Sunday, August 30, 2009

Illegal, At Least

On ABC's This Week on Sunday, host George Stephanopoulos asked of his "roundtable" about "the information we gleaned from all this and whether it was worth the interrogations we conducted." Regular panelist George F. Will responded:

We ought to have a commission. Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post suggests this morning- Sarah Day O'Connor and David Souter- bring them down, set it up, and answer some factual questions. For example, Khalid Sheik Mohammed was reticent; he was waterboarded 183 times and became locquacious. Did it have something to do with that and was he useful? Because whether or not these techniques are immoral and how immoral they are surely depends on whether or not they worked.

This is quite a linguistic sleight of hand. If in fact morality is to be fused with effectiveness (as he argues in the last sentence), it cannot be detached from legality.

And no commission is needed to determine legality. It is prohibited by the Geneva Convention. The Army Field Manual. United States Code Title 18.2340A. The U.N. Convention Against Torture. Odd, isn't it, that Will would suggest a commission featuring two former Supreme Court Justices- not to determine legality, but morality and effectiveness of torture, which would seem outside of their area of expertise.

But Will is thoughtful and open-minded compared to one of the other panel members, Liz Cheney, who claimed "waterboarding isn't torture and we can go down that path." (See it at approximately 3:40 of the video from This Week.) She did not do so, presumably because she is probably aware it is torture, defined in the U.S. Criminal Code as

an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation, coercion, or any reason based on discrimination of any kind.

Cheney went on to contend that these extreme interrogation tactics were thoroughly effective. Here, Glenn Greenwald argues effectively that the Inspector General's report concludes no such thing.

But it shouldn't even get that far. The tactics are clearly torture and torture is clearly illegal by international law and U.S. law. And as Greenwald notes,

If we want to be a country that uses torture, then we should repeal our laws which criminalize it, withdraw from treaties which ban it, and announce to the world (not that they don't already know) that, as a country, we believe torture is justifiable and just. Let's at least be honest about what we are. Let's explicitly repudiate Ronald Reagan's affirmation that "[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever . . . may be invoked as a justification of torture" and that "[e]ach State Party is required [] to prosecute torturers."

If the right took that position, it would at least be principled and honest. And they would be demonstrating a little courage, instead of cowardly hiding behind claims they know are completely without merit.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Quote Of The Week

"Yes. It--the bottom line is that Dr. King warned years ago against taking the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. We're not going to reform health care doing it gradually. He's got to be bold about this. My grandad, David, said all the time, if you're going to stand, stand. If you're going to sit, sit. But don't wobble. The president is wobbling on this issue, and he can't do that if we're going to reform health care."

-Author and talk-show host Tavis Smiley on the Sunday, August 23, 2009 edition of Meet The Press
Party Of Deception

The Huffington Post, gushing about the Kennedy memorial service in Boston last night, exclaimed that Senator Orrin Hatch (R.-Ut.)

gave a long, moving speech about his 30-year friendship with Kennedy, proclaiming that he "loved every minute." Hatch ended by reading a poem he had written about Kennedy, which concluded with "I will miss my Irish friend/God be with you 'till we meet again."

The Utah Republican may have loved his "Irish friend," but how did he deal with Senator Kennedy's signature issue, health care, during the last few months of his buddy's life?

We all know that Hatch voted against the bill approved in mid-July by chairman Kennedy's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (EMK voted in favor by proxy) because every Repub voted against it. Republicans believe in independent thought, at least until Chairman Limbaugh weighs in, at which point everyone is required to fall in line.

Still, there may be principle in a low-keyed, responsible "nay" vote. Unfortunately, this was no such thing, as Hatch demonstrated when he demagogued the issue on last Sunday's Meet The Press. One example (page 4 of the transcript):

We have 300 million people in this country, 85 percent of whom have health insurance. The other, the other 15 percent, you've got six million who actually qualify from their employer but don't get it. You got 11 million people who qualify for CHIP and Medicaid. You've got another nine million people who earn over $75,000 a year, can afford their own health insurance but don't--won't do it. You've got six million people who, who are illegal aliens getting health, health insurance. When you bring it down, that 47 million people comes down to about 15 million people. So we're going to--and we all know we need insurance reform, both Democrats and Republicans, but we're going to throw out a system that works for, for 300--85 percent of 300 million people to take care of 15 million people that we could take care of with subsidies and other approaches that would be simple.

Back in late June, evaluated the claim by conservative former Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee that "the 45 million figure.... of uninsured is probably about twice the real number of people who can't afford insurance or don't have access to it really." It concluded that it's unlikely that half of the 45.7 million uninsured "can't afford" it or "don't have access to it really."

Further, following Hatch's appearance on Meet The Press, rated as "half true" the Utah Senator's claim of only 15 million people. It found the calculation is based on a chart prepared by the Republican Policy Committee based on (largely accurate) 2006 data, conveniently "a year earlier than the most recent data." It "relies on a hodgepodge of different years and sources and leaves open the possibility that some people are double- or triple- counted" and concludes "it would not pass muster in an undergraduate statistics class."

Wait! We're not done with the late Edward Kennedy's close friend. On the same Sunday appearance (page 3 of transcript), Hatch argued "if you go to a government plan, both independent analysts and government analysts, the CBO, have indicated that tens of millions of people who go with the government plan." The exchange continued:

MR. GREGORY: Well, wait a minute, Senator Hatch, that's not right.

SEN. HATCH: ...will destroy the private health industry.

MR. GREGORY: The Congressional Budget Office did not say that. In fact, what they have concluded...

SEN. HATCH: Yes, it did say that.

MR. GREGORY: that, well...

SEN. HATCH: Yes, it did.

MR. GREGORY: The CBO said that, in fact, those enrolled in private insurance plans would go up by three million, and they estimate that about 10 million people, only 10 million people go into a public plan.

SEN. HATCH: Well, didn't I say tens of millions of people? Others have said as many as...

MR. GREGORY: Tens of millions, that's different than 10 million.

SEN. HATCH: Well, that's plenty. Others are saying up to 119 million people. It, it ranges in between. The point is, it's always more than what the government says it is.

Is the problem the lie or the cover-up? Hatch claimed

....both independent analysts and government analysts, the CBO, have indicated that tens of millions of people who go with the government plan," which "would destroy the private health industry."

Gregory noted "those enrolled in private insurance plans would go up by three million, and they estimate that about 10 million people, only 10 million people go into a public plan."

Lie established- but it didn't stop there. Caught in the lie, Hatch could have said he was misinformed, "misspoke" (what does that mean anyway?), or stood corrected, and gone on to his next point. Instead, when Gregory first questioned Hatch's claim, the Senator twice denied Gregory's numbers, contending "it did say that" and "yes, it did." When the interviewer finished his point, Hatch unashamedly "doubled down" (a cliche that has become awfully trite; blame Sean Hannity, who figures if he keeps repeating a flasehood, listeners will believe it's true), stating "didn't I say millions of people?"

When Gregory replied "that's different than 10 million," Hatch responded "well, that's plenty," apparently hoping that the viewer would not notice a difference between "tens of millions" and "millions." A lie and a cover-up.

Concluding the exchange, Hatch had to fall back on "others are saying up to 19 million people." Who Senator Kennedy's friend imagines these "others" to be was not made clear, presumably because Hatch was making it up as he was going along.

A great interviewer (rather than an average one having a fairly good day) would have asked, at the end, whether Hatch wanted to revise his contention that a public option "would destroy the private health insurance industry" because he was wrong about the CBO's estimate. Given that, for the most part, the GOP's greatest concern is destruction of a private insurance industry which has been enormously helpful to it, Hatch still accomplished much of his objective. (Senator Schumer, appearing with Hatch, might have pointed out the fallaciousness of Hatch's claim; but apparently, one doesn't do that to a fellow Senator who is a friend to so many in the club.)

This is not a shot against the long-time Senator from the Mountain West. In fact, Orrin Hatch usually is considered one of the more reasonable Republicans, willing to "work across the aisle" to get legislation passed. Which is the problem: if this fellow can go on national television, trivialize the problem of uninsured Americans and lie about a projection(s) of the number of people in a public plan, what does it say about his fellow Republicans, including the three comprising the Gang of Six?

The suspicion grows: they are not fooling a gullible President Obama (and surely not Rahm Emanuel). He is playing the game he wants to play, with the team he wants to play the game with.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Grassley Does Rationing

Less than fifteen months after surgery to remove a brain tumor, Senator Edward Moore Kennedy has died, and liberals, conservatives, and corporatist Democrats have rushed to claim his legacy as their own. He would have insisted on a public option; he would have opposed it; or he would have thought it nice, but cheerfully would have bargained it away to get something called "health care reform."

But once the memorials and the funeral have taken place, at least one powerful politician, one who eagerly exploited Kennedy's illness before his death, ought to be asked to explain what he meant when he told an Iowa radio station:

I’ve been told that the brain tumor that Sen. Kennedy has — because he’s 77 years old — would not be treated the way it’s treated in the United States. In other words, he would not get the care he gets here because of his age. In other words, they’d say ‘well he doesn’t have long to live even if he lived another four to five years.’ They’d say ‘well, we gotta spend money on people who can contribute more to economy.’ It’s a little like people saying when somebody gets to be 85 their life is worth less than when they were 35 and you pull the tubes on them.

Sure, this was in bad taste, but that's not illegal. Nevertheless, Senator Charles Grassley (R.- Iowa) needs to answer several questions. Among them:

- Who is this who "told" you about the care Senator Kennedy would have gotten if he were residing in another country?

- Which countries with "government running things," as you put it, ration care on the basis of age or the patient's contribution to the economy?

- Cheryl Tidwell, the director of commercial sales training at the nation's fourth largest health insurer, has acknowledged that her industry rations care and has criticized a public option. What evidence do you have that such a health plan would result in more rationing when that is an indispensable component of the private system we now have no choice but to depend on?

- Given that Senator Kennedy tragically failed to survive "another four to five years," can we conclude that our privately-based health care system failed him in the same manner you suggest the nations with more government involvement fail their victims of cancer?

It's not only Senator Grassley, of course, but it's one of the GOP's favorite talking points. Sarah Palin, fresh off quitting her job and giving up on the Alaskan people she always claimed to be devoted to, wrote on her Facebook page, "nationalized health care inevitably leads to rationing. There is simply no way to cover everyone and hold down the costs at the same time." (For those of you too young to remember, there once was a time Repub policians preached the virtue of competition and the mainstream media eagerly believed they were serious.) Republican Party leader Rush Limbaugh said "It would be an insult to the memory of Ted Kennedy to put his name on a bill that has rationed health care according to someone's age and the extent of their illness." (Which it probably would be if there were such a bill; Rush realizes there isn't, but figures individuals who listen to him aren't exposed to facts, so they'll believe almost anything he says.) RNC Chairman Michael Steele is more creative, suggesting that Democrats want to ration health care based on political affiliation.

And on and on and on. Most of these Republicans have a clear motive for demagoguing health care policy; Palin wants to secure her base for a possible run for the presidency; Limbaugh wants to tear down a President whom he brags he wants to fail; Steele needs to attack a Democratic initiative and have it fail so that he proves he is not inadequate as a party chairman. And we know they are enemies of President Obama. Chuck Grassley, though, is one of the three Republican members of the "Gang of Six" on the Senate Finance Committee negotiating (pretending to negotiate) its health care bill. And if the mainstream media had the slightest interest in clarifying the issues involved, it should stop pandering to the Iowa Senator and sit him down with a few good questions.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

On The Fringe, Apparently

Sometimes what a politician says quite actually reflects what he, or she, really is thinking. Instead, however, the media would prefer to give the hometown, or statewide, heroine a pass and report what she would rather readers believe that she has said.

A case in point is the comment made by U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D.-La.), whom no one has ever confused with a liberal/progressive. Greg Hilburn of the writes that Senator Landrieu appeared before the Monroe, Louisiana Chamber of Commerce on August 26 and

When asked after her speech if the senator would support a public option under any circumstances, she said, “Very few, if any. I’d prefer a private market-based approach to any health care reform that would extend coverage.”

Understandably, Hilburn concluded "U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu told a relatively friendly overflow Monroe Chamber of Commerce crowd that she would likely oppose any government insurance option in health care reform...."

It's too much to expect a local paper to investigate the Senator's connections to the industries she supports. Except in a few rare istances,that isn't done any more, in part bcause of a lack of financial incentive. It would have found something worth critical evaluation, such as

Sen. Mary Landrieu raised $1,676,353 from the health and insurance sectors over the course of her career. Her first day in office was January 7, 1997. In total, she has served 4,574 days as a United States Senator. This calculates out to her raising $366.50 every day from the health and insurance sectors.

But someone from Louisiana or national media might have asked Senator Landrieu what she actually meant when she asserted her preference for a

private, market-based approach (to)

any health care reform that would extend coverage.

This is not putting words into the Senator's mouth, but rather what she said. She likely would oppose "any health care reform that would extend coverage" because it is not a "private market-based approach." Her own words, if true, mean that she opposes extension of coverage. Perhaps if asked, she would deny that she meant that. Or maybe she would admit to it. Either way, she would be denied the privilege of having moderate and conservative Louisianans- as well as the mainstream media- believe that she is merely supporting a "market-based approach" while her more conservative audience, doubtless dominating the Chamber of Commerce gathering, is left happily believing that its senator opposes any extension of health care coverage. (Then she might be asked why she likes a "market-based approach" but dislikes competition.)

This is more than an exercise in semantics. Words have meaning. And negotiating with Republicans, or even as in this case, a moderate-conservative Democrat, who oppose even the modest concept of extending health care coverage is (alliteration alert) not only fruitless. It is futile. And foolish. And foolhardy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Torture Cheerleader

Rush Limbaugh is unhappy. He doesn't like Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to order a preliminary inquiry into possible abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency at its overseas prisons, and ranted on his program Tuesday:

Then you look at this interrogation stuff. We heard reports that interrogators threatened the detainees' families. The abuses by the interrogators reported in the press -- I think there's a little test we want to perform here -- what I think we have here is a staged mock shooting. You know, we had that in another room, and that was used to get the attention of a terrorist. We wanted to make the terrorist think we have shot one of your buddies in the other room, so we fire off a gun and nobody gets hurt. We had another terrorist threatened with a power drill and a gun, and we have heard about waterboarding and we're told this is dangerously damaging to a prisoner's psyche. In the meantime we're talking to people who killed 3,000 people in cold blood and vowed to do more and were treated as heroes, and we think we're gonna be upsetting their psychology by threatening them with a frigging power drill?

If this is true, I think they're pretty clever techniques. I think they're pretty clever techniques and they're not harmful.

These "clever techniques" which are "not harmful" contributed to the deaths of the approximately 100 detainees who died while in U.S. custody. Further, it's not clear who has told Limbaugh that waterboarding or other tactics "is dangerously damaging to a prisoner's psyche." Presumably, it's another means of suggesting that those who question anything the right approves of is somehow effeminate, maybe even "French." And we can assume that Rush is really not ignorant, but merely characteristically trying to deceive his audience, when he claims "we're talking to people who killed 3,000 people in cold blood," given that at least 28 Guantanamo Bay detainees were released by the Bush Administration after federal courts found there was insufficient reason for them to be held. And most of the 9/11 terrorists, responsible for murdering 3,000 people were killed (logic optional; hot blooded emotionalism standard).

It's unfortunate that Limbaugh believes- no, not believes, but strategically claims- that this limited inquiry (stopping short of an actual investigation) is "the most radical leftist agenda advanced by a radical leftist party in the course of my lifetime." Surely, Holder is right when he notes "as attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law."

Just as clearly, the "advanced interrogation techniques" at issue appear to be illegal. The U.N. Convention Against Torture, codified in U.S. law, demands "each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law" and "each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature." No exceptions made for terrorists or actors in an undeclared law. And torture? According to U.S. criminal law, it's anything "specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering... upon another person." No exceptions made for "pretty clever techniques." This pesky rule of law thing.

'Tis a pity, though. Rush won't inform his listeners that "the most radical leftist agenda advanced by a radical leftist party in the course" of his lifetime, mandated by our approval as a nation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, was inspired by the "leftist" President who signed the document. The year: 1988. The President: Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Those Altruistic Drug Companies

If Michael Steele didn't exist, Barack Obama would have to invent him. The Chairman of the Republican National Committee is at it again, helpfully reminding us of the raison d'etre of the Republican Party, which has never met a corporate interest it believes has a responsibility to the American middle class.

This time, it's health care insurers. As this video (below) from Daily Kos indicates, Steele has declared

Everytime they find themselves up against a wall on some of the policy initiatives, whether it’s the stimulus, cap-and-trade, or now health care, that they find a boogey-man. In the health care debate, they went out — we switched from we’re now focusing on health care to ‘oh, we’ve got an insurance problem, and so now we can pick on the insurance companies.’

If Steele believes Barack Obama has decided to "pick on the insurance companies," he hasn't been paying attention- or more likely, chooses to pretend, for ideological or strategic reasons, otherwise. The Los Angeles Times reported on August 4 of a July meeting in the White House attended by Billy Tauzin, head of the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America,

several industry chief executives -- including those from Abbott Laboratories, Merck and Pfizer -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House aides (at which) Tauzin said he had not only received the White House pledge to forswear Medicare drug price bargaining, but also a separate promise not to pursue another proposal Obama supported during the campaign: importing cheaper drugs from Canada or Europe.

The Huffington Post obtained a copy of the memo, the validity of which the Administration is reluctant to confirm. Nevertheless, as Robert Reich has noted,

Big Pharma apparently has promised to cut future drug costs by $80 billion. But neither the industry nor the White House nor any congressional committee has announced exactly where the $80 billion in savings will show up nor how this portion of the deal will be enforced. In any event, you can bet that the bonanza Big Pharma will reap far exceeds $80 billion. Otherwise, why would it have agreed?

The prohibition in the prescription drug bill pased by the GOP Congress and happily signed by President George W. Bush on the right of the federla government to negotiate on behalf of Medicare lower drug prices has been a boon to the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the elderly. Worse yet, as Reich explains, "a continuation will be an even larger bonanza, given all the Boomeers who will be enrolling in Medicare over the next decade."

Pretty good for an industry, many of whose leaders are taking down a salary of several million dollars a year (video way below). Yet, to Michael Steele, they're being "picked on." And to President Obama, they apparently represent an industry to be protected against the American people.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Article Of The Week

Obviously, I'm not needed to point out that Paul Krugman's columns in The New York Times are worth reading, but today's, All the President's Zombies, is even a little more so than usual.

Krugman observes that the debate over the public option in health care reform has been bogged down, and its acceptance stymied, in part because "Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism- by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good." Citing the increased concentration of wealth among the wealthiest .01 percent of Americans, he notes the failure of Reaganomics

to deliver what it promised. Remember how lower taxes on high incomes and deregulation that unleashed the “magic of the marketplace” were supposed to lead to dramatically better outcomes for everyone? Well, it didn’t happen.

Failure to acknowledge the role of these economic ideas in the current economic crisis and our inadequate health care system can be attributed not only to conservative ideology but also, as Krugman recognizes, because "there's a lot of money behind them," "flowing" especially to Democratic and Republican Senators obstructing vital health reform.

But Krugman does not shield President Obama, always at pain to assure Americans that competition would not kill the health insurance industry, from blame. He reminds us that Obama- during the Democratic primary campaign (emphasis mine) compared himself (video below) to President Ronald Reagan. Soon after his interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, the newspaper endorsed Obama in the Nevada primary, which he barely lost in popular vote to Clinton, and barely won in delegates at the caucus held the same day. The editorial board commented

One can fairly describe Obama's philosophical optimism and charismatic manner as too idealistic, even a tad dreamy. But he also demonstrates the courage to stand his ground where necessary, willing, for instance, to salute both President John Kennedy and President Ronald Reagan as agents of change in times when the country needed change.

And what major change did President Ronald Wilson Reagan play a major role in bringing about? Joseph A. McCartin wrote in 2001

According to figures recently published by the Economic Policy Institute, over the past two decades wage inequality has widened continually between the highly paid 90th percentile of earners and middle-strata earners in the 50th percentile. Even the economic boom of the 1990s had no effect on narrowing that gap. The "Gini Index," by which economists measure relative rates of inequality, also climbed from .397 in the mid-1970s to .459 by the late 1990s. As the number of millionaires in the United States grew astronomically over the last twenty years, so too did the gap between wealthy Americans and working families.

This disturbing development is linked to the PATCO debacle, for President Reagan's unprecedented act of union-busting critically weakened the one entity best equipped to combat growing income inequality in the United States: organized labor. American unions have endured many heartbreaking losses in their history. But not since the infamous 1892 Homestead strike undermined unionism in the emerging mass production industries has any single defeat cast such a long historical shadow over organized labor. In some ways, the unions have yet to recover from the PATCO strike....

In the 20th century, a strong labor movement played a critical role in elevating the standard of living of not only its members, but tens of millions of nonunion workers who benefited from the rising wages and generous benefits won by unionized workers. It is no coincidence that as the labor movement's strength has declined, social inequality has advanced.

And this social inequality has been marked by a growing tendency of businesses to cut wages and health benefits, as well as declining real income of the middle class. President Reagan, praised by Barack Obama, is not totally to blame; nor is Barack Obama, president for barely more than half a year, at all responsible. Still, viewed in the context of a candidate enamored of a president adored by conservatives for his attacks on government, it is not surprising that the current president (well known for eloquence and persuasiveness) has failed to promote consistently and effectively the importance of a government option in health care.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Picking And Choosing Villains

To those of us who have never written anything longer than a short story in high school or an undergraduate thesis, it's easy to assume that someone who has written an impressive-sounding book, like, oh, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, is not only informed but also logical.

That conclusion would be wrong. I'm not sure what Leonard Zeskind, who wrote that book, or Devin Burghart, who together wrote this post at Talking Point Memo's TPM Cafe, meant when their argument at TPM concluded in a morass of, well, a morass:

Nevertheless, there is another element of this worldview that needs to be understood. Consider, in this regard, the woman who stood up in a Delaware town hall last month and claimed that Obama was a citizen of Kenya. "I want my country back," she told the crowd. Her anger is aimed at restoring a country that no longer exists. In fact, that country never did exist.

If a person believes, like Pat Buchanan has argued, that white people built this country alone, and as whites, it is not a long next step to think that President Barack Obama is not a genuine bona-fide natural born American. Nor is it very far to reach the conclusion that brown-skinned, Spanish speaking immigrants are an enemy force that needs repelling. The psychological, social and political space between conspiracy minded whizbangs outside the beltway, and the anti-immigrant congressmen supporting the Birther Bill then shrinks to invisibility. They are distinct without a difference that matters. The nuttiness of the conspiracy mongers becomes less salient then their search for a brighter, whiter tomorrow.

As easy as has been for some to conclude that dissidents at town-hall meetings hosted by Democratic Congress members are motivated by racism ("their search for a brighter, whiter tomorrow"), it is no more difficult to note that Zeskind and Burkhart have no idea whether the Delawarean (let's call her Pamela, only because it makes things easier and "Pamela" is a fairly traditional, and good, American name) was prompted only by President Obama's race (video below). It seems too easy to point out that other things about the President or his policies also may have played a role.

But really: given the fact that Barack Obama (whom she opposes) was born in Honolulu, island of Oahu, state of Hawaii, U.S.A., do we know Pamela actually connects Barack Obama with the anti-immigrant sentiment they decry? And could she really believe that Obama is characteristic of "brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking immigrants (who) are an enemy force that needs repelling?" (This may be a little confusing, but so is the argument, unsupported, that people who believe whites alone built this country would inevitably doubt Obama's citizenship, causing them to block comprehensive immigration reform.) Admittedly, it's hard to tell what Pamela meant when she said, apparently without explanation, "I want my country back," inasmuch as her country has gone nowhere from which it would need (or not) to return. That, unfortunately, didn't stop Zeskind and Burkhardt from concluding that she longs for a country which "no longer exists" or "never did exist."

This would simply be my potshot against two fellows demonstrating reprehensible elitism were the sentiments not reflective of others expressed by some on the left (though, as I've suggested before, elitism is not the sole, or even primary, province of the left). On August, 21, the Daily Howler's Bob Somersby, hitting on one of his favorite themes, describes (stay with it; it's much more interesting than my discourse) an article written by Kevin Sack of The New York Times:

You see, Sack has found a gang of tea-baggers, holed up in a Florida seniors community. Their names are cited, along with their ages. Let’s skip lifelong Democrat Shirley Scrop, 76. Instead, let’s go straight to Hal Goldman:

SACK (8/21/09): Hal Goldman, 79, who retired 22 years ago from Sears, Roebuck & Company, echoed that sentiment.

“What they’re trying to do—Obama is—is take from the senior citizens and give to the poor and the illegal immigrants,” Mr. Goldman said. “It’s hurting the senior citizens who worked all their lives. Because of their age, like in Canada, you’ll have to wait six months for an M.R.I.”

In fact, the health care bills circulating in Congress would not extend coverage to illegal immigrants...

Sack quotes many tea-baggers saying such things, including lifelong Democrat Scrop. Surely, our leaders will want to get on a plane, go to Florida, and tell these wing-nuts they’re “crazy.” We’ll want them to know that “the crazy tree blooms” in each of their tea-bagging statements. It would be a case of soft bigotry if we declined to do that!

Sorry! In our view, that’s what Goofus would probably do! Gallant looks for ways to correct their misapprehensions without calling them long strings of names. Because guess what? This is exactly what people are like! This country is full of voters who have inaccurate beliefs. Except among their “elitist liberal betters,” this is known as the human condition.

Goofus wants to name-call Goldman, thereby “kicking down.” By way of contrast, Gallant wants to name-call Robert Pear today, for his deeply unfortunate companion piece to Sack’s front-page report.

Pear has been a major scribe at the Times for quite a long time. He’s a major, big-deal, much-admired reporter. But today’s report is truly appalling. Here’s the headline and opening paragraph:

PEAR (8/21/09): A Basis Is Seen for Some Health Plan Fears Among the Elderly

WASHINGTON—White House officials and Democrats in Congress say the fears of older Americans about possible rationing of health care are based on myths and falsehoods. But Medicare beneficiaries and insurance counselors say the concerns are not entirely irrational.

Huh! According to that opening paragraph, “insurance counselors” (whoever they are) say that fears about possible rationing of health care “are not entirely irrational.” Read literally, that’s an extremely narrow claim—but in the current environment, the claim packs quite a wallop. But uh-oh! In his entire report, Pear quotes lots of average-Joe “Medicare beneficiaries” voicing lots of fears—but he seems to cite only one person with professional expertise! That lonely figure appears in paragraph 22 of his 26-graf report:

PEAR: Medicare officials recently proposed changes that could increase payments for some primary care services but reduce payments to many specialists. Cardiologists would be especially hard hit, with cuts of more than 20 percent in payments for electrocardiograms and 12 percent for heart stent procedures.

“Cuts of this magnitude could cripple cardiology practices and threaten access to services for millions of patients,” said Dr. John C. Lewin, chief executive of the American College of Cardiology.

Is Lewin right? He certainly could be. (Lewin donated to Obama last year, to Kerry in 2004. Not part of the Lewin Group.) But Pear’s headline and opening claim are amazingly poorly supported. Under that headline, he lists many fears of average-Joe seniors—and only one statement from an expert. Apparently, when Pear referred to “insurance counselors,” he meant people like this:

PEAR: Carol H. Carter, a spokeswoman for LIFE Senior Services in Tulsa, Okla., a nonprofit group, said she and her colleagues had been deluged with questions from Medicare beneficiaries.

Much of the concern results from “fear of the unknown,” Ms. Carter said, adding: “Getting specific information about the proposals and what they mean is really hard. Seniors don’t trust the government to carry it off.”

Is that the logic of this piece? These seniors’ fears “are not entirely irrational” because “getting specific information about the proposals is really hard?”

Pear’s report is shockingly lazy. This is extremely bad work.

Back to our choices. Gallant might kick up, at Pear. Goofus might choose to kick down, at those seniors. After all, Goofus may have his career to consider. When leaders kick up at people like Pear, their viability in the system can dissipate.

"Kick up" rather than "kick down." This is presumably what individuals- usually on the left"- mean when they impress themselves with invocation of the phrase "talk truth to power." That is too infrequently practiced, as Zeskind and Burghart demonstrate. They refer to the House Immigration Reform Caucus, which would represent "power" if the political party to which most of the members belonged actually held the power in Washington- and then only if that party were more than a mouthpiece for corporate interests. (Sure, that's a generalization, but not by much.) But they reserve most of their contempt, even most of their venom, for "conspiracy minded whizbangs outside the beltway."

It doesn't help, of course, that the "kicking down" has a demographic component, most commonly targeting people of one race, notwithstanding that pigmentation is no barrier to ignorance; but also individuals of a particular age cohort. NBC Political Director Chuck Todd, in an appearance I otherwise excoriated, bravely noted what others in the mainstream media and blogosphere have completely ignored (emphasis mine):

Well, no, and we worded it—we did not use the word “death panel” because I think “death panel” is a charged term, at this point. We said that the government—the way we worded it to voters, that the government would make the ultimate decision of when to stop giving medical care to the elderly. So we did not use a charged political term. Forty-five percent believe this. This was among—and for what it‘s worth, by the way, seniors actually believed it less than the overall public. So this—you know, there has been this idea that somehow this was a scare tactic with seniors...

Could this be one of the reasons Pamela imagines that her country has been taken from her? That many people, including some on the left, are implying that the non-wealthy, white, and elderly, are by nature ignorant and the barrier to progress? I can't tell for sure, but neither can Zeskind, Burkhart, or others who claim psychic abilities.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Public Option, Three Views

Republicans and conservatives opposing a public plan in a health care plan typiclly argue that the option would interfere with the private insurance industry, destroying their viability, and eventually run them out of business. Which apparently is supposed to be a bad thing. The Roanoke Times reports in a town hall meeting in Virginia on August 18, a Democrat, U.S. Representative Rick Boucher, made the argument more explicitly, contending

I have a problem with this government option plan. I'm troubled that the government option plan could become very popular and if it became sufficiently popular it could begin to crowd out the other (private insurance companies).

There you have it. A public health care option would be wrong for America because the American people would like it, and choose it in preference to private insurance.

In contrast, Senator Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), a supporter of single-payer, understands the trouble a health care reform bill lacking a public option would bring. In a brief video (below) produced by Brave New Studios, he responds to a question about a public option by describing the Senate Finance Committee bill, in which the federal government would be

subsidizing the private insurance companies which are giving low and moderate income consumers coverage but there would be no cost containment element.... Without the competition of a public option the private insurance companies could raise their rates 5% one year, 7% the next year, and they would not be forced to compete with a more efficient operation which might only go up 1% or 2% and without a public option I feel very much that the costs of health care, which today are enormous, would simply go through the roof.

The danger for small business inherent in mandating insurance without a public option was highlighted in a meeting held on August 18 by Senate Finance Committee Olympia Snow (R.-Me.) with business representatives and lobbyists from Maine. Sam Stein of The Huffington Post explains

Small business representatives told Snowe that they were opposed to any mandates that came without a public option and that such an alternative was desperately needed for small business, which can't afford the rising cost of health insurance for their employees. The costs make them unable to compete on a level playing field with bigger companies, which can use their size to leverage lower prices. Lobbyists representing larger corporations took the opposite position.

The opposition of conservatives to a public option also stands in contrast to the interests of small business, generally a Republican constituency. Here, the GOP can conveniently march in lockstep with big business while maintaining resistance to government as the GOP's raison d'etre. A pretty good two-fer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health Care Without A Public Option

Of all the things we can disagree with Pat Buchanan with, this might seem minor. Still, Buchanan's opinion about the strategy of Democrats toward health care reform is characteristic of that of the mainstream media. On Hardball on Monday, August 17 Buchanan asked "how liberal Democrats," faced with the loss of a public option,

are going to vote against something like that, which does 60 percent of what they want done. How can you vote against this?

Why would someone oppose a bil which "does 60 percent of what they want done?"

Hopefully, you're tired, even aggravated, at sports analogies. So here is another one:

The offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, Bruce Arians, calls for a long pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl MVP. The offensive line does its job marvelously, keeping a great Indianapolis Colts pass rush from getting close to the quarterback. Holmes runs a great pattern, somehow getting ten yards of separation between himself and the Colts' cornerback. And then Roethlisberger's pass falls.... ten yards short.

Theoretically, it was the right call in the situation, the Colts' defense sufficiently surprised that little pass rush was mounted and the lone defender (Holmes would have been double-teamed if the defense expected the ball to go that way) not getting near the receiver. The receiver got open, way open, making him an easy target for the quarterback. Several things were done right.... except that the quarterback made a bad pass, which thereupon was intercepted. The offense got almost everything it wanted- and the play severely backfired.

Sixty percent? The offense got more than sixty percent what it wanted, and it would have been better off doing almost anything else.

Now consider health care reform those in the know believe the left should roll over and accept. Mandatory health coverage- check. No discrimination against anyone with a pre-existing health condition- check. But a public option, being very controversial, is dropped. What do we have?

A vastly increased demand, probably around 40 million souls, would be covered by health care. Individuals with a pre-existing health condition now would gain health insurance. Pretty good so far.

These people would be very expensive to insure, which is why health insurance companies assiduously avoid them now. But under the reform plan which Buchanan, and so many others inside the Beltway, believe liberals should be thankful for, they would be covered. By health insurance companies which would pass some of the individual cost off on the relatively healthy segment of the population. (Otherwise, those with the pre-existing condition likely could not afford the coverage; hence, contrary to law, would not be covered.) And there are a lot more people the private companies get to insure. Vastly increased demand in a health insurance market with little competition in any one geographical area. Demand up, supply flat. You know the rest.

Load up on those health insurance stocks!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chuck Todd, Misleading

Sometimes the line between analyst and pundit, journalist and advocate is blurred, as Chuck Todd demonstrated on Hardball on August 18, 2009 when NBC News' Political Director argued about health care reform:

When you actually give them the president‘s plan, a majority approve of it, when you lay it out.

Except that the President himself doesn't have a plan, which Todd nearly acknowledges- indirectly- when he suggests a moment later that the White House is arguing "maybe the co-ops is going to be able to...." (emphasis mine).

This was prefaced by a remarkable comment:

This fight over the public option. And I‘ll tell you where the White House‘s head is. They‘re frustrated because they believe, actually, the left—the people that are most up in arms on the public option don‘t understand what they‘re even for when it comes to the public—every—when you ask some groups on the left, What‘s the public option, they each give you a different definition.

Does Todd actually believe that some unnamed people on "the left- the people that are most up in arms on the public option don't understand what they're even for when it comes to the public (option)?" Or is that his perspective?

Todd seems to be pulling a fast one. He prefaces his remark by appearing to attribute the criticism to the White House- "I'll tell you where the White House's head is." He concludes by claiming what is clearly his own opinion- "so the White House is trying to preach patience here and saying, "Hey, hold on a minute. Maybe the co-ops is going to be able to..." (at which time he's cut off by Matthews).

Todd contends also "the White House is trying to preach patience here." Preaching patience, as we all know, is what serious, mature adults do toward children. However, Todd seemingly is unaware, as CNN reported on July 23:

The announcement by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada goes against President Obama's stated timetable for the House and Senate to turn out bills by the August break.

In response, a senior administration official said Reid's announcement does not change Obama's timetable, with the president still wanting House and Senate votes before the upcoming recess.

It's easy to attribute this as a biased approach in favor of the President and against the Democratic House or the left blogosphere (Todd is sufficiently vague so as to leave uncertain whom he is slamming by inference.) Or, perhaps, it's just irresponsible reporting. Or maybe both.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health Care Intent

A Gallup survey taken August 6-9, 2009 indicates that 25% of respondents believe "poor healthcare/hospitals; high cost of health care" is the biggest issue facing the country, significantly higher than the 16% who said the same in its survey only four weeks earlier, on July 10-12, 2009.

That's the good news. The bad news comes by way of statements by top Democrats on Sunday's interview programs about the public option. Health and Human Sevices Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on CNN's State of the Union remarked "I think what's important is choice and competition, and I'm convinced that at the end of the day the plan will have both of those -- but that is not the essential element." Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained "the president believes the option of a government plan is the best way to provide competition. The bottom line again is do individuals looking for health insurance in the private market have choice and competition? If we have that the president will be satisfied.

On Monday, Gibbs tried to (cliche alert) dial back on his remarks and quiet the storm he helped to create by letting the cat out of the bag, claiming

I got to tell you, this is one of the more curious things I've ever seen in my life.... I was on a Sunday show; I said the same thing about a public option that I've said for I don't know how many weeks....[Sebelius] reiterated what the president said the day before, and you'd think there was some new policy.

A sheltered life that Mr. Gibbs has lived, that reaction to his explanation of the president's thinking is "one of the more curious things I've ever seen in my life." He really has to get out a little more. After all, the Big Guy himself, President Obama, had stated at a town hall meeting on Saturday in Grand Junction, California

All I'm saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.

Not a surprise, really. The suspicion all along was that President Obama (unlike, say, Senator and candidate Obama) wants something to call "health care reform." The Politico's Roger Simon, generally an admirer of Obama, notes today that the President really does prefer a health care option and is hopeful he ultimately will insist on it. However, he asks whether presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, criticizing the eventual nominee, "could"

have been right when she said that he was the candidate of lofty promises —“the skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect” — and not the candidate of real leadership?

In her former life as a presidential candidate, Clinton warned voters that Obama would let them down. She warned them that when the going got tough, he would fold up.

She said it was not just a matter of Obama lacking experience — that was the least of it — but that he lacked the strength, the toughness, the will to get the job done.

Simon concludes "Sometimes it is not enough to have just your heart and your head in the right place. You have to have your guts there, too." And with a substantial majority of the President's party in the U.S. House of Representatives, 60 of his party in the United States Senate, and a progressive blogosphere aggressively promoting meaningful change, an issue considered most important by fully one-quarter of the American people in the midst of a severe economic turndown is the perfect place to demonstrate backbone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Senator Chuck Grassley (R.- IA.) held a town meeting in Winterset, Iowa on Wednesday, August 13. Radio Iowa reports "Audience members occasionally quarreled with one another, but none shouted Grassley down."

And why would they, when the host is in full pander mode?

The ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee has taken the lead role in negotiating with committee Democrats on the shape of the health care bill the committee would report out, and President Obama has spoken kindly of the Iowa senator, as recently as August 11 saying

Now, I think that there are some of my Republican friends on Capitol Hill who are sincerely trying to figure out if they can find a health care bill that works — Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Olympia Snowe from Maine have been — yes, I got to admit I like Olympia, too. They are diligently working to see if they can come up with a plan that could get both Republican and Democratic support.

But in Winterset the following day, Grassley showed his gratitude by claiming

You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have it done 20 years before you're going to die. You ought to plan these things out. I don't have any problem with things like living wills, but they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines you're going to pull the plug on grandma.

Grassley wasn't lying- he didn't actually say the federal government is considering "pulling the plug on grandma." But of course Grassley strongly implied, intentionally, that Democrats are trying to pull the plug, a scurrilous rumor thoroughly debunked.

This is no ordinary Senator, but one who may know as much about health care negotiations as anyone in the United States Senate. And there is another clue Grassley knew he was making things up.

Note the Senator's language- "to pull the plug on grandma." At the President's town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H. the day before, Obama noted "The rumor that's been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for ‘death panels' that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we've decided that we don't--it's too expensive to let her live anymore. (Laughter.)"

Decrying the right's effort to scare the elderly, Obama and others left of center have sometimes used the phrase "pulling the plug" and consistently used the term "grandma." It is telling, then, that the Iowa Senator would not try to make a reasoned argument about end-of-life care, but rather employ the phrase "going to pull the plug on grandma."

This charge was originally cooked up by Betsy McCaughey, a former board member of biotechnology company Genta and current board member of Cantel Medical, a device company from which she recently received 750 shares of stock options worth approximately $11,250.00. Grassley is a member of Congress frightened by his base.

On Sunday's Meet The Press, three days prior to Grassley's meeting, a tape of Rush Limbaugh was played in which the talk show host claimed "There are far more similarities between Nancy Pelosi and Adolph Hitler than between these people showing up at town halls to protest a Hitler-like policy." Though conceding "I hadn't seen the Rush Limbaugh thing," New York Times columnist David Brooks commented "That is insane. What he's saying is insane."

No, what Rush Limbaugh says is no more insane than what Betsy McCaughey or Chuck Grassley say. It is all rather calculated- financial gain for McCaughey, political survival for Grassley, audience share and political influence for Limbaugh. They are not "insane," crazy, demented, ignorant, or stupid. It is at once patronizing and overly generous to view them, and others similarly rhetorically inclined, as somehow lacking the mental or emotional stability of those who have at least a passing concern for the public interest. They ought not to be underestimated; their radical claims are merely a part of a broader strategy, harmful to the interests of the broad spectrum of the American people.
Article Of The Week

A commentary entitled "Health care debate turns vile with Nazi analogy" by the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Art Caplan, was posted today on MSNBC's website. Mr. Caplan also was interviewed this morning by Philadelphia-based talk-show host Michael Smerconish, who placed the item on the "must read" section of his website.

And for good reason. Terming "the contemptible introduction of references, direct or oblique, to Nazi Germany" examples of "the vile evil of Holocaust denial," Caplan explains

Racism was at the core of Nazi medicine. Racism and a bizarre form of genetics that saw all manner of human frailty and weakness from prostitution to alcohol abuse to petty theft as highly heritable. When Hitler set out to kill the handicapped and the mentally ill he did it to protect the genetic future of Germany. When the "useless eaters" were targeted for euthanasia it was because of the threat they posed to the genetic health of future generations. When Nazi doctors mandated abortion it was to eliminate "mongrel" babies. When Nazi doctors analyzed how many of your ancestors had to be Jewish for you to be a Jew or when they killed all manner of Slavs, it was to remove these dangers from undermining the public health of the Reich.

Limbaugh, Beck, Palin and other Holocaust deniers ignore the core racist evil of Nazism. They reach for preposterous analogies between counseling people about living wills and the forced, involuntary mass murder carried out in the name of racism in concentration camps.

When the right wing, in their distaste for the President's push to reform a heath care system that even the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry recognize has to be fixed, suggest that the disabled will be targeted, or that the elderly will be killed or find themselves without health care due to rationing by government bureaucrats as happened in Nazi Germany, they marginalize the gross evil that was the racial bigotry that fueled Nazi programs to euthanize, sterilize, experiment upon and torture people in places that were in no way connected to hospitals, clinics or nursing homes.

Describing the experience of his father in late April, 1945, Caplan writes "as a Jewish American soldier, he found himself staring at the few emaciated survivors of the Dachau concentration camp." This bit of family history adds a personal element, which both adds context and informs the reader of his personal stake in an argument, which is compelling on more than one. A petty complaint, perhaps, though maybe not so: Caplan refers to his "Jewish American" father. I'll buy that once I hear of "Catholic-American" and "Protestant-American" soldiers. Though with facets of ethnicity, Judaism is, like Catholicism, Protestant, and Islam (and Eastern faiths), at base a religion, as should be acknowledged by a bioethicist decrying the Nazi urge "to protect their 'race,' a concept that itself made little biological sense (so as) to prohibit reproduction with inferior people and, ultimately, to destroy them."

I had realized the flagrant allusion to things Nazi was a trivialization, intentional or otherwise, of the Holocaust. But Art Caplan, in recognizing the gross distortion of history inherent in the right's effort to block health care reform, gives cause to believe there is something blatantly dishonest and malicious in comparisons between Nazi Germany and President Obama.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Drug Industry, Again

One of the bloggers at The New York Times, Judith Warner, writes that one Louise Claire Clark was a supporter of national health care while living in Australia in the 1980s. Living in the U.S.A. in the early 1990s as a single mother, she was eager to see health care reform and campaigned for Bill Clinton for president. She needed work and auditioned for the job of "Louise" in a commercial directed by political consultant Ben Goddard, who told Clark he was a Democrat and

the insurance lobby’s goal was merely to “open communications with the White House, to bring everyone in,” she recalls.

“He said, ‘It’s just one ad, and everybody knows there’s going to be health reform.”

She says that she was "very upset" when health care reform was eviscerated in 1993. Then in 1997 she married Goddard, a highly successful political consultant who, Jeffrey Birnbaum noted in 2004

created the first political advertising in the former Soviet Union to preserve Boris Yeltsin's free-market reforms. In the United States, he's worked for politicians including President Jimmy Carter, Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), former interior secretary Bruce Babbitt and Jesse Jackson.

And whose "clients are a Who's Who ofcorporate America- including life insurers and utility giants."

Fast forward sixteen years from the failure of President Clinton's health reform and 12 years since Clark's marriage. We now have the pharmaceutical industry willing to spend up to $150 million advocating generic health care reform in ads such as this:

As vanilla as this spot is, it would still be difficulut to understand why the health insurance industry, which dominates a health care system which desperately needs an overhaul, would be supporting any deviation from the status quo. Except, as Robert Reich explained on his blog Tuesday

Last week, after being reported in the Los Angeles Times, the White House confirmed it has promised Big Pharma that any healthcare legislation will bar the government from using its huge purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices. That's basically the same deal George W. Bush struck in getting the Medicare drug benefit, and it's proven a bonanza for the drug industry. A continuation will be an even larger bonanza, given all the Boomers who will be enrolling in Medicare over the next decade. And it will be a gold mine if the deal extends to Medicaid, which will be expanded under most versions of the healthcare bills now emerging from Congress, and to any public option that might be included. (We don't know how far the deal extends beyond Medicare because its details haven't been made public.)

So health "reform" may be to the industry's liking, especially if final legislation includes a mandate with no public option. As Daniel DeGroot details in his post at, conservatives have attacked virtually everything proposed in reform legislation, and much of what hasn't been proposed but only imagined. Except: there has been a stunning (near) silence about mandates. That's hardly surprising, given that a mandate for health insurance would increase demand for care- which then would be met by a health insurance industry only too happy to increase its rates in the face of greater demand, and no public option to increase supply.

Some things, and people, have changed in the sixteen years since the last effort to provide a health care system befitting a great country. There is now Barack Obama instead of Bill Clinton and Billy Tauzin heading up Big Pharma instead of doing its bidding in Congress. But there still are Louise Clark, Ben Goddard, and an insatiable greed in the pharmaceutical industry.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Politics Trumps Family: Thy Name Is Sarah

The exploitation of the children of Sarah Palin by their mother for political gain continues.

It began, as far as we know, on convention night in St. Paul, Minnesota. And it continues to this day on Facebook:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats....."

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care."

Really, was it necessary to use her daughter's disability to make things up about a "death panel," to imagine "subjective judgement(s)," blindly to attack nameless government "bureaucrats," and to try to scare individuals into believing that the President of the United States wishes them dead? Apparently it is, if your name is Sarah Palin.
That Little Matter Of Drug Prices

Once a Democratic U.S. Representative from Louisiana, Billy Tauzin was instrumental in forming the Blue Dog caucus. When it became clear the Democratic label had become anathema to white Southerners, Billy Tauzin in 1995 became a Republican member of the House of Representatives. As chairman of the Commerce and Energy Committee, in 2003 he shepherded through the House the Medicare Modernization Act, creating Medicare Part D in 2006, in the process prohibiting Medicare from negotiating prices with drug companies.

Never let it be said that Billy Tauzin would fail to seize an opportunity. Mr. Tauzin resigned from Congress and that day became president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. And now Tauzin has seized the opportunity to negotiate with a President who desperately wants a health care reform bill, passage of which numerous pundits have suggested would put him on an upward spiral toward an historic presidency.

A few months ago, President Obama announced that the pharmaceutical industry had agreed to $80 billion of savings (over ten years) to help pay for a reform package. Unfortunately, as the Los Angeles Times reported

Tauzin said he had not only received the White House pledge to forswear Medicare drug price bargaining, but also a separate promise not to pursue another proposal Obama supported during the campaign: importing cheaper drugs from Canada or Europe. Both proposals could cost the industry billions, undermine its ability to develop new cures and, in the case of imports, possibly compromise safety, industry officials contend.

If Medicare were permitted to negotiate drug prices, according to a report by energy and commerce's investigations subcommittee, savings would approach $156 billion over the same ten-year period. However, the authors of a paper (pdf) prepared by the Institute for America's Future conclude that the savings would be nearly $35 billion a year.

That would amount to $350 billion over the ten-year period, substantially in excess of the $80 billion Obama procured from the drug industry. But even at the conservative estimate of $156 billion, the President has managed to negotiate away $76 billion, a not insubstantial sum of money.

Tauzin's pre-emptive strike was in response to action by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in reporting out a bill which would permit Medicare drug negotiation. Timothy Noah in describes the Administration's response. It is somewhat cryptic and hardly reassuring, and suggests that the Administration has cut a deal it is displeased has been interpreted as giving away the store.

If, as is probable, such a deal was cut, the obvious savings and benefit to Big Pharma are substantial and reasonably calculable. Aside from that, however, is a cogent objection leveled by one reader of Noah's article, who notes

it would be instructive to define the true cost/benefit to Pharma of the purported $80 billion they are "giving up" (putting aside the backdoor negotiation to prohibit any future risk). Assuming that health reform includes a drug benefit for an additional 45 million uninsured any reduction in drug charges will be compensated for by increased volume, thus at the least preserving current and future revenue (and very likely expanding it). In addition, the basis from which the $80 billion "savings" is derived needs to be defined - is it retail or wholesale pricing, are standard discounts acknowledged etc?

And a simpler objection need be raised: how enforceable is the industry's promise of $80 billion in savings? Clearly, in either case, President Obama needs to start one of his famous dialogues, this time with candidate Obama, who seemed in this video (below) to have no illusions about Billy Tauzin. He still does not, but apparently also wants a health care bill, representing a notch in his belt, at virtually any cost.

The Quitting Governor Sounds Off On Health Care

She has done it again!

Without being prompted by Democratic politicians or the "liberal media" to leave Alaska in favor of hobnobbing in the "lower 48," Sarah Palin has issued another entertaining statement.

In Facebook, the ex-Governor issued a "Statement on the Current Health Care Debate" in which she exclaimed

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

To give Mrs. Palin her due, that kind of society would be "downright evil," were such a thing being contemplated. (Although given the rationing of care practiced by the health insurance industry every hour of every day, the current system, does bear a small resemblance.)

Inasmuch as no health reform initiative proposes a "death panel," let alone one which would evaluate an individual's "level of productivity in society," no one can be sure what The Quitting Governor actually meant, not unlike her resignation speech. Perhaps we should give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she was not referring to the noxious conservative tall tale that hordes of government workers are poised to descend on the homes of elderly Americans and encourage them to die. Maybe The Quitting Governor, ignorant though she sometimes appears (video below- you've seen it many times, but you can't stop looking, can you?), was referring to comparative effectiveness research. In the words of a federal government website

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research to coordinate comparative effectiveness research across the Federal government. The Council will specifically make recommendations for the $400 million allocated to the Office of the Secretary for CER.

Funds for comparative effectiveness research enable medical and scientific professionals to compare strategies and treatments which can be used to improve the health of patients. No "bureaucrat" makes a "subjective judgement;" they are objective judgements and decisions would remain the responsibility of government officials. It's hard to imagine anyone objecting to this concept, unless the pandering politician is playing to pharmaceutical or medical device lobbyists. Or hostile to science. Or both. (For a thoughtful, balanced analysis of implementation of comparative effectiveness research, click here.)

Conservatives enjoy railing against what they claim is government efficiency. You might think that faced with a governmental intitiative aimed at increasing efficiency, they would applaud what they could trumpet (sincerely or otherwise) as somehow uncharacteristic of liberals, or of Democrats. But that is not how the Repub Party of No operates these days, and there may be no better example than Sarah Palin, her words at once ignorant and manipulative.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Obama Not A Man

At, blue texan quoted her as writing "the health-care protesters have to make sure they don’t get too hot, or get out of hand. They haven’t so far, they’ve been burly and full of debate, with plenty of booing. This is democracy’s great barbaric yawp." He/she concludes

This is the first time I've seen racism and death threats described as 'great.'

Media recognized that

she whole heartedly defends the mini-mobs and berates Democrats for having the nerve to push back rhetorically (and) ignores the death threats issued to at least one Congressman. She ignores that members of Congress now routinely have to be escorted to their cars by police after mini-mobs unleash their wrath (and) lectures the White House that nobody in the administration--nobody--should be using Nazi references in the context of the health care debate. Ever. This, of course, one day after Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck both accused the White House of acting like Nazi's (sic).

At his Daily Dish blog, the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan noted

She is not terrified by massively escalating healthcare costs, which are bankrupting the government and the private sector. She doesn't mention these once in her know-nothing column. She just channels the "feelings" of others and wants that to guide public policy. She does not mention the crises on many people's lives because of our current healthcare system. In fact, there is not a scintilla of a constructive proposal in the column - just an amorphous sense that anything that costs money shouldn't happen now....

And who is the "she" they are referring to? None other than Wall Street Journal columnist and former President Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, having penned an opinion piece on August 7, 2008, invoking all the usual villains to rationalize the angry mobs which have disrupted town hall meetings called by Democrats in their home districts last week. Nancy Pelosi (the favorite Repub target), the Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, the AFL-CIO, and even Noonan's favorite Democrat, Barack Obama.

Funny, though. Criticizing Pelosi for criticizing demonstrators for criticizing Obama, Noonan charges "for normal people, it's not all about Obama." Later, she upbraids the President, who should

should call in his troops and his Congress and announce a rethinking. There are too many different bills, they’re all a thousand pages long, no one has time to read them, no one knows what’s going to be in the final one, the public is agitated, the nation’s in crisis, the timing is wrong, we’ll turn to it again—but not now. We’ll take a little longer, ponder every aspect, and make clear every complication.

The President, she seems to be saying, is weak- he hasn't been able to "call in his troops" and order them to do as they should. There is a faint odor about this coming from Ms. Noonan.

From New York Magazine, "Looking For Mr. Right" is a compendium- as of mid-2004- of Peggy Noonan's Greatest Hits, and below a couple of quotes, the first in the longer version about President Reagan, the second about Reagan and President George W. Bush that didn't make the list.

But you know, that’s how I think a lot of people felt when Reagan was in the White House: Daddy’s home. A wise and brave and responsible man is running things. And that’s a good way to feel.

The charismatic figure Mr. Bush follows is the last big American president, the last who had the massive presence of a battleship, Ronald Reagan.

There is an obvious pattern in Noonan's elegant prose, including “Men are back. Manliness is once again being honored and celebrated in our country ... I am speaking of masculine men, men who push things and pull things and haul things and build things ... Manliness wins wars.”

Noonan loves masculinity. Hard, muscles ripplin' masculinity. And unless President Obama reins in those wimpish, liberal, renegade Democrats, he just doesn't cut it for her.

Obama is unlikely to demonstrate such manful manliness. He doesn't need to. He has Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to do that, as Jane Hamsher points out. And with Emanuel, the President aims to go 14-0 on legislation. Even if he has to sacrifice genuine health care reform to do it.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Conservative Impulse, Circa 2009

The description of the town hall meeting of August 4 held by Rep. Todd Akin (R.-Mo.) comes from Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly:

"This particular meeting, in a way is a little bit unique," Akin said. "Different people from Washington, D.C., have come back to their districts and have town hall meetings, and they almost got lynched."

The conservative crowd thought this was great."I would assume you're not approving lynchings, because we don't want to do that," Akin said, generating more laughs as he put his hand to his neck.

The video of this remarkable exchange was highlighted by

Understandably, the first reaction is: this guy thinks it's amusing that Democratic legislators have been almost "lynched" when they've appeared recently at town-hall meetings in their district. And the second reaction is that Akins' easily amused constituents are mighty pleased these legislators have gotten yelled at, hung in effigy, and worse.

It's bad enough that Akins cavalierly invokes "lynching" as if that does not bring up thoughts of the worst manifestation of the greatest stain on the American character, slavery. Perhaps the right, or extremists generally, are characteristically insensitive to the historical implications of emotion-laden terms: the far-right, traditionally not enthralled with Jews, likes to refer to abortion as a "holocaust." Those who can't argue, trivialize suffering.

But there is something else going on here, as reported by The St. Louis Beacon. Julie Eckstein, described as a former director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and now a project director with Newt Gingrich's Center for Health Transformation, received an approving laugh from the audience when, ridiculing health care freform, she said

How many of you think the government can run your business better than you do?

And apparently Akin also was auditioning for a gig as a stand-up comedian:

On the cap-and-trade bill -- or cap-and-tax, as Akin and the presenters termed it -- Akin started out by saying, "I hope you've enjoyed the global warming we've had here in St. Louis lately."

What do these comments have in common, a characteristic of the modern conservative movement?

The boldest (such as it is) and, possibly, defining characteristic of the reform effort is the public option. Still, Eckstein slammed reform by sarcastically asking whether "government can run your business better than you do?"

But is a public, government-run option tantamount to government running the business? Or is it government offering an alternative? Clearly the latter, as implicitly acknowledged by the health insurance industry and its lackeys when they claim that a public option would run the private suppliers of health care out of business.

And Akin, belittling the notion of climate change, chose to remind his audience of the recent weather, hot and humid, in the St. Louis area. Most of us are familar with global warming-deniers jumping on a cold wave to proclaim triumphantly: "aha, there's your global-warming! You enjoying this cold weather?" Sure, they are unaware, or pretend to be unaware, that a few days of unusually cold weather in one part of a country in one part of the earth means virtually nothing. But at least cold runs counter to warming. However, Akin- who reportedly was a big hit with the crowd- pointed to heat ("I hope you've enjoyed this global warming") to undermine the idea of a warming trend.

This is not your Republican Party of William F. Buckley or George F. Will- or even of Barry Goldwater or William Kristol. This has become a party allergic to reasoning- with those you oppose or even those with whom you agree. A party which finds thinking overly exerting, apparently dominated by a whatever-pops-into-the-mind conservatism, whose more conservative adherents and heroes (e.g., Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity) often exhibit a kind of ideological attention deficit disorder.

This doesn't apply to all conservative Republicans, obviously. Libertarians, though acutely misguided in their philosophy, tend to be somewhat thoughtful. Still, what understandably strikes some liberals as stupidity or ignorance in the right-wing really gives them too little, or too much, credit. Some of these guys and gals still win elections, and some make a whole lot of money. Look closely- it is more often a convenient lack of focus, a resistance to disciplined thinking and analysis which is at play.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Arlen Specter and Barack Obama: Perfect Together

Thanks to dailykos, here is video of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter explaining on MSNBC's Hardball on Tuesday evening why he voted for McCain-Palin rather than Obama-Biden:

And thanks to the MSNBC website, we have the transcript to read the response of Republican-turned- Democrat Specter when Chris Matthews asked him for whom he had voted:

I thought that they were the better choice. And I was trying to work within the Republican party, and trying to bring moderation to the Republican party. The decisive step I took was when I heard President Obama early this year say we were on the verge of sliding into a 1929 Depression, and a new president with a new mandate. And I voted for the stimulus package.

And when Matthews wouldn't accept that answer at face value and asked him whether he was comfortable trying to place Sarah Palin "a heartbeat away from the presidency," Specter respnded:

Chris, I didn't exactly think my vote would be decisive. But when you're in a party and you work for a party and you're trying to work within the structure to moderate the party, I think that's the correct thing to do.

But parties change. Look here, Ronald Reagan changed parties. Winston Churchill changed parties. Phil Graham, Dick Shelby. It's not so unusual. And in my case, I think there was good provocation to do it, and I think it was the right thing.

Now, up until then, Biden and Rendell and a lot of people had been trying to get me to become a Democrat. When I voted for the stimulus package, I had more Republicans urging me to become a Democrat than the Democrats. And the effort to bring moderation to the Republican party was not successful. And I feel very comfortable as a Democrat.

It's hard to figure out why trying to "moderate" the party would entail voting for John McCain and, especially, Governor Palin, and Specter never explained. He does remind us that he voted for the stimulus package, though neglecting to remind us that he first (successfully) worked to weaken it. But he never concedes that he made a mistake voting for McCain-Palin- if in fact he thinks he does- or even that he finds Democratic/liberal ideology preferable to the reigning ideology of the Republican Party. Only that he "feel(s) very comfortable as a Democrat," which might mean only that he's more at ease when he actually has a chance to win re-election.

Pat Toomey, the former president of the right wing libertarian Club for Growth who very likely will be the Repub nominee for the Senate seat in 2010, had it right when he appeared immediately before Specter on Hardball and observed

Chris, Arlen Specter is whatever he thinks the political calculus suggests he should be at any moment in time.

Right now, that means liberal Democrat, because he's got a primary challenge from the left. If-if he manages to get by that, which I don't know that he will, but, if he does, he will be something else again. This is a guy who has made a career out of being on both sides of as many issues as he can.

It's not likely that Toomey, former chairman of the right-wing/libertarian Club for Growth, has seen the bar graph posted Wednesday by Moulitsas on his dailykos site. It seems hardly coincidental that Arlen Specter voted with the GOP most of the time when he belonged to that party, then voted primarily with the Democrats after his switch, then veered sharply left once it became clear he'd be challenged in the Democratic Party by Joe Sestak, who announced Tuesday that he would enter the race.

And the stance of President Obama, whom Specter apparently is still satisfied he voted against? As the New York Times reported, the day after Mr. Opportunistic announced his change of party

Mr. Obama pledged enthusiastic support for Mr. Specter’s candidacy as a Democrat in 2010, saying, "We are confident that Arlen Specter is going to get a sixth term."

No doubt the President has believed all along that Arlen Specter would be a valuable supporter as a Democrat of his agenda. And so he has been, and will be until, if planned, he is re-elected, at which time his political calculus will shift. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to view President Obama campaign for the incumbent against two-term U.S. Representative Sestak, the highest ranking former military officer in Congress. Sestak is a little different than Specter, having been a critic of the Iraq War, supporter of gun control, and an original co-sponsor of the pro-labor Employees Free Choice Act, which Senator Specter still opposes. And someone who has cast a vote for for Barack Obama.

On a Positive Note, It's What He Believes

During the War of 1812, Master Commandant Oliver Perry wrote to Major General William Henry Harrison " we have met the enemy and they ...