOOO!!!! The UN stopped us dead in our tracks, didn't it?

I, too, think of the US of A as the beacon of freedom to the world. I'm just relieved, as Monckton must be, that even after all that leftist propaganda about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, that the world still sees us as he does, as the beacon of freedom. Now if we can only stop those lefties from keeping Miami Beach real estate from slipping beneath the waves like the Hood.

Sorry if I'm just all alarmist-out, but after a decade of the-end-is-near rhetoric from the right, I'm afraid I can hardly muster a yawn.

Do these people bathe in fear because they can't get an erection any more, and a chill up their spines is as good as it gets?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Other than that, she was probably a swell gal

SC Gov. Mark Sanford doesn't know enough to quit while he's behind. He's in Newsweek with a review of some new books about the life of Ayn Rand. Sanford's takeaway? "Government doesn't know best."


Sanford pauses in his paean to Rand long enough to acknowledge that her freedom fetish did not apply to members of her cult:
Ironically, as Heller's biography makes clear, while Rand's philosophy was based on the individual's absolute freedom, Rand herself exercised a dictatorial control over her followers. She would denounce anyone who expressed opinions even slightly diverging from her own... For the leader of a group dedicated to human freedom, Rand didn't allow much of it around her.
Sanford doesn't mention (and may not know) that Rand based one of her early fictional heroes on William Edward Hickman, who author Michael Prescott describes as "a forger, an armed robber, a child kidnapper, and a multiple murderer. Other than that, he was probably a swell guy."

Prescott continues:
According to Rand scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra, she deliberately modeled Renahan - intended to be her first sketch of her ideal man - after this same William Edward Hickman. Renahan, she enthuses in another journal entry, "is born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness -- [resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people ... Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should." (Journals, pp. 27, 21-22; emphasis hers.)
The free-spirited Hickman kidnapped, held for ransom and dismembered a twelve year-old girl, after which the throw-social-convention-to-the-wind sprite threw her body parts out the door of his car.

Yeah, he was an axe murderer, but that wasn't what impressed Rand, but his personal credo, "what is good for me is right." As she writes in her journals:
"This is not just the case of a terrible crime. It is not the crime alone that has raised the fury of public hatred. It is the case of a daring challenge to society. It is the fact that a crime has been committed by one man, alone; that this man knew it was against all laws of humanity and intended that way; that he does not want to recognize it as a crime and that he feels superior to all. It is the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul."
Yes, a real man.

And Rand? Yeah, she was a sociopath, but that's not what impresses Gov. Mark Sanford. Rand's "one more major flaw" was that her sociopathy led her to her reject conventional Christian morality. But interpreting Atlas Shrugged as parable about limited government makes Rand "more relevant than ever."

Thus endeth Sanford's high school book report. A lot of people read Atlas Shrugged in high school. Most of them grow up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Public Necessity

The health care debate – with its leaks, mixed signals and close-to-the-vest dealing – has reform supporters losing their cool while Obama, infuriatingly, maintains his. The uncertainty has strained the tenuous loyalties of a fickle American left. How much talk about "triggers" is real, how much is process, and how much is rope-a-dope?

David Dayen defines the problem for Firedoglake:

Is the White House “insisting” on triggers to take the heat off of Harry Reid, who is having trouble finding the last votes for cloture? Are they drawing fire away from Senate moderates? Are they doing it to keep Snowe thinking the White House is on her side? Do they want to pull a switcheroo in conference committee? Do they actually think that the public option will need some time to get right, so a trigger might help to aid that delay? Are these the words of one rogue faction in the White House that can’t stand the public option and the “left of the left”?

Reports about Thursday night’s White House meeting between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama suggest that Obama is not prepared to twist the arms of remaining Senate holdouts to secure a bill with a public option (sans “triggers”), even though that goal now seems within reach:

"Everybody knows we're close enough that these guys could be rolled. They just don't want to do it because it makes the politics harder," said a senior Democratic source, saying that Obama is worried about the political fate of Blue Dogs and conservative Senate Democrats if the bill isn't seen as bipartisan. "These last couple folks, they could get them if Obama leaned on them."

Meanwhile, Obama's Organizing for America (OFA) found its legs on October 20th, generating 315,000 phone calls to Capitol Hill in support of health care reform. While the approved script called for supporting the “the President’s plan for health reform” – whatever that is – many OFA volunteers support a “robust public option.” OFA’s back channel exhortations for supporters to increase the pressure and “win this thing” tell a very different story from the media narrative about a reluctant, unengaged president.

After eight years of Bush-Cheney, the left was primed for the change Obama promised – and thoroughly distrustful of Washington politics, even his. The mixed signals have Obama’s base clinging to the hope that their leader is playing rope-a-dope with opponents, while other progressives are already declaring Obama a conservative.

If it makes them dig in and fight harder, fine.

But Thomas P.M. Barnett's warning to the Pentagon is one to which progressives should pay heed: "we field a first-half team in a league that keeps score until the end of the game." Progressives have to maintain focus and momentum if they hope to punch through the insurance industry’s goal-line defense. “Allies” in Congress won’t manage that on their own. One year after November 2008, will voters again rise to the occasion or remain on the sidelines with an “Obama hangover”?

A society accustomed to sitting on the couch and being passively entertained is one more accustomed to being governed rather than to governing. Once the vote-counting is over, many citizens tune out again until the next election. A colleague echoing the familiar FDR “make me do it” anecdote, noted that few realize just how hard it is for even their favorite leaders to change things themselves without being pushed hard by supporters.

Anna Quindlen argues in Newsweek that the founding fathers engineered our system to resist radical changes of direction, that Obama is a process-oriented centrist more than the populist firebrand progressives thought they were electing, and that health reform therefore may be more incremental than sweeping.

Perhaps. But that very system did not inhibit the Bush administration from taking the country in a radical direction overnight, nor did it stop a population alarmed by those radicals from firing them overnight. Obama didn’t do that. We did.

Quindlen concludes by reminding readers that if Americans want change, they had best not sit back and expect someone else to do it for them, because

“... if the American people want the president to be more like the Barack Obama they elected, maybe they should start acting more like the voters who elected him, who forcibly and undeniably moved the political establishment to where it didn't want to go.”

OFA got a taste again of what that's like on October 20th. If the rest of America really believes that the health reform it needs is not just a public option, but a public necessity, more Americans will have to get up off the couch and go get it. Neither Obama nor the Democrats will deliver it to their doorstep like a pizza.

(Cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not Exactly the Mercury Theatre on the Air

At least the damage was minimal, Frank Rich suggests in this morning’s New York Times. It’s not as if the “balloon boy” fraud led the country into invading a sovereign country in search of nonexistent WMDs, or into investing in dot-coms with no business plans, or into buying oversized homes with no-income no-asset loans.

But “balloon boy” is this generation’s “War of the Worlds” hoax, Rich believes, “the inevitable product of this reigning culture, where ‘news,’ ‘reality’ television and reality itself are hopelessly scrambled” — a culture in which media snake oil salesmen are as likely to be suckered as their audiences, if not more so.

Rich observes,
As “balloon boy” played out, the White House opened fire on one purveyor of fictional news, Fox News, where “tea party” protests are inflated into a national rebellion rivaling the Civil War and where Glenn Beck routinely claims Obama is perpetrating a conspiracy to bring fascism to America. But the White House’s argument is diluted by the different, if less malevolently partisan, fictions that turn up on Fox’s competitors. On CNN, for instance, Lou Dobbs provided a platform for the nuts questioning Obama’s citizenship. When an ABC News correspondent insisted that Fox was “one of our sister organizations” in an exchange with the president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, last week, he wasn’t joking.
Not that anyone around him would have gotten it if he were.

(Crossposted from Scrutiny Hooligans)

We’re Number Last! sent out one of its regular e-mail updates this week. They examine the “37th in the world” statistic bandied about in the health reform debate. The 2000 World Health Organization report has not been updated, they note, and has its critics and limitations.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center looks at some more recent figures to put things in perspective:

Among the other stats on how the U.S. health care system and health stacks up internationally: A 2007 Commonwealth Fund report ranked the U.S. last out of six industrialized countries in health system performance, which included measures on quality, access, efficiency, equity of care and healthy lives. “Access” and “equity” measures are affected by the lack of universal health care. On life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 50th and below France, Canada, the U.K. and the European Union average, according to the CIA World Factbook. Infant mortality is also higher in the U.S. than all of those countries and more. A 2006 report on infant mortality by the nonprofit Save the Children showed the U.S. tied for next to last among industrialized countries.

America retains its #1 ranking on health care costs, spending nearly twice as much, on average, as other developed countries. But when it comes to health care, Wal-Mart Nation still pays more and gets less. And for reform opponents, that’s a record worth defending, even if it’s not something to brag about.

(Crossposted from Scrutiny Hooligans)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Debunking the Hissy Fit Du Jour

Glenn Greenwald yesterday noted the hand-wringing and pearl clutching by the press over the White House calling out Fox News as an opinion outlet rather than a news network, and "a wing of the Republican Party." Greenwald lays out a bill of particulars:
All that hand-wringing rhetoric: why? Because the Obama administration threatened to criminally prosecute Fox? Or because the adminstration surveilled its reporters' telephone calls? Or illegally obtained their telephone records? Or shot missiles at hotels in which they were staying? Or dropped bombs on their offices? Or imprisoned them for years without charges? Or barred Fox reporters from riding on administration planes? Or conspired to "weed out" any critical voices from being heard on network and cable news programs? No, those are all things that the Bush administration did to reporters (see the links) -- all well above and beyond the numerous, constant rhetorical attacks from the Bush White House on media organizations they perceived to be hostile. Where was Tucker Carlson when that was happening, or Ruth Marcus, or Anderson Cooper, or David Carr?
And Glenn doesn't even mention getting a gay prostitute/journalist to TASS toss softball questions at White House pressers or paying opinion columnists to publish favorable pieces about them.

Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann further debunk the hissy fit with the TV equivalent of twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossies with circles and arrows, etc. Heaven forbid the right wing should attempt to rewrite history:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Four Point Oh!

WNC Blogapalooza 4.0

Mountain XPress handles the voting here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Projection TV: Real Americans Watch Fox News

A focus-group study by Democracy Corps explains that Republican base voters live in “a world apart from the rest of America.”

The Tea Parties of August already made that pretty clear.

Republican base voters believe themselves an oppressed minority that possesses “knowledge and insight that the majority of Americans – whether too lazy or too misguided to find it for themselves – do not possess.” And – surprise – they get their special knowledge and insight largely from Fox News.

In 1999, Al Franken wrote the same thing. During the Clinton health care debate, the Annenberg School for Communications found that conservative talk radio listeners judged themselves the most informed on the topic. Testing, however, revealed that they were the least informed.

Franken wondered [my edit],
But why would people so woefully lacking in the basic facts of an issue think they were the best informed? Social scientists call the phenomenon "pseudo-certainty." I call it "being a f*#king moron."
A decade later we have Glenn Beck reinforcing his viewers' paranoid proclivities and helping them project their own darkest impulses onto opponents.

According to Democracy Corps, four core beliefs set the Republican base apart:

1. Deception and a Hidden Agenda – “Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives.”

2. Speed – Obama is implementing change rapidly to keep ordinary Americans from knowing what he is doing.

3. Driving Government to the Brink and Total Control – Obama is deliberately trying to burden America with so much debt that citizens will be unable to resist efforts to implement Obama’s ultimate plan ...

4. The Ultimate Goal: Socialism and End to Liberties – Government takeover of health care is just the first step towards a complete suppression of liberty by our inefficient, ineffective and corrupt government.

It is a pretty stunning case of projection, as one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers suggests:
[Obama] is the out of control spender when they sat on their hands through all of Bush's malfeasance. That is why his talking to schoolchildren is dangerous when our government wiretapping its citizens wasn’t. That is why saving the financial system from years of Republican regulation is taking away our future. The more evil revealed about the right’s excesses on torture, or wars of choice, or nearly destroying the economy, the more evil Obama will look in their eyes, as they cannot tolerate owning responsibility, because in their own minds they are only good.
Paul Rosenberg explains the viewpoint in a separate discussion at Open Left:
[T]he disconnect is particularly strikingly. That is, until you take a step back, and see the underlying consistency ... in their minds, they alone are America. If they're not running things, then it's not America... If you are the real America and everyone else is not, well, then, you can do pretty much whatever you want – and do it all in the name of America.
Conservatives and independents in the Democracy Corps focus group were sensitive to charges that racism is behind their criticism of Obama. So much so, that they came back to it “again and again.”

However much it is, their discomfort is not all about race. It’s broader. It’s tribal.

“Real Americans” view those outside their tribe with suspicion, like teenagers in the mall they are convinced are there to shoplift – illigitimate, untrustworthy, low-caste Irresponsibles, bad apples who don’t deserve America. Those outside their tribe don’t deserve to carry the flag, don’t deserve to wear the uniform or to enjoy the blessings of liberty. Especially, they don’t deserve to vote.

“Real Americans” believe America’s bad apples pay no taxes. The “lucky duckies” don’t even pay sales tax, property tax, tax on gasoline, on heating oil, cigarette tax, telephone excise tax, unemployment tax, Social Security tax, Medicare and Medicaid.

“Real Americans” would love to repeal the 16th Amendment, but so long as they pay taxes, they'll be the betters of countrymen they think pay any less. They will rail about how unfairly they’re treated and what a drag on the economy and their fortunes are the great unwashed who have turned this once great country into one "where poor people can put billionaires out of business."

These Atlases see themselves stoically carrying America upon their shoulders while being dragged relentlessly down by the grubby, grasping hands of the less well-born; by people not as honest, upstanding and hard-working as they are; by the parasites of capitalism who contribute nothing; by deadbeats and losers who have structured their lives so they can spend them sucking the teat of real America.

No wonder they feel "a world apart." And Fox News is there to remind them, if they ever have doubts.

(Crossposted from Huffington Post.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What Civilized Country Operates Like This?

You have seen it. The plastic bucket beside the cash register at the convenience store. A photo is taped to it. A child needs an operation. His father lost his job. The family lost its insurance. They are about to lose their home. Can you spare some change?

What civilized country operates like this? In case God-and-country defenders of the status quo need reminding, America’s for-profit health insurance system serves neither.

Reform advocates must hammer away at this relentlessly: health insurance reform is a moral issue more than an economic one.

Nicholas Kristof delivered further proof that the system is morally bankrupt in the October 4 New York Times.

Travis and Michael Waddington hoped to donate a kidney to their father, David, 58, a wine retailer and victim of polycystic kidney disease. PKD had destroyed David’s kidneys. Since the disease is genetic, Travis and Michael needed to be tested for the disease themselves before donating. Yet a positive result might mean the sons might never be able to get insurance. So their doctors advised against getting tested. Another advised getting tested under fictitious names. To protect their sons, husband and wife shot down the idea, even at the risk of David’s life.

Eventually, David received a kidney from a deceased donor, but Michael recently began experiencing PKD symptoms and now faces an insurance nightmare now all too familiar, obtaining affordable insurance – or any insurance – after being diagnosed with a serious illness.

Closer to home, an acquaintance recently donated a kidney to his father under somewhat different circumstances, but with similar risks. Such acts of mercy by organ donors (talk about risky behavior) present insurers with an elective pre-existing condition, and present donors with a moral dilemma. Fortunately, his father’s insurance covered both transplant surgeries. But both the son’s own physician and the transplant surgeons recommended that he say nothing to his insurer. It was illegal to deny coverage or insurance to organ donors, doctors told him. Nonetheless, they often heard of it happening.

Why tempt fate? He told his insurer nothing.

Kristoff calls an insurance system that forces patients into such impossible choices, “the disgrace of the industrialized world.”

But that’s putting it mildly. As T.R. Reid puts it in The Healing of America, our system is virtually a worldwide laughingstock. One thing on which experts at international health care symposia can agree, Reid explains, is that the U.S. for-profit insurance system is a mess. “Bashing the U.S. system is a standard agenda item.”

Joanne Ford, a patient on Social Security disability and wearing Coke-bottle eyeglasses, arrived for a Remote Area Medical free clinic in Knoxville. She came hoping to get a new pair for free. But nearly last in line, she almost missed her chance. Interviewed by 60 Minutes, Ford said tearfully, “I am sad that we are the wealthiest nation in the world and we don’t take care of our own.”

Even the socialist bogeymen of Europe treat their own better.

For-profit insurance can be cruel and capricious, not unlike the age of Dickens that Keith Olbermann invoked in a recent hour-long commentary. America’s uninsured have "a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts," a new Harvard study finds. Furthermore, 45,000 Americans a year die from lack of health insurance. Like Dickens’ London, America’s working poor too often are either invisible or else blamed as surplus population –– impediments to the economic fortunes of their “betters.”

It is a seasonal tradition to revisit cherished redemption stories during the coming dark nights around the solstice, to refresh human connections not just to family and friends, but to our fellow men. Defenders of the status quo, especially, need to refresh theirs.

America would do well to revisit those redemption stories earlier this year as it considers how best to rehabilitate a business more informed by Wall Street than A Christmas Carol. For-profit health insurance is rare in the civilized world, and rightly so. It is a cold-hearted business more interested in serving the numbers on its balance sheets than the humanity behind the numbers.

That calls into question the humanity of its defenders, like the conservative radio icon who brags about taking on all comers with half his brain tied behind his back. That would be the feeling half. The human half. The half that Messrs. Scrooge and Potter let atrophy as an impediment to being good men of business.

Right now, a popular caterer downtown has posters on her door. A child needs an operation. A strawberry blonde boy in an adult-sized straw hat. He has a severe immune deficiency disease. He is with his parents at Duke University Medical Center for a bone marrow transplant. There's a pancake breakfast to raise money.

You might as well hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.

What civilized country operates like this?

(Cross-posted from Huffington Post.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Better Dead Than Insured

The New York Times/CBS News poll out yesterday posed the following question:
57. Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — that would compete with private health insurance plans?

Sixty-five percent said yes. Twenty-six percent said no. According to health insurance reform opponents, that makes nearly two-thirds of Americans socialists or worse.

At the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson observes:
Think about that. The public option has been demonized non-stop for the past half-year; it’s the key to the Republican charge that instituting such a program is tantamount to bringing socialism to America. They have clearly rallied the Republican base to this position, just as they rallied the base to fear the coming of death panels and publicly-subsidized immigrant care. But whereas pluralities of Americans simply said they didn’t know enough to believe one thing or the other about death panels and immigrant care, virtually all Americans not in the Republican base support the public option.
Since Republican legislators represent the 26 percent of Americans opposed to the public option, their opposition to same poses no mystery. The conundrum is why some Democrats -- all save those from the most right-wing districts -- oppose it. When The Post’s uber-policy blogger Ezra Klein asked North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad yesterday why he didn’t support the public option, Conrad replied, “I don't think a government-run plan best fits this culture.” In Conrad’s mind, such as it is, American culture doesn’t seem to be shaped by the American people.

Funny how that works inside the Beltway. The status quo -- which, presumably, Conrad does think fits this culture -- produces outcomes like this from the Dayton, Ohio Daily News:
OXFORD — Friends say the Miami University graduate who died this week after reportedly suffering from swine flu delayed getting medical treatment because she did not have health insurance.
Young became ill about two weeks ago, but didn’t seek care initially because she didn’t have health insurance and was worried about the cost...

That puts "Kimi" among the 45,000 a year whose deaths are attributable to lack of insurance coverage in America, according to a new Harvard Medical School study.

But then, better dead than red ... at least for a noisy 1/3 of the people in our democracy. Here's what that looks like:

Kimberly "Kimi" Young, 22, died
Tuesday night Sept. 22, 2009 at
University Hospital.

(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

If You Like Medical Bills, You’ll Love These

Activists in the blogosphere are studying well over 500 amendments to Sen. Max Baucus’ Senate Finance Committee health care reform bill, including three “public option” amendments. All sides will hotly debate, soundly trash, and amend the hell out of the Baucus bill, H.R.3200 (on the House side) and any others that come out of the woodwork by October.

But those aren’t the only kind of bills Americans should be worrying about.

My sister died at 37 from a metastatic sarcoma (the same cancer that took Ted Kennedy, Jr.’s leg). I watched her die, went to her funeral, and then went back to her apartment to sift through stacks of medical bills.

In exhaustion and grief, we couldn’t tell which bills were paid, which were not, which were rejected, which were under review, and which were still in the pipeline and wouldn’t arrive for weeks or months. This doesn’t happen in most industrialized countries and shouldn’t happen here. It's a disgrace, a disgrace that none of the bills pending in Congress will cure. A disgrace that health insurance conglomerates and their allies in Congress are fighting hard (and spending hard) to preserve, along with the profits the billing process helps generate.

Over 60 percent of personal bankruptcies in the U.S. are from medical bills. Over three-quarters of those are in families who had health insurance, were probably satisfied with it, and thought their coverage was adequate until a serious illness proved otherwise. But it's the burdensome billing process itself that the health care reform debate has not addressed.

At the America’s Future Now! conference in June, Dr. Salomeh Keyhani of Mt. Sinai Hospital detailed the number of weeks doctors, nurses and their staffs spend each year dealing with insurance paperwork and procedures. Insurers make it as difficult as possible for customers to collect. Bottom line: if patients and doctors get frustrated and go away, the insurer won’t have to pay. Keyhani described the labyrinthine claims process as “passive aggressive” by design.

Keyhani's name came up again last week in connection with a nationwide poll published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Keyhani helped conduct the survey funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of 5,000 physicians representing a spectrum of specialties and regions, including American Medical Association members. The survey, Keyhani told NPR, found that "nearly three-quarters of physicians supported some form of a public option, either alone or in combination with private insurance options." That included AMA members, whose organization opposes a public option.

Yet only a single-payer-style plan promises to eliminate the mountains of bureaucratic paperwork that make our patchwork system cost nearly twice what other advanced countries pay. But since a nationwide single-payer system is off the table, even if a strong public option gets to the president's desk, most Americans will be sifting through confusing stacks of insurance paperwork for years to come. Some reform.

The anti-reform forces had their Tea Party in Washington on September 12. They offered no alternatives and screamed loudly about not being heard, but not loudly enough to drown out a majority that decides to speak with one voice.

President Obama must know that he has only to say the word and a sea of pro-reform supporters will travel to Washington in support of real reform and a robust public option. If summoned, supporters should bring their collections of medical bills, rejection letters and appeal forms and wave them overhead.

Talk about “Don’t Tread On Me.” Medical insurance paperwork is universally recognized and universally loathed. It could serve as a potent symbol of everything wrong with America’s dysfunctional, for-profit health insurance system.

Reform supporters might, en masse, flood congressional fax machines with their medical bills. Or stage media events with fax machines set up in public spaces for patients to fax their medical bills to Congress -- just to put an exclamation point on demands for meaningful reform.

There's something viscerally satisfying about feeding documents into a fax machine and knowing they're spitting out onto the floor of your congresscritter’s office. It's the next best thing to being there.

(Cross-posted from

Monday, September 14, 2009

What Does Happen Here

Last weekend, tens of thousands of health reform protesters prompted by Glenn Beck descended on Washington. They fear America is turning fascist because Barack Obama wants health insurance reform that reduces cost, guarantees choice, and is affordable and high quality for every American.


“Don’t Tread On Me” is their battle cry — emphasis on “Me.” There is no "we" in their America, no welcome for your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of Americans, much less immigrants. E pluribus unum is Greek to them. They have reduced freedom to a fetish.

This is the kind of cheap, plastic, made-in-China patriotism you buy at Wal-Mart at everyday low prices — all packaging and empty on the inside.

Read more at Campaign for American Future.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Bile Boils Over

Enter the Tea Baggers, the Birthers, the Deathers, Glenn Beck, town hall shouters, guys with guns, and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). The right's simmering kettle of bile is boiling over.

You almost can't blame them for losing it. Conservatives spent three decades building, Bolero-like, towards their denouement: control of both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House. And a permanent Republican majority.

Their efforts climaxed with the presidency of George W. Bush. They lost it all to Barack Obama.

Bush's presidency climaxed on a pile of rubble in New York just after 9/11.

A flood of post-September 11 articles asked how the attacks happened, what we would do next, and why terrorists hate us. One savvy pundit asked, Would America keep its head?

We invaded Iraq on trumped-up intelligence. We conducted illegal surveillance on our own citizens. We imprisoned people without charge, here and abroad. We rendered prisoners for torture and tortured others ourselves in violation of international law. All the while, millions of staunch, law-and-order conservatives supported and defended it, and still do. Vigorously.

Did America keep its head? Uh, no.

But with the election of its first bi-racial president, the electorate threw the movement conservative and neocon bums out. Had America's temporary insanity finally abated? Uh, no. It's worse.

Osama was one thing. But Obama?

People weren't this crazed over Jackie Robinson, were they? Father Coughlin was off the air by then. People's minds were not as marinated in the mind poison the right-wing has pumped out daily for the last twenty years.

Case in point. I once worked in an office where a guy recorded Rush Limbaugh every afternoon. Using a small FM transmitter, he rebroadcast the show the next morning to fellow dittoheads in the building so they would be primed for Limbaugh's live broadcast at noon.

No lie.

In Appalachia, dentists call it "Mountain Dew mouth." Children carry around the acidic, heavily caffeinated soda, taking a sip every few minutes. It's "like bathing the teeth in it all day," according to one dentist. Children go from decayed to toothless.

Is the mind rot from listening to Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity or Savage every day any different? Or from passing on the sludge from Drudge or WorldNetDaily? Or from reading those chain e-mails forwarded by relatives and friends who spread them like Typhoid Mary? Inhaling mercury vapors might be less harmful.

Conservatives bathed in daily lies -- from WMDs to "death panels" -- have become so comfortable spreading them that they treat it like good, clean fun for the whole family. They spread them dutifully, no matter how extreme or outlandish (assuming they know the difference any longer).

The day of Obama's speech, Crooks and Liars' Dave Neiwert again insisted that "ideas, agendas, talking points, and memes in general regularly [migrate] from the extremist right in America into mainstream conservatism." This week we saw just how far up the infection goes.

Hours before South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson yelled "You lie!" at the president, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appeared on NPR's Morning Edition and rebuffed an invitation to condemn the "death panel" rhetoric. The GOP leadership won't quit the useful idiots who do their dirty work for them.

By Obama's address that evening, "the town hall freak show" had come to a joint session of Congress.

Responding to Birthers, Deathers, and a flood of right-wing paranoia from the likes of Glenn Beck, Open Left's Paul Rosenberg discusses the mental elasticity of linear thinkers like Beck. They build elaborate conspiracies like Frankenstein's monster, linking together random bits of their own chaotic fears. "They are put together, but can't be logically deconstructed," he writes, nor argued with "any more than you can reason with a nightmare."

Responding to his flood of hate mail filled with "spitting, incoherent rage," Paul Krugman commented, "Something is going very wrong in the head of a substantial number of Americans."

The poison has spread to the GOP's very soul.

Cross-posted from Huffington Post.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Hide The Pseudoephed - Wall Street's Back At It

A severely anorexic friend once had her heart stop beating in church. A heart specialist at the service got her going again, but they had to jump-start her twice again on the way to Mission.

She'd recently taken to sucking on a Big Gulp cup of water all day. Flushed all her electrolytes. The hospital had never seen readings that low. But she was no longer using laxatives, she rationalized. That meant she was in recovery.

So what do we make of our friends on Wall Street and their new Big Gulp? Sunday's New York Times explains:
After the mortgage business imploded last year, Wall Street investment banks began searching for another big idea to make money. They think they may have found one.

The bankers plan to buy “life settlements,” life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash — $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to “securitize” these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.
The earlier policyholders die, the more investors ... reap?

If my wife had been drinking, she'd have done a spit-take. "What sick f***s would buy these?" she exclaimed. Or think them up?

But thank heavens, they've stopped bundling mortgages.

This behavior is like a gambling or meth addiction. It's not even about the money any more. Wall Street doesn't need bailouts. It needs rehab and a priest.

Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Push them harder

From Steve Benen at Washington Monthly:
IT'S COME TO THIS.... In 1988, then-President Reagan spoke to students nationwide via C-SPAN telecast. Among other things, he talked about his positions on political issues of the day. Three years later, then-President Bush addressed school kids in a speech broadcast live to school classrooms nationwide. Among other things, he promoted his own administration's education policies.

President Obama wants to deliver a message to students next week emphasizing hard work, encouraging young people to do their best in school. The temper tantrum the right is throwing in response only helps reinforce how far gone 21st-century conservatives really are.
Eventually, the spectacle of right-wing lunacy could supplant reality TV as profitable, ratings-rich popular entertainment.

So if I were a producer of such tripe, I'd be sending my scouts looking for the furthest-right wingnuts. As reality-TV talent, they've got it all: duplicitous, petty, rigid, manipulative, mean-spirited, histrionic, boogiemen hiding in their closets. America's Most Maladjusted. Now that's entertainment.

Push them harder, I say. This show is just getting good.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Like Tax Cuts That Way

What Digby said:
This is one of the problems with health care reform, as I've mentioned before. If the economy is doing well and deficits are going down, everybody's working and the fiscal scolds insist that reform will rain on the parade and ruin everything. More people working means more people have health insurance and the calls for reform are muted. If the economy is in trouble, then the fiscal scolds insist that the sky is falling because of rising deficits and reform will make everything even worse. Fewer people working makes the need more critical, but many of them see the deficit as a sign that government is dysfunctional and so they reject reform. No matter what, "the deficit" has a stranglehold on the political discourse in ways that makes reform nearly impossible.
The economy's good? It's time for tax cuts.

The economy's bad? It's time for tax cuts.

The tax cuts don't produce jobs as promised? It just means you need more tax cuts.

It's never time for health care for all Americans.

Elsewhere on Hullabaloo:
If these Democrats had a brain in their heads they'd realize that the best way to maintain their power (and keep getting those big bucks) is to pass a good bill. Successful reform will be their only defense because the true political downside to passing a bad bill now is being out there alone selling out the American people all by themselves.
Hey, McFly! Your shoe's untied!

When are these guys going to wise up?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Do Progressives Have What It Takes To Win?

Maybe it is something congenital about the left. Faced with lies, propaganda and intimidation, liberals go to Google to arm themselves with more and better facts.

Here! See my data?

Writing on, Dick Polman wonders "whether there is some fundamental flaw in the Democratic gene pool ..." that the Democratic leadership was caught off guard by the conservative backlash against health care reform.

Recent town hall displays -- including the swastikas and death threats, explicit and implied -- prove again that it's past time that progressives got a clue and stopped bringing letter openers to gun fights.

Read more at Huffington Post.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Back to Boise

Today I finally looked back in on Bill Cope of Boise Weekly. A few weeks ago, I saw where Cope had ventured into the mountains to get some insight on socialist health care from "Badger" Bob, the socialist. Bob is both a capitalist libertarian and a socialist, so he ought to know socialism when he sees it. Bill found Bob drinking pitchers of Oly and throwing horseshoes with his buddy, Hoot, "a straight-up libertarian."

Things got a little heated:
"Tell me something, Hoot. Were you so damned confident in the free markets back when Enron was kicking the crap out of California by manipulating the energy grid? Or how about when we found out that Halliburton bunch was screwing the military out of billions? Did that make you proud of your unfettered laissez faire? Huh? Or what we're going through now with all these damn banks and such? ... Doesn't that make you wonder even a little bit if unregulated commerce ain't entirely what it's cracked up to be? You really suppose this is what your precious Adam Smith had in mind?"
If you look further, Cope explains the common medical condition, HUHA.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Something I ran across

As for the argument that government is unable to pull off anything like health care successfully, Steve Benen at Washington Monthly recalled a memorable scene from film:

It reminds me a bit of a scene in “Life of Brian.” The People’s Front of Judea are having a meeting and considering what the Romans had ever done for them. Reg asks, “Apart apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Monday, August 03, 2009

Health Care Debate Loses Coherence

The descent into complete incoherence among conservatives -- especially on talk radio -- has become widespread as the health care debate intensifies. The once Mighty Wurlitzer is wheezing and groaning.

One suspects, however, that behind much of the "Don't Tread On Me" rhetoric directed at Obama is a spluttering "... but, but, but, you're black!"

Read more at Huffington Post.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Uninsured Line Up For Care In Rural Virginia

This weekend was the tenth anniversary of Remote Area Medical’s free health fair in Wise County, VA. Stan Brock founded Knoxville-based RAM in 1985 to insert mobile medical teams into remote areas of third-world countries. Now over sixty percent of RAM’s work is in rural areas of the United States.

More than one thousand people arrived before sunup on Friday or camped out in their vehicles for a chance at health care they cannot afford to buy. Most are the working poor and hail from Virginia, with Tennessee a close second, followed by Kentucky and other surrounding states. Cars in the county fairgrounds lot held comforters and pillows, sleeping bags and sleeping people.

Read more at The Huffington Post.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Waiting in line for health care

Just back from a Saturday morning trip over to Newport, TN, where Knoxville-based Remote Area Medical (RAM) is holding one of its medical “expeditions.”

RAM’s head honcho, Englishman Stan Brock used to wrestle large snakes and gators for Marlin Perkins on TV's "Wild Kingdom." Brock formed RAM in 1985 to bring medical care to patients in remote areas of third-world countries. Now, sixty percent of RAM’s work is in “urban and rural America.”

The earliest patients arrived at Cocke County High School on Thursday to secure a numbered place in line for Saturday's free health care clinic. RAM expected to treat about 480 patients on Saturday and about half again as many Sunday. (They stopped accepting new patients about 9 a.m. Saturday morning.)

Most of the cars in the high school parking lot were nondescript. Some had people still sleeping in them. Others had blankets or sleeping bags inside or airing out on the hood. A few autos were missing grilles or glass and looked as if people lived in them. Some of those held animal carriers. RAM’s Newport expedition included veterinarians who provided pet services.

RAM’s patients are Americans without health insurance or jobs that provide it. Most need eyeglasses or dental care. Some exiting the gymnasium had rolls of gauze where teeth had been. One man held an ice pack to his jaw. A mother told us that while she has insurance through her job, her husband and kids do not. But adding them to her policy would take her entire monthly take home pay.

RAM does much of its work in Tennessee because the state allows doctors and dentists licensed in other states to practice within its borders for these events. North Carolina is not one of those states, Brock said in an e-mail earlier this week, otherwise residents in WNC’s remote western counties might receive a visit from RAM.

We noticed that October 3-4, RAM will be visiting the Appalachian coal country town of Grundy, VA, hometown of NC Governor Bev Perdue. Maybe the governor would support changing the rules in cash-strapped North Carolina to allow the state’s growing number of unemployed and uninsured a chance for the kind of free care RAM brings to Grundy.

[Photo courtesy of Jill Boniske.]

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Good for whatever ails ya

Used to be, there was nothing that couldn't be fixed with another round of tax cuts. Now, it's More Market Capitalism.

This tidbit from the Mahablog:
I have discovered a proposal for “fixing” health care on the Cato Institute website that is an absolute hoot.

The plan (see PDF) is to eliminate employee health benefit insurance and all government health care support, and throw everyone into the private insurance market. Insurance companies would be allowed to risk-rate premiums, so that as people got older and/or sicker their premiums would go up.

However, Cato says, this doesn’t have to be a problem. The solution is ... wait for it ... insurance insurance. They call it “health status insurance,” but essentially it’s insurance insurance. It’s a separate policy you take that will insure you against catastrophic increases in your health insurance.

I’m not kidding. That’s the brilliant plan.
When the boat springs a leak, be sure to drill a hole in the bottom to let the water out.

This is from Cato's Exec Summary:
None of us has health insurance, really. If you develop a long-term condition such as heart disease or cancer, and if you then lose your job or are divorced, you can lose your health insurance. You now have a preexisting condition, and insurance will be enormously expensive—if it’s available at all.

Free markets can solve this problem, and provide life-long, portable health security, while enhancing consumer choice and competition. “Heath-status insurance” is the key. If you are diagnosed with a long-term, expensive condition, a health-status insurance policy will give you the resources to pay higher medical insurance premiums. Health-status insurance covers the risk of premium reclassification, just as medical insurance covers the risk of medical expenses. With health-status insurance, you can always obtain medical insurance, no matter how sick you get, with no change in out-of-pocket costs.
I am reminded of Curly in the bathtub, caged by his own plumbing repair, from "A-Plumbing We Will Go."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bailout Bank Banks Bucks

Goldman Sachs rakes in billions:
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. set aside a record $11.4 billion for compensation and benefits in the first half of 2009, up 33 percent from a year earlier and enough to pay each worker $386,429 for the period.

The figures were released today with the firm’s record second-quarter earnings results. Revenue jumped 31 percent to $23.19 billion in the first half and the New York-based firm set aside 49 percent to cover its largest expense, compensation and benefits.

But here in downtown Charlotte, the banking center of the South, things aren't so rosy:
Just as first-time claims for unemployment insurance surged in the sour economy, final payments – made when laid-off workers have exhausted their initial benefits and all extensions – are climbing, with Mecklenburg County numbers more than double from a year ago.


Relief, in the form of new jobs, doesn't appear imminent, based on the latest labor statistics. The national unemployment rate rose to 9.5 percent in June, a 26-year high, with companies cutting 467,000 jobs – more than economists expected. Charlotte-area unemployment has outpaced the nation, reaching 12 percent in May. Economists expect both numbers to rise further before the end of the year.

Last month, the number of Mecklenburg County residents who ran out of unemployment benefits climbed to nearly 2,900 – the fourth straight month above 2,000 and more than double the number of people in June 2008, according to new data from the N.C. Employment Security Commission. Before the recession, the number of final payments in a single month never topped 2,000.
I'm just lucky to have a job again.

Still, I'm thinking of The Mouse That Roared for some reason.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

So that's how it works!

Bill Cope of Boise Weekly ventures into the mountains to get some insight on socialist health care from "Badger" Bob, the socialist. Bob is both a libertarian and a socialist, so he ought to know socialism when he sees it. Bill found Bob drinking pitchers of Oly and throwing horseshoes with some buddies.
Hoot threw a shoe and it missed the stake by so far, the people on the other end ducked for cover behind a derelict Volkswagen. Then he said, rather too loudly I thought, "There's a gull-durn good reason those Republicans are trying to warn folks about socialism. Because socialism sucks, that's why!"

"Hoot," said Bob, "you didn't seem to mind those socialist roads we took to get up here. Or that socialist bridge that got us across the river. And I assume you have no objections to the socialist cops that caught the guy who stole your truck, or those socialist firefighters who stopped your shed from going up in flames last fall. And if it weren't for the socialist VA, you'd ..."

"What you saying, Badge? Them ain't socialism. Them're just plain ol' government stuff we gotta have to get by."

"That's one of the problems here. Whenever it's good for you Republicans, it's essential government services. But when it's good for everyone, it's socialism."
I thought all those guys were tea drinkers.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A very, very fluid situation

I was too busy to really comment on the Blue Dog letter story this morning, but I had noticed how minor many of their grievances with the public plan were. Rep. Heath Shuler, in particular, is one who complains about the lack of health services in our rural districts. Read on.

dday runs down and comments on their complaints:

What's interesting about the letter is how insignificant the changes actually are. Among other things, they want:

• a deficit-neutral policy, which is what every single proposal for this bill has included;
• aggressive solutions to bending the cost curve, which also is a goal of pretty much everyone;
• protecting small businesses, which every iteration of the plan has, including the employer mandate proposals that exempt certain small businesses and make them eligible for purchasing health care through the insurance exchange;
• rural health equity, a pretty small point;
• a public option that doesn't use Medicare bargaining rates, which isn't different from what, for example, Chuck Schumer has called for, although I find that to be a toothless public option, which I'll explain later;
• time to read the bill, which I support;
• bipartisanship, which is the most ridiculous of these demands, but which actually does exist in the bill on the Senate side, where dozens of Republican amendments have been included in the HELP Committee markup.

Obama himself professes to want a deficit neutral plan, so many of these points, I believe, are posturing either for political points or amendments to sweeten the cost of securing their votes, or both.

At the Wonk Room, Igor Volsky notes:

More importantly, the letter contains an inherent contradiction: the Blue Dogs want to find more savings within the system — they’re asking for Delivery System Reforms and “maximizing the value of our health care dollar” — but they’re also asking the bill to spend more on rural health and physician reimbursement. And they are reluctant to support any legislation that moves us towards that goal, causes providers to lose revenue, or regulates the system to improve efficiency.

Consider their objection to a “Medicare-like” public option that reimburses providers 5 to 10 percent above Medicare rates. According to MedPAC, Medicare rates are adequate and consistent with the efficient delivery of services. In fact, over-payments by private insurers to health-care providers drives up overall costs. “Hospitals which didn’t rely on high payment rates from private insurers ‘are able, in fact, to control their costs and reduce their costs when they need to’ and ‘combine low costs with quality,’” Glenn Hackbarth, the chairman of MedPAC, said during recent testimony in front of the House Ways and Means Committee. Moreover, if the public plan pays bloated market rates, it will fail to offer lower premiums within the Exchange, and would cause the government to spend more money on subsidies. [Emphasis mine]

Also today, more Blue Dog news:

More than 60 Democrats signed a letter authored by freshman Rep. Debbie Halvorson of Illinois and second-term Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina asking Waxman to jettison his plan to reinstate drug price controls to help low-income seniors. Instead, they are asking Waxman, Rangel and Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) to support the drug industry’s offer to spend $30 billion help cover those costs – a deal that is backed by the White House and the Senate Finance Committee.

Waxman wanted to reinstate the price controls to save the government tens of billions of dollars over the next decade – money currently paid to prescription-drug makers – so that he could plow those savings back into the system and close a sizeable gap in the current government-funded prescription-drug program. The industry was hoping to avert such controls by pledging $30 billion to help seniors and another $50 billion to help pay for health reform.

$30 billion and then another $50 billion? Out of the goodness of their hearts? Whaddya figure these public-spirited drug makers would rather spend $80 billion and take hefty tax deductions on those costs rather than take the hit to their gross incomes from Waxman’s cost controls? Screw saving taxpayers billions in drug costs up front. That’s the small-government, free-market way. Thanks, Heath.

But wait. Just in, some of the New Dems (DLC-type centrists) are going in another direction:

A band of 22 New Democrat and Blue Dog lawmakers say they support a “robust” government-run health plan, boosting chances of moving healthcare reform with a public insurance plan through the House.

Democratic centrists remain the biggest obstacle to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) ability to pass a healthcare bill with a public plan, and many conservative Democrats oppose a public option as unfair to private insurers.

But the letter from the 22 New Dems and Blue Dogs indicates opposition from this group is far from universal.


The 20 New Democrats on the letter represent nearly one-third of the 68-member caucus. It is signed by two Blue Dogs and three members who are both New Dems and Blue Dogs.

See Blue Dog Rep. Loretta Sanchez comment on why she opted out of the letter:

This situation is very, very fluid.