Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye, Crappy Decade!

The Bush decade, with all its Cheney-isms, Bush-isms and Rumsfeldian haikus is over. Good riddance. It literally was like living through a never-ending nightmare at times. 9/11, the 3 trillion dollar war on the wrong country, Katrina, Banda Aceh, motherf***ing CEOs, corrupt politicians, stupid politicians, crooked politicians, philandering politicians, gay-bashing gay pastors, the end of habeas corpus as you know it, bailing out all the wrong people and sticking it to the helpless, the friendless and accomplice-less, health care reform like they do it in Bizarro World, global warming deniers, evolution deniers, intelligence-less Intelligent Design proponents, condescending curmudgeons, all the bloody lot of them: good riddance. Although, many of these plagues will be back in the next decade, no doubt, more corrupt, more condescending, more heartless, and more crooked than ever. That's the destiny of well-meaning, do-no-harm, live and let live, peace-loving people: to be vexed by the self-righteous bad examples.

The one sort-of-redeeming thing THE crappy decade left us is some memorable movies, as picked by Roger Ebert. It's amazing how many of his favorite movies of the decade made my favorites as list well. And his pick for number one is one film everybody must watch, and bow to, and watch, and thank Kaufman's mind for, and watch.

Happy 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Your Taxes or Your Health!

Bob Herbert at the NYT has an excellent piece on one hidden cost of health care reform for middle-class Americans. I mentioned it in a post I wrote a couple of days ago (the tax on so-called "Cadillac plans") but Herbert does a bang-up job explaining where the catch is.

There are many troublesome truths in Herbert's piece, but this is the one that sent my blood boiling: "Proponents say [taxing "Cadillac plans"] is a terrific way to hold down health care costs. If policyholders have to pay more out of their own pockets, they will be more careful — that is to say, more reluctant — to access health services." (Emphasis added.)

I find that deceitful and offensive. The assumption is that the high cost of insurance is due, to some unspecified extent (leading many to think it is THE problem to address), to the wasteful ways of policyholders. It is possible that there is a number of hypochondriac policyholders who go to the doctor way too much and who demand an excessive number of exams, even unnecessary ones. But this is a way to shift the blame from where it squarely lies: on the shoulders of providers and insurance companies.

I have never gone to the doctor expecting an MRI or X-rays or blood-work, much less demanding any of it. I trust my doctor to do the right thing (which is why, above all reform measures, I favor a system in which your PHCP acts as a gatekeeper--you get to see a specialist only if your family doctor says so; if s/he does not, you are free to go a specialist and pay out of pocket.) You know, the sacred relationship between Americans and their doctors? So for anyone to suggest that the best way (or an effective one) to control costs is to tax "Cadillac" plans, without mentioning that doing so will affect an increasing number of Americans as time goes by and may result in a loss of good health for many people is a despicable thing to do.

Think about it this way: I go to the doctor as often as I think I need to (which is not often, maybe a couple of times a year) because I know doing so won't break my bank and because my policy covers most (almost all) of the costs. Conversely, I go to the dentist as rarely as possible. Not because I think I don't need to, but because my employer's dental insurance covers only 80% of the costs, in some cases even as little as 50%. The result is that my mouth is probably the part of my body which is in worst shape. That reluctance to go to the dentist in order to save money in the present will probably lead to higher costs when I finally must go. But that is what people of ordinary means do: they postpone expenses as far as they can. Now apply that logic to the rest of your body, and see what that does for ordinary Americans.

Health care reform that leads to higher taxes or less health care for Americans is tantamount to President Obama reneging on his campaign promise not to raise taxes on the middle-class and a way to punish the American people for the greedy conduct, in some cases criminal, of insurers and some providers. It is just another sign of politicians being serfs to moneyed interests and of the fact that what needs reforming is not just our health care system, but our system of government as a whole.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

On Killing The Filibuster

If you doubt the fact that the Republican party's only agenda is to stop every significant piece of legislation proposed by their Democratic foes, take a look at the chart in Norm Ornstein's Our Broken Senate. The article is a "must read", but because a picture is worth a thousand words you should at least take a peek at the visual representation of what has happened since Democrats took power away from Republicans in the 2006 election: the number of times cloture had to be invoked to thwart a filibuster has nearly doubled from its recent historical high of the 106th Congress.

This rise in the use of the filibuster, says Norm Ornstein, is one of the symptoms of a broken Senate, a legislative body that can thwart any attempts to introduce significant reform, thanks to a large degree to stalling techniques like the filibuster, a power that is nowhere in the Constitution but that more than any other has the effect of reducing the Senate to the place "where reform goes to die." (Not my expression, but one that I like to quote often for its ability to condense the truth in 5 words.)

As you may know, the threat of a filibuster is one of the main reasons while the Senate's recent health care reform bill falls so badly short of needed reform that many progressives have voiced their opposition to it.

Sen. Harkin (D-IA) now says that he may reintroduce a bill to reform the filibuster in January. Harkin's opponents will try to accuse him of wanting to reform the filibuster because Democrats are in power and changing filibuster rules will benefit them. The accusation should not stick, though, since Harkin originally brought forth the idea of reforming the filibuster when Democrats were in the minority. Ironically, at that time, 15 years ago, one of his allies was Sen. Douche Evilman Lieberman, who has recentlygone on to become the perfect symbol of the corruption of the political process that has made the filibuster more relevant than the president's constitutionally-granted veto power.

My sense of the issue is that the filibuster may be useful, even desirable if used judiciously. For example, it prevents the minority party from being steamrolled for entire legislatures (well, at least it makes it harder.) But since it is obvious that Senators cannot be trusted with making judicious use of the disproportionate, enormous power that the Constitution entrusts them with, reform of the filibuster is at this point necessary for the legislative process not to grind to a complete halt. The question is not if reforming the filibuster is desirable, but how.

Sen. Harkin proposes a "time-limited" filibuster, which would automatically expire after a given period of time (30 days?). I do not like this kind of "timer" mechanism, because a) it would still have the effect of slowing the legislative process to a crawl, and b) it would simply add another facet to the kabuki theater that the Senate has turned in.

My personal preference would be for a mechanism that would not make the filibuster irrelevant, while at the same time resetting the balance of power in Congress between the House and the Senate. As things stand, the Senate enjoys too much power. Many bills born in the House never make it into law because of the obstructionism exerted by Senators. (Which is why I like so much the expression I mentioned earlier, that the Senate is "where reform goes to die.") So, for example, I would favor a system in which the numbers required for the filibuster remain the same in the Senate (requiring 60% of senators to end one) while giving the House the power to end a Senate filibuster if 55% of its members vote for cloture. Why 55% and not 60%? Frankly, it is an entirely arbitrary number, but it seems to me that 60%, being as high a percentage as the one required by the Senate for cloture, would mean that nothing would change.

Setting the percentage required in the House to reverse a filibuster in the Senate at 55% would have two main desirable effects, in my opinion:
  1. It would encourage the Senate to work toward a workable compromise to thwart the threat of a cloture vote in the House (because Senators would not want to relinquish their power to the "lower" house.
  2. It would restore a significant portion of the legislative power to the House, which--after all--is the one body of Congress that best reflects the political composition of the nation (in other words, it best embodies the spirit of the "one man, one vote" principle; in the Senate, each state gets two senators, regardless of size, so that one senator from the smallest state in the Union, Wyoming, can single-handedly halt reform needed by 99.9% of the people.)
There are other ways to restructure the filibuster so that it does not effectively mean the end of meaningful reform. One would be to give the president the power to override a certain number of filibusters in each session of Congress. Another would be to give the Senate majority the power to vote for cloture with a lower number of votes than 60, a certain number of times during each session of Congress. Some of these changes may require a Constitutional amendment, some may simply require a change in the Senate rules (the latter being definitely the preferred method).

In any case, it has become painfully obvious that the status quo is not tolerable, and that the nation cannot be hold hostage by a small number of obstructionist senators, bought and paid for by special interest that row against the country's best interest.

As usual, you may do your part by contacting your elected representatives.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

This Country Is Insane

So, health care reform passed today, in a historic vote.

We are supposed to rejoice because the Senate bill includes a ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions (while it still allows insurance companies to charge sick patients up to three times as much in premiums, not to mention higher deductibles, etc.) and a ban on rescissions (but it lets insurance companies define fraud, so they can happily continue to practice rescission, that is the practice of dropping coverage for people who, innocently or not--it doesn't matter, have filled out a form incorrectly or incompletely).

We are supposed to ignore the fact that the bill does not, to the utter satisfaction of insurers, establish a public option or lower the eligibility age for Medicare, while at the same time it imposes those very mandates that then candidate Obama condemned because it is not a matter of mandating something, it is a matter of whether people can afford it or not. We are also supposed to ignore the fact that the bill is slated, for the first time, to tax the benefits of union members who, in the past, have sacrificed pay raises in order to keep what the Senate now calls "Cadillac benefits". Not "Cadillac" in the sense that it includes things like boob jobs or botox injections or phallic plastic surgery. "Cadillac" in the sense that it covers everything that an industrial worker might need for himself or his family.

But what is especially sickening about the whole affair is the fact that the bill does not yet cover everyone. It leaves a full 5% of people who live in this country exposed to sickness. For example, it does not cover illegal immigrants. That's only fair, some say. Why would you want to reward with health care people who are in this country because they broke the law to begin with? Because, as it turns out, it is the same people who collect your lettuce, tomatoes, and green onions; who prepare your food in restaurants and homes; who come in contact with you and your children; who attend the same schools (if they are lucky enough to be able to); the same churches; who share the bus you ride; and so on. You don't want to pay for them to get better? Fine. I hope you can at least envision them coughing and sneezing on that delicious burrito they make for you every Monday in the office cafeteria.

Only in a country so miopic, so outwardly generous but inwardly miserly, so hung up on its completely twisted idea of fairness, could excluding millions of people from receiving health care be considered just, let alone humane (or sensible). You don't want illegal immigrants? Then kick them out. But as long as you exploit their slave labor, get it into your tiny little brains that it is not only just, but sensible, to provide them with the same basic medical care that you receive.

And if you still think that the Senate bill is grounds for rejoicing because it prescribes more health insurance for America, not less, remember the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The End of A Dismal Decade

The Bush Years will easily be remembered amongst the worst in the country's history, says Juan Cole. Dare to disagree?

Governing Against One's Campaign Promises

Health care reform was one of the reasons I was happy to help candidate Obama's campaign in 2008. It was at the top of my list of needed reforms then and, it seems, it will still be in the same spot come the next election cycle, due to the corrupt electoral process that rewards not the most honest candidates, those who really want to improve things for 99% of Americans, but those with the best fundraising ability, aided and abetted by the most entrenched special interests.

And I don't think the United States deserves to be called all nice the things Americans call it (uh, I don't know... "number one", "the best country in the world", and all such bombastic things) until it does what... oh, I don't know... the rest of the civilized world? has already done. Which is to say, give its citizens universal, affordable health care, and stop rewarding the special interests (PhRMA, insurance companies, greedy doctors, etc.) that have led the nation into the ridiculous predicament it finds itself in after decades of near unfettered free-market bullshit. What predicament? We spend almost twice as much as the next country in the world and, unlike any other CIVILIZED country in the world, cannot insure everybody. To what end? So that smug people can say that we have the best medicine money can buy in the world. For that matter,we also make the best Space Shuttle money can buy. Do you own one?

Where we stand is that we have 45 million uninsured and, even worse, an even higher number of underinsured (read people who have been ass-raped into paying premiums and who do not get the coverage they think they were paying for or who, in order to get it, need to pay unaffordable, bank-breaking amounts of money out of their own pocket, after which they get dumped by the insurance companies that happily collected their premiums while they were healthy.) The solution concocted by special interest representatives in Congress? Individual mandates and no alternative for those who are sick, literally, and sick, figuratively--of insurance companies. In other words? You think insurance is the problem? Here's our solution: buy it or... buy it! What a special country this is. "Number one!", really.

And this is the best our "change president" can do?

I want to puke.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Harry Reid's Fascism? No, Just Curmudgeonly Sloppiness.

It is nice to see that, with Christmas approaching, Mr. Groothuis of Denver Seminary has regained his fire for ignorant polemic.

In his latest post, hyperbolically entitled Harry Reid's Fascism (that would be Senator Reid's Fascism to you, Mr. Groothuis), the incorrigible professor going by the pseudonym The Constructive Curmudgeon, hardly one to bother fact-checking his sources, links to another website with the following hypertext: "If this is true, we no longer live in America, but something else, something terrible." My reply is: If what the Curmudgeon says is not true, then he is gullible, a sloppy researcher, or both, and he deserves no trust for what he posts on his blog.

I have to warn you that it took a bit of digging through several layers of sophistry and/or laziness to get to the bottom of this whole fiasco, but please bear with me: I promise you a happy ending.

The "this" in "If this is true" is a clause found in the following article by a fellow who misleadingly describes himself as "American Thinker."

The article says that The Weekly Standard reports (I know, I know, the deceitful hacks alert is already blaring in my ears, too) that Jim DeMint (I know, I know, the evil idiot alert is already blaring in my ears, too) "pointed out some rather astounding language in the Senate health care bill during floor remarks tonight."

In particular, Sen. DeMint was troubled by the fact "that the Reid bill declares on page 1020 that the Independent Medicare Advisory Board cannot be repealed by future Congresses". Really? Well, I did not know, so I read on and found out that Sen. DeMint identified the guilty sentence under section c, titled "limitations on changes to this subsection." The sentence reads (and I am going to block quote it for added clarity):
it shall not be in order in the senate or the house of representatives to consider any bill, resolution, amendment, or conference report that would repeal or otherwise change this subsection.

Sen. DeMint went on to rail that (and I block quote again to underscore Sen. DeMint's disingenuousness and deceitfulness)
this is not legislation. it's not law. this is a rule change. it's a pretty big deal. we will be passing a new law and at the same time creating a senate rule that makes it out of order to amend or even repeal the law.

i'm not even sure that it's constitutional, but if it is, it most certainly is a senate rule. i don't see why the majority party wouldn't put this in every bill. if you like your law, you most certainly would want it to have force for future senates.

(Apparently the Weekly Standard has a thing against proper capitalization.)

There are a few problems with Sen. DeMint's sloppy and deceptive paranoia, which the American Thinker and Mr. Groothuis, sloppy and less than discerning researchers themselves, have embraced without a trace of doubt or guilt. I shall point out the facts for you, so that you can form your independent opinion of the actual merit of the accusation.

First, the formula "it shall not be in order in the senate or the house of representatives to consider any bill, resolution, amendment, or conference report that would repeal or otherwise change this subsection", or variants thereof, are pretty standard in bills of all kinds. The goal of such a formula is not to prevent a rule or law from ever being repealed; it is simply to require a supermajority (3/5's of the Senate) for a law or rule to be repealed. And, wouldn't you know it, it's been used by Republican Congresses too! Why, a search for the phrase "it shall not be in order" on (the site of the Library of Congress) returns 84 hits for the 109th Congress, 47 hits for the 108th Congress, and 42 hits for the 107th Congress, all under Republican majorities. You'd think Sen. DeMint would remember it: he has been in Congress since 1999. But he's a Congressman, so we should expect selective memory.

Secondly, there is another problem: Sen. DeMint is guilty of omitting the context. Once the context is examined, the purpose of the sentence he rails against is obvious and not nearly so scandalous. Please bear with me.

The subsection that precedes the one quoted by Sen. DeMint is entitled "LIMITATION ON CHANGES TO THE BOARD RECOMMENDATIONS IN OTHER LEGISLATION" and reads:
It shall not be in order in the Senate or the House of Representatives to consider any bill, resolution, amendment, or conference report (other than pursuant to this section) that would repeal or otherwise change the recommendations of the Board if that change would fail to satisfy the requirements of subparagraphs (A)(i) and (C) of subsection (c)(2).

The key is knowing what the referenced subparagraphs say. It turns out that they deal with the cost of Medicare and cost control mechanisms for Medicare. So, then, the purpose of the sentences that made Sen. DeMint cry wolf is to prevent someone, predictably Republicans, from introducing future legislation that would have the effect of gutting the cost control provisions in the health care Senate bill so that they could later go on to say that health care reform has caused Medicare costs to skyrocket. You know Republicans would love nothing more.

That's it. Grounds for calling Sen. Reid a fascist? Hardly. But rascals like Groothuis do not stop short of publishing accusations they have not fact-checked. For them, it is sufficient to preface any accusation with the disclaimer "if this is true" to find cover and solace. After all, the goal is not to seek the truth, just to smear opponents. If they published a newspaper (and unfortunately some of them do) they would slap the accusation on the front page and the retraction at the bottom of page 17.

But this is a classic example of how Republicans operate: they fill the web and the airwaves with ridiculous drivel and utterly contemptible slime, aimed at filling the American people with doubts about the goals of Democrats in Congress, certain that sloppy researchers (or hacks) like Mr. Groothuis will provide these deceptive or false statements with the needed amplification.

Remember the lies the Right invented and collected into a supposed fact-checking document to scare Americans into opposing H.R. 3200 (the House version of the health care reform bill)? I debunked a handful myself before surrendering, vanquished by the sheer volume of Republican deceit and by the futility of combing through the giant pile of shit they had excreted. And now, consider this: a Google search for the phrase "repeal or otherwise" plus "Reid", which is at the core of this artificial controversy, returns--I kid you not--1390 hits in the past 24 hours! The Republican noise machine, their hacks, shills, and operatives, are very adept at producing bullshit out of thin air.

Now, remember what the exercise of this post was: "If what the Curmudgeon says is not true, then he is gullible, a sloppy researcher, or both, and he deserves no trust for what he posts on his blog." It took me two hours to come up with the research for this post. I am sure that Mr. Groothuis, what with his being a college professor (sigh!) and all, must be very a busy man. But I would hope that a Christian college professor would do a bit of due diligence before accusing the Senate majority leader of fascism. Sadly, he does not. Even more sadly, he is an example for the students who pass through Denver Seminary. I should hope, for their sake, that they see the man behind the mask of academic rigor and authority, and that they look for examples elsewhere.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Obama Kills Old Lady"

OK. Now that I got your attention, I predict that the title of this post is going to be a feature on tomorrow's Hannity or Glenn Beck. That's how they HAVE TO spin this piece of news.

More on the Religious Idiots

It's been a while since I had to call attention to the religious derangement of The Constructive Curmudgeon, but then again--to his credit--it's been a while since he equated the U.S. government and Satan. Alas, that's what he did in his latest post, "What Next?".

Provoked by the Senate's 60-40 vote to move health care reform along, the Curmudgeon writes, in his typical level-headed fashion: "[T]he United States govenment is headed toward a statist takeover of the medical sector of the country. This involves tax payer money going to support abortion." And, he continues, "For the kind of state we are moving toward, read Revelation 13. I am not making an end-time prediction, but pointing out a biblical category: the state as a beast." How sober.

For those who do not know or remember Revelation 13, it is that scary little depiction of the devil incarnate: "[a] beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon." And also: "And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six." I quoted a few verses not because they are profound, but to show what drivel and how inane they are, even when taken allegorically and not literally.

In other words, for (some) Christians, trying to reform health care so that everyone has equal opportunity to access health services is a mark of the devil. Anything short of letting the "free" market work its magic for cancer patients with no insurance is wizardry and the work of Satan. Any level of government intervention or regulation to ensure that insurance companies do not loot the United States of America and leave Americans to die is grounds for anathema.

If you thought Dana Carvey's Church Lady was a parody, I give you The Constructive Curmudgeon and religious lunatic fringe.

The King of The Senate's Religious Idiots

As the time for a vote on health care reform in the Senate approached, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) invoked divine intervention to stop at least one Democrat from voting. That, he said, was what the American people should pray for. I am not in the camp of those who believe that Sen. Coburn was actually calling for god to strike a Democrat dead before the vote, but even the mere invocation of a deity to, let's say, have a Democrat be stuck in the snow and not making the vote is pretty vile.

Frankly, if I thought that prayer worked, I'd pray for Doc Brown to be real, so he could invent a DeLorean that could take Sen. Byrd back to the time when Sen. Coburn was being conceived and perform an on-the-fly vasectomy on Tom Coburn's father, but that's just me.

In any case, Sen. Coburn's prayer unsurprisingly did not work, which leads me to posit the following possible explanations.

1) It was 1 a.m. Eastern and the god of Republicans was fast asleep.
2) God is not partisan and, as he heard Sen. Coburn plea, he stopped what he was doing and exclaimed "Me, what have I done?"
3) God? What god?

In the face of such religious derangement, one has to wonder when people will realize that electing religious freaks is not good for democracy. Oh, that we did have a religious test for office: if you would bring your petty, anthropomorphic god into the hallowed halls of Democracy, then you cannot enter those halls yourself.

This is not the first time that Tom Coburn or other assorted religious idiots have come up with the idea of praying that health care reform go down in flames. Just a few days ago, Rachel Maddow showed a video where a panel of preachers and politicians, including Senators DeMint and Brownback, both Republicans from the heartland, were praying that God stop health care reform. I admit that I know very little about prayer protocol, but it would seem to me that if your prayer is that god should validate your point of view (in this case the idea that health care reform by Democrats is evil and wrong and must be stopped) your idea of prayer and god is that you, not god, know better and that god should humbly oblige in validating your point.

If I believed in an all-knowing, all-powerful god, my prayer might go something like this: "Oh lord, I pray that in your infinite wisdom you guide your humble servants in the Senate to vote your will. We are ignorant as to what that would be, but you know best. So, Lord, infuse their spirits with the wisdom they need to make the right decision for the lives of the people they represent, according to your divine will. Blah, blah, blah. Amen."

One word of caution. When you watch the video below, you might actually be deceived by Pastor Engle's words and think that his prayer is in fact like the one I described. In reality, the dear pastor and the politicians in attendance were not looking for inspiration (for they had already decided how a good, god-fearing Republican should vote), they were staging a photo/video-op for self validation.

File under religious lunacy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Krugman On The Filibuster

Lately I have not linked to Paul Krugman's op-eds much, mainly because they were about things I did not feel particularly strong about. His latest op-ed, though, is about the filibuster, and that is definitely a subject I have a strong opinion about. Anyway, Krugman makes some good points, including how the use of the filibuster by Republicans since 2007 is at unprecedented levels.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fire Rahm Emanuel

It is becoming painfully obvious that the White House's main concern is to keep the interests that will finance President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012 happy. It is also becoming increasingly evident that Rahm Emanuel is the architect of the disgusting mess of a health care reform bill that the Senate is regurgitating.

Much has been made of the fact that Lieberman's opposition to Medicare expansion is a reversal of what the senator from Connecticut said just three months ago. Not enough has been made of the fact that Rahm Emanuel penned an op-ed for the Washington Post in November 2007 in which he himself was in favor of expanding Medicare to those 55 to 64. In fact, it is Emanuel who pressured Senate majority leader Harry Reid to cut a deal with Lieberman after the latter threw his despicable egocentric tantrum in opposition to the public option and Medicare expansion, and it is he who has sternly rebuked progressives on several occasions for not toeing the White House line on watered down reform.

Emanuel's focus is on getting the president re-elected, and his strategy for achieving the goal rests on not disturbing the powers that can help the president financially in 2012. That is what led to the White House striking "non-competitive agreements" with PhRMA and with insurance companies. That is why the White House has agreed to expand our nation's commitment in Afghanistan when the right thing to do, both morally and financially, would have been to scale down our involvement in the Middle East, even according to several military experts. That is why the President can go on 60 Minutes and say that he did not get elected to help a bunch of fat-cat bankers, and the next day he is photographed in a room full of--guess who?--fat cat bankers. That is why the White House has done everything it could to bail out the big, crooked financial institutions that all but destroyed our economy while doing little or nothing for those who were/are about to lose their homes to foreclosures. The man pulling the strings behind all of these PR maneuvers aimed at maintaining the semblance of reform while gutting it behind the scenes is Rahm Emanuel.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake has a timeline of how out of touch Emanuel is with the country's more progressive instincts.

Perhaps Obama is truly a reformer at heart, in which case his failure to achieve any meaningful reform can be blamed on Emanuel's tazering the President into submission as his best instincts threaten to prevail. In any case, I think that as long as Rahm Emanuel keeps his post as President Obama's Chief of Staff, the latter's credibility as a liberal paladin of the middle class will remain in shambles.

Obama Is Losing (Has Lost?) His Base

Read this excellent summary of all the things President Obama did since he took office that have pissed off the base that helped him get elected. I, for one, belong to the ranks of people who would support a primary challenger to the president's re-election bid (Gov. Dean, you'd have my full support).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thank Your Media Watchdogs

This is a very interesting take, by Media Matters, on the Franken v. Lieberman incident, in which Sen. Franken, while holding the gavel during Senate speeches, denied Sen. Douche Evilman Lieberman the chance to finish his statement. The incident was highlighted by media all over the political spectrum as an unprecedented incident or as a way for Sen. Franken to rebuke Sen. Lieberman, who has irked many Democrats with his recent anti-health care reform behavior.

Read this, and you might be surprised by what you learn.

A Terse, Convincing Refutation of the "Hitler Was a Darwinist" Meme

Pharyngula had a contest on who could better refute two Creationist claims:

1) Was evolution a significant and essential factor in guiding Nazi thought?
2) Can natural processes produce an increase in complexity?

The winner has been proclaimed and you can read his answers here.

Taibbi, Kuttner Discuss Health Care, Financial Reforms with Bill Moyers

What will Friday nights be without Bill Moyers after he retires from PBS in April? I don't even want to think about it. In the meantime, please enjoy this discussion on topics ranging from health care reform to financial sector regulations. My favorite moment is when Rolling Stone magazine's Matt Taibbi posits that a sound electoral defeat for Democrats in 2010 and 2012 might be a good thing, a learning opportunity, and Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect replies with classic disillusionment "Boy, you are younger than I am!"

Watch the discussion here.

Once you reach the Bill Moyers Journal website, you might want to do yourself a favor and learn about Boston community organizer Steve Meacham and the amazing work of his organization City Life/Vida Urbana. It's hard to be cynical about the human race, but it can truly be a reservoir of goodness, as shown by Meacham and his collaborators.

Loopholes and the Shitty Senate Bill

Writing about the supposed prohibition on rescissions (the practice that allows insurance companies to cancel coverage on a customer for a number of less than honest reasons, including simply being sick), the always sharp McJoan at the Daily Kos points out that "[i]t's all going to boil down to how "fraud" and "intentional misrepresentation of material fact" are going to be interpreted in the regs written for this bill. Because insurance companies have been using "fraud" as the means for cutting people off for a long time." Do we really want insurers to define what constitutes fraudulent intent?

Brace yourself, for the bill the Senate is about to pass contains no effective cost control measures, (intentionally?) insufficient consumer protections, and a shitload of new money for insurance companies in the form of an individual mandate, all because too many Americans are too gullible, too conniving, too stupid to know or care, or all the above.

Politicians are not stupid, and the crooks amongst them take advantage of a lazy, uninformed or misinformed public to give back to their wealthy patrons.

More at the Daily Kos.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Going Massachusett's Way

Mark Moulitsas at the Daily Kos has an interesting reminder that what the Senate is about to do closely resembles what Massachusetts did a few years ago. Which is not good.

The President as an Innocent Bystander On Health Care Reform

After months and months of closed-door negotiations among themselves, Senate Democrats are about to pass a nauseating health care reform bill that does little or nothing to contain costs and the greed of the insurance companies and their political allies. We are told that the bill is imperfect, but that its opponents should still vote for it because “it will save lives.” That is certainly a worthy goal, but one that can be achieved without pickpocketing the American people's already thinning wallets.

Gov. Dean is right when he says that the reconciliation route must be entertained to outflank health care reform opponents, the thieving and immoral senators, like Joe “Douche Evilman” Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Max Baucus, Tom Carper, Kent Conrad, and Mary Landrieu, who are putting their political future and their sponsors' interests ahead of the American people's. Use reconciliation—says Gov. Dean—not as Sen. Landrieu says “to create a new government bureaucracy, but to expand an existing one: Medicare. The Senate had the right idea when it considered letting people 55-65 buy into Medicare. It should go even further: it should let anyone choose to buy into Medicare, regardless of age. As Gov. Dean tried in vain to explain to Sen. Landrieu during yesterday's Hardball with Chris Matthews, the Senate is about to force 300 million Americans (through the insertion of an individual mandate) to buy a product they might not want, or openly despise, and depriving them of real choice by taking a way a government-administered health care option.

There are other ways of reforming health care, of course. Medicare for all or a public option are not the only ways to ensure that people have guaranteed, affordable access to health care. Other countries have shown us the way. You can keep a private insurance-based system in place and provide efficient, reasonably cheap care to your people, but you have to support it with fierce regulation, for example by denying insurance companies the right to make a profit on basic health care services. In other words, they must operate as a non-profit for basic care. Switzerland and, I believe, the Netherlands, already do that. Other countries, like Japan, have decided that the way to go is to set the rates providers can charge patients, thus limiting the profit potential of providers. And yet, there are over 6,000 insurance companies in Japan, so the argument that negotiating rates or setting strict market rules is an insurance company killer is in fact just a meme, advanced by reform opponents here in the U.S.

But what about the argument that any reform that saves lives is worth passing, regardless of its pitiful shortcomings, made by many liberals such as Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, Josh Marshall, etc, not to mention the White House? That may be true, but that is also precisely why Democrats should go the reconciliation route. Use reconciliation to do what it is supposed to do: save money and achieve budget neutrality. Then come up with an insurance regulation bill, one that bans exclusions for pre-existing conditions, or that prevents insurance companies from charging sick people three or four times the going rate. Prohibit insurance companies from dropping people's coverage at their whim. Mandate a medical loss ratio of at least 85% (preferably less: casinos make tons of money on the slots by keeping 2% of what gamblers bet), meaning that the industry must spend 85 cents of every dollar it takes in. And remove the monopoly exemption that, under the misused McCarran-Ferguson act, allows insurers to act as an organized crime cartel at the expense of American patients. Then, on the pharma front, allow drug re-importation so that Americans, like citizens of other countries, can reap the rewards of government negotiated rates for drugs. The key is competition, and the Senate bill (and, to a lesser degree, the House bill as well) contain no provisions in support of competition. It was not long ago that the President told us health care reform should include some mechanism to keep insurance companies honest. The current bill has none.

Going back to the “saving lives” argument: Use reconciliation to expand Medicare, and let a “regulation” bill take care of saving lives. The advantage is that only 51 votes are needed to pass reconciliation, making the passage of a Medicare for all bill a very achievable goal, without having to worry about reform-killing maneuvers by the likes of the despicable Liebermans, Landrieus, etc. Then let politically suicidal Republicans or Democrats rise in opposition of a life-saving, insurance regulation bill ahead of the mid-term election cycle, and—should they choose to call the all-in bet—enjoy the ensuing carnage.

None of this had to be difficult, had the White House decided to exert its power and influence on fence-sitting, obstructionist Democrats. But that great disappointment of a president we now have has decided to act like an innocent bystander, rather than as the leader we though we had elected in Nov. 2008. On health care reform, as on Afghanistan and on too many other important matters, he has spoken out of both sides of his mouth leading us to doubt his true motives for not offering leadership where leadership was needed.

We can apply to President Obama the same yardstick that Vice-president Biden reminded us we should apply to Sen. Lieberman's opposition of reform: question not the man's motives, but his judgment. By that measure, President Obama does not come out of this legislative effort as the squeaky clean paladin of the American people's best interest he purported to be during the campaign.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tonight's Special Comment by Keith Olbermann Is One for the Ages

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Note: At one point, while Keith is talking about Sen. Nelson (D-NE) a picture of Senate Majority Leader Harry Read is erroneously shown.

Three Excellent Posts on Health Care Reform

You MUST read these three posts which have just appeared on the Daily Kos: 20 Answers, The Cost of Employer-Based Health Care, and Insurance Reform?; they are an excellent reminder of why the Senate Bill is a disaster and why the country needs refom now more than ever.

Glenn Greenwald Tells It Like It Is

President Obama's decision to sit back and let Congress shape health care reform legislation had two rationales:

1) To let Congress take the blame for the likely shortcomings of any health care reform bill to pass; and, most importantly
2) To get exactly the sort of bill that Congress will vomit out after months of kabuki theater.

Ergo, President Obama is not a victim, rather he is a culprit of this shameful result. Glenn Greenwald of had the foresight to say so months ago.

My Letter To The White House

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to express my disappointment in the health care reform bill that is emerging from the Senate, thanks in part to what the White House did, or did not do.

News agencies have reported that your Chief of Staff has asked Sen. Reid to "cut a deal" with Sen. Lieberman, thus rewarding the latter's obstructionism and blackmail. Had the White House been as determined in enforcing the wishes of its progressive allies as it has been in enforcing those of the "wolves in sheep's clothing" we might have a bill to be proud of.

The White House will no doubt spin whatever reform emerges from Congress as a momentous event in our nation's history. What it is, instead, is a perfect summation of what is wrong in a country that sees no evil in spending billions of dollars on war while refusing to spend a fraction of that money on taking care of its own citizens.

The bill is a huge boon to insurance companies, who will see the ranks of its captive customers grow, while all meaningful cost control measures that could have infringed upon the industry's ability to make money at our expensive have been stripped out of the bill: no single payer, no public option, no Medicare buy-in, no drug reimportation...

It seems that in Washington D.C. no one knows the meaning of shame. Do you?

With great disappointment,


Stephen Colbert pours ridicule on the mose despicable person in the Senate (and, trust me, it's a fierce contest).

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Karma must have special retaliation for people like Douche Evilman Lieberman, a veritable bullshit geyser.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sen. Franken Continues To Make Us Proud

Before winning a seat in the Senate, Sen. Franken was known to most as a comedian. What many don't know is that he is a Harvard graduate, cum laude nonetheless. He is, in sum, a sharp individual, with a prime intellect, and supreme powers of logic, which he used to his advantage against Senator John Thune (R-SD). Watch him call the South Dakota Senator to task.

A Telling Misnomer

President Obama said today that the Senate is "on the precipice"of passing health care legislation.

It's hard to say whether the president choose the word precipice deliberately. I have heard this expression misused so often that I tend to think that its true, negative meaning is lost both on the President and on his listeners. Whatever the case, never have truer words been spoken. The Senate bill, misshapen beyond any usefulness thanks to the disruptive agency of people like Douche Evilman Lieberman, is a monstrosity that helps few Americans who are not in the employ of the insurance industry.

We are about to fall to unprecedented depths of political and policy disaster. On the precipice, indeed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Who Elected Mr. Evilman, and Who Enables Him?

Douche "Evilman" Lieberman seems set to destroy health care reform. But single-handedly? No.

First of all, we have the more than 564,000 idiots voted for Lieberman in the 2006 Connecticut Senatorial Election to thank. In a perfect world they would have all repented by now, but chances are many have not. To those who have not I say: I hope you or someone you love is currently very ill, or about to become very ill, and will not receive needed health care because of the disingenuous and sophistic opposition of the very evil man you helped elect.

Then we have all the weak or spineless Democratic colleagues that helped turn Joe Lieberman, a pathetic cheat and liar, into the health care reform slaying monster he has revealed himself to be in the past few weeks. Every time they cave in to is whims and deceitful tactics, they betray the destiny of the nation. Every time they choose not to publicly expose and condemn his hypocritical justifications for opposing reform, they make him stronger. Every committee meeting that he chairs in spite of his active opposition to the Democratic Party's reform agenda is an insult to the millions of Americans whose life and financial stability depends on the quick passage of a meaningful reform bill.

I do not have a violent bone in my body so I am not advocating violence to solve the Evilman problem. I am counting on karma to do the job that good, peace-loving men cannot do before Sen. Evilman can ruin the lives of countless more Americans. Not single-handedly, but with much help from the many accessories to murder that have made his power possible.

Olbermann, At Long Last, On the Myth of "The Liberal Media"

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

America The Corporate

Robert Reich explains why health care reform is largely a sham.

To add insult to injury, there will be scores of right wing shitting heads who will portray health care reform as a statist takeover of health care reform and the end of America. The stench of their rhetoric will make stomachs turn. The actual bill that Congress will produce will deal them (the stomachs) the final blow.

My reaction is that this country needs a revolution. Not the kind that teabaggers advocate, but a revolution nonetheless. The goal? To rid Washington of the influence of money. Good luck? I hear you.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Does It Really Take A Child To Remind Us?

It does. It does take a child to remind us that the way we treat each other now, the way we handle finite resources, the decisions we make affect others, those who are alive and those who have yet to be born, in ways they can hardly control.

Global warming and climate change deniers would do well to read about the "precautionary principle", which many countries around the world have embraced, except for the most powerful.

We are (almost) all wrong. There are those of us who reserve the precautionary principle for the unborn only, while sweeping it aside nonchalantly when it affects anything other than unborn humans. Alas, the reverse is also true. There are those who would do anything to protect plant or animal species and who consider the unborn an undesired effect of selfish causes (please do not read this as a condemnation of all who are pro-choice, or an endorsement of all who call themselves pro-life. Life is a bit more nuanced than these idiotic, oversimplified categories).

Everything we do affects others. We are particularly despicable when we do harmful things that affect those who have no choice or say.

And now watch this video, and prepared to be chastised, and hopefully touched.

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