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Monday, August 31, 2009

Direct from the Belly of the Beast

By Keith R. Schmitz

Tomorrow on the Ideas Network:

10:00 AM Kathleen Dunn - 09/01E
After making headlines from his interview with Bill Moyers, Wendell Potter joins Kathleen Dunn, after ten, to discuss health care reform and the insurance industry. Guest: Wendell Potter, Senior Fellow on Health Care, Center for Media and Democracy. Potter worked for CIGNA, a major health insurance corporation for fifteen years holding a variety of positions, serving most recently as head of corporate communications and as the company's chief corporate spokesman.

(Update by folkbum: More info here, including the ability to listen to the archived show after it airs.)

Cancer Continues to Suck

by folkbum

Our best wishes to F. Jim.

Help Us Save Transit, the Parks and EMS - Sign Our Petition

From Milwaukee County First, of which I am the Chair:

For many years, riders of the Milwaukee County Transit System has seen its routes get cut and the fares go up, as less and less money is available for it. Once a standard for the nation, it has been in steady decline. This year, it has been recommended by the current administration, contrary to all advice, to again slash routes by up to 40% and raise fares by charging a quarter for each transfer. This will have a devastating effect on the local economy, not just of Milwaukee County, but for the entire southeast region of Wisconsin.

Likewise, the Milwaukee County Parks System has seen cuts for each of the past 27 years. This year will be no different, except that it appears that the parks will suffer the most severe cuts yet. Some of the options being considered by the current administration is closing ALL of the outdoor swimming pools, closing both community centers, and cutting maintenance at the senior centers.

Also being threatened is the money that Milwaukee County puts towards the Emergency Medical System. Without this money being in the budget, there will be people in areas of Milwaukee County that will not receive paramedic services for medical emergencies.

Because of these growing concerns, the County Board repeatedly tried to get a referendum to the voters to see if they would approve of a sales tax increase to save these systems and give the voters relief on their property taxes. But each time, County Executive Scott Walker blocked the people from having the right to express themselves.

Finally, in November 2008, the Board was able to put the referendum on the ballot. The people spoke, and the referendum was approved. Unfortunately, despite the hard work of community-minded groups like Quality of Life Alliance and others, the proposed sales tax was distorted during the budget process, and ultimately vetoed by Governor Jim Doyle.

Without this dedicated funding source, the situation in Milwaukee County will quickly become untenable. That is why Milwaukee County First is asking you to join your voice to ours, and to the many others who also put Milwaukee County first, and are calling on Governor Doyle and the State Legislature to pass this sales tax, and to allow us to help ourselves before it is too late.

Please sign our petition:

and let those in Madison know that we will not quietly stand by and allow Milwaukee County to fall apart before our very eyes. It will only take a few seconds to sign the petition, and we will do the rest.

After you have signed the petition, please pass the word to your family, your friends, your neighbors and your coworkers, and ask them to sign the petition as well. Again the link to the petition is:

If we do this separately, we will be just whistling into the wind. Together, we will create a voice that those in Madison will have to hear.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Unexpected support for the Public Option from commenter Dan

by folkbum

While researching the last post about Ted Kanavas, refreshing my memory of what Healthy Wisconsin was and wasn't, I found this quote from the Las Vegas Badger, better known around here by Dan, the name he comments under.
[W]hy not let the government go into the free market by offering health insurance. Get a [little] competition. If people believe the government can provide better service, then they'll [buy], if people think the private sector does a better job, then they will go with the private sector. The main thing I object to is forcing people to switch to government health insurance.
Now, that was attached to this two-year-old post, and not something Dan has written lately in all the discussion of the public option as it appears in HR3200 and other reform bills circulating in Congress. However, Dan in that old comment nails exactly what the public option is--added competition for private insurance companies, and not something anyone will be required to sign up for.

Now, Dan seems to be singing a different tune lately--see here, for example. Which is interesting given that he was so willing to see a public insurance plan not that long ago.

Kanavas's Revisionist History

by folkbum

Well, it's not just revisionist history; it's also a repeat of a lot of the same lies and scare tactics that we're hearing from the GOP generally, including Wisconsin's Rep. Paul Ryan.

State Sen. Kanavas (R-Brookfield) has a blog, and on that blog he has a post--a post about health care reform efforts past and present. And Kanavas gets almost every detail in his post wrong. He starts this way:
We are all very familiar with the health care debate raging in our nation’s capitol and in town hall meetings across the country. The issue of whether or not the federal government should grab control of our current system and create its own socialized brand of medicine has been making national headlines for months.
If today is not your first day here at my blog, then you already know what's wrong here. There is no effort underway in Washington to "grab control" of the current health care delivery or insurance industry. The ubiquitous HR3200 has no such provisions, nor does anything coming out of the Senate. The White House's principals for reform are nothing like that, either. Current proposals are far from "socialized medicine"; if we rated HR3200 on a scale from 1-10 where 1 is what we have now and 10 is the UK, where they really do have socialized medicine, HR3200 would score a solid 1, still.
But, I wonder how many people remember what happened right here in Wisconsin just two years ago. [. . .] Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature were running around the state holding public hearings touting an Obama-like government-run health care plan. For the most part, no one really knew anything about it. You may vaguely remember they had a plan, but folks are sure to be soft on the details and likely know little of the plan’s potential impact on our economy or the size of state government.
The first sentence of that excerpt from Kanavas contains no factual errors, but the rest is just awful. For one, none of the current proposals for health insurance reform are from President Obama; to suggest that anything is "Obama-like" is kind of weird. (As is calling reform plans written by and introduce in Congress "Obamacare." "Hillarycare" was not a misnomer--her commission wrote the plan sent to Congress--but Obama is the author of nothing.) Further, the plan passed by the state Senate in 2007 was not "government-run health care," as nothing in that plan, called Healthy Wisconsin, was about the state providing the care, running the hospitals and clinics, or employing the doctors and nurses.

Kanavas continues to err when he says that no one knew anything about the plan. Healthy Wisconsin was modeled on something called the Wisconsin Health Plan, which had been circulated for two years prior, scored by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, and studied by the Lewin Group (not to mention that it was also supported by then-State Rep. Curt Gielow, a Republican). Republicans like Kanavas offered a lot of misinformation about the plan then, certainly, to make it seem more confusing than it was, but it was not an unknown.

Healthy Wisconsin, for those of you who don't remember it, was a plan that took the burden of health insurance out of the hands of employers. It was paid for by a tax on businesses and individuals that was pretty significantly less than the average cost at the time. People would have a variety of plans run by private insurance companies to choose from (paying additional premiums for anything more than the standard plan) and the whole thing was managed by the state. If that sounds familiar to you, you might know this as the way the state currently offers insurance to its own employees. (At the time, I found it deliciously ironic that the same people who complained daily about the Cadillac benefits given to government employees were those most ferociously opposed to a plan that gave everyone access to those same benefits.) This is nothing like what is currently being considered in Congress, despite Kanavas's attempts to claim that it is so.
Their plan would have implemented a tax on Wisconsin business to pay for a government-run health care model. Much like the plan being tossed around in Washington, the Senate Democrats would place your health care decisions in the hands of bureaucrats. Luckily for us, Republicans, who controlled the State Assembly at the time, were able to purge the plan from the budget.
Three more sentences from Kanavas, three more falsehoods. First, a lie of omission: As I noted above, the plan was financed not merely by a tax on business, but also a tax on individuals, and premiums charged to individuals opting in to more expensive plans (plus some significant copays and deductibles). Also omitted is what I noted above--the tax was far lower than the average cost of providing health care was. For most businesses, that would have been a cost savings. In addition, there were likely to be property tax savings, as well, as local governments moved onto the cheaper plan. Second, neither Healthy Wisconsin nor the proposals in Congress puts any decision in the hands of bureaucrats in any government agency; Healthy Wisconsin, like the current state benefits plan, offers employees a range of different plans with different levels of care run through traditional insurance companies, not the state equivalent of a death panel. Third, it was not Assembly Republicans who "purged" Healthy Wisconsin from the budget; Senate Democrats traded it away for Republican support for BadgerCare Plus and other health initiatives.

The rest of Kanavas's post consists of variations on these same things: "socialized health plan," "government-run model," "government should be involved in your health care decisions," "the socialist dream," and so on (plus repeated problems using the possessive apostrophe). He does also include the well-debunked notion that a plan like Healthy Wisconsin would draw freaks and freeloaders here for free health care--Christian Schneider's legacy lives on.

So, large or small, state senator or Congressman, the Wisconsin GOP is perfectly willing, it seems, to shell out the lies, distortions, and scare tactics in the name of stopping health policy reform. It's sad, really, that Wisconsin, as the birthplace of the party of Lincoln, should be home to so many who do such a disservice to the memory of Honest Abe.


by folkbum

When are authorities going to acknowledge the obvious answer?

Health Care Tab Dump

by folkbum

I've been holding on to some things for a while now. Most of them I don't even remember where I found them. Here you go:
  • "If the government ran a healthcare plan that offered major discounts, worked through existing providers, minimized the paperwork burden on consumers and paid every legitimate claim, would that be considered a failure? I guess it would depend on our expectations, which seem to be higher on government than on a private sector that routinely delays payments to consumers—without any controversy whatsoever."

    (Also see "Cash for Clunkers is a double economic stimulus that pays for itself in oil savings so CO2 savings are free.")

  • "Because I am American, and those endless days and nights were spent in a maternity hospital in London, the week that followed has been very much on my mind as I listen to the recent attacks on the British National Health Service. It is a system that I found to be very different from the one currently being described as "evil" and "Orwellian" by politicians and commentators eager to use it as an example of the dark side of public medicine."

  • "Some insurance company leaders continue to profess concern about the unpredictable course of President Obama's massive healthcare initiative, and they vigorously oppose elements of his agenda. But Laszewski said the industry's reaction to early negotiations boiled down to a single word: 'Hallelujah!'"

    (See also: "So it should have been transparently obvious from the outset that the only response our glorious and wizened Senate could come up with, when facing a failed healthcare system that has been steadily bankrupting the country, its businesses and its citizens for decades, would be to invent a solution in which the companies most responsible for the problem would be given cash hand over fist.")

  • "That she sees basic healthcare as a blessing, not as a right, speaks volumes about attitudes among the mass of the working poor."

  • "In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really "foreign" to America, because our crazy-quilt health-care system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we're Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we're Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals. For people over 65, we're Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we're Burundi or Burma: In the world's poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care; those who can't pay stay sick or die."

Friday Tunage

by folkbum

Tracy Grammer playing one of my favorite Dave Carter tunes. Chris Smither does a nice version of it, too. Note the feet.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

On the other hand, Glenn Beck makes a funny

by folkbum

You have to watch this.

He gets to OLIGARH, and I'm thinking he'll redeem himself, because he says, "One letter is missing." But he doesn't. If this doesn't have you laughing for the next few days ...

Why does Paul Ryan hate the people in his district?

by folkbum

I've been working up to writing a Paul Ryan post for a while now, because for some reason, Ryan is one of the point men for the anti-humanity and pro-insanity opposition to health insurance reform. Quite possibly, of course, because he knows who butters his bread.

Anyway, I haven't written that post until now.

What really got me het up enough to want to tear into Ryan was this story from the other day, "Scrap health bill, start talking, Ryan urges Democrats," it's called. It has all the hallmarks of smugjerkitude, starting with the notion that the party that won the Congress and the White House (including Ryan's district, handily) should take policy advice from a minority party back-bencher more interested in serving his corporate donors than the people of his district, and continuing on through the implication that reform is moving too quickly.

I suppose that this is quick in, say, cosmological time. But reform of this type has been on the Democrats' agenda since Harry Truman 60 years ago. After World War II, when the rest of the western world was busy rebuilding their literally flattened cities and we were enjoying a massive peace dividend, somehow those other countries achieved universal health care coverage and we couldn't pull it off. We lost that fight to Europe and Canada. Shameful!

And in the decades since, every Democrat has made clear that health policy reform is a top priority and that the goal is universal access to quality, affordable care. In this week of Ted Kennedy montageomania it's hard not to notice those clips of him 40 years ago talking about health care and the need to fix a broken system.

Paul Ryan, member of Congress now for a decade, during which the White House was mostly controlled by his own party, has managed to pass zip in terms of health policy reform--unless you count his vote for Medicare Part D, the massive giveaway to big pharma at the expense of America's senior citizens and taxpayers. This "rising star" of Republican circles has gotten not one single person health insurance who lacked it; he even voted, repeatedly, against SCHIP, the program that helps children from poor families get needed medical care. (Cue Maude Flanders Helen Lovejoy--"Won't someone please think of the children!") After so many years of sitting on his hands and letting his constituents suffer under the tyranny of the insurance industry, now he has the gall to demand that those elected by promising reform hit the brakes.

And I've been reading up on Ryan's town halls and the scare-tactic baloney he's spreading. In the article cited above, for example, he says Democrats' reforms will lead to a "government monopoly on health care." (Not to mention that Ryan, the guy who voted for all those unpaid-for Bush tax cuts and Bush's trillion-dollar Iraq misadventure, is worried now about "bankruptcy" for the country. Gimmyabreak.) False. He says, "The private sector will go away." False--apparently, he doesn't have confidence that the free market can compete with a public option plan that by law is priced, funded, and regulated in the same way that the private plans are. He casts aspersions uopn Democrats' proposals by assuming reform will be like Britain's NHS. False.

There's an account of a Ryan town hall here, for example, in which Ryan recounts some of the same BS as above and seems to advance the tin-foil "the gummint's gonna force everyone to get vaccinated" lie we've talked about before.

And another account here, where, among other things, Ryan seems to call current proposals "pure 100% government-run health care run by Washington politicians and bureaucrats," which is not even remotely the case. He apparently refuses to correct a questioner who asserts the House bill "gives the government real-time access to [...] bank accounts." Plus this one--which may just be the correspondent's own well-established willful ignorance about the issue, but he attributes it to Ryan: "No new individual health care plans. Anyone without coverage or who loses coverage will have to buy their insurance through the Exchange; i.e., government option." This is wrong in so many ways. More: "Next speaker condemns the Washington elitists who force the American people into government-run health care while exempting themselves. Widespread loud applause. Ryan endorses the idea." This is also something we've been over--no one else would be mandated to choose the public option (or one of its upscale cousins, like the premium or premium plus public option), and suggesting we mandate federal workers do is simply unreasonable.

And yet more: "Next questioner asks if doctors aren’t going to be paid or compensated, what is the incentive to become a doctor? Answer: none." What lunacy is this that doctors will stop getting paid to be doctors? And this: "Next speaker suffers from a unique and rare disease and is worried about how ObamaCare will ration her health care. [. . .] Ryan explains that the cost-benefit analysis under ObamaCare will prevent her from receiving medical care." False! None of the bills on the table gives anyone the authority to ration care to anyone--moreover, the bills generally include protections to make it harder to cut you off once you get sick, offering a greater level of assurance that treatments will be available.

When Ryan is spouting or encouraging these kinds of absolute lies--and make no mistake, I'm sure he knows these things are false and he doesn't care one bit that he's misleading his constituents--there is no reason to take him seriously. There is no reason he should get front-page coverage from a newspaper headquartered outside of his district, at least not without better fact-checking than a cursory "a Democratic party spokesman" quote. I mean, call the lies what they are, please.

Plus there's no reason to take him seriously when he makes it clear that he will not even bother to try to work with Democrats on a reform bill, instead peddling his own variation of the McCain campaign's good-luck-you're-on-your-own bill that would cut workers from employer-provided plans to make them sort out their own insurance without the benefit of a well-regulated Exchange like the Democrats proposed. (Another giveaway to the insurance companies, if you ask me: More individual--read expensive--plans sold with less regulation.)

But, to get back around to what finally poked the blogger prod into my lazy behind to finally write this post ripping on Ryan and his dissembling town hall tour: I did not know until today that apparently the House Energy and Commerce Committee prepared individual reports back in July about what the impact of their health insurance reform legislation (the ubiquitous HR 3200) would mean for all 435 House districts. Here's the pdf for Wisconsin's first district--Paul Ryan's district--and it tells a pretty glum story about the kind of suffering that's happening right now to the same constituents Ryan is out there lying to about health care. Some examples:
Under the legislation, small businesses with 25 employees or less and average wages of less than $40,000 qualify for tax credits of up to 50% of the costs of providing health insurance. There are up to 14,000 small businesses in the district that could qualify for these credits.
The small businesses are the ones that are going to save Janesville, for example, now that we know GM is never coming back.
Each year, 9,400 seniors in the district hit the donut hole and are forced to pay their full drug costs, despite having Part D drug coverage. The legislation would provide them with immediate relief, cutting brand name drug costs in the donut hole by 50%, and ultimately eliminate the donut hole.
Ryan made this donut hole with his Medicare Part D vote, and now he's interested only in killing a bill that will plug it.

The report notes that the Democrats' bill would allow 51,000 people in the first district who currently lack insurance to buy some, and could stop up to 1,600 bankruptcies a year related to medical costs.

How do I know Paul Ryan must hate his constituents? Because he's lying to them. Because he's demanding that Congress stall or defeat a bill that could offer real help to hundreds of thousands in his district. Because even though his district voted for president for the guy who promised exactly this kind of reform, he'd rather do the bidding of his corporate sponsors.

That's not representative; that's evil.

And a great cheer was heard across the land

by folkbum

The reason:
Wisconsin's much-criticized statewide testing system will be phased out in the next few years in favor of a new "balanced assessment system," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers announced Thursday. [. . .]

Based on the recommendation, the DPI reported that it has ceased development of new WKCE [Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam] test questions and will request proposals to develop the new testing system. New assessments for students in elementary and middle schools are likely to be computer-based and given several times over the course of a school year, the agency reported. High school tests will provide more information on college and workforce readiness.
Standardized tests like the WKCE are just one way, and usually not the best way, to measure student achievement. This is true for upper-class white kids the same as it is for for the poor minority kids that I teach; a 6- or 9-hour test is both overwhelming and hardly able to plumb adequately the depth of students' learning across many subjects and standards. I am keen to see what develops and how it changes models of teaching that, particularly in districts like MPS, have become more and more about teaching to the tests.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Easy Way to Loose 47,000 Pounds

By Keith R. Schmitz

Stephen Bates with the Guardian talks about how he saved $75,000 by breaking his leg in the UK, and wonders why we're so stupid.

Of course paying off that bill would put one hell of a torpedo into his economic "freedom."

$75,000. You'd have to look at a dozy of a tax increase to make that up.

Best Health Care in the World

By Keith R. Schmitz

This op-ed from the WAPO lays out in clearly, easy to understand language why our peer countries do health care better than we do. No need to regurg here, just check it out.

Those other approaches translate into populations that are healthier, happier and less stressed. Turns out that in Germany and Austria that if someone is stressed they get sent to a spa for the weekend. We get to sit in our cars and flip the bird at other drivers.

It turns out that in fact in these countries people really do have a choice for health care insurance. In our country, many of us are in shot-gun marriages with our heath care insurers. And no, despite the poll cited that 80% of those insured like their insurance company, we really don't LOVE our insurance companies. In fact the US Postal system gets better ratings.

That is why it is so confounding that people take the time to make fools out of themselves at town hall meetings to cheer for something that many of us hate and resent because our options are truly limited -- health care choices, job choices and even marriages.

Makes one wonder that not only why we aren't smarter about how we do health care, but why do we consciously choose to make our lives harder? What do we owe this system when it seems to not feel like it owes anything to us?

RIP, Ted Kennedy

by folkbum

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Flip Side of the CIA Bashing Coin

By Keith R. Schmitz

One of the most breath-taking sights in America is the hypocrisy of the right. As a natural wonder it ranks up there with the Grand Canyon.

As recently as today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Cal Thomas is always ready to shoulder goes after the administration over the currently rising deficit. Never mind that this is back-fill for the economic problems left by the previous administration, or would result in needed changes in our health care system that will eventually save future administrations money -- and lower deficits.

It wasn't too long ago Thomas and others in his cult were tightly zipped over the money for nothing deficits ran up by Bush resulting from the useless invasion of Iraq, tax cuts for the wealthy and a drug program clearly for the benefit of the pharmaceutical companies.

Don't forget in Bush's world nothing gets done for the country unless it helps our thin, flaky upper crust first, and to ensure that in keeping with the dictums of Grover Norquist, prevent the government from ever doing anything beneficial for the American people.

Now we have the spectacle of the caterwauling over the expected investigations of the CIA over detainee abuses. Many of these guys were poor slubs who were rounded up as a result of bounties to Pakistani warlords and were later tortured to learn about things they knew nothing about.

Good to see that our Attorney General Eric Holder feels that our ideals need to be upheld for the good of the country, and that our country is strong enough to examine the flaws in our system.

But don't worry folks. Like so many investigations over our generation this will probably lead to nothing. So settle down.

So predictably the clowns have tumbled out of the car and are complaining that this investigation will hamper morale at the CIA. Funny that didn't seem to be a concern when Dick Cheney outed a CIA operative with God knows how many of the coverts protecting us lost their lives.

Or when Cheney, who we can be pretty certain was going to put us into Iraq regardless of what the intelligence showed, blamed the CIA for "mistakes." That brought bogus to a whole new level.

Like the Grand Canyon, the gap between reality and their depiction of it is pretty wide.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Green Gun to the Head?

By Keith R. Schmitz

Despite the screaming on the right wing blogs and among their pundits that environment issue is the sole province of the loonie left, the push for sustainability in response to the coming climate change crisis is a river that runs deeper than eco-fans and the left wing.

From manufacturing to supply chain to food processing to architecture, there is a growing embrace of sustainability by companies that can hardly be accused of being raving socialists. In many ways business is more eco-savvy than many on the left think it is. I have walked many plant floors in facilities where major bucks are being sunk into equipment and systems to make operations run more efficiently in the name of sustainability.

Evidence? There are already companies that are compelling their suppliers to go green, or the green ultimatum as Industry Week puts it. Bear in mind these initiatives are taking place despite the possibility of increased supply chain costs.

These companies right now are not in the majority, but there some major names among those that do. The lean/Six Sigma mind set is driving part of this in that companies are becoming more conscious of the concept of eliminating waste, and certainly wasting the environment is part of this.

Some of this of course can be window dressing, but in fact there are some long-range thinkers -- thank God -- possessing vision that runs past the current quarter. In many cases this is driven by customer demand by very often smart companies key in to the costs savings down the road. And yes, there are those who have an eye to what is happening. The recognize that the business climate won't be too good if our atmospheric climate is not.

Here in Wisconsin look no further than SC Johnson. And for them, this is no passing fad as the Johnson family has been been doing this for more than three generations.

Wondering how to kick in bi-partisanship or better yet non-partisanship? This is the place to start.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chill on the Hill

by folkbum

Got plans for Tuesday? How about coming down to Humboldt Park in scenic Bay View for some quality live and local music under the open sky? The weather looks like it will be beautiful and the Bay View Neighborhood Association always puts on a delightful evening's worth of entertainment.

Speaking of which: Starting at 6 PM, I will be doing a short set of original acoustic songs. Don't listen to the various schedules around that say the show starts 6:30; come early, get a good seat, and listen what I'm bringing.

After I'm done, the stage gets turned over to two local bands, doing a set apiece, the Lillies and Longacre.

It'll be a great time, and I'd love to see you all there!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Michelle Bachmann, pro-choice activist

by folkbum
[U]nder no certain circumstances will I give the government control over my body and my health care decisions.
Welcome to the club, Rep. Bachmann!

Seems Appropriate

by folkbum

Ryan Bingham.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health Care Myth Blasting #2

By Keith R. Schmitz

Let's deconstruct more rad right health care reform mythology courtesy of Media Matters.

MYTH 2: Health care reform will impose rationing
CLAIM: Progressive health care reform proposals will introduce a system of "rationing" into American medicine.

SEAN HANNITY: "We're gonna have a government rationing body that tells women with breast cancer, 'You're dead.' It's a death sentence." [Fox News' Hannity, 6/19/09]
MICHELLE MALKIN: "Big Nanny Democrats want to ration health care for everyone in America -- except those who break our immigration laws." [Malkin column, 7/22/09]
REALITY: Insurance companies already ration care. Insurance companies acknowledge that they ration care, restricting coverage of procedures and tests like MRIs and CAT scans and denying coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.

Sanjay Gupta: "I can tell you, as a practicing physician ... who deals with this on a daily basis, rationing does occur all the time." As Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, explained: "[P]eople always say, 'Is there going to be rationed care?' And I can tell you, as a practicing physician, as someone who deals with this on a daily basis, rationing does occur all the time. I mean, I was in the clinic this past week. And I -- you know, at the end of clinic, I get all this paperwork that basically says, 'Justify why you're doing such and such procedure. Justify why you're ordering such and such test.' And if the justification is inadequate, the answer comes back, 'Well, that's not going to be covered.' Which basically is saying that the patient is going to have to pay for it on their own, which is, in essence, is what rationing is, in so many ways." [CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, 8/12/09]

Insurance companies ration care by rescinding coverage. As former senior executive at CIGNA health insurance company Wendell Potter explained in June 24 Senate testimony, insurance companies restrict or deny coverage by rescinding health insurance policies on the grounds that people had undisclosed pre-existing conditions. President Obama recently cited one such example, noting that "[a] woman from Texas was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, was scheduled for a double mastectomy. Three days before surgery ... the insurance company canceled the policy, in part because she forgot to declare a case of acne. ... By the time she had her insurance reinstated, the cancer had more than doubled in size."

What the wingnuts miss about the Lockerbie guy

by folkbum

Today Scotland set free the terminally ill Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who had been convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103. The warrenterror wingnuts are, of course, up in arms that a man who has maybe weeks to live will be living those weeks with his family rather than in a jail cell. (Or gaol cell, as the case may be.)

But here's the thing: al-Megrahi's release was conditioned upon his having dropped an appeal of his conviction, an appeal that his family could have continued on his behalf after his death; he has maintained his innocence all along and the family could well want to clear his name posthumously. And it seems like there was good reason for his appeal: The key piece of evidence against him, testimony that he bought the shirt the bomb had been wrapped in, may well be contradicted by evidence that was not presented at his trial, leading the appeals commission that ordered the new trial to say "there is no reasonable basis" to believe it was his shirt at all.

In other words: He may well have been the wrong guy.

By letting him go home to die as a convicted but humanely released man, Scottish authorities can bury any mistakes and pretend that they got justice, rather than face the embarrassing prospect of a re-trial that could show just how badly they screwed up.

UPDATE: More context.

Health Care Myth Blasting #1

By Keith R. Schmitz

Let's dive into the murky world of the fear generated by the rad right courtesy of Media Matters.

MYTH 1: There is no health care crisis

CLAIM: The health care system currently works fine, and only a purportedly small number of uninsured people would benefit from reform.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: "There really isn't a crisis in health care in this country. The crisis in health care that -- if you wanna say, that does exist -- is the fear that a major illness or catastrophe could wipe you out, which isn't gonna change. In fact, the odds of you being wiped out by a catastrophe or accident once the government gets started running this stuff is greater than if the private sector -- but day-to-day, there's no health care crisis in this country. You can get it. So, it isn't about health care, per se. This is just about gaining control, taking money, and controlling people's lives, and wiping out Republicans -- a nice cherry on top." [Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, 6/18/09]
STEVE DOOCY: "Currently, 90 percent of all Americans have got some sort of health care coverage, which means they are effectively blowing up the system for 5 percent. Now, the 5 percent, you gotta worry about them -- you gotta worry about everybody who doesn't have it. But is it worth all of this for 5 percent?" [Fox News' Fox & Friends, 7/30/09]
REALITY: Roughly 25 million Americans were underinsured in 2007. According to Cathy Schoen, senior vice president of The Commonwealth Fund, "From 2003 to 2007, the number of adults who were insured all year but were underinsured increased by 60 percent. Based on those who incur high out-of-pocket costs relative to their income not counting premiums despite having coverage all year, an estimated 25 million adults under age 65 were underinsured in 2007." [Testimony from Schoen before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, 2/24/09]

The underinsured do not receive adequate care and face financial hardship. Schoen explained that the "experiences" of the underinsured were "similar" to those of the uninsured, noting that "over half of the underinsured and two thirds of the uninsured went without recommended treatment, follow-up care, medications or did not see a doctor when sick. Half of both groups faced financial stress, including medical debt." [Schoen testimony, 2/24/09]

Insurance companies currently rescind policies when their insured customers need treatment. Insurance companies restrict or deny coverage by rescinding health insurance policies on the grounds that customers had undisclosed pre-existing conditions. On June 16, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing exploring this practice, with the goal of examining "the practice of 'post-claims underwriting,' which occurs when insurance companies cancel individual health insurance policies after providers submit claims for medical services rendered." The committee also released a memorandum finding that three major American insurance companies rescinded 19,776 policies for over $300 million in savings over five years and that even that number "significantly undercounts the total number of rescissions" by the companies.

Currently, insurance companies deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen wrote in a May 14 article, "According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 21 percent of people who apply for health insurance on their own get turned down, charged a higher price or offered a plan that excludes coverage for their pre-existing condition. ... The health insurance industry doesn't deny that people are rejected or charged higher premiums because of pre-existing conditions."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No downside to lying, it seems

by folkbum

A while back, when I wrote about the present health care debate, I could barely contain my disgust that so many otherwise intelligent people (presumably; they seem to be smart enough to go on TV or blog or get elected to Congress) could knowingly and willing outright lie to people.

I mean, okay, I'm a blogger, a good one, too, when I get on a jag, and I've been doing this long enough to know how to pick the polls that support me (why do you think Rasmussen is so popular nowadays?) and the experts that validate my opinions and all that. But here's the difference: When I make a claim about something where everyone else has easy access to the same information that I do--say, for example, widely circulated proposed Congressional legislation--I make damn sure that I'm getting it right.

That apparently doesn't bother opponents of health care reform. They have been loud, bold, and brash with their untruths. So unashamed, as I pointed out then, that they go so far as to cite page and section numbers from the bill, even as they lie about what those pages and sections say.

But you know what? Apparently it works.

Among the big points of discussion today is an NBC News poll that suggests that the public in general is souring on the idea of health care reform. Here's the kicker, though:
One of the reasons why it has become tougher is due to misperceptions about the president’s plans for reform.

Majorities in the poll believe the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants; would lead to a government takeover of the health system; and would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions--all claims that nonpartisan fact-checkers say are untrue about the legislation that has emerged so far from Congress.

Forty-five percent think the reform proposals would allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care for the elderly. That also is untrue.
This is significant, and disheartening, and, I guess, proves Twain's quip that the lie is halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on. It doesn't matter how many times the fact-checkers dismiss the lie; once it's in the viral email and spewing forth from Mt. St. Palin, it is too late. Democrats could introduce in the morning a bill that puts a picture of a cute kitten on every desk in every workplace in America, and the Republicans would have people convinced that Democrats were stealing the kittens' souls by lunchtime, and that would be the end of Project LOLCat.

Why do they do this? Again, I don't think, for most of them, that they're too stupid to be able to read and get the truth. (Well, maybe some of the bloggers and commenters are.) It's because they want to crush Democrats and Obama. It has nothing to do with better lives for the most people--if it did, you'd have Republicans up in arms about the apparent Buddhist takeover of America and all that implies, rather than just Democrats. But no; their plan and desire is political victory, and if they have to lie, they have no qualms about it.

There's more about that poll: Chuck Todd notes here on video, and Steve Benen notes here in words, that people actually do want the Democrats' health care reform. 53%, not a mere plurality, but an actual majority, when given the truth about Democrats' reform efforts say they favor it.

This is important: When people know the truth, they want what we're offering. And yet the strategy of merely telling the truth--which, come on, you think would be enough--fails. I don't understand that. I just don't.

And it is also clear that some of the media have absolutely abandoned any pretense as arbiters of the truth. Chuck Todd, again:
In our poll, 72% of self-identified FOX News viewers believe the health-care plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly. But it would be incorrect to suggest that this is ONLY coming from conservative viewers who tune in to FOX. In fact, 41% of CNN/MSNBC viewers believe the misinformation about illegal immigrants, 39% believe the government takeover stuff, 40% believe the abortion misperception, and 30% believe the stuff about pulling the plug on grandma. What’s more, a good chunk of folks who get their news from broadcast TV (NBC, ABC, CBS) believe these things, too.
This happens, of course, because our media today are more interested in presenting two "sides" of an issue rather than making sure the truth gets out. If one side says the sky is blue and the other side says the sky is a bold plaid tartan, the networks and cable shows would have a parade of people on saying that the plaid people have valid points and shouldn't just be dismissed out of hand. And then some viewers, despite all evidence to the contrary, would make sure their address book all gets the email about the plaid sky. (If it were Republicans claiming plaid sky, FOX would make sure that the pro-plaid side was featured 10-1.)

It makes me sad. There is a profound pain in my soul, here (what's left of it; Democrats have taken many pictures of me) that the honest truth is so impotent, and the primary means of disseminating information to this democracy encourages the propagation of lies.

Be proud, Republicans. Be proud, conservatives. You have lied your way to success. I hope you choke on it.

I went to the best collage evar

by folkbum

Went to luncheon today to meet the new president of my alma mater. The cool part (I mean, besides meeting the new guy), was that the event was hosted by Michael Koss, of Koss Stereophones fame, and he thoughtfully provided some swag to all attendees, including a free set of these.

Recovery Act

By Keith R. Schmitz

Call me an optimist (been called worse around here).

But now that the White House is nearing the conclusion that trying to work with people who are so ideologically frozen that it is comparable to beating your head against the wall, when the administration does pull the trigger the President's approval rating will rise.

This is providing he and the Democrats in Congress come up with a plan that is more to people's liking -- regulating insurance company cherry picking and their practice of rescission, a robust public option, optional end of life counseling, and maintaining the subsidies or very small businesses to name a few.

Bet you that the five to ten percentage points that comprise the disapproval rating are progressives who are uncomfortable, no make that mad, at the caving in to the rad right.

Anyone who hates the idea of health care reform and of course hate the President are already in the disapproval numbers already in there already and should not grow.

Looks like reconciliation may be the path when the Democrats have to deal with irreconcilable differences.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Robotic Ballers

By 3rd Way

Some day sports fans might not have to put up with the antics of the Michael Vicks, Brett Favres and Plaxico Buress' of the world. The people at the University of Tokyo are working towards creating robots with skills that can't be matched by a human.

I don't know if it would be more fun to watch a robot dunk from beyond the 3 point line or hit a 1,000 ft home run than it is to watch LeBron's and Prince's best efforts, but I would prefer that the youth of this country strove to emulate computer programmers trying to outwit each other instead of following the examples set by the majority of contemporary professional athletes.

Anthony Weiner Asks an Unanswered Question

By Keith R. Schmitz

What does private health insurance bring to the table in regards to our health care system?

This is a question I have put out a couple times on this blog with no satisfactory answers.

Turns out this morning, in what could be on a par with "sir at long last do you have no sense of decency," Congress member Anthony Weiner (D -- NY) asked Joe Scarborough repeatedly that very question, and repeatedly he did not answer it until finally Joe admitted, "I have no answer to that question."

The details are here. Actually a very civil discussion on both sides.

Once again here I expect the same results, though perhaps not as civil.

Bear in mind that the average insurance or a family of four is at $12,700 a year.

For those of you who fear that health care reform would raise your taxes, no one's taxes will go up that much, or for most people at all if Obama gets what he wants.

RIP, Bob Novak

by folkbum

The time to make jokes about his being undead to begin with will be much later, and Joe Wilson gets first dibs. For now, his long and painful battle is over.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blackberry Mightier Than the Barretta

By Keith R. Schmitz

Best wishes to Mayor Tom Barrett and a speedy recovery after suffering injuries from doing the right thing after leaving the State Fair last night. Milwaukee metro is lucky to have such a caring individual in charge of city government and no doubt he will be back on the job soon.

Back at State Fair this morning, wasn't more than a couple of hours working the Democratic Party booth when a guy with, gasp an actual skin head, breezed by and threw out one of those cheap shot lines you get (sure the other side gets them too), "hey this wouldn't have happen if we had conceal and carry."

Don't know if I want my metro mayor carrying around a piece. Kind of sends a negative message don't you think?

Reminds me of a similar situation a few months back that happened on Farwell Ave. just up from the gas station off Knapp Street.

Godless socialist that I am, I was ready to cross the street to make a meeting at the Milwaukee Interfaith Conference office when I heard someone shouting for help.

A white guy in roughly his mid-thirties had just pounded an old black man to the ground and kicked him into the street in front of an on-coming car, whose driver was sharp enough to stop in time.

My man side told me to do something about this, but my rational side intervened and quickly calculated the odds of this working out for me, which weren't good.

So I shouted, "hey jackass, check this out, I'm calling the cops" as I slowly and visibly withdrew my Blackberry from a shirt pocket.

The guy looked up, stood erect and headed right for me but then went wide and ran north. The cops did arrive, got my statement and what ever happened next, I don't know.

A conservative Christian relative of mine said too bad I didn't have a gun, because in beating up the other guy he gave up his right of me not shooting him.

So what if I did? There was that one second as he approached me during which if I had a gun and plugged him, later to find him unarmed, a feeling of total crap would have descended on me and would have stayed glued the rest of my life. The knowledge of course in a time like that is imperfect to be sure, but the potential to injure my psyche very significant.

As it is, I feel damn clever about what I did and I'll buy that.

So ponder the ridiculous idea of the Mayor having a gun. Chances are very likely that the 20 year old guy, or the Mayor or his kids could have been shot or killed. A bad situation would have been much worse.

The bullets don't go back into the barrel and those who get off on the empowerment a gun gives them fail to recognize yet another set of actions that have consequences.

Hats off to Mayor Barrett, and let us hope he recovers quickly

by folkbum

So no sooner had I chastised Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for wanting to take over MPS--I maintain it is a bad idea--and crawled into my own bed for the first time in 10 days, than Barrett dials 911 to help someone and takes a beating for her.

I've always liked Barrett--voted for him in the 2002 primary for governer, as well as for mayor--and generally think he hasn't done bad by Milwaukee. It sounds like his condition is not serious and he should recover fully. I hope so; he's got a city (not a school system) to run and we need him.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I really can't leave you people alone for a week, can I?

by folkbum

Yeah, I've been on the other end of the continent for the past week or so. I tried to fake it, but you probably figured it out.

Anyway, I leave and Doyle throws in the towel? Barrett starts annexing MPS and makes enemies with the one man who could make it work for him? Mark Belling goes on a racist rant? (Okay, that last one anyone could have seen coming.)

I gotta stop going on vacation.

Friday, August 14, 2009

An oldie

by folkbum

What's Kate Bush doing these days, anyway?

Krazy Kapanke's Continuing Capers

The other day, Michael Horne reported that the DPW was suing State Senator Dan Kapakne for failing to fully comply with a open records request for his emails and other documents regarding using state time, staff and equipment for a campaign event.

Mr. Horne then followed up on the story and found that Kapanke was lying through his teeth regarding getting the go ahead to use the campaign money for these events. Turned out he didn't ask about using campaign money, but corporate funding instead, and even then was told that he couldn't.

Kapanke, apparently thinking he could head an implosion off by taking action, went himself to the GAB, and only ended up throwing one of his staffers under the campaign bus.

I wonder if Kapanke thinks that he is now off the hook. If he does, he is about to be subjected to a very rude awakening.

Next Wednesday is the court date regarding the Dems accusations that Kapanke either concealed and/or destroyed the documents they requested. The evidence is pretty clear that the requested documents exist or at least existed, since the Dems already had gotten some of them in their possession.

The reason Kapanke is not following the law and cooperating is due to the fact that the requested documents will show that his using state staff, time and equipment for campaign events is not just a one time deal, as one might be led to believe from the vague news accounts. Rather, it was an ongoing thing, such that would make Scott Jensen proud.

I wonder how much Maalox Kapanke is using these days.

Cross posted all over the place.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

RIP, Les Paul

by folkbum

A true pioneer has passed on.

I'm not ashamed to say this now

by folkbum

There was a time--1995 or so--when, had Susan Werner asked, I would have followed her anywhere.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Three Nields for the price of two

by folkbum

You may or may not be aware that the Nields' father was one of the Congressional attorneys during Iran-Contra. Here's Youtube of him drilling Ollie North.

Dems Sue Kapanke

by capper

Michael Horne, intrepid reporter and author of Milwaukee World, is reporting that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is suing State Senator Dan Kapanke for violating campaign laws:
The party also alleges Kapanke failed to fully comply with its request for communications about the event by his political staff members. [The party had in its possession, an e-mail composed by a Senate staffer on state time inviting legislators to participate in the event. That would be an illegal use of state resources, if the event were indeed to be found to be political in nature. However, that same e-mail was not included in Kapanke's response to the public records request, as one might expect.]

The suit also asks for staff time records and much other data, presumably to see if Senate staff members were on the state's clock while working the event. Kapanke didn't hand that stuff over, either. In an August 3rd, 2009 final demand letter to Kapanke, Attorney Michael Maistelman wrote "Your failure to follow Wisconsin law is because to do so would reveal even more serious violations on your part."
Make sure to read the entire post, including the addenda and updates, as well as the comment thread.

Cross posted at Cog Dis, among other places.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Chart of the year

by folkbum

Something else that is a bit old, but I'm just getting around to linking it now. You could spend hours playing with it.

The last three add up to this

by folkbum

Now-defunct Nickel Creek.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

You've all bookmarked the anti-birther guide, right?

by folkbum

It's here, in case you need to open up a can of anti-birther on someone.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Pawns for Profit

By Keith R. Schmitz

My ex-wife, God-bless her, came up with a term that is very applicable with what's going on lately.

Bold ignorance.

Here's a good example of this. Recently one of the raucous anti-health care reform protesters proclaimed to a member of Congress at a town hall meeting "keep your government hands off my Medicare?"

Or the crowds that chant "read the bill" when there is really no bill to read?

Or claiming falsely that the government is going to force the elderly into making end of life decisions when the health insurance companies have been making these every day for years, and further based on a lie put out by the rad right.

Of course to really conjure up bold ignorance, think Sarah Palin.

But nothing is bolder, or more ignorant than these protesters loudly and rudely claiming they are protecting "freedom" when they defend the right of health insurance companies to control our health care.

Stop me when you see something that resembles freedom.
  • Not being able to change jobs or face losing health insurance.
  • Not being able to start a business out of fear of losing health insurance coverage.
  • (Most pitiful yet true) Having a small business and having to marry someone for their insurance.
  • Being a small business and not being able to attract and retain talent when up against a large company that can afford employee health insurance.
  • Having your economic wings clipped because of skyrocketing insurance costs.
  • Having your economic wings clipped because your policy failed to live up to its bargain of covering you after years of you paying above mentioned high premiums or your company paying them and having to cut your wages as a result.
  • Having to chose between food and paying for health insurance premiums or covering a sky-high deductible.
In this and any country, your freedom to have access to health care is based on who finances it. Access to health care is essential to life itself, and no doubt studies would reveal that those who are covered by health insurance on average have a higher life expectancy than those who don't.

But as we should know, this is still not a guarantee because the company could come up with a reason not to provide coverage or a medical condition based on a flimsy technicality.

So those who control access to health care control our lives. This poses the question of who would most of us trust to be stewards of that public trust? A for profit company, whose executives are elected by nobody, or a government that has popularly elected leaders?

The health insurance companies literally own us, and that's why they are not looking to lose this control. That's why through right wing media and astro-turf groups, these companies are working to whip these people up over ginned up lies. Ironically, the money that could be spent on covering medical procedures is being laid out to pay for these campaigns and buy members of Congress.

They have turned those people who are packing the town hall meetings and who hoot and hollar at elected officials into pawns for profit.

Face it. What do these crowds get out of taking the time to disrupt these interchanges of information? The only thing I can think of is being wrapped in the security blanket of succumbing to baseless fears.

What we are seeing today could be compared to slave owners sending out their chattel to break up abolition meetings because, after all, they are well taken care of.

They may think they are doing this on their own accord, since most of these folks plug into to right wing media there really is no rational through process going on.

We of course are going to hear the choruses of, "you are wrong because we have the freedom to either have health insurance or not have health insurance."

What kind of naive/clueless/boldly ignorant people could believe in this day and age that if they or a member of their families contracted cancer, got involved in a smash up or was shot by the many guns we love having in this society that they could come up with the money to pay for the procedures on their own without the help of an insurance company?

Then that bogus exercise in freedom would be replaced by the slavery of having a life-long bill to pay off.

But hey. I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free.

This Is the Guy Who Wants You to Be Controlled by Health Insurance Companies

By Keith R. Schmitz

That would be Rick Scott. Head of an organization, named in typical NewSpeak style Conservatives for Patient Rights, which has been orchestrating the out of control no-nothing protests at Congressional town halls in conjunction with the laughably named Americans for Prosperity. That Rick Scott, who rang up a $1.7 billion fine at Columbia/HCA for over-billing the government, and no doubt left that company with a whopping bonus and severance, proving once against how the profit motive works in its infinite wisdom.

When this people in this shrill, anti-government movement talk about the government unable to run things because of fraud, they need look no further than their leader.

How convenient.

Friday, August 07, 2009


by folkbum

Just in case my post yesterday wasn't enough to convince you that insurance companies should not really be the winners in the current health care fight, you should read this.

It's been floating around for a while now, and I've had it sitting in an open tab for the better part of a week. But it's bone-chilling.

All Going Down

by folkbum

Like my life, lately. Sarah Watkins.

McIlheran Watch: Swastikas

by folkbum

Simple question: Who are you going to believe, McIlheran (conservatives would never use swastikas!) or your lying eyes?

One might also ask McIlheran about this, from a blogger that he thinks his "readers might find interesting." Or this from a guy McIlheran links to daily.

As Atrios said today, "I'm so old I can remember when some random person on the internets made a Nazi comparison in an open video contest and there was a full congressional/media hissy fit."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Be honest

by folkbum

At the end of the present health care debate, is the headline that you want to see really "The Health Insurers [...] Won"?

I mean, really, set aside your partisanship and your bias and whatever idiotic beliefs are hanging on in there, and think: What kind of screwed up world do we live in when in the mix of voters, patients, representatives, and profit-seeking industry, it's the industry's interests that get privileged, over the wishes of the rest of us? When the health of the shareholders' portfolios is prioritized over the health of our neighbors?

Matt Taibbi is a fracking genius, of course, and his pronouncement a few weeks back was dead on:
Our government doesn’t exist to protect voters from interests, it exists to protect interests from voters.
When you consider how much the industry interests have stepped up their bribery campaign contributions, it's really not a surprise that Congress is not working on our interests, and that Business Week can confidently declare, "The carriers have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill Congress may send to President Obama this fall, the insurance industry will emerge more profitable."

Remember, every dollar of profit for them is a dollar they're not spending to make someone well again. Congrats, industry; sucks to be you, sick people.

Money In, Jobs Out

By Keith R. Schmitz

The Senate tonight approved the $2 billion extension of the "Cash for Clunkers" program.

Why in the world wasn't the rest of the stimulus package wasn't like this? Critics (we know who they are) complained what was passed earlier this year didn't not have enough job creation.

What got passed tonight was job creation, pure and simple for American car makers, their suppliers, steel makes and even scrap yards.

Pardon my regional chauvinism, but for years the southern and western states -- including Sarah Palin's Alaska -- saw more money coming back from Washington than they sent. This time, since most of the American automakers are located in the Midwest, we get to benefit.

And yes another example that government, when run right, works.

RIP, John Hughes

by folkbum

While the world would be a much better place today without Home Alone and McCauley Culkin, most of John Hughes's work is significant and meaningful to my generation. Though he's not done much lately, his oeuvre stands the test of time.

Not Judy Sisters

by folkbum

Punch Brothers

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


by folkbum

I call half the conservative Cheddarsphere a bunch of liars and they clam up tighter than a ... something tight (it's been a rough week, forgive my lack of analogy)? They can't shut up when the control the combox ... what are they afraid of?

Because they're lying, that's why

by folkbum

You might be wondering why I haven't written much about the health care debate lately. In part, things have been crazy round these parts, and I haven't written much at all lately. In part, Keith has been doing a fine job.

Mostly, though, it's because the "other side" in this debate refuses to be honest about it. You see it in the comment threads here; I have also tried engaging them in comment threads elsewhere. They lie, and when you explain to them exactly how they're lying, they refuse to acknowledge it and make up something else.

Now, I don't know the origin of all of the crap they're throwing out there. One thing I do know, though, is that all these people who claim to have "read the bill" (HR3200, available in html here and downloadable as a ginormous pdf from lots of places) either haven't or don't have a clue what they're reading.

A friend forwarded an email from Americans for Prosperity this morning, for example, that reads in part,
You see, we had just detailed the “end of life” mandatory counseling provision of the Obama/Pelosi health care takeover for the crowd. Dr. Larry Hunter had just explained that on page 425 and 426 the House bill states that if you are a Medicare recipient you will receive counseling to learn about “end of life” options, including hospice and palliative care.
On this blog, it's called "Obamacare Euthanasia." Berry Laker, in a long list of misreadings of the bill found via Dad29, writes, "Government mandates program for orders for life-sustaining treatment (i.e. end of life). The government has a say in how your life ends." This blog, from which I've been banned for pointing out previous blatant lies, says, "End of life plan for each American citizen ordered by the government."

Scary-sounding stuff, to be sure, but flat-out lies. The section in question from HR3200 begins with the words, ”Section 1861 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395x) is amended …” If you look at the law to be amended, you can see that it's the "Definitions of Services, Institutions, Etc." part of the law that describes services that are reimbursable under Medicare. The provision in HR3200 does not make such sessions mandatory and does not force anyone to do anything or file their living will with the federal government. It does not send a G-Man to your door to tell you how and when you're going to die. Instead, the provision simply says that the doctor can get paid for the time he or she spends talking to you about your living will--something that doesn't happen now. It was originally introduced by a Republican Senator and endorsed by the AARP; the AARP is not so dumb as to endorse a provision that kills off their dues-paying members, are they? No matter how patiently I explain this, the other side refuses to acknowledge reality.

The other side reports with glee every time something bad happens in England (McIlheran does it here, for example), because they deliberately choose to conflate the British socialized National Health Service (where health care workers are government employees) with the reforms being proposed by Congress and the White House, none of which are socialized medicine, "government-run health care," or even single-payer. They'll tell you that HR3200 demands rationing of care. Berry Laker: "YOUR HEALTH CARE WILL BE RATIONED! [. . .] THERE WILL BE A GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE deciding what treatments and benefits you get." He also prints that in red text, because all-caps is apparently not enough emphasis. But the parts of the bill he points to (sections 122 and 123) say nothing of the kind. Section 122 is the Essential Benefits Package Defined section, which sets minimum standards for health insurance coverage, not maximums that lead to rationing. Section 123 establishes an advisory committee whose job it is to periodically review those minimums and decide if they're sufficient.

As part of that, they'll lie to you and tell you that HR3200 outlaws private insurance. Freedom Eden displays that in her sidebar: "Obamacare: You Will Lose Your Current Insurance. Period. End of Story. Right there on Page 16 is a provision making individual private medical insurance illegal." Community columnist Kathy Banaszak repeats the lie in the JS this morning. This blogger claims, "Of course it outlaws private insurance. It’s right there in the bill. [. . .] I read the goddamn bill, unlike John Conyers." If he had read the bill, of course, he would have noticed Title II (pages 72-143, so not like it's buried) of the bill, "Health Insurance Exchange and Related Provisions," which establishes a nation-wide network of private insurers--something the right has been clamoring for. Yes, there is a "public option" defined in Title II, but it is in addition to, not in place of, private insurance.

The "page 16" lie has its origins in a lying editorial from Investors Business Daily, which misreads the definition of a "grandfathered health plan"--a plan that exists now but cannot enroll new members after the bill takes effect--and reads that as the end of private insurance altogether. In fact, those "grandfathered" plans are defined (p. 72-73) as "acceptable coverage," meaning they won't be changed or taken away by the bill. And insurance companies and businesses are free to--are, in fact, encouraged to--offer private health care plans (meeting new minimums) and enroll people after the bill takes effect.

A similar lie shows up in Berry Laker's list: "Government will RESTRICT enrollment of special needs people!" he screams, also in red. But, again, that's about grandfathered plans.

There's more, of course. There's the one about how the government will have real-time access to your financial records. The reality is that bill requires, as part of modernizing the system through electronic records, a real-time "determination of an individual’s financial responsibility at the point of service." In other words, not a full picture of your portfolio, but rather whether or not you owe a co-pay.

There's the one about the "national ID card," because the bill says you should have an insurance card. (I already have one! It's the end of the world!)

There's the one about "government will tell you [doctors] where your residency will be, thus where you’ll live" (Berry Laker, again), based on the section that slightly amends an already existing law (see here, scroll down to "(h) Payments for Direct Graduate Medical Education Costs").

There's the one about about the federal government setting pay for all doctors, based on the fact that doctors who voluntarily agree to be a part of the public option plan will be reimbursed at Medicare rates.

There's the one (seen an a LTE this morning) about how the plan doesn't apply to Congress, even though Congresspeople get their benefits through their employers, and, like all other employer-provided insurance in the bill, that's left alone.

There's the one about the feds mandating that everyone get vaccinations, based on the fact that the bill adds a "preventive services" section to another set of definitions in the Social Security Act.

I mean, I could go on for days just on Berry Laker's list alone. It's painful to see so many deliberate falsehoods and misreadings of the bill's language all in one place. (He conveniently offers page numbers, so feel free to download the bill and debunk away over there.)

One last one, though, and it's one we've seen in comments here and elsewhere. (Added: McIlheran used this lie in his lede Friday, citing bogus figures from an insurance-industry funded group.) The bill, HR3200, includes an employer mandate, meaning that all employers must either provide insurance to their workers or must pay a fine of 8% of payroll, which provides subsidies for people who cannot afford to buy into the insurance market (private plan or public option) on their own. The theory goes that since 8% of payroll is far less than what many employers are paying for insurance now, business will dump their employees and take the hit.

This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

I mean, I can't call it a lie, because, you know, there's no way to say that it won't happen. But it's an utterly illogical argument.

What's the penalty right now for a business dropping insurance coverage? If you said nothing, you win a prize. Right now, your boss could cancel your health insurance and pay nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Zero. No "fine" at all. In fact, if you quit in protest, there is probably going to be a long line of people ready to take your place (and maybe work for less), unemployment being what it is, so there is no incentive at all for the boss to try to keep you happy.

Yes, many businesses are going ahead and dropping coverage. But that's still the minority. The vast majority of people still get their insurance at work. So how on earth does it make sense to say that companies that are not dropping coverage now when rates are rising and there's no penalty are going to do it in a heartbeat after the bill passes, adds a penalty (and, we hope, holds down rates)? Past behavior is always a good predictor of future behavior, and past behavior suggests that businesses generally don't want to stop offering insurance, even when there is no penalty for doing so.

To be clear: Not every conservative Cheddarspherean is engaging in the lies this way. A lot of them haven't touched health care reform at all, or if they have, they're leaving it up to Paul Ryan. (Ryan has his own problems, of course.) But I wish some of the respectable members of the Right Cheddarsphere would call out some of their own for spreading this crap.

Finally, it's obvious why they're lying: The reality of the health care proposals is not very scary. In fact, there's broad bipartisan support for the bulk of the reforms. However, this is not about getting good reform done. Some of the Republicans have let slip the truth: This is about getting Obama. This is what they want to be his Waterloo. If Republicans can stop this reform--the fiscal and physical health of the nation be damned--then Obama will be weak and broken and they can dance on the grave of progressives' hope. Many of the blogs I linked to about these lies, for example, are presently reveling in a send-up poster of Obama made-up like Heath Ledger's Joker. This is intensely personal for them! So rather than be honest about what's going in the actual language of the bill, they spread these lies and scary stories.

That's why I haven't been writing about health care. How do you debate someone who willfully misrepresents the proposals, refuses to accept facts as facts, and engages in Bizarro-world thinking? You can't. It's all I can do not to rip my remaining hair out in frustration.

Do you know what we do to defectors?

by folkbum

Send them back to Ireland.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Happy Anniversary, John Norquist

by folkbum

Nine years ago, on our second anniversary, Sarah and I spent a good six or eight hours sitting around Newark International Airport waiting for a long-delayed Midwest Express (it was still called that, then, and still served Real Food with Real Flatware) flight home after taping Sarah's appearance on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Waiting with us in the terminal was one then-Mayor of Milwaukee John Q. Norquist.

Today, killing time between the movie and dinner, we sat and read magazines at a bookstore. I picked up a copy of Monocle--why not?--and there was a commentary by one former-Mayor John Q. Norquist.

(Sarah: He looks much hipper that I remember.
Me: I think that happens to everyone who leaves Milwaukee.)

So now I'm wondering how Norquist is going to invade future anniversaries ...