Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Fight For Health Care Reform Starts Now!

The ink had barely dried on the new health reform bill when a new insurance company outrage came to light. A Texas couple has been denied coverage for a heart condition that their baby was born with; their insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, considered the condition to be "pre-existing" and therefore denied the couple coverage.

This case was made for the headlines; how could a baby's congenital heart defect, which was present before it was even born, possibly be considered a pre-existing condition?

No matter-BS/BC had decided it was, and that was the end of it.

Well, not quite. The latest is that BC/BS, which has been publicly embarrassed by the media firestorm, has decided to reconsider. Which changes absolutely nothing in the big picture, because most people who get their coverage denied aren't lucky enough to have the media publicize their plight.

It was subsequently revealed that the heath insurance industry was already claiming that they had found a loophole which would enable them to avoid covering children with pre-existing conditions even after relevant provision of the reform bill takes effect six months from now.

And people are shocked. Shocked! Those who sold out true health care reform in order to get what they considered would be a political victory are already professing surprise that the bill in fact accomplishes very little, and does it at the price of handing over hundreds of billions of dollars of potential profits, bonuses, and waste to health insurance companies and their executives while doing little to rein in costs.

What did they expect?

There were three main objectives for health care reform, but the public was only told about two of them. Those three objectives were (1) universal coverage, (2) systemic cost reduction and (3) ensuring the profitability of the health insurance industry. 

In reality, health insurance profitability predictably turned out to be the most important of these, at least for the people who were writing the laws. (These people were, in many cases, executives of those same health insurance companies.)

The truth is that in a universal coverage system, there is simply no reason to have insurance companies. Insurance companies earn money by discriminating between high-risk (healthy) and low-risk (unhealthy) customers. 

This works out great with car insurance. State Farm discriminates between risky and safe drivers, and drivers who are extremely unsafe either can't get coverage or have to pay large amounts of money to be able to drive. We're okay with that, because we realize that people often have a choice about whether to be unsafe drivers, and, at any rate, society has determined that driving a car is not a right.

But our society long ago determined that access to health care is a right. This is settled. Medicare, Medicaid, the VA hospital, an array of tax deductions and the right to emergency treatment are all proof of this. The new legislation acknowledges that right. Health care reform is not a matter of establishing the right to health care; it's a matter of implementing it in a sensible way.

The point is that health insurance companies are essentially useless in a system which guarantees universal access. Useless, but not free.

Health insurance companies cost the system vast amounts of money. Consider the case of the Texas newborn. If the surgery that the baby needs to live costs $50,000, then it makes economic sense for BC/BS to spend $49,999.99 on lawyers to fight that claim. In fact, the executives of that company have a legal, fiduciary duty to do exactly that, because their duty is to maximize shareholder value, not to provide health care.

That $49,999.99 is essentially wasted. It will not be used to provide health care, and it is properly viewed as a drag on the system. Add in the money insurance companies spend on marketing, executive bonuses, return on shareholder capital, and administrative overhead, and you can start to see why the United States spends more money per capita than any other country on earth for a health care system that is ranked lower that of Costa Rica.

So why was primary objective of health care reform to ensure the continued existence of insurance companies? Because they make so much money that they can afford to buy off politicians and run marketing campaigns designed to convince voters that they are essential to the system.

They are not. 

What can we do about it?

We should fight for single payer and eliminate the useless, expensive, for-profit health insurance industry. Single payer could be best defined as "Medicare For All." Rep. Alan Grayson has introduced a bill which would provide exactly that. He writes:

Let's face it. Health insurance companies charge as much money as possible, and they provide as little care as possible. The difference is called profit. You can't blame them for it; that's what a corporation does. Birds got to fly, fish got to swim, health insurers got to rip you off. And if you get really expensive, they've got to pull the plug on you. So for those of us who would like to stay alive, we need a public option.
In many areas of the country, one or two insurers have over 80% of the market. They can charge anything they want. And when you get sick, they can flip the bird at you. So we need a public option.
And they face no real competition because it costs billions of dollars just to set up a national health care network. In fact, the only one that's nationwide is . . . Medicare. And we limit that to one-eight of the population. It's like saying that only seniors can drive on federal highways. We really need a public option.

You can sign his petition here. And here is Grayson on the floor of the House explaining this bill:

The fight for universal, affordable health care has only just begun. A majority of voters favor a public option. But it will take a supermajority of informed, committed voters to defeat the powerful health insurance industry, who will fight tooth and nail against anything that improves your health at the expense of their bonuses and profits. 

Sign the petition. Learn about the system. Fight for your health care.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Liquidation of The US Economy

Marshall Auerback has a guest post at NC in which he discusses the origins of the Greek debt crisis, and makes the point that it was precipitated by both France and Germany, who, he notes, have violated the same GDP/Debt rules that Greece did:

Of course, both France and Germany also violated these rules and were never punished for their transgressions. Indeed, the selective applications of the rule in EMU have made it more apparent that this is nothing more than a liquidationist gambit on the part of Berlin and now, it appears, Paris.
A liquidationist gambit is the removal, by power, of government from the society. Liquidation occurs when society has ceased to be a center of power, and has become a center of weakness. It therefore becomes far more prone to corporate predation. It does not mean that government becomes either smaller or less intrusive, but that government’s traditional role of mobilizing resources for broader public purpose is impaired. These are some of the instruments which are characteristic of liquidation gambits:
1. Looting
2. Corporatism and cartelization
3. Brow-beating (societal interest above self interest, power as power, cooptation and betrayal) particularly via manufactured bankrupcties
4. Shams and accounting frauds

These are all, of course, the exact same types of activities you'd expect to find in your average banana republic. But what should seem frightening to Americans is that three of the four (1,2,4) are now standard operating procedure in the U.S. economy.

And they are certainly not sustainable.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Don't Worry-They Aren't Terrorists. They're White.

The FBI has arrested a group of alleged radical Christian terrorists militia members, who have been accused of plotting to kill law enforcement personnel. From CNN:
Nine people federal prosecutors say belong to a "Christian warrior" militia were accused Monday of plotting to kill a Michigan law enforcement officer and then attack other police at the funeral.
A federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, indicted six Michigan residents, two Ohioans and an Indiana resident on charges of seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade and Andrew Arena, FBI special agent in charge, announced.

According to the indictment, the killings “would intimidate and demoralize law enforcement diminishing their ranks and rendering them ineffective.”

Neither the CNN article, nor the NYT story, nor the Fox News piece even once mentions the words "terror", or "terrorist", or "terrorism".

And yet the indictment specifically alleges that the plot was intended to "intimidate and demoralize" through violence. If what these people are alleged to have planned does not rise to the level of terrorism, then is there any meaningful definition of the word at all?

If these nine people were of Middle Eastern origin, or were Islamic, every single headline would have the word "terror" in it. Can there be any doubt of that? Does this mean that "terrorism" is now defined as any act of violence committed by Muslims? If this is going to be the new definition, than the national press corps should state that as fact, and the laws which are written regarding terrorism should be amended to include definitions that say that they only apply to Muslims.

And after that, we should just drop the pretenses and admit that the United States considers itself to be at war with the religion of Islam.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Phil Gramm Fights For Your Freedom... From The Tyranny of Medical Care

What the hell is this supposed to mean? Former Republican Senator Phil Gramm, while writing about the evils of medical care in the WSJ, closes with this nugget of stupidity:

There is one more overwhelming reason freedom is so critical in health care. In the end, even the greatest health-care system in the world fails. At 92, my mother decided to stop going to the hospital, stop going to the doctor, stop taking her medicine, and to die in her own bed. It was a free choice, and she made it. For her family, it was a painful choice, but she died as she lived—proud and free. Government bureaucrats did not make that decision; she did. And that made all the difference.

This is his rationalization for failing to support health care for all Americans? Because with universal health care, his grandma would not have been allowed to die at home?

Is the right to die at home even being threatened? And by whom? And if it is (it is not), is the right to die at home now more important to Republicans than access to medical care which will help you to live?

You can't make this shit up. It seems as though it's ripped straight from the Onion, but there it is, on the editorial page of the fucking Wall Street Journal.

Ladies and Gentleman, your Republican Party!


Media Matters has this awesome clip of Fox News' Steve Doocy interviewing Tea Party nutcase Victoria Jackson. I think he quickly realizes that this is not part of the Fox News narrative. These teabagger aren't supposed to be crazy, just rationally angry, right? Wrong.  Turns out they're crazy.

He quickly tries to dissociate himself from her wacky opinions, but it's a little late for that. That's what you get for playing with fire.

Victoria Jackson is a former SNL cast member. It's really hard to tell if she is serious, or just a comedic caricature of Tea Party people. She's been making these statements for a few years now, so if it's an act it's a pretty involved one. 

But what's really amazing is that you can't really tell.

Legal Pot?

There is a rather exciting new development in the push to legalize marijuana laws. Californians will be voting on a ballot measure that will legalize, tax and regulate marijuana. Here is the relevant text of the "Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010" which Californians will have the option of passing in November:
Article 5 of Chapter 5 of Division 10 of the Health and Safety Code, commencing with section 11300 is added to read:
Section 11300: Personal Regulation and Controls
(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, it is lawful and shall not be a public offense under California law for any person 21 years of age or older to:
(i) Personally possess, process, share, or transport not more than one ounce of cannabis, solely for that individual’s personal consumption, and not for sale.
(ii) Cultivate, on private property by the owner, lawful occupant, or other lawful resident or guest of the private property owner or lawful occupant, cannabis plants for personal consumption only, in an area of not more than twenty-five square feet per private residence or, in the absence of any residence, the parcel. Cultivation on leased or rented property may be subject to approval from the owner of the property. Provided that, nothing in this section shall permit unlawful or unlicensed cultivation of cannabis on any public lands.
(iii) Possess on the premises where grown the living and harvested plants and results of any harvest and processing of plants lawfully cultivated pursuant to section 11300(a)(ii), for personal consumption.
(iv) Possess objects, items, tools, equipment, products and materials associated with activities permitted under this subsection.
(b) “Personal consumption” shall include but is not limited to possession and consumption, in any form, of cannabis in a residence or other non-public place, and shall include licensed premises open to the public authorized to permit on-premises consumption of cannabis by a local government pursuant to section 11301.
(c) “Personal consumption” shall not include, and nothing in this Act shall permit cannabis:
(i) possession for sale regardless of amount, except by a person who is licensed or permitted to do so under the terms of an ordinance adopted pursuant to section 11301;
(ii) consumption in public or in a public place;
(iii) consumption by the operator of any vehicle, boat or aircraft while it is being operated, or that impairs the operator;
(iv) smoking cannabis in any space while minors are present.
(Full text of the proposed act is here.

The New York Times has a story on this, and some of the reactions to the proposition are unsurprising:
Opponents, however, scoff at the notion that legalizing marijuana could somehow help with the state’s woes. They tick off a list of social ills — including tardiness and absenteeism in the workplace — that such an act would contribute to.
This is indicative of how desperate the drug Nazis are becoming. Pretend for a moment that this is actually true-that tardiness and absenteeism will result. These people favor arresting and jailing people for doing things that they believe might result in them being late for work. By this standard, we should imprison people for using the snooze button on their alarm clocks. In fact, we should probably just make being late for work a crime.

Of course, there is absolutely no evidence that legalizing marijuana would have this result. But one thing that it will affect is the amount of money that law enforcement agencies get for arresting people who are harming no one- not even themselves.
“We just don’t think any good is going to come from this,” said John Standish, president of the California Peace Officers Association, whose 3,800 members include police chiefs and sheriffs. “It’s not going to better society. It’s going to denigrate it.”
Standish states this as fact, and offers no evidence to support it. But of course he feels that way; members of his organization stand to lose millions of dollars in grants which they receive for arresting and ruining the lives of people who have committed no offense against society.
Mr. Standish said: “We have a hard enough time now with drunk drivers on the road. This is just going to add to the problems.”
Except that the act specifically prohibits the use of marijuana while driving, among other things.
He added: “I cannot think of one crime scene I’ve been to where people said, ‘Thank God the person was just under the influence of marijuana.’ ”
He's probably never been to a crime scene where he was thankful that the perpetrator wore black shoes, or had a hat on, or had taken aspirin for a headache either. Should we outlaw everything that Mr. Standish has never been thankful for?

The War on Americans Who Use Drugs has been an abject failure. It's becoming more and more apparent to people every day, especially to people who don't use drugs. I believe that opposition to it is reaching a critical mass. Polls consistently show the highest percentages of people ever who favor legalization and taxation. More and more states are passing medical marijuana laws, and voters are realizing that the world is not ending. The federal government is running massive deficits while state budgets (especially California's) are in utter disarray, and voters who wouldn't otherwise care are starting to notice the hundreds of billions of dollars we have wasted over the years. People who believe in freedom are starting to question why the United States has far and away the highest incarceration rates in the world. And they are realizing that, for all of that, people who want drugs can still get them whenever they want.

Even if you accept the ludicrous arguments against drug use at face value (marijuana is dangerous, addictive, and makes people prone to violence, for example), it is becoming readily apparent that it just doesn't matter, because people are using them anyway.

I believe that in five years, marijuana will be legalized federally, and most states will have followed suit. There might be a few holdouts (Utah comes to mind), but their position will become increasingly untenable as the supply of federal funding will begin to dry up.

And I think that five years is on the conservative side.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

They Have No Shame

The Huffington Post reports:
On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee was forced to cancel a hearing as was the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) tweeted today : "Disappointed. Rs refusing to allow hearings today. Had to cancel my oversight hearing on police training contracts in Afghanistan."
Sen. Mark Udall also complained that he had to delay a hearing on the cause of Western forest fires.

Republicans just have no shame. This is no less than an abdication of their duties as representatives of the citizens of their respective states. The United States Congress has a job to do. If they really are going to refuse to govern, then the honorable thing to do would be to resign en masse. How can they continue to justify their lavish salaries, their gold-played government health care, and their expensive pensions when they won't even do their freaking job?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This Explains Everthing

This New York Times story provides a rather illuminating quote about the passage of health care reform:
“There is no downside for Republicans,” Michael Steele, theRepublican National Committee chairman, said Monday in an interview. “Only for Americans.”
I think what he is saying is clear. In America's "newspaper of record", the Chairman of the Republican National Committee is acknowledging that Republicans are not only not "Real Americans", but in fact not Americans at all.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Journalism In Action

The New York Times has finally addressed their sorry performance in reporting on the James O'Keefe scandal, in which he falsely claimed that he dressed a pimp and was assisted by Acorn in setting up a brothel for underage girls. The tapes were heavily edited, and Acorn has been cleared of any criminal activity. The Times took all of these claims at face value, and printed numerous stories which uncritically repeated what O'Keefe claimed. After mounting criticism of their lax reporting standards, the Times finally responded through its public editor, Clark Hoyt, who writes today:

Here is what I found: O’Keefe almost certainly did not go into the Acorn offices in the outlandish costume — fur coat, goggle-like sunglasses, walking stick and broad-brimmed hat — in which he appeared at the beginning and end of most of his videos. It is easy to see why The Times and other news organizations got a different impression. At one point, as the videos were being released, O’Keefe wore the get-up on Fox News, and a host said he was “dressed exactly in the same outfit he wore to these Acorn offices.” He did not argue.
That's right - The New York Times, America's newspaper of record, is excusing their false and libelous reporting with this claim: "But we saw it on Fox News!"

Apparently, the budget cuts at the Grey Lady have led them to suspend any actual real journalism and resulted in their reporting staff simply transcribing Fox and Friends.

It's beyond me how anyone can take this newspaper seriously at this point.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Just Speculatin'

The information coming out the collapse of Lehman Brothers is astonishing. The bottom line is the current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was at least guilty of gross incompetence in ignoring the looming crisis, and mostly likely complicit in manipulating markets by covering it up. I wrote about that here, and Naked Capitalism, among others, has covered it here and here.

Geithner deserved to be fired before this, and these new revelations will make that even more apparent. But I doubt that Obama wants to do anything drastic during the run up to passing his signature health care  for fear of jeopardizing the process.

But that process will be over this weekend. What then? Will the administration finally do the right thing and start making some real changes? 

I sure hope so.

Young Friedmans

The freaks (freakonomists?) who think the world can be explained by theories alone are getting excited about this:

What would the world look like if economists were in charge? In the meantime, a charter school organization in Arizona offers a glimpse at what the educational system would look like if economists were in charge. The BASIS Educational Group, run by two economists, requires every 8th-grade student to take a year’s worth of economics. Many BASIS students, who are all required to take at least six AP exams before graduation, go on to take AP Economics in 9th grade, and average a 4 (out of 5) on their AP exams. 

This is a great idea! We don’t have enough people running around wedded to the hubris of their economic thinking. Why wait until these kids are in college to turn them into brainwashed free-market zombies? They could be ignoring empirical data and reality right now!

You Want Choice In Health Care? Here You Go...

We need to reform health care. We have two basic choices: the progressive choice and the right wing/elitist choice:

A. We can choose a system that has been thoroughly tested and works. Every other advanced nation in the world has managed to guarantee universal health care to all of its citizens, and they have done this at up to half the total cost or more than our current system. So we have any number of examples out there to choose from, all of which are more universal and efficient than what we have now. Some of them have been in place for over 100 years. They are proven, and they work.

B. We can try a free market health care system, which has never been tried in a modern advanced economy, and which all reputable economists and experts say will fail miserably at providing universal access and cost savings. It will require us to eliminate Medicare, Medicaid, the VA system, and all insurance, drug, and medical regulations of any kind. People who can't afford care will be left to die or at the mercy of charity hospitals. Insurers will be free to cancel your policy when you get injured or sick; your only remedy will be to sue them to reinstate it, which will hard to do when you're dead. Doctors and hospitals will be free to botch surgeries or mistreat patients without have to deal with pesky malpractice lawsuits. Insurers will write policies that only lawyers can understand, and which say in the fine print that you are covered only as much as they want you to be, and not a dollar more. Anyone with any serious preexisting condition will find themselves completely unable to buy insurance, which means that only the rich will be treated for expensive diseases. 

For your average American, this would be a complete and total disaster. But there is one group who would benefit from such a system: rich Republicans. You see, they run most of the insurance companies and hospitals and drug companies. They would make plenty of money, and so they would be able to afford the best care in the world. They wouldn't even have to share waiting rooms with poor people, or people of color, or any of the other untouchables who are not, as Sarah Palin puts it, "Real Americans."

So it's probably not surprising that rich Republicans oppose any meaningful reform. Oh, sure, the insurance industry is supporting the current bill, but that's only because they helped write it, and made sure that it included provisions to force all Americans to buy their product. So their free-market philosophy was abandoned as soon as they realized that they could make even more money by forcing Americans to buy crappy policies that would never really pay out. They figured that was a hell of a lot better than the European models, which take it for granted that insurance companies should be non-profit at a minimum, and non-existent as an ideal.

Everyone, even Republicans, agree that our system is broken and needs to change. Progressives and, as polls consistently show, most Americans, want option A. Rich Republicans, the corporate medical/industrial complex, and Tea Baggers who believe people should have to die before getting "handouts" want option B.

Go ahead, pick one.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This Means War!

Fred Barnes serves up a big plate of crap entitled "The Health Care Wars Are Only Just Beginning":

On Dec. 7, 1941, an announcement was made during the football game between the hometown Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles. All the generals and admirals at Griffith Stadium were instructed to report to their duty stations. Little did they know their lives would be changed forever and America would be at war, or on war footing, for the next half-century. Pearl Harbor had been attacked.

This was indeed a historic occasion. Few events have changed the course of American history the way that WWII did. You might add to that list the American Revolution, The Civil War, WWI, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam and 9/11 (and it's subsequent decade-long wars). 

Apparently, Fred Barnes would add a government reform of health care to that list.

America will be in a constant health-care war if ObamaCare is enacted. 

Will this war involve tanks, guns, bombs and widespread slaughter like WWII?

Passage wouldn't end the health-care debate. Rather, it would perpetuate ObamaCare as the dominant issue for decades to come, reshape politics, create an annual funding crisis in Congress, and generate a spate of angry lawsuits. Yet few in Washington seem aware of what lies ahead.

One can see this from an examination of the other countries that have reformed their health care. Canada, for example, has fought a bloody and disastrous civil war ever since they implemented the original Medicare, guaranteeing health care for all its citizens, who were so angry at this affront to their dignity that they stormed Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

 The Swiss have been so busy fighting in the aftermath of their health care reform that they haven't even had the chance to enjoy their status as the world's leader in per capita wealth, and have even been forced to curtail their production of fine timepieces and cheese. The United States will be so busy fighting its own health care civil war that it will never again address another issue (with the obvious exception of a periodic examination of that Communist Obama's birthplace.)

We only have to look at Great Britain to get a glimpse of the future. The National Health Service—socialized medicine—was created in 1946 and touted as the envy of the world. 

And at the time, it was, although since then there is reason to believe that the Canadian, French and German systems may now be better. 

It's been a contentious issue ever since. Its cost and coverage are perennial subjects of debate. 

This is terrible. They instituted this system in 1946. Why didn't they just set all the rules and funding levels in place for eternity? It's obvious that the NHS wasn't created perfectly; therefore it must be evil.

The press, especially England's most popular newspaper, The Daily Mail, feasts on reports of long waiting periods, dirty hospitals, botched care and denied access to treatments.

This is shocking. A conservative tabloid newspaper finds things it doesn't like about a universal health care program? Well, that settles it.

A Conservative member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, last year in an interview on Fox News denounced the NHS as a "60-year mistake," declaring he "wouldn't wish it on anybody." 

Daniel Hannan said this? He also said this about Iceland:

 "In the ten years that I have been travelling to Iceland, I have watched an economic miracle unfold there"

Iceland, of course, is the country whose economy completely and spectacularly collapsed recently, with its stock market losing 90% of its value and its banking system suffering the worst relative losses of any country on earth. On the other hand, he was a guest on Fox News, where -surprise!- Fred Barnes also works.

As prime minister, Margaret Thatcher bravely cut NHS spending in the 1980s, but current Tory leaders regard criticism of the NHS as too risky. "The Conservative Party stands four square behind the NHS," its leader, David Cameron, said in response to Mr. Hannan.

I wonder why British conservatives are afraid to criticize NHS? Oh, right. Because, though not perfect, it is wildly popular, and the Brits pretty universally qualify their criticism of it by saying something like "At least we don't have the American system!".

Also, pointing out that both major British political parties support the NHS unequivocally is a strange way of arguing that people don't like it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes ObamaCare would have a more congenial fate—that it will become as popular as Social Security and Medicare with voters. She's kidding herself. Social Security and Medicare were popular from the start and passed with bipartisan support. 

That's because back then you didn't have crazed right wing operatives like Fred Barnes comparing Medicare to WWII. 

ObamaCare is unpopular and partisan. It's extremely controversial. Its passage is far more likely to spark a political explosion than a wave of acceptance.

Here, Barnes omits the fact that it's unpopular and controversial because he and his employer, Fox News, have led the charge to make it a worse bill than it could have been, and because they have been telling their viewers that there are provisions in it that will mandate that all grandmas be killed immediately upon passage. (Grandpas are, curiously, exempt. I'm surprised they haven't latched on to the obvious gender discrimination.)

Democratic leaders believe the public doesn't focus on the process of how legislation is enacted. But in this case they're wrong. I've been amazed at how many people understand "reconciliation"—a process that allows budget and spending bills to pass in the Senate with only 51 votes, instead of 60. 

Fred, I'm sure you're amazed at how many of your friends, who are all right wing pundits, have an understanding of how reconciliation works. I can assure you that most of my friends -who are too busy trying to make ends meet and praying they don't get injured or sick- don't give a fuck.

Many voters are also now studying the details of the "Slaughter solution," which would allow the House to "deem" the Senate health-care bill to have passed without actually voting on it and then to vote through changes to the Senate bill. These legislative shortcuts are already infuriating ObamaCare's opponents.

Yes, Fred, many millions of voters are undoubtedly spending their half-hour lunch breaks engrossed in a detailed examination of the ins and outs of a technical procedure in which the majority of the members Congress passes legislation in a process known to these voters as "democracy".

If ObamaCare passes, sooner or later the backlash against it would morph into a movement to repeal it. Republicans would likely make repeal a top issue in congressional elections this November. The GOP is expected to win a substantial number of seats in Congress this fall. If Republicans take control of the House or Senate or both, clashes over health care would be unavoidable.

I guess that this "democratic process" is not really familiar to Barnes. You see, Fred, in a democracy, the majority passes laws. If the voters don't like the laws, they vote the majority our and vote in people that will repeal the laws. So what is your argument against health care reform? That it will involve debate?

Assuming it passes, ObamaCare wouldn't go into effect fully until 2013. This fact alone would make the health-care plan a paramount issue in the 2012 presidential race, regardless of whether Mr. Obama is on the ballot. As long as he's president, Mr. Obama would surely veto legislation to repeal or gut ObamaCare. With a Republican in the White House things would be different. Republicans might be successful in dismantling the program.

Well, if people hate it so much, this will work out great for you. They will vote Obama out.

But Democrats wouldn't give up. Having gone to great lengths to enact ObamaCare, they'd go all out to protect it or revive it. Mrs. Pelosi is already talking about expanding ObamaCare. She favors adding a "public option" to compete with private insurers. "Once we kick through this door [and pass it], there'll be more legislation to follow," she told liberal bloggers on Monday.

And since you have presented no argument against a public option on the merits, we have to assume that this fight will be dragged out because Republicans just like political fights. It makes them feel like warriors, you see.

So the struggle would go on and on. If you think the fights over funding of Medicare and Medicaid in recent years have been unpleasant, wait until the funding battles over ObamaCare start. It's all but inevitable that they would occur every year given the way Mr. Obama has proposed to finance his health-care program.

Yes, the debates are unpleasant. No one likes being accuses of wanting to kill grandma, or of imposing a totalitarian health care dictatorship, or of being a proponent of the fourth Nazi Reich. But unpleasantry is a necessary by-product of a system in which you allow morons like Fred Barnes to have a voice.

ObamaCare low-balls its cost and exaggerates the means for paying for it. "Our proposal is paid for," the president insisted in a speech in Ohio on Monday. It's not. The financing includes billions that are obligated elsewhere. It claims to cut the budget deficit by $118 billion but achieves this by borrowing hundreds of billions more.

Does it cut the budget deficit or not? The CBO said today that the plan would reduce the deficit by $138 billion dollars of the next 10 years. Do you have some other information that the CBO is not aware of?

Who cares if it achieves that by borrowing money? This borrowing is reflected in the CBO analysis. It saves $138 billion over ten years. For someone who harps on the deficit continuously, you'd think this would be important.

At the same time, Mr. Obama's plan offers a cornucopia of new benefits: free preventive care, coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed issue, no lifetime or annual benefit caps, and subsidies for insuring 30 million people now uninsured. All of this would increase the use of health-care services. 

Yes, it will increase the use of health care services. This is the whole fucking point. 45,000 people a year die in the United States because they don't have access to health care. The best thing about this bill is that it increases the use of health care. The fact that it does that while saving money is just a bonus.

The tendency is to underestimate just how large this increase might be. This was true with Medicare and Medicaid, whose costs have ballooned far beyond initial projections. 

Yes they have, because all health care costs have ballooned, because Republicans have refused to reform the system. Medicare and Medicaid have had crazy costs increases, but the increases in the private sector have been even worse.

The annual struggles in Congress over funding for ObamaCare would be intense.

Here you go again, worrying about these intense struggles. Well, guess what? That is what Congress gets paid to do; debate, argue, fight over things and make hard decisions. It's their freaking job. Get over it.

The courts would also get involved. In anticipation of passage of the president's health-care plan, three states—Virginia, Idaho and Utah—have passed laws to nullify ObamaCare's mandate that everyone purchase health insurance. Other states are expected to follow suit. Arizona voters will decide the matter in a referendum in November. Ultimately, federal judges would decide if these state laws are constitutional. Other issues would also end up in court. That includes the constitutionality of the process that Democrats used to pass ObamaCare. We could expect years of litigation.

What's your point? This is how the system works. Virtually every law passed by Congress could be challenged in court. Does that mean we should shut Congress down? I realize that Republicans are trying to do this already, but fortunately most voters aren't in favor of paying some $4.5 billion for a Congress that's too lazy to do anything but push the "no" button.

Enacting ObamaCare would be only the beginning. The controversy surrounding its passage and how it might work would preoccupy the president, Congress and millions of average Americans for the foreseeable future—and then some.

So, to sum it up, we shouldn't pass health care reform. Not because it won't work, or because it's not needed, or because a failure to fix it won't result in the bankruptcy of our nation, but because it's hard work and someone's feeling might get hurt.

Also, because it will probably start a third world war. Or something.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself

I don't think they got that memo. I can't wait to have these guys running the country.

I believe this is what that guy meant to say:
It's really pathetic that a guy with Parkinson's won't get up off of his lazy ass and get a job! You don't see Muhammed Ali or Michael J Fox asking for handouts, do you? This guy should just take responsibility for his disease and suck it up. No one forced him to get Parkinson's. It's not our fault that he can't walk. 
If we give him health care, what's next? Government health care for the elderly? It's just un-American. Next thing you know, they'll be getting rid of Medicare and replacing it with government health insurance for the old. That will be the end of the America as we know it.
But just to show you that it's not that I'm selfish, watch me take a couple bucks out of my wallet and throw it in this sick man's face. There! See? I'm not a hard-hearted bastard after all, am I?

Obama Promises Progressives A Public Option While Promising the Insurance Industry There Won't Be One.

Guess who he was lying to?

Here's a transcript from last night's Ed Schultz show on MSNBC: (H/T Mike Mogulescu)

SCHULTZ: Obviously, we need to pass this health care bill. There‘s a lot of Americans that would be affected. I am bothered by this deal the White House cut with the health care industry and big insurance. Here‘s a quote from a top industry lobbyist. It was reported in “the New York Times” back on August 13th, when the Tea Parties were going on. Quote, “we have an agreement with the White House, and I‘m very confident will be seen all the way through conference. We trust the White House. We are confident that the Senate Finance Committee bill will produce a bill we fully can endorse.” 
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Well, that‘s a lobbyist for the hospital industry. He‘s talking about the hospital industry specific deal with the White House and Senate Finance Committee. I thought, yeah, I think the hospital industry has a deal here. 
There really were only two deals. Meaning quid pro quo, handshake, commitment on both sides deals. One with the hospitals and one with the drug industry. I think what you‘re interested is that in the background of both of these deals was the presumption, shared on the part of lobbyists on one side and the White House on other, that the public option was not going to be part of the final product. 
I have written in the past that President Obama is lying to progressives and promising he will do everything he can to include a public option. And yet it seems very likely that he made an agreement with the health care industry -before this process even began-to work to ensure that there was no public option.
Well, if you promise one thing to one group, and the opposite to another, someone is going to get screwed. And it's painfully obvious that it won't be the insurance companies. Which leaves progressives, and ultimately, the American public.

Obama is blatantly operating in bad faith. Progressives wanted single payer. They were told they would have to settle for the public option. They were told the president would fight for it. The Democratic leadership promised they would fight for it. The president and the leadership lied. There is no other way around it. They got the bill they wanted, and it's a pile of crap.

Mike Mogulescu writes this:
Whenever I write blogs which are critical of Obama and Congressional Democrats for making corporatist deals, I get numerous comments from people who believe they are progressive but say they will never vote for Obama or Democrats again, that they will stay home at the next election, or that they will vote for small third parties who have no chance of winning. It's not my intent to encourage those views. Do people making these comments really think bringing Republicans back to power would make things better?
My goal is to shine a light on these backroom deals in order to embarrass Obama and Congressional Democrats to put the interests of the voters over the interests of special interests so that Republicans can't play at being faux populists and use that to take back Congress in order to enact even worse corporatist policies.
I appreciate Mike's willingness to criticize the Democrats for acting like Republicans. But I hope he isn't pinning too much hope on the tactic of embarrassing the Democrats. It appears they have no shame.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

McCain, Leiberman, and Gestapo Government

Senators John McCain and Joe Leiberman have just introduced legislation that would allow the United States military to  arrest any American citizen, at their discretion, for anything that resembles a terrorist act, and to imprison them forever, without any access to a lawyer, and without a trial. And, presumably, to torture them.

This is perhaps the most disgusting and anti-American bill I have ever seen. It quite literally would allow the use of the exact same tactics that the KGB and the Gestapo employed. It violates everything that America stands for, and is in direct violation of the Constitution of the United States.

If this bill had been the law in 1996, Richard Jewel (the Olympic security guard hero who saved the lives of many people but was initially suspected of being a bomber) would have been arrested, thrown into a military prison, denied a lawyer or any contact with the outside world, interrogated and tortured, denied a trial, and died alone and terrified in some black hole prison. 

If nothing else, this bill is a stark reminder of the moral depravity of Senators McCain and Leiberman. And if the reaction of the American people is not a swift and unconditional condemnation, then the same will apply to us.

OpenCongress has more here.

Drug Terrorism

Connor from submitted this excellent video, which I present without further ado.

There is no question that these killings constitute terrorism, and there can be no doubt that United States drug policy is creating and sustaining these terrorist groups. The death toll dwarfs that of 9/11, and the killings are often carried out in the most brutal and torturous manner (beheading, disemboweling, and dissolving victims alive in acid), and yet Americans consider these victims of our drug war to be little more than an afterthought. 

But even for those who believe that one American's life is worth that of a thousand Mexicans, it is impossible to ignore the danger of intentionally breeding massive terrorist groups in a neighboring country with which we share an extremely porous border. Drug terrorism has already spilled across the border, and it will only get worse as the Mexican government is rapidly losing any semblance of control over the situation. 

The solution is simple. Legalize drugs. And I don't just mean marijuana. Our drug policy has succeeded in doing only one thing-creating the largest and most lucrative black market in the history of the world. The violence associated with it has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and many more have died as a result of disease and overdose from using dangerous products that are sold without even the most basic regulation we expect from aspirin. Instead of selling drugs from a regulated pharmacy, we are empowering criminals to sell drugs, and these criminals have no compunction about selling drugs to children, or murdering to protect their turf.

We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars, imprisoned millions, gotten countless people killed and ruined countless more lives.

And for all of this, we have not reduced drug use one whit.

Mr. President, end this war!

Monday, March 15, 2010

At Least One Congressman Gets It

Ok, Alan Grayson for president!

That $3 trillion dollars probably could have paid for the health insurance of the 45,000 Americans who die each year because they don't have any. But at least the oil companies are making money and Israel can keep building settlements.

Grayson forgot one benefit of the war. We removed the only regional counterweight to Iran, which has allowed Iran to become stronger and more belligerent. This, of course, is not a benefit, but it does give some neo-con artists an excuse to bomb the hell out of Iran, which, while disastrous for the United States, would excite them in a sick way. And so they probably consider that a benefit.

More Drug Killings

This time traffickers are targeting people connected to the US consulate:
CNN) -- Three people connected to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, were killed in two drive-by shootings, a senior White House official told CNN Sunday.
Two of the victims were an American employee at the consulate and her U.S. citizen husband. Their 1-year-old child, who was in a vehicle with the couple at the time of the shooting, survived the incident, according to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
The American couple were found dead inside a white Toyota RAV4 with Texas license plates, according to the Chihuahua state attorney general's office.
The woman was shot in the neck and left arm, while the man had a bullet wound near his right eye, officials said.
The Obama administration's response was predictable:
"These appalling assaults on members of our own State Department family are, sadly, part of a growing tragedy besetting many communities in Mexico," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement Sunday night. "They underscore the imperative of our continued commitment to work closely with the Government of (Mexican) President (Felipe) Calderón to cripple the influence of trafficking organizations at work in Mexico."
Right. In other words, they promise to do what they can to stop the influence of drug cartels, as long as that means they don't have to do anything politically risky.

These cartels are a direct product of American drug policy. If drugs were legal, these cartels would not exist. And these people would not have been brutally murdered.

Our drug policy is clearly counterproductive, immoral and unjust. The president undoubtedly knows this. And yet he refuses to even discuss changing the policy because he is afraid that conservatives will label him "soft on crime."

In the meantime, tens of thousands of Mexican citizens have died, America imprisons people at rates which would make Iran and China blush, tens of billions of dollars are wasted each year, an entire generation of minorities is relegated to second-class citizen status for life, and people still use drugs at the same rate they did before the War On Drug Users. But Obama won't even consider changing any of this because it might hurt his chances for a second term.

Yes sir- Change We Can Believe In!

Hiding Behind Reporters

From an NYT story:

With results still trickling in slowly from Iraq’s parliamentary elections last week and no clear winners likely to emerge anytime soon, public frustration here seems to be growing. American officials have privately expressed concern that even a fair election might be made to appear unfair.
No, they have not.They have done no such thing. You cannot express something privately on the front page of the New York Times. Which American officials are these? Why won't they give their names? What happened to the NYT's policy of not using anonymous sources unless absolutely necessary?

Read that last sentence again:

American officials have privately expressed concern that even a fair election might be made to appear unfair.
This is written to imply that the elections were fair, would make a casual reader assume that they were, and that evidence to the contrary is just coincidental and unfortunate.

And maybe that's true. But we will never get to ask that question of this person, because the NYT has agreed to give them anonymity for no reason, and against their own policy.

My new policy will be to automatically assume that anyone who speaks off the record without a good reason (and that reason had better be explained in the story), is lying, period.

Therefore, when I read this story I assume that this election is rife with fraud, and that that is the probable cause of the delay.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tricky Dick Fuld

The Lehman Brothers post-mortem is finally complete, and it's not pretty. Examiner Anton Valukas, while stopping short of declaring a finding of criminal fraud, has found plenty of evidence of it. From the NYT:
According to the report, Lehman used what amounted to financial engineering to temporarily shuffle $50 billion of assets off its books in the months before its collapse in September 2008 to conceal its dependence on leverage, or borrowed money. Senior Lehman executives, as well as the bank’s accountants at Ernst & Young, were aware of the moves, according to Mr. Valukas, the chairman of the law firm Jenner & Block and a former federal prosecutor, who filed the report in connection with Lehman’s bankruptcy case.
The intent here was to deceive regulators and shareholders. Lehman used a very questionable type of repo transaction to hide these liabilities. It was so obviously against the intent of the safety regulations that they could not find an American law firm to sign off on it. Instead, they went to London and got a British firm to give them an OK.

There were three parties involved in this deception: Lehman executives, Ernst & Young, and the New York Fed.

The NY Fed, of course, was run by Timothy Geithner, who is currently the Treasury Secretary. Either he knew about this and ignored it, or he was so grossly incompetent that he didn't know. Neither is an excuse.  He allowed an insolvent company to hide its insolvency while middle class pension funds invested in its stock and bonds. When Lehman collapsed, a lot of retirees were among the people who took the big hit. Geithner must resign.

Ernst & Young is yet another accounting firm following in the proud footsteps of Arthur Andersen, the company that enabled Enron to commit massive fraud. There is a real problem with our auditing system. Accounting firms are auditing the companies that pay them; this sets up an obvious and inherent conflict of interest which results in firms like Ernst & Young abdicating their duty to protect taxpayers and investors from fraud, and instead actively sanctioning whatever shady activity will earn management the most in bonuses this year.

Valukas found that Lehman CEO Dick Fuld was "at least grossly negligent."  But Fuld's lawyer claims that he “did not know what those transactions were — he didn’t structure or negotiate them, nor was he aware of their accounting treatment.” 

This is ludicrous. These transactions hid nearly $50 billion worth of bad assets. They were the only thing keeping Lehman Brothers afloat. Dick Fuld made nearly a half a billion dollars during his career at Lehman, and averaged nearly $64 million a year in the six years preceding his firm's demise. For someone who makes that much money, you'd think he'd have some fucking idea where $50 billion dollars went. It's not a small amount of money. It's more than the combined value of the entire economies of Albania, Nepal, Cambodia, Haiti and Nicaragua, countries which are populated by some 60 million human beings. 

Of course when it comes time to get paid, these Masters of the Universe believe that they are truly irreplaceable, "doing God's work", and worth every million they make. But when they destroy the economy and we try to hold them responsible, they suddenly claim they spent their entire tenure in the corporate bathroom, and that it's someone else's fault. Well, I don't buy that. For a half billion dollars in compensation, your job is to know these things. Here's hoping Tricky Dick Fuld gets charged with crimes; civil fines aren't going to hurt him in the least.

This should get interesting, as more information starts coming out. A year and a half after the financial collapse, and the destruction of trillions of dollars of middle class net worth, there have been virtually no arrests or investigations. There is absolutely no doubt that fraud was committed countless times and in countless ways, but no one has been held accountable. The executives are still there and collecting their bonus checks. The regulators are still there, or have been promoted to Cabinet posts like Geithner. The accountants are still looking the other way and taking money to do it. 

Maybe this report will finally convince the Justice Department to get involved. Congress seems to be too busy trying to cut unemployment benefits for the people who got screwed out of their jobs in this whole mess.

Yves Smith has more here.