Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Talking Heads

Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly discusses the Sunday morning talking heads. He aptly notes that during the roundtable discussion on ABC's "This Week" there important issues were not discussed and what was raised was less than relevant.

ABC's "This Week" held its usual roundtable discussion this morning, with Elizabeth Vargas hosting a panel of Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, George Will, and Paul Krugman.

The last topic of conversation was introduced by Vargas this way:

"[O]f course, this weekend, we have a brand-new White House social secretary appointed to replace Desiree Rogers, a close friend of the Obamas who is exiting after a bumpy tenure, I would say. Cokie, you spoke with her. She -- she was highly criticized after the Obamas' first state dinner in which she arrived, looking absolutely gorgeous, but in what some people later said was far too fancy a dress, but most importantly, that was the state dinner that was crashed by the Salahis, who walked in without an invitation when the social secretary's office didn't have people manning the security sites."

This led to a surprisingly long chat about Desiree Rogers.

Krugman sat silently while the discussion went on (and on), before eventually interjecting:

"Can I say that 20 million Americans unemployed, the fact that we're worrying about the status of the White House social secretary....

Donaldson responded, "Paul, welcome to Washington." [...]

There's nothing wrong with including heavier and lighter subjects in the same public affairs forum.

But this panel discussion covered exactly four subjects this morning: health care reform, Charlie Rangel's ethics problem, David Paterson's latest troubles, and the fate of the former White House social secretary (and where she's from, what her clothes looked like, what her next job is likely to be, etc.), which hardly seems relevant to anyone who doesn't actually attend social events at the White House.

In this same discussion, there was nothing about the jobs bill that passed the Senate this week, nothing about the incredibly important Zazi guilty plea this week (and the fact that it makes Republican talking points look ridiculous), nothing about Jim Bunning single-handedly delaying unemployment insurance for those who need it. [...]

Today, shows like 'This Week' have talking heads who express their opinions on the issues. Objectivity and and no nonsense reporting are not part of the equation. No wonder Paul Krugman was the only panelist who thought the conversation wasn't relevant.

Memories of Hard Times

Some Republicans are coming forward to explain why Sen Jim Bunning [R-KY] is justified in putting a cabash on an extension for unemployment benefits.
"All Senator Bunning was saying quite correctly it ought to be paid for," Sen. Jon Kyl told Fox News' Chris Wallace.
Of course, the reality of this situation is discussed in a Mother Jones article by James Ridgeway, GOP to the Unemployed: Drop Dead (You Bums).
As of Sunday, unemployment benefits will officially end for hundreds of thousands of Americans, thanks to maneuverings by Senate Republicans to prevent a vote that would have extended those benefits. Unless the extension is passed soon, some 1.1 million of the nation’s unemployed will see their unemployment benefits expire in the coming month, and 5 million will lose benefits by June.

The House finally voted to extend benefits on Thursday, after several days of stalling and posturing. But in the Senate, the measure was blocked by Kentucky’s Jim Bunning. Politico reported that late into Thursday night, Bunning held out against repeated Democratic attempts to pass the extension by unanimous consent. In response to entreaties from colleagues across the aisle, other Republican senators rose to defend Bunning's right to obstruct the vote, and Bunning himself was heard to utter, “Tough shit.”

Bunning said he wanted to see the cost of the benefits offset by other savings, to keep from adding to the deficit. But earlier in the week, Nevada Republican Congressman Dean Heller offered another objection to extending unemployment benefits: He believes it might create a nation of bums. [...]
“I believe there should be a federal safety net,” Heller said, but he questioned the wisdom of extending unemployment benefits yet again to a total of 24 months, which Congress is doing. “Is the government now creating hobos?” he asked. [...]
What makes Heller’s statement really stupid, of course, is that people could become hobos if Congress doesn’t extend unemployment benefits, rather than if they do. Modest as they are, these weekly benefits are what’s keeping thousands--and perhaps millions--of families out of poverty. The benefits that expire first are for people who have been out of work the longest, and are most likely to be living close to the edge already. [...]

The heydey of hobos was during the Great Depression, before the New Deal began to weave the social safety net. If Nelson and his fellow Republicans want to see Americans riding the rails, living in tent cities, and lining up at soup kitchens (even more than they already are), all they have to do is keep tearing that safety net apart.
The bill that Sen Jim Bunning has blocked would not only have extended COBRA coverage but would also have prevented a scheduled 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors.

It is evident that Bunning isn't concerned about re-election because he's retiring at the end of his term. And when he leaves his job, he won't lose his health care benefits and he won't need unemployment benefits because he will receive a pension for life. The bum!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Union of the Unemployed

Sometimes power is in numbers. An ingenious idea is giving unemployed individuals such power.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons
It's been only a month that a union for the unemployed has come into existence through an ingenious grassroots organizing campaign. In case you haven't heard about it, the union's name is "UR Union of the Unemployed" or its nickname, "UCubed," because of its unique method of organizing.

UCubed is the brain-child of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), whose leaders feel that the millions of unemployed workers need a union of their own to join in the struggle for massive jobs programs.

The idea is that if millions of jobless join together and act as an organization, they are more likely to get Congress and the White House to provide the jobs that are urgently needed. They can also apply pressure for health insurance coverage, unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits and food stamps. An unemployed worker is virtually helpless if he or she has to act alone.

Joining a Cube is as simple as it is important. (Please check the union web site:

Let's Talk About Health Insurance Reform

The Republicans begin every conversation about lowering the costs of health insurance by bringing up tort reform, a.ka malpractice reform. In their narrow minded window of health reform solutions, capping damages on injured citizens is top on their list.

There is valid evidence that caps on non-economic damages do not reduce the costs of health care. They "do not bring down insurance rates!"

The state of Texas allowed the health insurance and health care industries to write the state's new malpractice law. The insurance industry's wish list was fulfilled. Yet, today the most expensive place in the nation to receive medical care and treatment is McAllen, Texas.

The experience of Texas in capping damage awards is a good example. Contrary to Perry’s claims, a recent analysis by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker found that while Texas tort reforms led to a cap on pain-and-suffering awards at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which led to a dramatic decline in lawsuits, McAllen, Texas is one of the most expensive health care markets in the country. In 2006, “Medicare spent fifteen thousand dollars per person enrolled in McAllen, he finds, which is almost twice the national average — although the average town resident earns only $12,000 a year. “Medicare spends three thousand dollars more per person here than the average person earns.”
Let's open up the horizon of possibilities. Let's talk about real solutions. Let's legislate a cap on the salary of the health insurance company CEO.


That is the sound of every CEO screaming at the top of his/her lungs that you can't legislate a cap on 'their' salary.

Why not? It certainly would save the insurance company billions of dollars each year.

While the American people find themselves priced out of health insurance and healthcare, the CEOs of America's largest for-profit health insurers are making record salaries.

And perks . . .like private corporate aircraft, country club memberships, security services (wonder why they need this?) and a lifestyle most Americans can only dream about.

It's really long overdue that the American people hit the streets to demand guaranteed and affordable healthcare. It's also long overdue that we drive a stake through the heart of the fully parasitic Murder by Spreadsheet for-profit insurance industry.

From the Washington Post:

Karen Ignagni, CEO America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)

Ignagni's total compensation, according to AHIP's most recent filing from 2007, was $1.58 million, which includes $700,000 in base salary, $370,000 in deferred compensation and a bonus. Ignagni won't say how many hours a week she works. The number's so high it's embarrassing, she said.

[All the following data for the 2008 salary survey is provided by Fiercehealthcare]

Meet the parasites:

Ron Williams - Aetna

Total Compensation: $24,300,112

Details: Williams earned $24,300,112 in total compensation for 2008, with more than half of that ($13,537,365) coming from option awards. He also received an additional $6,456,630 in stock awards to go along with his base salary of $1,091,764.

Personal use of a corporate aircraft and vehicle, as well as financial planning and 401(k) company matches added up to $101,487 for Williams.


H. Edward Hanway - CIGNA

Total Compensation: $12,236,740

Details: Hanway took a significant pay cut from 2007 to 2008, due mainly to a drop off of more than $11 million in his non-equity incentive plan compensation. Still, his base salary of $1,142,885 surpasses that of Aetna's Williams, and is supplemented by just over $3.6 million in option awards, and just over $820,000 in non-qualified deferred compensation earnings.

Also, nearly $21,800 in "other compensation" included the use of a company car with a driver, in-office meals, and emergency assistance services relating to medical exams.


Angela Braly - WellPoint

Total Compensation: $9,844,212

Details: Braly, like Williams, earned more money in 2008 ($9,844,212) than in 2007 (9,094,271), increasing her option rewards by nearly $1.5 million, and also receiving a $200,000-plus bump in base salary, from $922,269 to $1,135,538. Braly's stock awards dropped from $2,160,159 to $1,750,015 because, according to the SEC, "performance-based restricted stock units awarded in 2008 were cancelled because our ROE target for 2008 was not met."

Braly's "other compensation" comprised use of a private jet for her and her family on business trips, just under $10,000 for legal services relating to her employment agreement and cash credits.


Dale Wolf - Coventry Health Care

Total Compensation: $9,047,469

Details: Wolf is the only CEO on this list who is no longer employed with his associated health plan; he retired from his position on Jan. 30 of this year after serving in that role since Jan. 1, 2005, and was replaced by former CEO Allen Wise.

Wolf, whose total compensation dipped quite a bit from 2007 ($14,869,823) to 2008 ($9,047,469), was pleased with the direction the company was headed in at the time of his departure.

"I am proud of what a talented group of people have accomplished over the past 13 years of my association with the company," Wolf said, "and I am confident that the fundamentals which are in place today will carry the company forward to continued success."

Wolf carried a base salary of $965,000 in 2008, and earned just over $1.9 million in stock awards. His "other compensation," which amounted to $486,447, included transportation on the company's airplane, a company match retirement savings plan and a company match 401(k) plan.


Michael Neidorff - Centene

Total Compensation: $8,774,483

Details: Neidorff, who's base salary remained at $1 million, received increases in both his bonus ($1.25 million, up from $1 million) and his stock awards ($4.7 million, from $3.98 million) in 2008. According to the SEC, "Neidorff's agreement was amended twice in the past twelve months; (1) to eliminate the non-compete and non-solicitation requirements if there was a ‘hostile change in control' as defined in his agreement and (2) to add language to the agreement to make it compliant with Internal Revenue Section 409A."

Neidorff's "other compensation" of just over $418,000 comprised of use of the company airplane "for all travel," life insurance benefits, security services, and tax preparation services, among other things.


James Carlson - AMERIGROUP

Total Compensation: $5,292,546

Details: Despite a lawsuit regarding Medicaid fraud that cost the Illinois plan $225 million, Carlson himself earned roughly $2 million more than he did in 2007. All aspects of his compensation increased in 2008, from his base salary (up from $608,000 to just over $761,000) to his non-equity incentive plan compensation (up to about $2.8 million from $1.98 million a year ago). Carlson's bonus also grew quite a bit, going from $225,000 in 2007 to $520,312 in 2008; much of that amount was based on long term incentive program goals being met.

Carlson's "other compensation," which nearly tripled (going from about $7,000 to just over $20,000), included his employer 401(k) contribution, life insurance premiums, an executive health screening, flight services and a medical insurance stipend.


Michael McCallister - Humana

Total Compensation: $4,764,309

Details: Despite its pick ups of two smaller health plans (OSF Health Plans of Peoria, IL and Cos/Cariten Healthcare of Knoxville, TN), Humana's McCallister earned roughly $5.5 million less in 2008 than in 2007. While his base salary ($1,017,308), option awards ($3,078,897) and "other compensation" ($668,104) all increased, his non-equity incentive plan compensation and his nonqualified deferred compensation earnings totaled zero dollars. The latter represents a discontinuation of the Officers' Target Retirement Plan, according to the SEC.

McCallister's "other compensation" included personal use of the company aircraft for him, and sometimes his family; company contributions to the Supplemental Executive Retirement & Savings Plan and the Humana Retirement & Savings Plan; a once-a-year physical, financial planning assistance, and more.


Jay Gellert - Health Net

Total Compensation: $4,425,355

Details: Gellert, whose company is considering selling off divisions in at least four states, earned nearly $740,000 in additional compensation for 2008. His overall base salary increased to a little more than $1.2 million from about $1.18 million in 2007, and his stock awards also rose (from about $1.4 million to more than $1.8 million).

Gellert's "other compensation," which totaled $131,526, included, but were not limited to, a $53,000 housing allowance, a corporate car and tax reimbursements of nearly $41,000.


Richard Barasch - Universal American

Total Compensation: $3,503,702

Details: After taking a pay cut from 2006 to 2007, Barasch more than doubled his total compensation for 2008, jumping up from $1,564,293 in 2007. Barasch's base salary jumped up to $857,851 from $798,340 in 2007; his stock and option awards also increased, as did his "other compensation," which reflected a car allowance, relocation benefits and a matching contribution to his 401(k).

Also of note for Barasch was the fact that his non-equity incentive plan compensation earnings totaled $1,195,147; in 2007, he did not receive any money in 2007 for such compensation, but took home $1.1 million in 2006.


Stephen Hemsley - UnitedHealth Group

Total Compensation: $3,241,042

Details: An $895 million class-action lawsuit over stock-option back dating aside, Hemsley still manages to make the cut for this list at No. 10. The UHG CEO's base salary was $1.3 million in 2008, to go along with a non-equity incentive plan compensation worth just over $1.8 million and "other compensation" amounting to slightly more than $119,000.

Hemsley's other compensation was a combination of the company matching his contributions under the 401(k) plan and the company matching contributions under his executive savings plan. According to the SEC, "in May 2006, the amount of Hemsley's supplemental retirement benefit was frozen based on his current age and average base salary and converted into a lump sum of $10,703,229." Because of this, "there was no increase in the benefit payable to Mr. Hemsley under his supplemental retirement benefit" in 2008.

Real solutions with real results. It is not yet within the lexicon of the politicians.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Truth About Tort Reform

At Health Care Summit, Sen. Durbin destroys Republican arguments on Malpractice Reform!

The only advantage from tort reform will be to the insurance industry. Once again the politicians are bidding the interests of the powerful and rich corporations while throwing the citizens of this country under the bridge.

Thank you Sen. Durbin for speaking truth to power! Now, Democrats and President Obama, are you listening?

Conservatives Just Can't Decide

All this talk of BIPARTISANSHIP. Does anyone think it will work? The Republicans have been saying that the Democrats won't listen or work with them. The President held a health care summit to try to reach a compromise. Here are some opinions on this issue.

Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly
[A] Politico piece suggests Obama hasn't been willing to entertain GOP-friendly concessions on medical malpractice and insurance sales across state lines.

We already know this claim isn't true. Not only is the inter-state competition provision already a part of the Democratic plan, but President Obama very specifically said he's open to compromise on malpractice if Republicans would be willing to give on something else. They refused.

I've lost track of how many concessions Democrats have made to move this legislation to the middle. At this point, not only are the public option and Medicare buy-in gone, and single payer taken off the table before the discussion even began, but the legislation is loaded with Republican ideas. The package is so moderate, far-right Republicans, by their own admission, agree with 80% of it, and the legislation is almost identical to what moderate Republicans were offering 17 years ago.

First this is the sound of one hand clapping. Last I looked, it took two--as in bi--parties to do something bipartisan. Well, Republicans aren't playing. The sentiment at the Tea Party and CPAC conventions on the right was more akin to a lynch mob than a negotiating team. And the right's commissars--led by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin-- are intent on purging any Republican legislators who dare stray from the gospel, much less traffic with the other side.

That sentiment is echoed by the Republican congressional leadership, now scrambling to prove their zealotry. Republican legislators championed the idea of a bipartisan commission on deficit reduction--until Barack Obama endorsed it. Then even co-sponsors of the measure joined in torpedoing it in the Senate. House Republican leader John Boehner's initial precondition for attending the bipartisan summit on health care was that the president "scrap" the legislation that has passed the House and the Senate and "start over." His compromise was to agree to come to the summit to expose the Democratic plan and demand that they agree to start over. This is like the Iranians telling the US they are willing to negotiate about nukes with no preconditions, if the US agrees first to scrap its nuclear arsenal.

The intransigence isn't accidental. Republicans bet heavily that Obama's failure would be to their benefit. They've honed obstruction into a political art. And they are winning. A year ago they were lost in the wilderness, now they believe they are on the march.

What to do?

Unless American voters start to punish them for their obstruction, they aren't about to change.

Millions of Americans want action. They want jobs created and the banks curbed. They want leaders who are on their side, and not catering to corporate interests. The President can posture all he wants about bipartisanship. He and the Democrats have to remember one thing: they need to produce--and voters will hold them responsible if they fail.

The best hope for the country and for Democrats is to give Americans a clear choice. Push for a bold jobs bill--let Republicans oppose it, and force them to filibuster against it. And then take the argument to the American people. Push for taxing the bankers and breaking up the big banks and protecting consumers--let Republicans oppose it, force them to filibuster it, and take that to the American people. And stop talking about health care and pass the damn bill. Pass the Senate bill in the House and push the fix through the Senate on reconciliation.

Cut Government Spending/Not

Republicans, the Tea Party and conservative talking heads all agree that government spending needs to be cut. But when asked what they thought should be cut from the budget, they certainly didn't want to cut Social Security

A recent Salon piece points out that despite opposition to government spending in general, conservatives do not advocate reductions in government spending on particular programs.
About 49% of conservatives want to cut or eliminate foreign aid; 35% want to cut or eliminate welfare. The other programs, however, are again quite popular. The average percentage of conservatives who want to increase spending is unchanged: about 54%.
The broader point does not change: for most programs, the percentage of conservatives who want to cut spending is small. In fact, it's striking that even foreign aid and welfare attract as much support as they do, especially given the long history of conservative opposition to these programs.

conflictedconservatives revised.png

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Truth About Heath Care

The Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky has published a Viewers Guide to the Bipartisan Health Care Summit.


Today’s Bipartisan Health Care Summit may be the end of the beginning for health care reform. While the President has tried to unite the Democratic party behind a single proposal, Republicans have proudly pronounced that they would not bring new ideas to the table. They’ve promised to reiterate their criticism of the existing Democratic legislation and speak in generalities about how the private market place can lower health care costs and achieve “universal access.”

And while their poll-tested talking points may sound convincing, the GOP solutions actually shift the costs and risks of insurance onto individuals and divides the market into low-cost plans for the healthy and high-cost insurance for the sick. This morning, the Wonk Room is releasing a Viewers Guide to the Bipartisan Health Care Summit. Here is what the GOP will say and why they’re wrong:

GOP CLAIM 1: Tort reform will significantly lower health care spending.

FACT: According to the Congressional Budget Office, malpractice costs are not the main driver of health care spending and the GOP’s prescription of capping non-economic damages has failed to reduce premiums on the state level. Indeed, states that have adopted reward caps have failed to significantly lower health care costs. When Texas capped non economic medical malpractice damages to $250,000 in 2003, most conservatives argued that the reform would free doctors from having to prescribe unnecessary treatment. It didn’t happen. According to the Dartmouth research on disparities in health care spending, many Texan doctors are still prescribing aggressive treatments that don’t improve outcomes and premiums continue to increase. In fact, as of 2006, Texas was still at the top of the list of high-spending states.

GOP CLAIM 2: Selling insurance across state lines will promote competition among insurance companies and lower premiums.

FACT: Selling policies across state lines would allow an insurer to choose a single ‘primary state’ “whose covered laws shall govern the health insurance issuer” and sell its policies nationwide. This will encourage companies to choose a state with scarce regulations and sell policies that don’t provide mental health parity, cancer screenings, or abide by regulations that limit the rates that can be charged to higher-cost consumers. In fact, the GOP house health bill requires a “health insurance issuer” to issue a “notice” informing consumers that policies sold from other states are “not subject to all of the consumer protection laws or restrictions on rate changes” of the state where the beneficiary lives. The Republican proposal also expands the definition of ‘state’ to not only include the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, but the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. This would allow the governments of the Virgin Islands or the Northern Mariana Islands to be the sole regulators. Given the record of corruption and general willingness of these countries to allow themselves to be used for off-shore banking and tax shelter entities, it is unlikely that these governments would provide effective oversight for market conduct, trade practices.

GOP CLAIM 3: Everyone will have “universal access” to insurance. Individuals who cannot purchase insurance in the individual market can be covered by high risk pools that states will be required to establish.

FACT: Nationwide, high-risk pools cover fewer than 200,000 people. Often, enrollees face high premiums and are denied benefits for treatments related to their preexisting conditions. Covering all high-risk Americans through these pools is likely to be prohibitively expensive. According to a 2008 report from the Tax Policy Center, using high-risk pools “to prevent large losses in insurance coverage among the sick and needy could be extremely expensive—on the order of $1 trillion over ten years given projected health care costs.”

Download the entire guide here.

Spread the word that the GOP's position on health care serves the health insurance industry, not the people.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Keith Olbermann: A Cry For Help

A very moving Special Comment of Keith's addressing "death panel" claims from the far right including the personal story of his extremely ill father.

Enough Talk of Compromise

It's time to get real! When
fact-checking the GOP on healthcare reform, the truth needs to be told.

Senate Democrats have accepted at least 161 Republican amendments to their healthcare reform legislation, they've incorporated core GOP planks, and they've scuttled an aspect of the plan most popular with its base, the public option, because of opposition by Republicans as well as red state Democrats.

But they haven't compromised with Republicans? It seems as though the GOP's definition of compromise and collaboration involves the president and the Democrats dropping all of their ideas and passing the Republican platform. That's OK; it's their job to push their party line. But too much of the media seems to be falling for it.

Enough of this bi-partisan smoke and mirrors. It's time for Democrats to play hard-ball.

An Electric Bike...Yikes!

Would you ride a foldable, electric bike? The Yike Bike's makers describe it as a clean an efficient electric bike that can be charged by electricity and that encourages the use of public transport because it can easily be folded.

Obama Makes a Deal

Barack Obama has had a hands-off approach in supporting a public option in the health reform bill. After the Democrats lost Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, the public option seemed as dead as a door nail. But since a majority of the people want a public option, it is now being resurrected as a possibility through reconciliation.

So what is President Obama's position on the public option? Miles Mogulescu at The Huffington Post answers this question in his article, The Real Reason Obama'a Plan Doesn't Include a Public Option.
The reason Robert Gibbs gives for President Obama's health care plan not including a public option -- that despite majority voter support, it can't get 51 Democratic votes in the Senate -- doesn't hold up. The real reason is that Obama made a backroom deal last summer with the for-profit hospital industry that there would be no meaningful public option.

But Obama's deal with the for-profit hospital lobby to insure there would be no public option has, as best I can tell, only been reported in two articles in The New York Times. On August 13, The Times reported that while President Obama had presented himself as "aloof from the legislative fray," particularly in connection with the public option, "Behind the scenes, however, Mr. Obama and advisors have been...negotiating deals with a degree of cold-eyed political realism potentially at odds with the president's rhetoric." One of the deals reported in The Times article was the Pharma deal. The other was a deal with the for-profit hospital lobby to limit its cost reductions to $155 billion over 10 years in exchange for a White House promise that there would be no meaningful public option.

Throughout the process, the White House has given vague statements supporting the public option -- enough to keep liberals and progressive on board -- while repeatedly undermining the public option in practice. Jane Hamsher has written a useful timeline of White House efforts to undermine the public option.

There is no evidence that President Obama has ever twisted the arm of a single Senator to support a public option and plenty of evidence that he has assiduously avoided doing so, sending a message to Senators that he doesn't want a public option. When the Senate passed its version of the health reform bill, the reason the White House gave for there being no public option was that it couldn't garner 60 votes. But Joe Lieberman, who could have been the 60th vote, insists that the Obama administration never pressured him to support either a public option or a Medicare buy-in. And Sen. Russ Feingold blamed the demise of the public option in the Senate on the White House's failure to push for it.

Now the White House is saying they're not including a public option in Obama's plan because they can't get even 51 Democratic votes in the Senate. Does anyone really believe that if President Obama really wanted a public option -- if he hadn't dealt the public option away in a backroom deal with the for-profit hospital industry -- he couldn't get 51 out of 59 members of the Senate Democratic caucus to vote for it?

If this is true, then the change that we were to believe in has become the status-quo that Obama ran against. Also, the public option is not the answer to solve the health care problem. But it is certainly a better place to start.

Progressives and Democrats should join together and push for real change with a single payer health care system. Now that would be change that can be believed.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Another Side of Bode Miller

Olympic gold medal champion skier/organic farmer Bode Miller has been a vegetarian his whole life.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

When Rhetoric Becomes Violent

Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes discuss the violent rhetoric being used by the right wing and the Republican Party's willingness to give that anger a wink and a nod rather than standing up to it.
The conversation revolved around the comments of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty who spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week. Pawlenty compared "big government" Democrats to the conflict between Tiger Woods and his wife Elin.
Conservatives could learn a lot from Tiger Woods' wife Elin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said at the Conservative Political Action Conference today. "She said, I've had enough," Pawlenty said. "We should take a page out of her playbook and take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government."

Pawlenty's reference to physical conflict wasn't a metaphor or an accident. Because it was a theme of his speech.
Pawlenty said conservatives also have a message for liberals: "If you try to take our freedoms, we will fight back."

Pawlenty brought the crowd to their feet warning Democrats that Republicans were "planting the flag on constitutional ground" and that if they try to take away their freedoms "we will fight back."
When Pawlenty was asked by "Meet The Press" host David Gregory whether he expected to be taken seriously when using Tiger's Woods' marital problems as a rallying cry. Pawlenty's response was, "People still enjoy a sense of humor."

David Neiwert at Crooks and Liars cautioned against this "sense of humor" and offered an interesting observation.
But did anyone else notice that this was a particularly violent metaphor, one suggestive of people breaking out windows? It inspires images straight out of Kristallnacht.
When the fringe elements of the right-wing are embraced by more moderate Republican conservatives, the poem of Paster Martin Niemoller comes to mind. There are several versions of this poem, but the message is the same.
First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me -
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
What is the message Pawlenty is trying to convey? We must not forget the lessons of history when we are looking at current events. Pawlenty's comments are filled with noxious reminders of what should never be acceptable from a politician.

The message for all Americans is that we must immediately speak out and stand against this rally cry of violence.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Professional Misconduct vs Poor Judgment

Via Nick Baumann at Mother Jones.
John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Bush administration lawyers responsible for the bulk of the so-called "torture memos," were guilty of "professional misconduct," according to a June 2009 report by the Justice Department's in-house watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

But in the wake of massive pushback from Yoo and Bybee, the Justice Department refused to adopt the conclusions of that report, according to a January 5, 2010, memo released on Friday afternoon on the website of the House Judiciary Committee.

If the Justice Department had endorsed the OPR's conclusions, Yoo and Bybee could have faced potential disbarment. But David Margolis, the deputy associate attorney general responsible for reviewing the report, concluded in a 69-page memo explaining his decision that the authors of the torture memos had demonstrated "poor judgment" and produced seriously flawed legal analysis, but that this was not done in bad faith.
Newsweek finds this noteworthy.
The shift is significant: the original finding would have triggered a referral to state bar associations for potential disciplinary action—which, in Bybee’s case, could have led to an impeachment inquiry.

Two of the most controversial sections of the 2002 memo—including one contending that the president, as commander in chief, can override a federal law banning torture—were not in the original draft of the memo, say the sources. But when Michael Chertoff, then-chief of Justice’s criminal division, refused the CIA’s request for a blanket pledge not to prosecute its officers for torture, Yoo met at the White House with David Addington, Dick Cheney’s chief counsel, and then–White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. After that, Yoo inserted a section about the commander in chief’s wartime powers and another saying that agency officers accused of torturing Qaeda suspects could claim they were acting in “self-defense” to prevent future terror attacks, the sources say. Both legal claims have long since been rejected by Justice officials as overly broad and unsupported by legal precedent.

A Justice official declined to explain why David Margolis softened the original finding, but noted that he is a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder. Yoo and Bybee (through his lawyer) declined requests for comment.

Jeff Kaye at the Seminal has an interesting perspective of David Margolis.

The role of Margolis, and the man himself, deserve a closer look. It does not take long to see that 40+ year DoJ veteran David Margolis has some skeletons in his closet, and that his track record is not unblemished. [...]

Now this may all be a lot of smoke, but when one adds in the latest role played by Mr. Margolis in spiking the initial results of misconduct on behalf of Yoo, Bybee, Addington, et al. (if we can believe the Newsweek leak), his appearance in this role does not seem so remarkable. Margolis appears to have a long history of involvement in government frame-up and/or obfuscation of internal misconduct by the FBI or Justice Department prosecutors.

Will we see the intrepid U.S. press look more deeply into this? One could wish this were true.

Scott Horton at Harper's has an interesting article on the skeletons that are beginning to rattle.

Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis is the stuff of legends within the Department of Justice. He came to the institution in 1976, and is now the most senior career employee. In a glowing review published in the Legal Times, (sub. req’d) he is described as:

one of the Justice Department’s most respected officials, a lawyer with a sterling reputation earned over 42 years of service at the department. “Taking him on is a losing battle,” says the source. “The guy is Yoda. Nobody fucks with the guy.” [...]

But if Margolis really is Yoda, the powerful but diminutive figure from the “Star Wars” series, then the Force may no longer be with him. Indeed, maybe we should be wondering whether he has gone over to the Dark Side.

It is now up to Congress.

The department's experts in professional conduct saw this as a slam-dunk case. Yoo, they found, "committed intentional professional misconduct when he violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective, and candid legal advice." Bybee, they noted, acted in "reckless disregard" of his obligations to provide independent legal analysis. Yet because Margolis believes Yoo and Bybee committed these significant errors in good faith, he has given them a pass.

Congress plans hearings on the report, and the Center for Constitutional Rights has issued a statement saying that Bybee, who is currently serving as a federal appeals court judge, should be impeached.

The question that we are really left with is, "Why is the Obama administration once again protecting members of the Bush crime family?"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Public Option Through Reconciliation

The list is growing. There are now 16 Senators who have signed on to ask Majority Leader Harry Reid to pass the public health insurance option through "reconciliation." Sen. Michael Bennet from Colorado is circulating a letter to Majority Leader Reid, calling for this strategy.
There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach – its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option.
The following Democratic Senators have signed the letter to Sen Reid supporting reconciliation to pass a public option.
Sen. Michael Bennet, CO
Sen. Barbara Boxer, CA
Sen. Sherrod Brown, OH
Sen. Roland Burris, IL
Sen. Diane Feinstein, CA
Sen. Al Franken, MO
Sen. Kristin Gillibrand, NY
Sen. John Kerry, MA
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, NJ
Sen. Patrick Leahy, VT
Sen.. Jeff Merkley OR
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, MD
Sen. Jack Reed, RI
Sen. Bernie Sanders, VT
Sen. Tom Udall, MN
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, RI
Has your Senator taken a stand? Click Here to see if your Senator needs to be called to support the public health insurance option through reconciliation.

How To Handle Terrorism...or Not

Since 9/11 there have been many politicians who have spewed a message of fear-mongering. According to Daniel Klaidman at Newsweek, this is a GOP assault that may backfire. In his article, Terror Begins at Home, Klaidman compares the GOP scare rhetoric with the current administration's antiterror policy.

Fearmongering politicians are scoring cheap political points at the expense of the American people.

Jostling before the midterms has begun, and so too has the GOP's ritualistic hazing of Democrats on national security. At every turn Republicans are hammering the Obama administration for "capitulating" in the fight against terrorism. But their macho rhetoric actually sends a message of weakness: we can't try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the same civilian courts that have convicted dozens of other international terrorists because Al Qaeda might attack New York. (When since 9/11 has New York not been a target of Al Qaeda?) Our criminal-justice system can't deal with a failed underwear bomber. The GOP assault may be smart politics, but in the long run it damages U.S. security by undermining our confidence and resiliency in the face of certain attacks to come.

By contrast, much of the current administration's antiterror policy seems aimed at strengthening the American spirit in the face of a diffuse but determined enemy. After Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to bring down Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day, President Obama waited 72 hours before appearing in front of the cameras to make a statement. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) immediately cruised the cable circuit lambasting Obama for his lapse in "leadership" in the wake of what he claimed could have been "one of the greatest tragedies in the history of our country." The president should have stepped forward "to give a sense of confidence to the country." But it was precisely the president's deliberate restraint that conveyed confidence, not King's hysterical overreaction. When Obama did address the public, his response was measured and proportionate. "This incident," he said, "demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist."

Those words may have been dismissed as boilerplate, but Obama aides tell me they reflected a core conviction of the president's. In fact, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has also made encouraging "resiliency"—in government institutions as well as people—a priority. In surprisingly blunt language, the recently released Quadrennial Homeland Security Review says Americans will need to be "psychologically prepared to withstand" terrorism and other disasters, "and grow stronger over time."

The effect of fear mongering behavior.

The next time a prophet of doom warns of impending disaster, think how our behavior compares with that of other countries that have been attacked since 9/11. After the 7/7 attack on the London Underground, which killed 52 people, Londoners, recalling their pluck during the Blitz, gamely showed up en masse the next morning for their daily commute. The Israelis make a point of rebuilding blown-up cafés in a matter of days after an attack; similarly, they return to targeted bus lines the day after a bombing. The message is clear: we're not going to let terrorists break our spirit. Had America rebuilt the Twin Towers in the first years after 9/11, they would be standing tall today as symbols of defiance. Instead, when I drive by Ground Zero, still a gaping pit, I wonder how we would react if New York were hit again.

Even the administration's emphasis on resiliency isn't enough on its own, says homeland-security expert Stephen Flynn, who has done more than anyone to promote the concept. "The hard part is converting the rhetoric into reality," he says, complaining that the White House has not put forward the necessary funds to train ordinary citizens to handle disasters and terror attacks.

Having the opposite effect.

Americans are historically a tough lot. But the policies and rhetoric of the Bush-Cheney years, which set the tone for the current GOP attacks, are infantilizing: be very afraid, we're told, and let the government take care of you. The tough-guy bluster has led to a permanent state of anxiety—and a slew of counterproductive policies, from harsh visa restrictions to waterboarding. Our politicians rail about apocalyptic threats while TSA officers pat down toddlers at the airport. The irony is that many potentially lethal terror attacks—from United Flight 93 to Richard Reid to the underwear bomber—have been foiled by regular citizens. The aim of terrorists is to make people feel powerless and afraid. Un-fortunately, not every plot will be foiled. But if that's the standard we and our leaders set for ourselves, we are doomed to perpetuate dumb policies that flow from irrational fears. Just what the terrorists want.

It is time to be tough but not traumatized.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Expensive Tea Bags

It is interesting to hear how the media and the talking heads have characterized the Tea Party movement as a grassroots movement predominately made up of folks who are really feeling the economic crunch.

Here's what Karl Rove had to say:
The movement arose spontaneously as ordinary Americas reacted to a rising tide of federal spending and debt, growing federal power, and the too-cozy relationship between Washington and corporate America.
While organizers of the this movement have lauded its grassroots connections others are seeing changes toward the elitism that it disdains.

The Tea Party convention in Nashville, Tenn. - the first ever annual convening symposium- is going forth within a conflict which calls into question the very future of the movement.

Once a grassroots movement of rugged individuals, it has become a celebrity laden top-down structure, which illuminates the GOP and major profit-making speakers, at the expense of its origins, some think.

The upscale lobster dinner is the greatest contradiction of the rugged individualist origins which the movement could undergo. The price is $549 to get into the convention, and $349 to hear Palin speak: The message is clearly that the rugged masses are not needed here.

Looking more and more like a GOP Trojan horse to earn millions, the idea of the grassroots energy of the yeomen - the rugged heartland farmer who would also be constitutional scholar - of the Jeffersonian imagination has given way to the cult of personality, earning six figures for the likes of Sarah Palin, and ignoring the yeoman all together.

Despite the Tea Partier disdain for the Obama elitism and cult of personality which dominated 2008, their own movement has fallen into the same snare.
So it is not surprising that a new CNN poll (via TPM) shows the true color of this movement.
A majority of respondents who had donated to a Tea Party group or participated in a Tea Party event were male, white, and identified as Protestant/Other Christian groups.

Also, most went to college. 40 percent are college grads, compared to just 28 percent of total poll respondents, and 34 percent have some college. They make a ton more money than the other people interviewed for the study: 34 percent make over $75,000, while 32 make between $50,000 and $75,000. That’s way more than half pulling in over $50,000. So real, genuine Americans seem to be doing pretty well for themselves

None of this should be especially surprising. Most poor people scraping by in terrible, lowpaying jobs — or with no jobs — probably don’t have the time to don three-cornered hats and scream about communism.

But there has been an MSM tendency to trumpet the movement as an eruption of populist rage by those crushed in the financial crisis.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fix Congress to Restore Trust in Our Democracy

Support the Fair Elections Now Act

As we've watched presidents in both parties fail to pass their agendas, it's become increasingly clear that elections are no longer where decisions are made in this country. That weakening of our democracy should frighten everyone equally, whether or not you support the people currently in power.

Our goal is to restore public trust in our government by passing a hybrid of small-dollar donations and public financing of elections.

Last month's Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited special-interest intervention into our elections made a broken political system much worse. Only one bill currently under consideration is strong enough to restore public trust in Congress.

No other reform could be as important right now as passing the Fair Elections Now Act. Help defend our democracy. Support Fair Elections.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Battle of the Sexes

One Superbowl ad has been getting some heated attention. The Dodge Charger ad "Man's Last Stand" has been been labeled by some as sexist.

Filmmaker MacKenzie Fegan, decided the best way to respond to the Dodge Charger ad was to create another ad. Check out her response.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Palin: How's That Status Quo...y Corporate Health...y Care...y Thing Workin' For Ya?

In 2009 the health insurance industry saw profits rise by $12.2 billion, up 56%, while insuring less Americans.

At the thought of Health Care Insurance Reform, the
industry squeals like a stuck pig (no pun intended...)

Want to learn bettcha...!!!

Click below.

The Health Insurance Industry Works Its Magic
Dave Ross presents his commentary for Friday, February 12, 2010.

h/t Gil Ross

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Connections and Conflicts


Sebastian Jones from The Nation has an exposé regarding the frequency of "covert corporate influence peddling on cable news."
President Obama spent most of December 4 touring Allentown, Pennsylvania, meeting with local workers and discussing the economic crisis. A few hours later, the state's former governor, Tom Ridge, was on MSNBC's Hardball With Chris Matthews, offering up his own recovery plan. There were "modest things" the White House might try, like cutting taxes or opening up credit for small businesses, but the real answer was for the president to "take his green agenda and blow it out of the box." The first step, Ridge explained, was to "create nuclear power plants." Combined with some waste coal and natural gas extraction, you would have an "innovation setter" that would "create jobs, create exports."

As Ridge counseled the administration to "put that package together," he sure seemed like an objective commentator. But what viewers weren't told was that since 2005, Ridge has pocketed $530,659 in executive compensation for serving on the board of Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear power company. As of March 2009, he also held an estimated $248,299 in Exelon stock, according to SEC filings.

Moments earlier, retired general and "NBC Military Analyst" Barry McCaffrey told viewers that the war in Afghanistan would require an additional "three- to ten-year effort" and "a lot of money." Unmentioned was the fact that DynCorp paid McCaffrey $182,309 in 2009 alone. The government had just granted DynCorp a five-year deal worth an estimated $5.9 billion to aid American forces in Afghanistan. The first year is locked in at $644 million, but the additional four options are subject to renewal, contingent on military needs and political realities.

In a single hour, two men with blatant, undisclosed conflicts of interest had appeared on MSNBC. The question is, was this an isolated oversight or business as usual? Evidence points to the latter. In 2003 The Nation exposed McCaffrey's financial ties to military contractors he had promoted on-air on several cable networks; in 2008 David Barstow wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for the New York Times about the Pentagon's use of former military officers--many lobbying or consulting for military contractors--to get their talking points on television in exchange for access to decision-makers; and in 2009 bloggers uncovered how ex-Newsweek writer Richard Wolffe had guest-hosted Countdown With Keith Olbermann while working at a large PR firm specializing in "strategies for managing corporate reputation."

These incidents represent only a fraction of the covert corporate influence peddling on cable news, a four-month investigation by The Nation has found. Since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials--people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests--have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them. Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable networks, turning in dozens--and in some cases hundreds--of appearances.

For lobbyists, PR firms and corporate officials, going on cable television is a chance to promote clients and their interests on the most widely cited source of news in the United States. These appearances also generate good will and access to major players inside the Democratic and Republican parties. For their part, the cable networks, eager to fill time and afraid of upsetting the political elite, have often looked the other way. At times, the networks have even disregarded their own written ethics guidelines. Just about everyone involved is heavily invested in maintaining the current system, with the exception of the viewer. [...]

Aaron Brown, host of CNN's NewsNight from 2001 until 2005, said, "We live in a time where there are no shortages of opinions and an incredible deficit of facts."
Read the complete article here.