Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Reality Check: Senate Health Care Debate Viewing Guide

Reality Check: Senate Health Care Debate Viewing Guide: "

As the Senate debate gets into full swing this week, we thought we'd address a half dozen of the myths you will most certainly hear from critics of health insurance reform. If it feels like you have heard these arguments before, it is because you have... you have heard them over and over and over again. You heard them during the mark ups in the House and the Senate, you heard them at townhalls this summer, and you heard them on the House floor. However, repetition does not equal veracity. These claims have been proven false by independent fact checkers time and again. Consider the below information, a viewing guide of sorts for the Senate floor debate.

1.       CLAIM: Health insurance reform will cut seniors' guaranteed Medicare benefits.

REALITY: Health insurance reform will not cut guaranteed Medicare benefits.  Period.  Perhaps unlike many of these same critics who have repeatedly proposed privatizing Medicare or slashing benefits, President Obama believes Medicare is a sacred trust with America's seniors.  Reform protects and strengthens Medicare, adding 5 years to the Medicare trust fund by cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse. It doesn’t use a dime of the Medicare trust fund to pay for reform and does not cut guaranteed Medicare benefits.

Specifically, reform will end wasteful overpayments to insurance companies through Medicare Advantage, and there is no evidence these overpayments improve the quality of care for seniors, yet they contribute to higher premiums for all Medicare beneficiaries.

Here's what the defenders of the status quo won't tell you: the Senate bill will provide a 50% discount to initially reduce the cost of prescription drugs for seniors who fall into the gap in coverage known as the Donut Hole.  It will make preventive services free. It will also improve quality of care for seniors in too many ways to list here – all of this we imagine will be very good news for these critics who are so concerned about our seniors.

2.       CLAIM: Health insurance reform will open the door to spending government funds on abortion.

REALITY:  This legislation is about health insurance reform---protecting Americans from unfair insurance industry practices, providing affordable options and lowering costs.  This is not about changing the status quo on abortion policy.   Health insurance reform legislation should respect existing conscience statutes and follow existing policy that  prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the woman is at stake.  At the same time it is important that the legislation not erode the insurance choices women have today.  So to be clear: The President believes federal funds should not be used to pay for abortions.  And health insurance reform should not erode the insurance choices women have today. 

3.       CLAIM:  Health insurance reform will make coverage available to undocumented immigrants.

REALITY:  We have procedures in place to ensure that undocumented immigrants don't participate in the exchange – they're ineligible, and we will use well-tested verification systems that states have been using successfully for decades to screen out people who are not authorized to receive public benefits.

Nothing in the bill authorizes employers to hire and provide insurance to undocumented immigrants; this is already against the law and that won't change.  The President has also said he is committed to enacting comprehensive immigration reform, something that should not be tackled piecemeal in the health insurance reform legislation.   

4.        CLAIM:  Health insurance reform will create new financial burdens for small businesses.

REALITY: Health insurance reform will actually lower costs for small businesses. Small businesses will have access to the insurance exchange, where small businesses and their employees can pool together with millions of other Americans to increase purchasing power and benefit from increased competition. 

A report from the Business Roundtable concluded that the cost-savings measures in the health reform bills could lower health care spending per employee by $3000.   From the beginning, we made clear that most small businesses would be exempt from the employer responsibility requirement, because we do not want to increase the burden on small business.   But at the same time, most small business owners want to provide coverage, which is why millions of small businesses would receive a tax credit to make coverage for their employees even more affordable.   Today, small businesses pay 18% more for health insurance than large companies do -- with reform, small businesses and their employees will be able to purchase insurance through the insurance exchange, where pooling and competition will lower prices.  Today, small businesses can see their premiums skyrocket if just one or two workers fall ill and accumulate high medical costs -- reform will prevent insurance discrimination based on health status, meaning that small businesses will no longer be unfairly penalized if a worker falls ill.  To be clear, those critics who claim to be standing up for small business are actually just fighting tooth and nail against all of this – hopefully this good news will turn them around.

5.        CLAIM:  Health insurance reform will cost jobs.

REALITY: Few claims more fundamentally misunderstand both health care and the economy more than this one. Right now the skyrocketing health care costs represent one of the biggest disadvantages our economy faces, and lowering the cost of healthcare will help jumpstart job growth. The President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) estimated that if the annual growth rate of health spending slows by 1.5 percentage points per year, then the unemployment rate could fall by 0.24 percentage point and jobs could rise by 500,000. A newly released Congressional Budget Office report finds that premiums will fall by as much as 3 percent in the large group market and 2 percent in the small group market after reform, showing that employers will reap the cost savings necessary to hire more workers and invest in new property, plant, and equipment. And of course, as discussed in #4, reform will lower costs for small businesses through tax credits and pooled purchasing on a competitive exchange – reducing their competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis larger firms, thus helping to fuel a key engine of job creation in the economy. As icing, of course there will also be plenty of new jobs for doctors, nurses, medical technicians who are updating our health IT, medical researchers, on and on...

6.        CLAIM:  Health insurance reform will not lower costs.

REALITY:  The CBO just recently had more great news for these critics, finding that lower administrative costs, increased competition, and better pooling for risk will mean lower premiums for American families.  We had been trying to tell this good news to these critics for some time, but hopefully the CBO will break through where we couldn’t. Among the CBO’s findings:

Americans buying comparable health plans to what they have today in the individual market would see premiums fall by 14 to 20 percent.
Those who get coverage through their employer today will likely see a decrease in premiums as well.
And Americans who currently struggle to find coverage today would see lower premiums because more people will be covered."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Legalized Gambling!! Henry Blodget: Moral of Insider-Trading Bust: Only Fools Try to Beat the Street

Henry Blodget: Moral of Insider-Trading Bust: Only Fools Try to Beat the Street: "

It's the myth that will never die.

Jim Cramer has made a career out of promoting it, as have countless other stock-picking gurus since the dawn of time.

What is this myth?

If only you 'do your homework,' analyze those financial statements, and listen to such-and-such a stock-picking guru, you, too, can pick stocks well enough to beat the pros.

If there's one thing that should ring out loud and clear from the recent Wall Street insider-trading bust it is that this is preposterous.

Stock trading is a zero-sum game. You cannot make money from trading without other people losing money.* In order to win the stock-picking game, therefore, you have to out-trade other traders. You have to beat the other traders by enough to offset your costs of research and trading (which are deducted from your returns). And you have to do this consistently, year after year after year.

Even without illegal inside information, your competition is intense. The hedge funds, mutual funds, and other professional traders you are competing with have, at a minimum:

* Professional analysts and traders with decades of experience who work 20 hours a day

* Huge industry Rolodexes filled with primary contacts at companies whose stocks they trade

* Research budgets that run into tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year

* Dozens of Wall Street brokers calling all day with every scrap of info they can dig up

* Instant access to 100% of Wall Street research and analysts from hundreds of firms

* Proprietary research services that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year

* High frequency trading computers that act on any market info in milliseconds

To win the stock-picking game, you have to consistently beat folks who have all of these advantages and more.

And then there's the sort of information that the busted hedge fund, Galleon, is alleged to have traded on. Yes, some of the information is clearly illegal inside information. The rest of it, however, is what is known on Wall Street as an 'edge.'

Most hedge funds would describe most of the information Galleon traded on as 'research.' Many would not trade without it -- because then they would be like all the dumb suckers who don't have an edge.

Information like Galleon's is everywhere on Wall Street. So in addition to every other advantage professionals have over you, there's also that.

On Mad Money tonight (and every night), Jim Cramer will tell you which stocks to buy -- and why. What he won't do is explain how the information he gives you will enable you to out-trade firms like Galleon.

The folks at Galleon watch Jim Cramer, too, of course -- as do the folks at most other Wall Street firms. They watch him out of the corner of their eye while they tee up trades based on much better (and much more narrowly distributed) analysis and information.

Perhaps you are one of the folks who deludes themselves into thinking that with an hour or two a day of 'homework,' you can out-trade Galleon. If so, Galleon is thrilled to have you in the game. As are the hundreds of other firms who make their money whipping suckers like you.

There's a saying in poker: If you don't know who the patsy is at the table, it's you.

Next time you feel like bellying up to the Wall Street poker table, therefore, ask yourself again who the sucker is. Chances are, it's not Galleon.

* Many people don't understand this. They confuse market gains and trading gains. To make money in the stock market, all you have to do is own stocks when they go up. This is NOT a zero-sum game. It's investing.

See also:

Stock Market Fools: 15 Gurus Shamed By The Rally Of The Century


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Andy Ostroy: Why Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Is Deserved

Andy Ostroy: Why Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Is Deserved: "

Republicans apparently have one more thing to hate about President Barack Obama now that he has won the Nobel Peace Prize, beating out 200 other candidates for addressing the threat of global warming; for trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons; and for attempting to achieve a global peace.

In Oslo, Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland said:

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year. We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.

Right-wingers are unsurprisingly outraged, calling Obama's award a travesty, claiming the president hasn't yet 'accomplished' anything that would merit such an honor. As the news broke Friday, conservative pundits were in high-gear robotically regurgitating the primary talking point that Obama won the award simply for not being George W. Bush.


But let's get something straight here: this is a very proud day for America. For all Americans. After eight embarrassing, unrepentant years of reckless cowboy arrogance marred by war, war crimes and human rights abuses, Obama's Nobel Prize symbolizes the beginning of the United States' return to respectability and perhaps even greatness someday. A time when the world is looking to America, and its president, for leadership. This isn't about Bush. It's about Obama and what he represents on the world's stage.

The notion that Obama's prize is undeserved is absurd and an insult to every American. First of all, who said the Nobel Committee's criteria for winning requires candidates to be 'accomplished' U.S. presidents? Or that they even be a U.S. president, for that matter? So the fact that Obama was selected so soon after his inauguration is totally irrelevant. This honor isn't about what he's done since January. To the contrary, it's about how this relatively unknown Midwestern politician with humble beginnings became the first black president of the United States by inspiring a nation through a message of peace, hope, and aspiration -- and thus shifted the political and racial winds in this country and throughout the world. The award is a recognition of Obama's vision for a new, harmonious planet, and how he's serving as a catalyst for that change. To say he's won because he's not Bush is grossly oversimplifying the significance of the prize. Rather, he's undoing the colossal damage that's been done by Bush. Big difference.

It's been eight years since America's been led by such an intelligent, inspirational figure as Obama. A president who thinks before he speaks. One who weighs options before he acts. A president with depth and intellectual curiosity. A president secure enough in his manhood to be able to talk with his enemies, rather than simply talk tough. A peacenik rather than a warmonger. Obama's restored dignity and diplomacy to the most important office in the world, while setting an example for everyone else in the quest for peace on Earth. That's why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

It's unconscionable that on this great day for America, Obama's achievement has to be turned into something ugly and partisan by a bunch of un-patriotic, mean-spirited, sore-losing Republican crybabies who've yet to emotionally get beyond last November -- and probably never will.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Steven L. Spiegel: Why Obama's Mideast Policy Will Work

Steven L. Spiegel: Why Obama's Mideast Policy Will Work: "

I am sick and tired of hearing about how Obama is 'not good for the Jews,' or, as a friend of mine put it recently, 'everyone who voted for him should be ashamed.' If looking for solutions to Israel's toughest problems -- Iran and the Mideast peace process -- and trying to fix both is somehow bad for Israel, then I'm not sure what is good.

President George W. Bush placed Iran on the 'axis of evil' with North Korea and Iraq, and then settled into an attempt to isolate Iran with tough rhetoric and mild sanctions. While he talked, Iran grew stronger in the region and continued building the potential for a nuclear force. It was the United States that was left without the intimate cooperation of its allies. Is this the policy the critics want President Barack Obama to pursue?

The president has wisely reversed course, pursuing an activist and even aggressive policy to stop the nuclear force by diplomacy if possible and by tough sanctions if necessary. He has worked hard to gain the confidence of allies, and has improved relations with Russia by altering Bush's policy of long-range missiles in Eastern Europe. Moscow is critical for making sanctions more effective. And when Tehran lied about its newly discovered nuclear facility, Obama deftly pounced, announcing the true nature of the Iranian installation and putting the Iranians on the proverbial 'ropes' for the first time in years.

It did not take long for the Iranians to change their tune. At a meeting in Geneva on Oct. 1, the United States for the first time joined the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Russia, China, Britain and France) plus Germany in a long-planned meeting with a high-level Iranian delegation to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions. The outcome was startling: Iran agreed to expanded inspections of its nuclear facilities, especially the new site. It also accepted the idea of sending most of its declared enriched uranium to Russia and France to be turned into nuclear fuel for a small Iranian reactor that produces medical isotopes. If the Iranian government was actually to make good on these promises, and assuming Iran does not have other undiscovered facilities and additional fuel, this would constitute a major achievement in at least delaying the Iranian development of nuclear weapons.

The president took no chances. He did not announce a major breakthrough, but instead called the talks 'constructive' and warned Iran yet again that if it did not cooperate and did not fulfill its new commitments, tough sanctions (such as escalating limits on Iranian banks abroad or restricting the export of refined oil to Iran) would be instituted. These types of steps would seriously weaken the Iranian economy and would threaten Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration at a time when it is already under attack from those of its citizens who believe the Iranian president was not actually elected.

The critics are arguing that Iran cannot be trusted, and Obama agrees. Indeed, he is talking about the kinds of sanctions conservatives have advocated for years. Many of the critics simply want a military attack, because they say we can never be sure even if Iran were to fulfill its new commitments, which they doubt, that we would know whether Iran has more hidden nuclear sites. But that argument is contradictory. If we don't know where all the sites are, how do we bomb them? Besides, most experts, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, believe that a military attack, which Obama has not taken off the table, would not delay an Iranian nuclear force for more than three years and would come at a high cost to the United States.

Instead, Obama's actions have thrown the Iranians on the defensive, and demonstrated that he is capable of challenging them directly. Israel is quietly supporting his efforts. Only time can tell whether he will succeed, but he provides a refreshing hope for the first time that an innovative American policy has a chance of stalling the Iranian nuclear march. It is now the United States, not Iran, that is on the offensive, and it is noteworthy that the president has significant international support for his policies -- something George W. Bush found impossible to achieve.

It's the same story when we turn to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Bush was unable to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process during his presidency. Indeed, he made matters worse when, against Israeli and Palestinian advice, he insisted on the Palestinian election in January 2006, which resulted in a Hamas victory.

Obama immediately began to make clear that his administration would actively support Arab-Israeli peace when he announced on his first full day in office that former Sen. George Mitchell would be his Mideast envoy. The Obama team tried over the last eight months to get Israel to freeze settlements, and the Palestinians to enhance security and lessen incitement against Israel. For the first time, an American president demanded that the Arab states take confidence-building measures in response to Israel's concessions without waiting for final treaties to be signed. As Obama admitted when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, not all of these steps were taken, but there was progress on each of the issues nonetheless.

Freezing settlement construction does not impede Israeli security. The president was not calling for dismantling any settlements. He was only looking for an Israeli confidence-building measure, and, of course, settlement construction can be unfrozen if talks go poorly. At this time, when it is so critical to gain the involvement of Arab regimes in the confrontation with Iran, positive steps from Israel can enhance the atmosphere for cooperation against Tehran's interests and actions.

In any case, at the U.N. General Assembly, on the two key issues, Obama stood with Israel. He supported Netanyahu's idea of relaunching negotiations 'without preconditions,' and, even more important, he endorsed the idea of Israel as a 'Jewish state,' the Israeli prime minister's top priority in negotiations. Think about it: If Israel will be recognized as a Jewish state, the idea of settling massive numbers of Palestinian refugees in pre-1967 Israel is simply closed.

It is little wonder, then, that it was Netanyahu, not Abbas, who left satisfied with what had happened in New York. The Obama team's tough stand in pressuring the Palestinians into delaying for six months the U.N. Human Rights Council adoption of the dangerous Goldstone report is another indication of how close American and Israeli policy really is. From the Arab perspective, here was a president who held out a stronger extended hand than his recent predecessors, but who took just as sturdy a stand behind Israel as any of them, while demanding stronger concessions from Arab states during negotiations than any president in American history.

The facts speak for themselves. Anyone concerned with Israel's survival as a Jewish state should stop criticizing Obama's policies.

Steven L. Spiegel is a professor of political science and director of the Center for Middle East Development at UCLA and national scholar at Israel Policy Forum.

This column is cross-posted from Los Angeles Jewish Journal.


Cenk Uygur: How Alan Grayson and Michael Moore Changed the Conversation

Cenk Uygur: How Alan Grayson and Michael Moore Changed the Conversation: "

It's not the answer that matters, it's the question. So when Alan Grayson suggested that the Republican's health care plan was for people to die quickly, he began a conversation that the Democratic Party couldn't lose and the Republicans couldn't win. Because then the question being debated was: Do Republicans want people to die quickly?

For the whole summer, the Republicans had managed to shift the debate from 'should we reform the health care system in this country?' to 'is the Democratic plan to reform health care a government takeover?' So, instead of the onus being on the health care industry and their Republican lovers to prove that we should maintain the status quo, the onus shifted to Democrats to prove that their plan was perfect.

This is an old trick of lobbyists (really well demonstrated in Thank You For Smoking). You change the conversation to a battle you can win. So, Rep. Grayson used their methods against them. And now the conversation we're having is whether the health care system is acceptable or if it leads to killing people for profit. Mission accomplished.

Michael Moore is doing the same in his move Capitalism. First, he is changing the conversation on who caused the financial collapse in the first place. Most people are acutely aware that it was the bankers, but not the Fox News audience. So, when he went on Sean Hannity's show the other night, he introduced that idea to them and then Hannity was stuck in the position of defending the bankers and blatantly blaming the victims and the poor. Instead of discussing how government was at fault, Moore started a conversation on how deregulation might have led to this mess.

But more importantly, he started a battle for the heart and soul of Christianity. He proposed in the movie and in his debate with Hannity that being on the side of the rapacious rich is un-Christian. He claimed his position is the more Christian position. For so long, the Republicans have simply claimed that they are more Christian without anything to back them up. They just shouted louder. Now, Moore is shouting just as loud.

By putting them on the defensive on how they are not good Christians if they help the rich crush the poor, he has once again changed the conversation. Are the Republicans bad Christians? It doesn't matter what the answer is, that's a question you can't lose with.

What the conservative movement has understood for a long time is sometimes it takes something a little inflammatory to change the conversation. You have to draw attention to you, so people can start discussing the topic you want.

This was perfectly demonstrated by the wild and angry town hall crowds. They were sometimes saying hideous things about Obama but they succeeded in shifting the burden of proof on to the Democrats. Now, it looks like we have a couple of guys that know how to play this game. And they have succeeded in shifting the focus back to where it should be. It's refreshing to have people who know what they're doing on your side.

Watch The Young Turks Here


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

HealthCare Thought Experiment

HealthCare Thought Experiment: "Before you complain that I'm a socialist who wants to take away your freedoms and your money, what follows is just a thought experiment. I start with the premise that the government of the United States, against all odds, declares universal healthcare a basic right.

Obviously no one has figured out how to pay for universal healthcare in a way that society can swallow. So today's thought experiment imagines that ALL options are on the table except raising taxes, just to make this interesting.

As President Obama has pointed out, there might be some savings involved with covering everyone. At the moment, two-thirds of all bankruptcies are caused by medical bills. If that problem goes away, society saves a bundle.

If we assume a so-called single payer option goes into effect, which means the government offers an insurance program in competition with private insurers, we could eventually see some drops in prices. If you prefer keeping your private insurance company, the only change you would see is a lower bill.

A big benefit of universal healthcare insurance is job mobility. At the moment, lots of people stay at suboptimal jobs because switching jobs would mean losing healthcare for themselves or their families. That's a huge drag on economic efficiency. I suppose wages might creep up if people feel more freedom to job hop, and there would be some extra training involved for all the fresh meat, but on balance I'm guessing job mobility is a boost to the economy, and potentially a big one.

Another economic benefit from universal healthcare coverage is that doctors can catch problems early, before they become more expensive to treat. That's a winner all around.

A big downside of insuring everyone is that in the short run there wouldn't be enough doctors to go around. One solution is to recruit qualified doctors from overseas. If they can pass the same tests as American doctors, they're in. I have to think we'd have plenty of doctors in that case. Then the shortage becomes the problem of other countries.

Next, we legalize doctor-assisted euthanasia, under strict medical guidelines. A disproportionate amount of healthcare costs go toward the last few months of life, when the patient is getting very little bang for the buck. I don't know anyone who wouldn't want the option for himself.

Then we require junk food to be labeled like cigarettes, and make it a national priority to decrease our exposure to unhealthy food. People still have to eat, so perhaps the fast food outlets could make the same profit from offering convenient food that is healthy, even if it isn't as tasty and addicting. The government could bully or legislate unhealthy foods out of our diets if it needed to.

Next, the government could start to push the benefits of exercise. And I don't mean the hand-waving they do now. I mean a serious push, until couch potatoes start feeling like flag burners. Exercise could become a matter of national pride.

The government could tax cigarettes into the realm of novelty. Remember, this is the imaginary world of the thought experiment. If universal healthcare is mandated, and you don't want to wait ten months to see a doctor like you do in Canada (allegedly), then society has to make some hard choices.

The government could also require your doctor to treat patients by e-mail, as my HMO already does. That probably saves 10% on patient visits right off the top. Once hi def cameras are more ubiquitous, you should be able to e-mail photos of your bruises and suspicious moles to your doctor too. And I have read that there is a lot of progress in various types of home medical monitors that can send info to your doctor. That should help.

Imagine also that employers who offer health insurance have to treat cohabitation just like marriage. If you're shacking up with someone, you have the option of being on their insurance plan, no further questions asked. Employers currently don't discriminate against married employees even though their families cost extra to insure. This simply extends that benefit to non-traditional familes.

I can also imagine a loosening of the rules for what a Nurse Practitioner can do without a doctor's direct supervision. Between the Internet and a Nurse Practitioner, patients can eliminate a lot of doctor visits.

Most of what I mentioned here is thoroughly impractical because of lobbyists, morons, bad leadership, superstition, and our addictions to unhealthy behavior. It's just interesting to imagine what universal healthcare would look like if it were a constitutional right and raising taxes was off the table.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

AKMuckraker: Welcome to the Death Panel, You're Already Paying for It

AKMuckraker: Welcome to the Death Panel, You're Already Paying for It: "

I got a phone call from my oldest friend yesterday. We've been friends since nursery school, stayed best friends in grade school, high school, college and beyond. We were the kind of friends that had hundreds of 'in jokes' and we passed notes and talked on the phone more than we should have, and drove our parents crazy. We survived Mrs. Nemchek's geometry class together. We liked the same music. Neither of us were the 'popular' girls, but we didn't want to be. We marched to our own drummer. We had each other, and we made each other laugh and we were always there for each other without reservation. We got a kick out of the fact that people would routinely ask us if we were sisters, when we looked absolutely nothing alike.

So, it wasn't unusual to get a call from her. There are times when we talk every other day. Sometimes we seem to go for weeks without a call, but we're always there in spirit.

'I need to tell you something,' she said. I wasn't sure whether this was going to be good or bad, but 'I need to tell you something' is always important. 'I went to the doctor, and there's something wrong with my heart.'

I wasn't expecting that one.

My friend has had a series of health problems -- a bad car accident resulting in two painful spinal surgeries, asthma, a breast cancer scare, but this was different. Her matter-of-fact tone quickly dissolved into tears of fear and vulnerability. 'I can't believe this. I'm only 43!' This wasn't supposed to happen.

After her breast cancer scare, the doctor recommended a preventative regimen of tamoxifen, a drug which would help ward off the risk of cancer that her condition indicated might be a problem. But before they started her on the potent drug, they wanted to make sure she had a good healthy heart. A family history of heart disease put her in a high risk group, so the cardiologist insisted on a stress test.

She's been living through multiple problems with her insurance provider, Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield, so she wasn't surprised when they refused to pay for the test. She was surprised when the doctor decided to call the insurance company himself. He explained why it was important, and that he felt very strongly and in no uncertain terms that it needed to be done. They still refused to pay for the test. And then the cardiologist did an amazing thing. Outraged at the insurance company, he said that he would pay for the test himself, out of his own pocket. It was important, too important to cow to the insurance company representative whose job it was to deny claims just to increase the profits for the company.

My friend wasn't even able to complete the stress test. After a few minutes on the treadmill, they stopped it and wouldn't allow her to continue. Shortness of breath. Chest pain. She'd been experiencing these symptoms lately. She was mowing the lawn this week, and had to stop half way through because she couldn't catch her breath. She chalked it off to asthma. But it was, in fact, a coronary blockage that was keeping one of the chambers of her heart from getting enough oxygen.

So, instead of starting a regimen of tamoxifen next week, she will be getting a stent in her heart tomorrow. She's home right now, trying to 'do nothing,' and trying not to get too stressed out by the thought that she'll be in surgery in just a few hours, and never even knew anything was wrong.

If her insurance company had gotten its way, she would never have had that test. The next time she was out mowing the lawn, it could have killed her. 'He saved my life,' she said, just as I was thinking the same thing. Yes, doctors are in the business of saving lives from disease, and illness and injury, but they shouldn't have to be in the business of saving lives from business. 'He saved my life from the insurance company, she continued. 'The insurance company... there's your Death Panel.'

I didn't even ask her his name, but I'm grateful to that cardiologist in the kind of way it's difficult to express in words. He saved a wonderful, beautiful life. But how many people are not so lucky? A recent study found out that 45,000 people every year die because they are uninsured. And each one of those 45,000 has a story, too. They are someone's husband, or wife, or parent, or best friend since nursery school.

But my friend has health insurance. She pays $600 every month for it, and yet her coverage denied a test that saved her life. How many fully-insured Americans die every year because we allow the insurance industry to be a for-profit enterprise, making money off of people's lives? How many die because our current system says that the money made for salaries and bonuses for insurance company executives is more important than they are? More important than your mother. More important than your son. More important than my friend. How long will we accept the harsh reality that the insurance company looks at human beings and sees nothing but a spreadsheet?

'We need a revolution in the health care industry,' my friend agreed. 'We should not allow them to profit from our own illness.'

Until then, if you have insurance, get in line. Because whatever you are paying them, it's only a matter of time before your number is up, and it's you or someone you love that gets to stand in front of the Death Panel and plead your case. And guess what? They'd much rather pay politicians than pay to save your life.

It's cheaper.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jane Smiley: HuffPost Book Review: Republican Gomorrah

Jane Smiley: HuffPost Book Review: Republican Gomorrah: "

About twenty years ago, I read an article about a death row inmate who
had shot a clerk in a convenience store. The way the murder was presented
by the man on death row was mysterious--his hand just rose up
and the gun went off. Shooting the clerk in the face in the midst of a
robbery wasn't in fact his fault. He never said, 'I shot a man.' It
just happened.

I thought of that man while reading Max Blumenthal's
terrific, but also, of course, appalling new book, Republican
. Apparently there isn't a single person in the present
incarnation of the Republican party who does anything. Things
happen--God does it. Satan does it. No Republican is an agent of his
or her own success or failure, sin or redemption. It just happens.

The consequences of this lack of responsibility are there for all to
see--screaming threats, guns at rallies, unhinged behavior every time
a Republican doesn't feel the way he or she wants to feel, absolute
sense of powerlessness leading directly to an absolute will to power.
Because that was the thing that struck me about the murderer in the
7-11--he had the power and in his own last moments, the clerk
knew it. But the killer, no matter how well armed, never felt it.

Republican Gomorrah is a frightening book because it is clear to all
of us on the outside that the various Republican operatives who
surround James Dobson and his ilk have no consciences and will stop at
nothing. They invoke the name of God for purposes that shame God
absolutely--hurting, destroying, maiming, and damning others who
either don't accept their beliefs or don't acknowledge their power and
righteousness. Of course that is frightening.

But Blumenthal's cast of
characters, beginning with Dobson and his prodigal son, Ryan, and
including John Hagee, Sarah Palin, Ralph Reed, Charles Colson, Judith
Reisman, Christina Regnery, Donald Wildmon, et al. strike the reader
as above all else very small--egocentric, narrow minded, uneducated,
selfish, and resentful. Each of these qualities is destructive in and
of itself. The combination is turning out to be coercive. Even those
of us who are immune to the emotions these people play upon are
getting more and more nervous about the power that they wish to exert.

Blumenthal does two things that no one else I have read manages to
do--the first of these is that he organizes the network. He shows how
Ted Bundy is connected to James Dobson is connected to Gary Bauer is
connected to Erik Prince is connected to Ralph Reed is connected to
Jack Abramoff is connected to Tom Delay is connected to Tony Perkins
is connected to David Duke is connected to Mel Gibson, and so forth,
and in the course of tracing these connections, he informs us, or
reminds us, of the crimes and misdemeanors these people have committed.

Two of my favorites are James Dobson's son Ryan's messy divorce (Dad
seems to have paid the settlement--did he not dare to discipline? Or
did he discipline too much?) and David Vitter's habitual recourse to a
brothel in New Orleans where Republicans 'wanted to be spanked and
tortured and wear stockings--Republicans have impeccable taste in silk
stockings' (the madam is talking about men). Republican Gomorrah is
full of crimes--both those we've already heard of, such as Abramoff's
and Ted Haggard's, and those we haven't (there is good evidence that
Texas billionaire T. Cullen Davis, funder of the right wing Council
For National Policy, ordered hits on his estranged wife, and succeeded
in murdering his step-daughter and the wife's boyfriend).

This aspect
of the book reminds me of a Scottish novel called The Private Memoirs
And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner
by James Hogg, in which, once a
man believes he is among the saved, he can commit any sin he wants to
and be sure he will go to heaven. Once Davis was 'saved,' for example,
he said, 'My goal is to get to heaven. I'll do anything it takes to
get there, and I'm not going to let anything stand in my way.' He must
have thought getting to heaven was just another power play.

And power plays are the key to right wing psychology. Right wing
psychology is the other thing that Blumenthal has to offer. At the
periphery of this world is your run-of-the-mill bully, a man like Jack
Abramoff, whose brutality is well remembered by his high school
classmates, but who sang like a bird once he was caught. At the center
of is James Dobson, a much more destructive figure than Abramoff, who
advocates, in the strongest terms, child beating, and not only
child-beating, but dog-beating. At one point he brags about going
after the family canine (who weighed twelve pounds) and engaging in
'the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast.' As for
children, the goal is to keep beating the child until 'he wants(s) to
crumple on the breast of his parent.' In other words, Dobson is a
proud sadist who thinks sadism is kind of funny, and who, over the
years, has successfully advocated sadism as the only workable form of

It order to understand the deeply disturbing effect Dobson and his
theories have had on our culture, Blumenthal cites Erich Fromm's
Escape from Freedom, about the psychology of Nazism and
authoritarianism, and Eric Hoffer's The True Believer. Insofar as he
finds the documentation, Blumenthal points out how many of these
powerful Evangelical Christians were beaten and abused as children
(including Dobson). It's a high number. The beatings, often arbitrary,
cruel, and frequent, were then, in many cases, backed up with constant
lessons about God--that he is arbitrary, that he is cruel, that he
demands obedience above all things, and that he surpasseth
understanding. The point of these exercises is to establish the
powerlessness of the child, his shame and guilt as a worthless sinner,
and his absolute fear of thinking for himself. He will then take his
place in the hierarchy and thereby reinforce the existence of the

Blumenthal goes pretty far with this psychology, but, in my view,
not far enough. I'm sure he was reared by liberal parents, who gave
him a sense of responsibility, curiosity, and autonomy, and since he
is only in his thirties, I don't think that he really empathizes with
the tortured and damaged souls that he has been interviewing and
watching for the last few years. I don't think he understands their
fear--how deep it is, how constant it is, and how arousing it is. I
don't think, in fact, that Max Blumenthal looks within and sees evil.
I think he looks within, and says, 'I'm okay; you're okay.' That's the
goal of liberal parenting, and as we can tell by statistics he cites
concerning unwed pregnancy, divorce, and occurrence of STDs, liberal
parenting works--atheists and agnostics, for example, have a much
lower rate of divorce than Evangelicals, and states that have sex
education in the schools, rather than abstinence-only education, have
lower rates of teen pregnancy.

But a child who is beaten enough eventually comes to understand
two things above all--that the world makes no sense (and so why try to
make sense of it?) and that the world is so dangerous that to be
oneself, or even to try to figure out what oneself might be, is a
death-defying exercise. There is safety only in two things--conforming
to a group and, as a part of that group, dominating and even
destroying other groups. The rules of the group can be anything at
all, as long as the members of the group abide by them. And other
groups have to abide by them, too, or the painful and arbitrary rules
that group abides by are meaningless. The beaten child's sense of
terror can only be assuaged by evanescent feelings of power, because
in relation to his parents and to God, he is defined as powerless.
When he 'crumples' on the 'loving' breast of his parent (and in my
view a person who administers a beating to a living being who is
1/16th his size doesn't know what love is) he accepts his
powerlessness and he also accepts that power is what defines this

That's where your freedom and mine come in.

Many of the Evangelicals Blumenthal discusses are Christian
Dominionists--that is, they differ from the Taliban only in their
choice of doctrine. Their uses of that doctrine (to dehumanize women
and other groups, to never share power, to control every aspect of
every life within their power, and to create society as a steeply
hierarchical structure with them at the top) are those of the Taliban.

It's an eye-opener to read about R.J. Rushdoony, son of Armenian
immigrants who fled the Armenian genocide of 1915. You would think
that a man whose family escaped mass murder would go on to espouse
peace, love, and understanding, but Rushdoony went the other way,
taking literally the 613 laws in the Book of Leviticus. In his book,
The Institutes of Biblical Law, he advocates capital punishment for
'disobedient children, unchaste women, apostates, blasphemers,
practitioners of witchcraft, adulterers,' and homosexuals. Gary North,
the Presbyterian Christian Reconstructionist, is his son-in-law, and,
while not backing down on the mass death penalty, advocates stoning
rather than burning at the stake, because stoning is cheaper (and of
course that is a factor, because there would be a lot of people to
exterminate). As for who would be doing the killing (of you and me, if
they could catch us), well, Christians would, but not because they
wanted to. Ever unable to accept responsibility, they assign agency to
God, who wants us killed, who will beat us until we 'crumple' on his
'loving' breast, a God who has given us all sorts of talents, skills,
and interests, but is, like these Christian Dominionists, interested
only in power. I believe his motto is 'Adore me or I will hurt you.'

Can you believe in a God so small? When I was a parent of young
children, I, too, got frustrated, and I, too, thought a spanking might
be a good thing. I soon realized that my motives for administering
physical punishment were highly suspect--more anger and frustration
than care for the child or knowledge about effective methods. I then
saw a show about child-rearing, in which a woman who firmly believed
in child-beating aroused far more resistance in her beaten daughter,
and had much more family disruption, than the parents who ignored the
tantrum and then used the technique of redirection to train their
toddlers. Works with horses, dogs, and other animals, too. It was then
I decided that if I, in my human weakness, could put two and two
together concerning free will and proper behavior, surely God could,
also. I didn't want to believe in a God who was a smaller being than
myself. And I don't.

The ray of hope in Blumenthal's book is that the right-wingers he
talks about tend to be so psychologically unstable that they don't
have much staying power--think Ted Haggard. But they have numbers. The
bad thing about that is that they could take control. The defeat of
Sarah Palin, Conrad Burns (R-MT), George Allen (R-VA), Rick Santorum
(R-PA), James Talent (R-MO), and Mike DeWine (R-OH) brought us 'back
from the brink' according to the website Theocracy Watch. But only
back from the brink. The good thing is that they would not be able to
maintain what we call a government for very long (see George W. Bush).
The bad thing is that they would destroy the country as we know it
while they were trying. If I take the long view, well, I think,
Stalinism lasted about 25 years, Nazism 12. The Iranian Mullahs have
been at it for 30 years. Russia and Germany survived, Iran might,
as well. But generations were lost in all these places. And Stalin and
Hitler didn't have nuclear weapons.

I think about the 22-year-old clerk in that convenience store,
looking down the barrel of that pistol. He probably had no idea that
his killer had no sense of agency, hardly even knew what he was doing,
was seeing his hand as separate from himself. But I have to feel sorry
for the killer, too, subject to feelings that he could not label that
were terrifying and overpowering. I bet he was beaten, shamed, and
neglected as a child. I bet, afterward, he wished someone, somehow,
had stopped him.

Don't forget to buy one: Max Blumenthal, Republican Gomorrah, Nationbooks, available at your local bookstore and anywhere else that

books are sold.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fired Up? Ready to Go?

Fired Up? Ready to Go?: "During Wednesday's address to Congress, the President rose above the chatter, misinformation, and petty politics that opponents of health insurance reform have taken to new heights.  In laying out the specifics of his plan, he spoke clearly on how it will benefit those who already have insurance -- ending discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, making sure you can't be dropped just because you get sick, capping out-of-pocket expenses, and eliminating extra charges for preventive care and tests that help you avoid getting sick in the first place.  He explained how for the tens of millions of Americans without insurance, a new Insurance Exchange, a public option, and tax credits will open up a new range of afforable choices. And he explained how all Americans can feel safe that reform will include provisions guaranteeing it will not add to the deficit and take significant steps to bring down costs for families, businesses, and the government.

President Barack Obama reaches out to the crowd

(President Barack Obama reaches out to the crowd at a rally for health care reform at the Target Center in

Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 12, 2009.  Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Yesterday the President took his case from the heart of Washington out on the road, where an enthusiastic crowd showed a snapshot of the hunger for reform all over the country.  During his remarks, the President discussed all of the same benefits of reform, but also emphasized that the fate of reform ultimately rests in their hands, and in all of your hands across the country:

President Barack Obama at a rally for health care reform

(President Barack Obama at a rally for health care reform at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota,

September 12, 2009.  Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

THE PRESIDENT:  ...Minnesota, we are closer to reform than we've ever been before, but this is the hard part.  This is when the special interests and the insurance companies and the folks who think, you know, this is a good way to bring Obama down -- (boos) -- this is when they're going to fight with everything they've got.  This is when they'll spread all kinds of wild rumors designed to scare and intimidate people.  That's why I need your help.  (Applause.) 


AUDIENCE:  Yes we can!  Yes we can!  Yes we can!


THE PRESIDENT:  You know, there have been -- there have been some of the pundits in Washington who have been saying, well, maybe you've been trying to do too much. 




THE PRESIDENT:  Maybe you've been pushing too far too fast.




THE PRESIDENT:  And I try to remind them, I said, listen, I never said change would be easy.  (Applause.)  Change is hard.  It's always been hard.  When FDR -- when FDR decided that Social Security was something that seniors needed -- (applause) -- when FDR decided -- when FDR introduced Social Security, you know what happened?  They called it socialism.  But senior citizens decided that, you know what?  If I've got some protection in my golden years, that's something that's worth fighting for.  (Applause.)  When Medicare -- when Medicare was introduced as an idea, they said this is going to be a government takeover of Medicare.  But imagine what seniors would be dealing with right now if they didn't have Medicare.  Every time we've made progress it's because ordinary people banded together and they stood up and they said, we've got to make progress, and we're going to push and we're going to prod until Washington finally reacts, finally responds.  (Applause.)


I've always believed -- because I've always believed that change doesn't come from the top down; it comes from the bottom up.  It doesn't start in Washington, D.C.; it begins in places like Minneapolis, it begins in places like St. Paul.  (Applause.)  It begins with you sharing your stories, fighting for something better.  (Applause.)  That's how change happens.  That's what's happening right now.  (Applause.) 


AUDIENCE:  Yes we can!  Yes we can!  Yes we can!


THE PRESIDENT:  You know, I asked you -- I asked you at the beginning of the rally whether you were fired up.  (Applause.)  Some of you may have heard where that story comes from.  But for those of you who don't know, I want to just tell this story real quick.  My staff loves this story, so they always tell me, "Tell that story."  (Laughter.)  But it bears on what's happening with health care today. 


This is back at the beginning, when I was running for President.  Nobody thought I could win; nobody could pronounce my name.  (Laughter.)  Nobody except R.T., that was the only person who believed.  (Applause.) 


So I went down to -- it was right at the beginning of the campaign.  I went down to South Carolina to a legislative conference where I was supposed to be one of the speakers.  And I was sitting next to a state representative there -- nobody was that excited to see me.  (Laughter.)  You know, I was -- but I really needed some support and endorsements because South Carolina was an early state.  So I said to this state representative, "Will you endorse my campaign?"  And she looked at me and she said, "I will endorse your campaign if you come to my hometown of Greenwood, South Carolina."  So I had had some wine and I was feeling kind of desperate.  (Laughter.)  I said, "Yes, I'll come to Greenwood.  Be happy to do it."  Only to find out that Greenwood is like an hour and a half from everyplace else.  (Laughter.)  You can't fly into Greenwood.


About a month later, I've been campaigning in Iowa for weeks -- (applause) -- haven't seen my family -- got some Iowa folks in the house?  (Applause.)  I'm exhausted.  I get into Greenville, South Carolina, about midnight.  I get to my hotel about 1:00 a.m.  I'm dragging to the hotel.  I'm carrying my bags, ready to hit the pillow.  And suddenly my staff says, "Sir?"  I said, "What?"  (Laughter.)  They said, "Sir, you have to be in the car at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow -- in the morning."  (Laughter.)  I said, "Why is that?"  They said, "Because you've got to go to Greenwood like you promised." 


Next morning, I wake up and I feel awful, I feel terrible.  I'm exhausted.  And I stagger over to the window to pull open the blinds, and it's pouring down rain outside, terrible day.  I go out and I get some coffee and open up the newspaper -- bad story about me in The New York Times.  (Laughter.)  I pack up, I go downstairs.  As I'm walking to the car my umbrella blows open and I get drenched.  (Laughter.)  So by the time I'm in the car I'm wet and I'm sleepy and I'm mad.  (Laughter.) 

And I drive -- and we drive and we drive and we drive -- hour and a half, we just keep on driving.  (Laughter.)  Finally we get to Greenwood -- although you don't know that you're in Greenwood right away.  (Laughter.)  It's not like Minneapolis.  (Laughter.)  So there's a little field house in a park, and we go into the field house, I walk in, I get a little more wet.  I walk in -- lo and behold, 20 people there.  (Laughter.)  Twenty people.  And I'm already thinking about the fact I've got another hour and a half I've got to drive back.  (Laughter.)  And they're all kind of damp and they don't look like they're that happy to be there.  The state rep had dragged them to the meeting. 


But that's okay.  I have a job to do.  I'm running for President, I shake their hand, I say, "How do you do, what do you do, nice to meet you."  Suddenly I hear this voice should out behind me:  "Fired up?"  (Laughter.)  And I almost jumped out of my shoes.  (Laughter.)  But everybody else acts like this is normal and they all say, "Fired up!"  And then I hear this voice:  "Ready to go?"  And the people around me, they just say, "Ready to go!"  I don't know what's going on.  So I look behind me, and there's this little woman there.  She's about 5'2", 5'3", she's maybe 50, 60 years old.  And she looks like she's dressed for church.  She's got a big church hat.  (Laughter.)  And she's just grinning at me, just smiling.  And she points at me and she says "Fired up?"  (Laughter and applause.)


Wait, wait, the story gets better here.  It turns out that she is a city councilwoman from Greenwood named Edith Childs -- that's her name -- and she's also known as the chant lady because she does this chant wherever she goes.  She goes, "Fired up?"  "Fired up!"  "Ready to go?"  "Ready to go!"  (Laughter.)  And she does this at every event she goes to.  She's also, by the way, we discovered later, she also moonlights as a private detective but that's a -- (laughter) -- true story.  True story.


But she's well known for her chant, so for the next five minutes, she starts chanting.  She says, "Fired up?"  And everybody says, "Fired up!"  "Ready to go?"  "Ready to go!"  And this just keeps on going.  And I realize I'm being upstaged by this woman.  (Laughter.)  And I'm -- she's getting all the attention, and I'm standing there looking at my staff and they're shrugging their shoulders.  (Laughter.)  But here's the thing, Minneapolis.  After about a minute, maybe two, I'm feeling kind of fired up.  (Laughter and applause.)  I'm feeling -- I'm feeling like I'm ready to go.  (Applause.)


And so -- so for the rest of the day, every time I saw my staff, I'd say, "Are you fired up?"  They'd say, "I'm fired up."  "Are you ready to go?"  They'd say, "I'm ready to go."  (Applause.)  And it goes to show you how one voice can change a room.  (Applause.)  And if it changes a room it can change a city.  And if it can change a city it can change a state.  And if it can change a state it can change a nation.  If it changes the nation it can change the world.  (Applause.)  It can bring health care to every American.  It can lower our costs.  It can make your insurance more secure.  I want to know, Minnesota, are you fired up?


AUDIENCE:  Fired up!


THE PRESIDENT:  Ready to go?


AUDIENCE:  Ready to go!




AUDIENCE:  Fired up!


THE PRESIDENT:  Ready to go?


AUDIENCE:  Ready to go!




AUDIENCE:  Fired up!


THE PRESIDENT:  Ready to go?


AUDIENCE:  Ready to go!


THE PRESIDENT:  They can't stop us.  Let's go get this done.  Thank you, everybody.  God bless you.  (Applause.)


When you go talk to your neighbors, bring a few of these (pdf).


The audience listens to President Barack Obama

(The audience listens to President Barack Obama at a rally for health care reform at the Target Center in

Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 12, 2009.  Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Paul Begala: A Sign of the Times

Paul Begala: A Sign of the Times: "

The sign said it all. It was not some last-minute message some meth addict scrawled in crayon on a scrap of cardboard. No, this sign was professionally printed. White block letters on a blue background, the four-word message was in all caps. Someone had to have thought this through. Someone wrote it, edited it, planned it, designed it, ordered it, paid for it. Someone approved it, printed it, distributed it. And then someone thought this was a message he or she wanted to convey to the world. Thank goodness someone had the courage to take a photo of it, and then Huffington Post had the guts to post it on its home page.

The sign made me nauseous, made me embarrassed, made me wonder if at long last there is no decency on the far right. The sign said:


Oh, I get it. Sen. Kennedy is dead, and these slugs want health care reform to be dead too. That is so clever.

Fourteen days after Edward Kennedy was laid to rest in the company of his fellow American heroes in Arlington, right-wing hate-mongers decided to use his burial to make a cheap point about their opposition to health care reform.

What would they have done if liberals had printed signs that equated Ronald Reagan's burial with the hoped-for death of George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security? Or Bill Buckley's painful passing with the GOP's loss of the White House in 2008? Or the demise of my right-wing former colleague Bob Novak with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts? You can't imagine that, can you? Because, while we progressives have our moments of frustration and our occasional lack of couth, there is nothing I can think of that compares to the sick, savage sign that the teabaggers were waving in Washington.

The inmates have taken over the asylum. The ever-sunny Reagan is dead. The congenial Buckley is dead. The old-school conservative Novak is dead as well. In their place is the party of Joe the Shouter and Joe the Plumber and Sarah the Death Panel Screecher.

They hate Pres. Obama - even though he has bent over backwards to accommodate Republicans. They hate tax increases - even though the Democrats have cut taxes for 95% of Americans. They hate health care reform - even though Ted Kennedy fought his whole life to get them the same health care millionaires like him already had.

There was not, to my knowledge, a sign that said, 'Let's Bury Medicare,' even though Medicare is precisely the sort of single-payer, government-run, socialized health insurance the whack-jobs say they hate. Nor did I hear about a sign that said, 'Let's Bury Tricare,' although the military health system is as socialized as Britain's, its beneficiaries (including, according to Newsweek, Congressclown Joe Wilson of South Carolina) are very happy with their socialized health care. Nary a sign, so far as I know, decried the Bush prescription drug entitlement, even though it ballooned the deficit, enriched the pharmaceutical companies and furthered the supposed slide toward socialism. Nor, I'm told, were there any signs criticizing the $2 trillion Mr. Bush's unjust, unwarranted, unwise war in Iraq will cost our children and grandchildren. Nor ever a single sign about the Bush tax cuts, which helped squander the Clinton surplus. If this were about fiscal policy, the protests would have happened long ago.

These tea parties are, at least for some, more about hate than high-minded debate. Anyone who needed proof need look no further than the sign captured in the photo on the front page of the Huffington Post.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Republican politicians have no empathy

Republican politicians have no empathy: "They only want government to intervene when they suffer personally -- so let's yank their federal health insurance"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Evan Handler: Have You No Decency, Sir? At Long Last, Have You No Sense of Decency?

Evan Handler: Have You No Decency, Sir? At Long Last, Have You No Sense of Decency?: "

I'm pretty invested in this health care bill battle. First, twenty-four years ago, when I was 24 years old, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. My medical treatments lasted over four years, cost close to half a million dollars, and were largely paid for by insurance coverage from my two acting unions, Actors Equity Association and Screen Actors Guild. Still, my family was forced to empty my bank account to meet official poverty levels (there wasn't very much to spend, at the time) in order to qualify for Social Security disability payments, and my years of illness nearly bankrupted my parents -- in spite of all the insurance coverage and assistance. I can tell you firsthand: even the most privileged among us are within a millimeter of losing everything to an unexpected illness. I was lucky enough to escape the clutches of what was then considered to be an incurable disease. I had my life. But I was left with nothing else. So, I'm puzzled, and amazed, and dismayed, by those who want health care reform legislation to be anything other than the most comprehensive and powerful it can possibly be.

Then there's my new family. My wife is from Italy. She, her parents, her grandparents, all her relatives, and all their friends have received prompt, capable, and comprehensive health care

their entire lives, and it hasn't cost them a thing. They've had their teeth cleaned regularly, their cavities filled, gum tissue transplants, fused spinal discs, abdominal surgeries, you name it. They didn't wait any longer than anyone would here. Nothing was rationed or withheld. They were, and are, every age, from zero to 94. Their government makes sure that its citizens can visit the doctor, have surgeries, and take care of their health, period. It's a right of existence, and -- to judge by my wife's circle -- it's working well (and Italy ain't exactly known for things working well). For that matter, my wife also attended the high school of her choice free of charge, and a world renowned Italian University for $200 per year. Why wouldn't Americans want the same? If they do want it, why are these things being kept from them? Maybe a more pertinent question today is, why are they being encouraged and instructed to fear this kind of progress on the part of their government, which every other advanced nation's government in the world has already long embraced?

Last night's eruption during President Obama's speech was a good example of that last tendency. It reminded me of the famous quotation from Joseph Welch, spoken to Senator Joseph McCarthy, who'd already spent years ruining careers and lives with less than sincere (and far less than accurate) accusations of anti-Americanism.

Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?, is what Mr. Welch said in 1954. And it precipitated the downfall of a legendary bully (who is now largely regarded as a blowhard).

It would have been interesting if President Obama had responded to Republican Congressman Joseph Wilson's outburst of 'You lie!' with those same iconic words. First, it would have been interesting to see whether the Congressman, or others, might have responded; whether the president would have responded once again; and whether this would have resulted in spirited and unscripted debate, thus giving us all a glimpse of what an American version of British Parliament might look like.

But our House of Representatives isn't British Parliament. There have been plenty of times I've wished it was. It would be great to have a forum where questions and criticisms could be shouted out at our elected leaders, thereby compelling them to respond. But we don't have that forum. And, since we don't, Joseph Wilson should have followed some simple rules. You do not shout 'You lie!' at the president while he's addressing Congress, and the nation. More crucially, you don't shout 'You lie!' at the president when he's stating the irrefutable fact that his health care proposals do not offer coverage to illegal residents of the United States.

Since facts, such as the one I just mentioned, don't seem to hold as much influence as facts used to, let me quote from the health care proposal being prepared for submission to congress:

Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.

I do not know what makes the language of Sec. 246 so hard to understand, or accept. Since it's right there, visible for anyone to read, I have to suspect that Joseph Wilson either doesn't know it's there, or doesn't care. That he, and the many (many, many) others who are furious about aspects of the proposed health care legislation, simply want to use any emotion, misinformation, slander, or lie to prevent its passage. That's a shame, because a) there are plenty of areas in which to find legitimate fault in the bill, as with many bills, and b) because giving health care insurance to the most people possible is a very good thing to do. That's why every other advanced nation on planet Earth does it -- and most of them have far greater health than we enjoy, and spend much less on keeping it that way.

So why are so many still vehemently opposed? To me, all the arguments against fall apart when inspected with any sense of logic. There's the slander, intimated last night, that the bill covers illegal immigrants. It doesn't. I sometimes wonder whether this misguided argument stems from the fact that the bill would presumably cover the offspring of illegal immigrants, should they be born on United States soil. But those new human beings, if born in the United States, are United States citizens. That's the law. If the complaint is with that law, then the bill's opponents should confront that issue, not the health care bill. (Of course, that would require altering the Constitution of the United States, which grants citizenship rights to anyone born here. The same constitution that conservatives consider perfect, and worthy of protection from 'revisionist' judges. I guess that's an inconsistency they still need to work out.)

For the life of me, and not for lack of effort, I can't wrap my mind around the logic of those against aggressive reform -- including a 'public option.' I posted some thoughts on Facebook late last night and got response after response from people wishing a bill would bring 'liability/tort reform,' 'oversight,' or 'create incentives,' and 'level the playing field,' all followed by the demand that this not include 'big government involvement.' I'm sorry, but that doesn't track. All those things require government involvement. At least some opponents seem to want government to provide, without being 'involved.'

To take it a step further, all those expressed cravings above would be best accomplished by the government offering an optional, only-if-you-want-it, government sponsored insurance option. That's the way to keep insurance companies honest! By offering a competent, comprehensive, affordable, and compassionate alternative they will be forced to match, or else lose customers. Honestly, I think many of those who are opposed have been sold an ideological bill of goods. 'Government bad. Oppose it. Even if it's offering something you need.'

One concern I can at least understand is that offering lower cost, government sponsored insurance might put insurance companies at an unfair competitive disadvantage, thereby forcing some out of business, and costing people jobs. I can understand the concerns, but the argument doesn't hold up. First, insurance company profits are enormous. There's room for diminishment. Second, we're talking about legislation that would insure forty-five million more people! Insurance companies could easily make up for lowered rates and maintain, or surpass, profits through increased revenue. And, even if the government program 'stole' customers away and forced some, or (gasp) all, insurance companies out of business, that would mean the government's insurance entity would have to hire enough workers to accommodate the forty-five million new customers. Workers are going to be needed. Forty-five million new policy holders will create jobs, not eliminate them.

I've heard the impassioned cry that any 'public option' will act as a 'foot in the door,' after which citizens will be forced to use government subsidized insurance, or government provided health care (the latter being an option that's never been proposed). Complaining about having subsidized insurance provided to you sounds to me a bit like complaining about having Social Security or unemployment benefits imposed upon you. But, putting that aside, I really can't see it happening, unless an overwhelming majority of people really like the way things are going. I mean, a military draft couldn't stand up to public opposition. Do you really think government health insurance, if attempted, that wasn't pleasing the people, could survive where a military draft could not?

That still leaves those who just think government screws everything up, and don't want it given any more responsibility or influence over their lives. I can sure understand the sentiment. But is the solution to forever prohibit government from attempting to get better? I'd like to know how many who oppose more 'government involvement' home-school their children, take their own garbage to the dump, keep their own reservoirs functioning and safe, repair their own streets, build and operate their own public transportation (or refuse to use it, wherever they go), or VOLUNTARILY OPT OUT OF MEDICARE WHEN THEY REACH 65!!, and send their unemployment and social security checks back out of principled opposition? And I'm not talking about foregoing one or two, folks. You're either on the grid, or you're off. There's no in-between. The reactionary in me wants to say, 'Fess up. You suck at the government's tit, then complain when chocolate milk ain't flowing.' My emotional side is tired of it.

But, having cleared my spleen of my own frustration, I just encourage you all to look at it another way. Not how the government has failed you to this point, but at what the government might be offering now to improve upon the past. If you don't allow for that opportunity, if you only exist in defensive mode, you could very well be blocking the improvement you're aching for.

Evan Handler's new book is 'It's Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive.'


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

"Sooner Or Later You've Got To Stand and Deliver" [Come On, Dems]

"Sooner Or Later You've Got To Stand and Deliver" [Come On, Dems]: "

In a long Esquire interview, Bill Clinton gets tough with Democrats, blames Bob Dole for wrecking health care reform in '94, and calls George W. Bush's installation as president 'one of the 5 most reprehensible' Supreme Court decisions. Swoon!

Despite all the good feminist and progressive reasons to hate him, I just can't quit Bill Clinton (or four-year-old jokes, apparently). And one of the things I love most about him is how well he does righteous indignation (at least when he's actually righteous). For example:

We've got 9 percent of all eligible homeowners in America having their mortgages rewritten - 9 percent - and you're talking to me about where Obama was born? Give me a break. I mean it's like, what is this?

Dude. Preach. Also:

[The Republicans'] basic strategy as near as I can tell is to sit around and wait and hope the president screws up. But what I'm more worried about is our people getting careless, forgetting the experience of '94, and that it is imperative that they produce a health-care bill for the president and make it the best one they can; if it's not perfect, we'll go back and fix it. But the people hire you to deliver. This electorate has suffered. They've suffered economically, they've suffered an enormous amount of sort of psychic insecurity from 9/11 to the economic breakdown, they've seen all this change going on around them, and they see in Obama a cool and intelligent guy who can multitask in a world where they know you've got to multitask. What they don't know is whether our guys are going to stand and deliver. And sooner or later you've got to stand and deliver.

Yes! Hear that, Obama? Hear that, Congress?

The interview also includes Clinton's vision of what might have happened if Al Gore had become President in 2000 — just little changes like improved relations with North Korea and "total denuclearization of the peninsula," or an SEC that saw the writing on the wall and did something to head off economic catastrophe. And oh yes, he's not saying Gore could have prevented 9/11, but let's just say he 'was hypervigilant in his following of the intelligence reports and very solid in his understanding of the defense and security policy,' and if it had happened anyway, President Gore wouldn't have led us into a clusterfuck of a war on two fronts. Not coincidentally, Clinton also goes off on the 2000 Supreme Court for coronating Bush:

'[T]hey issued what I think is one of the five most reprehensible decisions in the history of the Supreme Court. And they were embarrassed about it, because if you read the decision, it says, 'Now, unlike our other decisions, this has no precedential value; you can never cite this decision in any other case for the rest of eternity, this is only a one-off.' I mean, they know better. They knew better than to do what they were doing - it was just a pure, naked political deal, but anyway, it happened.

OK wait, now I'm feeling less like cheering on his righteous indignation and more like crying, throwing things, and wishing for a time machine.

Nevertheless, I'd recommend reading the whole thing. And it would be just lovely if a few members of the Democratic party would read it, too, taking special note of this part:

That's all the Democrats need to do today. They just need to remember that there's a reason we win: We win when people feel that their country doesn't care about them anymore, and they've got to have a little help, and that we can make a new beginning.'

Exactly. When you win because people want a new beginning, bending over backwards to appease those who want the same old shit is not a winning strategy, in terms of reelection or the moral high ground. On healthcare reform (which, for the record, he takes responsibility for screwing up in '94, though he also delightfully blames Bob Dole personally), Clinton says, 'the president's doing the right thing. It is both morally and politically right.' Let's hope the people we elected recognize at least one of those things and finally, as he repeatedly exhorts them to do here, stand and deliver.

Bill Clinton, Then and Now: The Esquire Interview [Esquire]


Economic Benefits of Climate Bill Outweigh Costs 9 to 1, Study Finds

Economic Benefits of Climate Bill Outweigh Costs 9 to 1, Study Finds: "economic benefit climate bill photo
Photo via Sustainability Ninja

In what's sure to be an important study at this crucial juncture of the future of climate legislation, researchers have discovered that the economic benefits of such a bill absolutely dwarf the costs--by a stunning margin of 9 to 1. Hopefully, the new findings will help silence persistent critics who claim climate action would devastate the US economy....Read the full story on TreeHugger


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Medical Marijuana

Well finally we have a sane policy from Washington/DEA! For years the bush administration had wasted funds on trying to close down Medical Marijuana, in states where the State's approved it, usually by referendum by the people of the State. We need to get over this insane idea that pot is as bad as hard drugs, or that it is a 'gateway' drug. It is neither. We should legalize pot and control/tax it just as we do alcohol. The change in economics would be immense. Instead of spending useless millions (or billions?) of dollars in the drug war on pot, criminal trials for pot and incarceration for pot, we could be taxing and growing pot.
It is just insane to think we still are stuck in the old mentality of Pot being some horrible bogeyman.