Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Media should get it right before they make false claims about the President's polling number..

From heading the headlines you'd think that Republicans were poised to take over the government in 2010. They keep talking about 'Obama's plummeting approval ratings,' or about 'crumbling support,' or various other ways of saying the same thing.

Only that isn't true, and it hasn't been true in at least six weeks.

It is true that between about the last week of June and mid August the President dropped about eight percent in his approval rating, which had been running around 60%in most polls.

A funny thing has happened since then, however for those naysayers who only want to report on his 'declining numbers.'

The funny thing is that according to the RCP average the polls have practically not changed at all in about six weeks. On August 18, the President's approval ran at about 52.0% and his disapproval number was 41.0%. Today it was 52.5% to 40.5% approval-- no change (a half a percent move in the President's direction is not enough to be statistically significant, even in a 'poll of polls' as the RCP average is.) Moreover, the President has enjoyed at least a bare majority supporting him every single day since the start of his term. His disapproval number, which peaked at 44% a couple of weeks ago on September 13, has now dropped by a statistically significant 3.5%.

I know, I know. "President maintains a solid lead in the polls" makes for more boring news copy than "President's poll numbers drop like a rock." But if I read one more story about the President'd declining popularity I think I'm going to puke-- mainly because it is categorically not true.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Jon Kyl thinks insurance shouldn't cover maternity

Hat tip to Rum, Romanism and Rebellion: And they wonder why they have a gender gap

This is our very own Senator from Arizona and the Senate Republican whip, complaining that his insurance plan (which he is part of a pool that includes females) covers maternity.

Is it any wonder, when Republicans keep electing chauvinists like Senator Kyl to their leadership, why women have voted more and more heavily Democratic over the years?

I hope he will write a thank you letter to female members of his insurance pool next time he gets a prostate exam.

Arizona appelate court gets it wrong on signature requirement

An Arizona court has ruled that signature requirements no longer have any meaning in terms of ballot petitions.

The Court of Appeals acknowleged that there is plenty of evidence that rep. Russ Jones (R-Yuma) was not present while people signed his nominating petition but then signed the statement on the back swearing that he was present. Jones was at the time running for the state Senate, a race that he eventually lost to Senator Aguirre.

The court in effect says that it is OK to make a false statement on a nominating petition, despite very clear language on the back stating that by signing the petitioner certfies that (s)he was present.

The legislature should make it very clear that the person who signs the back is in fact the person who was present when the signatures were collected. Otherwise this could open elections up to all kinds of shenanigans. For example, if someone working for a candidate simply went through voter registration rolls and forged the signatures of voters, under what law will that person now be prosecuted? If the completed petitions are then handed to the candidate, who signs them (as apparently happened in this case) then the candidate personally would have no knowlege of which if any signatures were forged.

This case will be appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court and they will hopefully overturn it. If not, then we may as well throw signature requirements out the window.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Men who are not police force a protester into a car and drive off in Pittsburgh

These are not police. They are wearing camouflage, NOT police uniforms. The vehicle that this protester is wrestled into (without being read any rights or any other statements) is NOT a police car.

There were certainly scuffles between police and protesters around the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh today but this 'arrest' (I don't know if you could call it that) is something new, something sinister.

Paramilitary squads now operating openly in the United States. Keep in mind that in other countries in the not-so-distant past, paramilitary squads did things the police could not do, including torture, murder and 'disappear' people.

I don't know if this was a leftist or a rightist protester, nor do I know who sent out the goon squad or what their agenda is. It doesn't matter. If they can do this to him, they can do it to you or to me.

UPDATE: Some chatter around the internet suggests that these MAY be members of the Pennsylvania National Guard. If they are and are operating under federal authority then that would be a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of federal troops (including federalized national guard) to conduct police operations within the United States. If they are national guard troops and if they were operating under the direction of Governor Ed Rendell then they have the legal right to act, but the method of arrest in which the protester was not read his rights and was wrestled into a car which then departed for an undisclosed location is still of questionable legality.

They don't call it, 'Cracker Barrel' for nothing.

Tasha Hill, a black woman and an army reservist was leaving a Cracker Barrel restaurant in suburban Atlanta when Troy Dale West almost smacked her seven year old daughter with a door.

She told him that she did not appreciate his action, and he responded by beating her badly, using the 'n' word and the 'b' word repeatedly as he pounded her with closed fists.

What is amazing is that there were a fairly large number of customers outside but not one bothered to intervene (though they did tell the police what they saw.)

What is even more amazing and disturbing was the tenor of the interview that Hill and her lawyer got from CNN. They were repeatedly asked whether she 'provoked' the attack.


Excuse me, but how the heck could she have 'provoked' this attack? Although Hill says that all she did was tell him bluntly that she did not appreciate the way he nearly slammed the door on her daughter, it really doesn't matter what she said. Nothing she COULD have said (though witnesses said she didn't say or do anything 'provocative') could possibly justify a brutal assault that still has her nursing bruises a week after the attack. It's that simple. He has no right to physically assault her no matter what she said to him. what is disgusting is that she and her lawyer were even asked if she 'provoked' him. I guess since the victim is a black woman and the perpetrator is a white man the white men doing the interview simply assume that he must have been 'provoked.' It's an outrage that anyone even has to ask about this. I'm not sure that we shouldn't just retire the term, at least when talking about human beings (yeah, you can 'provoke' an animal to attack but humans are supposed to be more highly evolved than animals, though maybe not in Mr. West's case.)

Beyond this, there is something more that is troubling about this as well. It's that the restaurant where this happened was a Cracker Barrel. In this case the restaurant clearly bears no responsibility for Mr. West's actions although the people who failed to intervene were presumably customers on their way in or out. But Cracker Barrel does have a disturbing recent history of racism. Even into the twenty-first century they have practiced de facto segregation such as forcing black customers to sit in the smoking section (including those black customers who don't smoke.) Even Chris Rock's mother has experienced racist treatment at a Cracker Barrel, only three years ago.

So it may well be that there is an undercurrent to this attack: Troy West represents exactly the demographic that Cracker Barrel seeks to attract. Keep in mind that even the name is vaguely racist. "Crackers" (derived from 'whip-crackers,' a term that hearkens back to the worst memories of slavery) were the young southern men who during the worst of the Jim Crow days would keep blacks 'in their place.'

Monday, September 21, 2009

Recycling last month's news is better for their agenda

Last month the right got all the headlines going their way. They got to talk about 'the President's plummeting approval ratings, and 'outrage expressed at town halls,' and similar kinds of things to suggest that there was some kind of a national groundswell building for a defeat of health care legislation, which would in turn doom the Obama Presidency. As further evidence they cited the fact that Republican challengers were leading by about fifteen points in Governor's races in both New Jersey and Virginia.

And I agree, it was a bruising August for the President and Democrats' agenda to reform health care.

This month, the news is a bit different.

Let's start with the President's approval rating. Using the RCP average (more accurate because it is a 'poll of polls' while any one poll can be an outlier and be wrong): As of this morning it stands at Obama approval 53.4%, disapproval 41.1%. This is virtually the same as it stood a month ago. In other words, any news about 'plummeting approval ratings' is just plain old news. It declined very slightly between a month ago and Obama's speech to Congress and that slight decline has since been reversed. So if anything about his approval rating is news it is that it is holding remarkably steady, and further that the President has never fallen below 50% support in the RCP average. In addition to that the 53% support he has now is exactly the same support he had on election day. So those who support him by and large still support him, and the reverse also true of those who oppose him (well, not perfectly so, the President's disapproval rate is still five points less than John McCain got on election day so if anything it suggests that the President still rates slightly higher than he did on election day.

What about the 'tea party rallies?' Well, there are some people who have been stirred up like a nest of hornets to attend these events. The town hall I went to held by Congresswoman Kirkpatrick in Holbrook on September 3 included people who have been to more than one townhall with multiple congresspersons (and readily admitted to it.) Well, the memo did say, 'inflate your numbers.' And yes, a crowd estimated at 60,000 to 70,000 made it to Washington on a Saturday to protest. This number was exaggerated by a factor of thirty by some righty blogs (though Michelle Malkin, the most prominent, later published a 'clarification'.) If you really want to see what a crowd of 2,000,000 looked like in Washington look at aerial photos of this year's inauguration. Heck, Obama drew crowds during the campaign (like in Portland Oregon or St. Louis) that were bigger than last week's tea party protest, and keep in mind that he was inaugurated last January. It was a Tuesday (therefore a workday) and really cold and still a real two million showed up. Yes there are some righties who are so outraged they drive to every townhall they can get to so they can go back in and express their outrage again but keep in mind it is mostly the same people, not a 'groundswell of support.'

And Virginia and New Jersey? Well, the Republican candidates are still ahead but both races have now tightened into the single digits. In other words, if there is any momentum in either race right now then it is with Mr. Corzine and Mr. Deeds, not their opponents who have both seen 15 point polling leads cut in half over the past two or three weeks.

That hasn't stopped Republicans like spinmeister Frank Luntz from trying to keep last month's story going with yesterday's article helpfully analying the 'rage,' as if it was sweeping the country right now or Fred Barnes from claiming that Republicans are taking over Virginia again or even in one of the local papers from seeing this story written last week by Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute in which he still uses the term, 'plummeting approval ratings for the President.'

Maybe they are in a time warp. Last month's news is like an aphrodisiac for the GOP and their supporters and it's understandable they'd want to put that news cycle in front of readers and TV viewers again, but well, that's so..... last month.

I've heard of recycling newspapers but I will object when they try to recycle last month's news itself.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A century already, and the GOP still wants 'more time?'

Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal is the latest to publish the notion that the President should hit the 'reset' button on health care. This notion, pushed by Republicans, is that if he and Democratic leaders simply threw out everything that has been done already and returned to the table on health care reform, they could come up with a wonderful, bipartisan bill that would make everyone happy.

Only I don't believe that this would happen. The real test of how the GOP would react to the Obama administration came back in the first few weeks as Congress debated the stimulus plan. There was a palpable sense of urgency as the economy was in free fall and jobs were being lost at a record pace. Economists gave us dire warnings that if the Government did not put together a stimulus bill quickly then we would almost certainly face a second Great Depression.

Against this backdrop the President took the unusual step of going from the White House over to Capitol Hill and sitting down with Republican leaders to try and work something out. And in the end he did work out a 'bipartisan' bill, in which the original stimulus was shaved down by 20%, all funding for new school contruction was thrown out and he got a bill that is 43% tax cuts. After this, zero Republicans in the house and three in the Senate (including Arlen Specter, who has since become a Democrat) voted for it. In other words, Republicans, including many in the house, were happy to suggest compromises, many of which were included in the bill, but then they lined up and voted uniformly against it.

Given this history, do you really believe that the GOP would really negotiate in good faith on health care?

If you do, just ask Max Baucus. For months he and two other Democrats on the Finance Committee met with three Republicans on the committee, supposedly to work out a bipartisan compromise. Despite word back in late July that the group was nearing a 'consensus' and pressure from the Senate leadership to at least come up with a committee bill by the August recess, he at the request of the Republicans agreed to continue negotiating and come back after the recess. Then two of the three Republicans he had been talking to, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) both came out during the recess and all but pledged to vote against any bill.

Yeah, 'good faith' with these guys is a knife in the back. Baucus was duped into doing what they wanted-- delaying the bill-- and by the time he came back was essentially down to one Republican he might have been able to convince (Olympia Snowe of Maine.) Snowe couldn't support his compromise for other reasons (some of which I agree with, such as the fact that individuals might be forced to pay more than they could afford just to buy insurance.) However, it is clear now that the whole GOP strategy of delaying action on the bill was what was behind Grassley and Enzi even pretending to negotiate.

As far as taking more 'time' because it's better to 'get it right than just get something done' (lofty sounding words often spoken by Republican members of Congress) a bit of history is useful here. As President Obama mentioned in his speech last week, this effort to reform the U.S. health care system and give everyone coverage began under Theodore Roosevelt. That means that there is nobody alive today who was even an adult when this started. We know that's what happened in 1993-1994 also. Republicans asked for more 'time' to be spent on the legislation but even while they were asking for time they were attacking the whole concept of reform from every angle in a (successful) bid to kill it. Then, if the GOP was really interested in 'reform' they had six years when they had control of the House, Senate and White House when they could have done something if they wanted to. So the cry that we need to take more 'time' is disingenuous at best. Senator Jim DeMint made it clear that the GOP wants to make this "Obama's Waterloo." He could give them all the time in the world and they would use it to make sure he lost, not that anything meaningful got passed.

It does seem likely that we will have a bill passed by using reconciliation (probably meaning a more liberal bill; it will be much easier to pass a bill with the public option and be able to lose up to eight Democrats than it would be to pass a bill without the public option at this point since zero Republicans will vote for it either way.) If the use of the reconciliation process is unfortunate, then so is the fact that there does not seem to be any other path forward.

And the GOP has made it that way by blocking every other path.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A 'patriot,' but to what country?

Joe Wilson a 'patriot?' Maybe, but not to any cause I want to be a part of. As Joe Conason point out today, it seems that Mr. Wilson's image consultant is none other than Richard Quinn, who also directs other Republican campaigns in South Carolina.

In his spare time, Mr. Quinn publishes a periodical called the 'Southern Partisan.' Mainly, the magazine (besides advocating for the display of the Confederate flag, extolling the virtues of the Old South and trashing Martin Luther King) hates the President with a vengeance. No, I don't mean President Obama, I mean the sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln. Here is a t-shirt that Quinn has pushed now for some years:

(in case you forgot your history, 'sic semper tyrannis,' meaning 'and thus to tyrants' is what John Wilkes Booth cried moments after firing a bullet point blank into the back of President Lincoln's head.)

Well, I guess it's true then that Joe Wilson and his backers are 'patriots.' They just won't make it clear which country they are patriots too. After all, there are some people in the old South who to this day will remind you that the Confederacy never signed an official surrender document.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Brand, Swayze deaths cast new spotlight on pancreatic cancer

News is breaking that NCAA president Myles Brand died today from pancreatic cancer. Brand is best known as the man who fired Bobby Knight. He had little choice after putting the coach on probation after decades of Knight's increasingly bizarre and physically abusive behavior at the University of Indiana and specifically after Knight choked one of his players. Brand had to fire Knight while he was on probation after Knight grabbed a student (not one of his players) by the arm and lectured him. Brand then was elevated to president of the NCAA, and was by all accounts one of the more effective presidents of an organization that to many people provides a model of how a non-governmental entity can police itself and its own members.

Just last week, actor Patrick Swayze, who had gone public with his diagnosis, also died from pancreatic cancer. Swayze is best known for his roles in the hit movies Ghost and Dirty Dancing. He survived a fall from a horse in 1998 that broke several bones and went on to star in several more films. It's also worth noting that in an era when divorce is as common in Hollywood as product placement in movies, Swayze was married to his high school sweetheart, the former Lisa Niemi, for more than 34 years until his death.

2009 has cast a spotlight on pancreatic cancer more than any year in the past. Many Americans first heard of the disease in 2004, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs was diagnosed with it. Although he successfully underwent surgery that year, his health since then has been inconsistent and is the subject of much speculation. In January of this year, Jobs underwent a liver transplant (not directly caused by the pancreatic cancer, but of course any strain on the pancreas, which produces digestive enzymes results in an increased strain on the liver which produces bile and also helps with digestion.) Then in February Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then last week, Swayze died from pancreatic cancer.

I've known about it for several years because one of my friends (who I usually see only once or twice a year) survived pancreatic cancer several years ago. She has been very active in promoting pancreatic cancer research but it still doesn't get as much coverage as some other types of cancer.

The truth is though that most people who get the disease die of it. Survival rates have improved significantly for lung, breast and prostate cancer, all of which have received a lot of publicity (and the research money that goes along with publicity) for a long time. Thought pancreatic cancer accounts for just two percent of U.S. cancer diagnoses it accounts for six percent of deaths from cancer, in part because the survival rate is low (about 20% survive for five years, with Steve Jobs now joining my friend in that category.) Most patients are like Swayze and Brand, and do not survive the disease.


Baucus plan may fail in committee; reconciliation more likely

The last Republican who was working with Max Baucus on his vain attempt at producing a bipartisan bill in his Senate Finance committee, Olympia Snowe of Maine, has apparently given up on supporting Baucus' plan.

As I pointed out the other day, the Baucus plan is a bad one, featuring mandates that would drive up the cost of health care for poor people (and not enough offsetting tax credits, even for those who could afford to pay insurance premiums upfront in exchange for a tax credit next year.)

Snowe cited that objection (making her more reasonable on that point than Max Baucus) and also how the plan to tax expensive health plans would probably cost many of her constituents in Maine where insurance is already among the most expensive in the nation.

The Baucus plan also has no government option, which caused one of the committee's liberals, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) to say he won't support it. If the rest of the liberal Democrats on the committee follow Rockefeller's lead then Baucus may suffer the embarrassment of having delayed work on health care reform for months while chasing a compromise only to see it fail in his own committee, done in by a coalition of Republicans and liberal Democrats.

The truth is that Baucus' vision of a bipartisan bill was an illusion from the beginning. That became clear during the recess, when the other two Republicans that Baucus had been negotiating with, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) both made it clear that they were against reform, including the bill that Baucus was supposedly working with them on. In contrast to Grassley and Enzi, who I believe simply strung things out as part of a GOP grand strategy to delay, deflate and defeat any significant health care reform bill (which we know very well they've been angling for all along, as Jim DeMint made clear a couple of months ago,) I think that Snowe was probably sincere, but she can't support the Baucus bill for the same reason I don't support it. If you're going to force people to buy health insurance then you have to help people who can't afford it pay for it up front, period.

What this does mean is that whatever goes to the floor of the Senate will probably much more resemble the bill that came out of the Health, Education and Labor Committee several weeks ago. That bill does include a Government option.

Because it does a handful of Democrats (Baucus, Kent Conrad, the two Nelsons, Evan Bayh, Mary Landreau and possibly independent Joe Lieberman) have expressed some doubts about whether they will support such a bill. Because the death of Ted Kennedy leaves Democrats with one less vote than needed to break a filibuster even if they do get all their members to sign on to something, it seems likely that Harry Reid will resort to reconciliation. Reconciliation is a parliamentary tactic that will mean that only 51 Senators will be needed to pass a bill, and a clause in a bill passed earlier this year gives Reid the option to use it after October 15 to pass a health reform bill. Republicans did the same thing in 2001 in order to push through the Bush tax cuts without having to break a filibuster.

And really, there is no reason anymore not to use reconciliation. GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell says it would amount to a 'declaration of war,' and that the Senate GOP would do everything they could to block health care and the rest of the Obama agenda. And if McConnell and his caucus had done anything less than that since the President has taken office that threat might have to be taken seriously. But whether it is declared or not, McConnell and the rest of the Republicans in Congress have already been marching in lockstep against the Obama agenda, they have already bottled up virtually all of Obama's judicial appointments and many other appointments and they have already signaled their intent do everything they can to delay, disrupt and obstruct the President's agenda. Health care reform was supposed to be 'Waterloo,' remember? So the Republicans have already been fighting a scorched earth, take no prisoners kind of war against the Democratic agenda. So WHY NOT use reconciliation? Max Baucus is learning the hard way that there can be no compromise with this crew, so if he's smart he'll realize that the only way forward is to reconnect with his fellow Democrats.

If nothing else though, the apparent failure of the Baucus attempt should make it clear to everyone that any appeal to bipartisanship is folly, and it will take a long time to revive it. Four committees (three in the house, one in the Senate) got a bill out of committee before the August recess with party line Democratic votes. In contrast to that in the Finance Committee, the Democratic leadership (Baucus and Conrad) led a serious attempt at bipartisanship, and it's taken much longer and now they may not even get any bill out at all.

Just write that down and pull it out next time some Republican complains about 'cramming something down their throats.' Because using the muscle of the majority to cram stuff down the GOP's throat is about the only thing that works anymore.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Maybe someone should ask the JUNIOR Wilson about this.

I just have one question about representative "Joe" Wilson.

Why does he call himself 'Joe?'

His real name is Addison Graves Wilson, Sr.

Now, if he feels that the name is a liability then it's understandable (though you'd think in South Carolina it might be an asset) he might prefer something simple and straightforward like, 'Joe.'

But if that's true then why is he Addison Graves Wilson, SENIOR? I mean, if he really feels that the name is such a barrier to success that he has to call himself something else, then why did he give it to his son?

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Sept. 11 and in good conscience I have to say it: OUT NOW!

Today is September 11, and a story out today compels me to speak out.


I fully support this administration on nearly every issue, most especially health care reform. I supported President Obama last year and continue to support his domestic agenda. And even in foreign policy, his early moves to get out of Iraq (though still far too slow for me) and his changing the tone from one of U.S. hegemony in the world towards more international cooperation are welcome changes.

But he's making a huge mistake by pouring American forces into Afghanistan.

Back when we went to war there in October 2001, I fully supported President Bush in his pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government that gave him shelter.

But that was eight years ago, and President Bush bungled the job by de-emphasizing the Afghan war in the spring and early summer of 2002, when the Taliban had been driven into a small sliver of land, and one more concerted offensive could have finished them off (and probably netted all or most of the senior al-Qaeda leadership at the same time.) President Bush turned down the heat then and focused on Iraq, a country a thousand miles away that had nothing to do with the 9/11 terror attacks.

So bin Laden got away, the Taliban regrouped while we were otherwise preoccupied with Iraq and even spread across the border into Pakistan, and today we see that the leading U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Billy McChrystal says that he sees no major signs of al-Qaeda in the country. Apparently they've moved on to Pakistan and elsewhere. This is a very important story, because remember we originally went into Afghanistan to get rid of al-Qaeda. Well, if al-Qaeda is gone, then who are we fighting, and why?

So if we are not there hunting al-Qaeda what are we doing? Propping up 'democracy?' That's a joke. We've been seeing the notoriously corrupt Karzai government steal an election right in front of us. Karzai will win the recount and be selected President again. But he will have no more legitimacy than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has in Iran. To suggest that we in any way accept a fraudulently elected leader as legitimate is to make a mockery of our own belief in democratic values. Mr. Karzai has no more legitimacy if the results of this election stand than the Taliban do. Neither was chosen by the people. So don't say we are in Afghanistan to support 'democracy' because we haven't seen any real democracy there. Ultimately for the Afghans to ever live in a true democracy they have to want it enough to fight for it themselves.

What we do see is in essence a civil war between the Taliban and the Karzai government. It is true that the Taliban have a reprehensible political and legal system in place in the areas which they control, and that life is especially horrible for the female half of the population. However, is that a reason to lose American lives over? I don't see it. The problems of Afghanistan belong to Afghanistan. The United States should be ready to lend a hand (both financially and with good advice) if asked, but there is really no good reason for maintaining U.S. troops there anymore.

Does that mean that we just give up searching for al-Qaeda terrorists? Not at all. Leaving with our army doesn't preclude continuing to collect intelligence, the use of special forces for quick, defined missions (such as if we have good intelligence about where bin Laden is), or of working behind the scenes with his local enemies (there are plenty, after all) to get to bin Laden that way. What successes we have had recently have been through the use of Predator and Reaper drones, unmanned aircraft that have gotten several al-Qaeda operatives (mostly on the Pakistani side of the border.) There is no reason why those sorts of operations couldn't continue.

I recently wrote a post entitled Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it about the uncanny similarity between our fruitless search for bin Laden to our similarly fruitless search despite sending an American army to march all over Mexico searching for Pancho Villa in 1916. One point I made was that as long as we were there, Villa essentially had nothing to worry about from his local enemies because he was giving the 'yanqui' the proverbial finger. But once we left so did his protection, and there were people in Mexico who knew how to find him much better than we did (and they eventually did catch up with him too.) It is certainly prudent to continue to keep an eye out for bin Laden but like a baseball that's gotten lost in the woods, there comes a time when the effort (and in this case that means American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars) expended outweighs the diminishing chance we have of finding what we are looking for. If you want to blame George Bush for that because the trail has grown cold while we were off fighting in Iraq for more than half a decade, go ahead. But it's time to get our army out and limit our looking to our intelligence service, satellites and other sources.

But the bottom line is that neither President Bush nor President Obama has articulated why we are still fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, what exactly we hope to accomplish there, what constitutes 'success,' and most importantly, what our exit strategy is.

In his speech the other night President Obama pointed out that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are more than it would cost to reform health care (and that is true, based on CBO numbers.) But for that comparison to be any more meaningful than just a few numbers on paper, we have to quit bleeding our treasury just as so many Americans have bled their lives into the soil of those two nations all the way on the other side of the planet.

Imagine that: paying for health care reform by bringing all our soldiers home. Now THAT'S what I call a real world solution.

For more information:

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

NOW they like the speech.

This is almost too funny for words.

After jumping all over President Obama's speech last week and doing everything they could to encourage kids to not see it (and with at least some success too) the right is suddenly doing everything they can to get kids to at least read it.

Unlike the Marxist indoctrination they all thought he was going to give, he gave a speech that frankly hits some pretty conservative values. He talked about studying hard. He talked about staying in school. He talked about his own and his wife's experiences and how they learned to keep moving forward and never quit. He talked about listening to parents and teachers. He said that no matter what one's personal circumstances were, that was not an excuse for not trying. He finished with "God bless you, and God bless America."

So now that they got millions of kids to not watch the President, how is the right reacting? Well, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that every child should read the speech. Here in Arizona, superintendent of instruction Tom Horne, who just last week urged kids to boycott the speech, claiming it would be 'messianic' in tone, is now saying that he liked the speech.

So now that the opportunity is over, they want kids to go back and see the speech they wanted them to miss earlier.

Well, just like the right always is. Always a day late and a dollar short.

Baucus plan featuring mandates would be worse than doing nothing

After spending months pushing back the deadline to get anything out of his committee in a vain attempt to reach anything bipartisan, Montana Democrat Max Baucus has a plan.

And it's a really bad plan. Of course he has no public option and instead favors non-profit 'co-ops' (no surprise there, we've been hearing about that for months.) But the things that really stand out are health insurance mandates (something that President Obama opposed during last year's campaign.) He backs the mandates with hefty fines for people who don't buy their own private insurance.

Of course Baucus points out that his plan includes tax credits to help people who buy their own insurance recoup costs.

How quaint. The tax credits don't even cover most of the cost of insurance, which averages about $13,000 per year for a typical family of four. Further, when do you get a tax credit? Usually when you get your income tax refund (unless of course either spouse has a court judgement of any type against them, in which case the tax credit would presumably go where refunds go now-- to their creditors. Wow, so if you were forced to declare bankruptcy because of medical costs your Baucus tax credit would go to pay your old creditors.) But even if you do get the credit, it won't be until months after you've had to start shelling out over a thousand dollars a month. And that even assumes that your family is in reasonably good health, otherwise you might be paying more-- much, much more.

The fine in the Baucus proposal for not buying insurance could run as high as $3,800 per year.

Isn't this exactly the same plan as Mittcare in Massachusetts? Require everyone to buy insurance, fine the tar out of them if they don't and maybe send them a relatively small check months or even years later to pay them back for it?

Mandates like these are terrible ideas. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and requiring them to pony up this much money is almost sadistically cruel. If someone isn't buying health insurance because they can't pay their bills now, then how can you require them to come up with over $1,000 a month more?

I know that if I and my wife didn't get insurance through our employers (who pay part of the premium) there is no way I could afford to start paying that much more every month.

I think the answer lies in Washington. Like in the case of Mitt Romney (who was worth over a quarter billion dollars when Mittcare was passed in his state) Senator Baucus is used to throwing around hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars. So he has no comprehension of how hard it would be for most people to shell out a thousand dollars a month. I mean heck, people write him campaign contributions for several times that amount all the time. Stretching your last couple of dollars to buy groceries and gambling that they won't shut off the electricity until after you get paid is so far beyond his comprehension that he has no clue that some people don't have thousands of dollars sitting in the bank they can just use to buy health insurance until the tax credit comes through and gives them a third of it back.

Supporters of such a plan liken it to automobile insurance, which is also mandatory in every state. However there is a key difference: you don't have to drive a car at all. Many people don't, especially if they either don't have the money to maintain a car or if they live in a place where mass transit is good enough to get around. Besides, car insurance costs only a fraction of what health insurance costs.

But while you may have a choice about driving, you don't have a choice about living. Well, actually you do but I hope that Senator Baucus isn't planning to reduce the number of uninsured by pushing more of them to lose all hope and shoot themselves.

Make no mistake about this one. The Baucus plan is so bad, that doing nothing would actually be better for the uninsured.

Monday, September 07, 2009

President to say 'God' in public school classroom. Fortuitously censored by the right so lots of kids won't hear it.

Well, tomorrow is the day when President Obama will speak to the kiddies, and thousands of followers of right wing talk radio have either promised to pull their kids out of school or even forced their local schools to not even carry the webcast (I know, I know. I'm too sensitive about this, the truth is that these parents were just as angry a generation ago when President Ronald Reagan spoke to students via television.)

Craig at Random Musings has posted the text of the President's remarks tomorrow.

Mostly it's pretty innocuous stuff, telling kids about how important his mother felt it was to make him study and why they should do it and about how they should listen to their parents. He goes on to point out that no matter what their circumstances are, they have no excuses if they don't study and get the education they need. Study hard, stay in school, listen to your parents and your teachers. You know, the standard Marxist/socialist propaganda that the right was up in arms about.

But then he finishes with this shocking last line:

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Wow! Those right wingers were right after all keeping their children at home or pressuring the school districts not to show the speech. There really is something in it they will never hear their teachers say in a classroom. The word, GOD is in the speech. In fact he says it twice in that last line.

Now you know and I know that if you or I or your kids' third grade teacher said, 'God' in a public school then the big, bad ACLU would come and haul us into court and put us on trial for intolerance and have us sent to an atheist re-education camp where we would be forced to learn secular humanism. Isn't that true, right-wingers?

But here we have the President of the United States saying the word, 'God' and it will be webcast right into hundreds of thousands of classrooms all over America.

Wow! Good work, right wing wackjobs. Thank you for saving so many children from hearing the word, 'God' spoken in a public school. Atheists all over America will owe you a debt of gratitude.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Jan Brewer's glass house

Governor Jan Brewer has signed most of the budget, according to reports out today. She vetoed the repeal of the state property tax and at least for the moment plans to use the revenue it generates (a quarter billion a year) to plug holes still left in the budget and restore some funding to education and state services. She blamed 'a few Republicans and Democratic extremists'.

This sentence makes no sense at all. Democrats were locked completely out of the negotiations for almost eight months, including a spate in which they were told that they were really negotiating with Republicans (who were in fact actually secretly negotiating with the Governor behind closed doors) in a ploy that even Robert Robb agreed that the Democrats were negotiated with in bad faith. And even a couple of weeks ago when Democrats were allowed into the budget negotiations they were essentially told that the budget was a done deal and they could tinker around the edges in exchange for passing her sales-tax ballot initiative, most of which would go to backfill tax cuts including the property tax cut.)

It is true that the reason we got to the point that we did had a lot to do with the Governor's lack of leadership. I mean, let's face it-- Janet had far deeper disagreements with the same bunch of morons in the legislature and they always got the budget done.

You can't just blame the economy either. Many states have had a terrible economy and correspondingly tough choices to deal with in terms of the budget. For a long time, the spotlight was on California in particular. But it's been a month since the legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar got a budget agreement hashed out.

You can blame Arizona's tax structure to a degree. In 1992 the voters passed a 'supermajority' requirement to raise taxes. This means that the legislature can only raise taxes with a 2/3 vote of both houses of the legislature plus the Governor's signature (and if the increase met a gubernatorial veto it would require an even larger supermajority to override.) Note, by the way, that California has the same requirement since the notorious 'prop 13' vote of 1978 (yes, another good conservative idea). This means that it is virtually impossible for the legislature to raise taxes, and they have never done so since then. What they have done since then, however is to cut taxes massively. For example, in the mid 1990's we had billions of dollars worth of tax cuts enacted under then-Governor Fife Symington. And to get them through the Senate he needed the help of then Senate majority whip Jan Brewer (!!)

That's right. A huge part of why we are in the budgetary toilet we are in is precisely because, after disabling the mechanism to back up on tax cuts, our legislature in the 1990's went full speed ahead. And like a driver who starts down a road which becomes a trail and eventually a stream bed that is too narrow to turn around, Arizona has gotten into a budget pickle because in the full knowledge that the tax cuts could not be reversed the legislature chose during the times of relative prosperity to cut taxes virtually every year, not adequately fund the 'rainy day fund' (in case you're wondering it ran dry earlier this year just balancing the 2009 budget) and assume that the booming economy would continue forever. Taxes were cut so that schools, state services and other areas which were left to subsist on a shoestring budget even when times were good, had to make massive cuts this year which resulted in everything from teacher layoffs (making Arizona's class sizes, already among the worst in the country, even worse) to literally putting the state capitol building up for bid and committing ourselves to paying rent on it in the future -- and in a year when the commercial real estate market is at rock bottom so we won't even get much for it.

I will say this though-- Republicans have always been for tax cuts and 'smaller government.' So they did what they said they would. What this also shows is the hazard of electing the same party to be the majority party in the legislature for decades. In particular, since the 1992 referendum, we've had Republican governors for 11 out of 17 years and the GOP has controlled both houses of the legislature for all of that time except for a two year stint in which the senate was split 15-15 and still elected a Republican leader.

The return of the state equalization property tax, which was suspended for three years by a 2006 agreement and will return because the Governor had little choice but to veto its permanent repeal, is a small restitution of the revenue that was lost to the yearly reckless and deep tax cuts the legislature voted for every year for at least a decade. As both a parent and a homeowner I look forward to paying it this year because of how badly the revenue will be needed, but I know how inadequate a step that will be toward restoring the quality of our schools and other institutions that will take years to fix even if we get someone better in charge than the collection of incompetents running the state now.

And if Jan Brewer wants to blame someone, perhaps she should go back a few years. And look in the mirror. Because she was right in the middle, as senate majority whip, helping drive the car down that one way path to fiscal damnation.

Far right leaves all sanity behind over President's school webcast

President Obama, entering his first new school year, has decided to greet the kids returning to schools with a webcast.

This is hardly something new, and President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush did essentially the same thing, except that the internet had not been developed yet so they used television. Their broadcasts to the kiddies went off with relatively little controversy (mostly about how it might impact school schedules to accomodate the broadcast.)

But right-wing nut radio (the same folks who have gotten even GOP members of Congress so scared that they have to publically profess doubts about whether Obama was even born in Hawaii to avoid being run out of town by their Kool-aid guzzling 'base') has jumped all over it and is claiming that Obama is either overtly or subliminally planning to brainwash and indoctrinate their kids during the webcast, which is likely to run for only a few minutes.

School districts have been deluged with calls from talk radio listeners who have threatened to keep their kids home from school and several cowardly school districts around the nation have even decided not to carry the webcast at all.

I wonder how many parents who actually do make good on their threat to keep their kids home to protect them from the few deadly minutes of Presidential webcast will make darn good and sure they aren't indoctrinated by forcing them to listen to a whole day of Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

And what is the President going to say that is so horrible?

Well, we don't know yet although the White House plans to release the text of the webcast a day in advance. However I'm willing to go on record that he's not going to be quoting from the "Karl Marx Reader."

My best guess is that he will say some even more controversial things, stuff that will really give the right fits:

* Work hard.
* Stay in school.
* Don't do drugs.
* Listen to your parents.

If nothing else, I hope that it gives school administrators who have canceled it fits-- when they realize how stupid they look over it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

GOP trying to scare seniors

GOP national chairman Michael Steele and the RNC is out with a new advertisement pushing a 'seniors bill of rights' in which he pushes for among other things, 'zero cuts' in medicare. He also brings up the discredited 'death panel' charge and tries to scare seniors that way.

Funny, but I and most Democrats support 'zero cuts' in medicare. Only there are 137 Republicans in the house who earlier this year voted to cut medicare. So which is it? Is the GOP suddenly suggesting that we preserve all funding for medicare and not cut it? If so then hallelujah, we have agreement.

Of course the Democratic plan does not make any cuts in medicare so it is clearly a moot point in the context of the present health care debate. In fact the last party to make wholesale changes in medicare was the GOP, which in 2004 gave us the 'medicare prescription drug benefit' which was mainly a trillion dollar sop to the pharmaceutical industry and really hasn't done much to improve the access of seniors to prescription drugs over what it had been.

What this is, is a cynical attempt by the GOP to scare and stampede seniors against health insurance reform. Again, medicare is already a 'government option' and there are no plans to cut it.

Let's also not forget that the last time the 'scaring seniors' card was played, it was by Democrats-- suggesting during the 2004 campaign that Bush would try to privatize Social Security if he won. Only that time it turned out to be accurate. After the 2004 election, President Bush did try to privatize social security. And he failed (thank God.)

So one party, the GOP, is now trying to scare seniors over something that isn't even in the bill, and pushing a policy of guaranteed spending levels on medicare which they themselves have opposed and did oppose earlier this year. The other party in effect wants to extend the good health care provided by medicare to other people, by way of a public option. And the other party, the Democrats, has only accused the first party, the Republicans of doing something to endanger a program seniors depend on when, in fact, it turned out that they were absolutely right in making that charge.

Which party would you trust, under the circumstances?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Katrina showed that for-profit medical care produces a more dangerous frame of mind

Though I disagree with the conclusion of this post on the blog 'corrente' (the blogger opposes HR 3200 on the grounds that it doesn't include mandating that only non-profit hospitals be allowed to operate; I support HR 3200 because I recognize the difference between what is possible now and what one might wish),

the blogger lays out very clearly the difference in mindset between what happened at two New Orleans hospitals-- one for-profit and the other non-profit in almost identical situations in the days after Katrina four years ago. Both hospitals lost all power, were flooded out and the staff was desperately short having to care both for sick patients who were already in the hospital and others who were arriving from out of the storm.

In New Orleans Memorial Hospital, a for-profit institution that since 1995 has been under the management of the hospital chain TENET, the staff, operating under the for-profit model imposed by management stretched to the breaking point, literally making decisions about which patients were worth saving and which ones had to die so they could care for the others. One doctor, Anna Pou, even was accused of making arbitrary decisions to end patients lives because of the lack of adequate resources during the disaster. Dr. Pou was eventually not indicted by a grand jury given the horrific circumstances she had to work under but nevertheless you did have a single doctor at the hospital making that decision on behalf of patients. Patients awaiting evacuation were assigned to one of three groups, '1,' '2,' or '3' depending on their health. Patients assigned a '1' were the healthiest and were evacuated first. Many of the patients assigned a '3' were the sickest and received little care and were evacuated last. A significant number of them died.

In contrast, at New Orleans Charity Hospital, a non-profit institution that has always served primarily the poor, the goal (achieved almost to perfection) was very simple. It was to save every patient. Both hospitals were evacuated on about the same schedule but at Charity hospital it was the sickest patients, rather than the healthiest who were tabbed to evacuate first so they could be transported to a facility with electricity, clean water and adequate staffing.

Now, it is easy to sit here online four years later and second guess tough decisions that were made in a truly horrible situation (one of the reasons the grand jury declined to indict Dr. Pou for murder.) However, one has to wonder how much previous training and priorities played into it. At Charity the priorities were pretty clear-- save the lives of the patients, and not decide that any one patient was more or less worth saving than any one other patient. At Memorial the mindset was different. Patients could be prioritized, and in an emergency this priority could even extend to the point of hospital staff deciding that some should die so that others might live.

People first or a system in which some are more equal than others when it comes to receiving care? Which kind of health care system would you rather be a patient in?
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