Monday, August 31, 2009

Shouting From The Rooftops

It should have been good news -- the best news of Cameron Todd Willingham’s life.

Willingham, convicted of setting the raging fire on December 23, 1991 which destroyed his home and killed his three children, had been on Texas’ Death Row since 1992, awaiting execution. So when a group of leading forensic experts re-examined the evidence used to convict him and determined
that the core evidence against Willingham was not valid

it should have been a day of celebration. The report basically exonerated Willingham, at the very least would allow Willingham’s lawyers to seek a new trial. After more than 15 years on Death Row, during which he proclaimed his innocence, Cameron Todd Willingham might actually be set free.

Except for one thing. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by the State of Texas in February 2004. The report was five years too late.

The New Yorker has the goods here. Read and weep for a broken system that, when it fails, does so tragically, monumentally, irredeemably.


Was Willingham a model citizen? He was not. Neighbors said he drank too much. He cheated on his wife, and had abused her. He was unemployed. He collected posters of skulls and snakes, even wore a tattoo of a snake entwining a skull.

But these are not capital offenses.

Willingham did not, however, set fire to his home and kill his children. He was not the "demon" and "sociopath" that Texas prosecutors claimed.

Sadly, questions about the conviction surfaced well before his execution. Even before the exhaustive report released today, the forensic science used to convict Willingham had been debunked while he was still alive on Death Row. Texas Governor Rick Perry might have offered Willingham clemency, had the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles bothered to read that report.

But they could not:

The Innocence Project obtained, through the Freedom of Information Act, all the records from the governor’s office and the board pertaining to Hurst’s report. “The documents show that they received the report, but neither office has any record of anyone acknowledging it, taking note of its significance, responding to it, or calling any attention to it within the government,” Barry Scheck said. “The only reasonable conclusion is that the governor’s office and the Board of Pardons and Paroles ignored scientific evidence.”

Petition denied. And Gov. Rick Perry, now running for re-election, has blood on his hands.

But he’s not the only one. More from the New Yorker article:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2006, voted with a majority to uphold the death penalty in a Kansas case. In his opinion, Scalia declared that, in the modern judicial system, there has not been “a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”

There you have it, Justice Scalia. The name is CAMERON TODD WILLINGHAM. It should sound familiar to you since in December 2003, you and the rest of the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

Consider this my rooftop.

Choosing Between Poverty & Poison

I’m watching a re-run of CBS 60 Minutes’ piece on toxic e-waste sent to China. This quote from Jim Puckett of watchdog group Basel Action Network resonated:
“It’s a helluva choice between poverty and poison. We should never make people make that choice.”

Damn straight. It’s what we’re talking about when we discuss “environmental racism” and “eco-justice.” It’s also little different from how we are dealing with the toxic coal ash from last year’s Kingston Fossil Plant spill, save by degrees. Indeed, the toxic coal ash from Kingston is now being hauled to a landfill in economically depressed, predominantly African American Perry County, Ala. And it’s causing a rift in that community because we’ve basically asked those folks to make a choice we never should have burdened them with.

These stories always seem to follow the same pattern. On the one hand there is the lure of money and jobs:

A per-ton “host fee” that the landfill operators pay the county will add more than $3 million to the county’s budget of about $4.5 million.

The ash has created more than 30 jobs for local residents in a county where the unemployment rate is 17 percent and a third of all households are below the poverty line.

Money is great but short term profits are not worth long term environmental and health damage, say many in the community:

“I won’t feel comfortable,” wrote W. Compson Sartain, a columnist for The Perry County Herald, “until I see a delegation from E.P.A. and T.V.A. standing on the courthouse square, each member stirring a heaping spoonful of this coal ash into a glass of Tennessee river water this stuff has already fallen into, and gargling with it.”
(Sartain might be interested in United Mountain Defense’s challenge to “clean coal” pitchman/sport fisherman Jeremy Starks, as well.)

And, as always, there is a general lack of education and information about the risks:
Mr. Cureton reasoned that the ash, a byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity, could not be more dangerous than the remnants of the coal that heated his schoolroom growing up, or the ash his father, a farmer, sprinkled at the base of his fruit trees.

But coal ash from a power plant has a higher concentration of toxins because mercury, arsenic and other substances that are filtered out by air pollution controls end up in the ash. Since the spill in Tennessee, the Environmental Protection Agency has promised to issue new regulations for coal ash, potentially classifying it as a hazardous waste.

People like Mr. Cureton, who I have no doubt is sincere in his efforts to do the best for his community, are why issues of environmental racism and eco-justice are so pernicious. But I’d remind these people that there is no such thing as a free lunch. And if taking this coal ash waste were such a great thing, well, we’ve got some landfills here in Tennessee, in counties that could use those jobs and that money. Gotta ask yourself why we’re shipping it out of state to begin with.

Of course, none of this would be an issue if “clean coal” were as “clean” as the coal lobby likes to pretend.

I use the pronoun “we” for a reason in this post. Because this is our mess. We all created it, in our use electricity. Of course, we have few choices if we’re going to live a normal life in this culture. But there are things we can do. We can conserve. We can sign up for programs like TVA’s Green Power Switch. And some of us can help generate alternative fuels by putting solar panels on our roofs.

And maybe in this way we can bring some justice and jobs to our neighbors, instead of dumping our toxic trash on them.

Because we should never ask anyone to choose between poverty and poison so we can prosper and live in comfort.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

President Clinton's Jackson Day Speech

It was an awesome evening, so glad I went, black eye and all!

Vibinc has video of the entire speech posted. Head over there and watch it, you will be glad you did.

I was struck once again by what an inspiring speaker Clinton is, how good he is at making his point without being mean or alienating people. Clinton said he understood why people were showing up at town hall meetings scared and angry, he didn't attack them or call them stupid (and yes I've done that a-plenty).

I thought of Sarah Palin and her mean-spirited, snide RNC speech, where she sarcastically said being mayor of Wasilla was "a little like being a community organizer except I had actual responsibilities." I thought of Pat Peale and her purple-heart Band-Aids distributed by long-time Republican Party activist Morton Blackwell.

The Republicans can be arrogant, even vicious, when the cameras are turned on. Clinton didn't do that. Perhaps that's why so many Americans liked him, and why he still gets under the skin of so many Republicans.

Is There Anything We Won’t Do For Oil?

Turns out it wasn’t humanitarian, compassionate reasons that prompted the British government to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

It was oil:
Gordon Brown’s government made the decision after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.

The letters were sent two years ago by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, to Kenny MacAskill, his counterpart in Scotland, who has been widely criticised for taking the formal decision to permit Megrahi’s release.

The correspondence makes it plain that the key decision to include Megrahi in a deal with Libya to allow prisoners to return home was, in fact, taken in London for British national interests.


The exploration deal for oil and gas, potentially worth up to £15 billion, was announced in May 2007. Six months later the agreement was still waiting to be ratified.

On December 19, 2007, Straw wrote to MacAskill announcing that the UK government was abandoning its attempt to exclude Megrahi from the prisoner transfer agreement, citing the national interest.


Within six weeks of the government climbdown, Libya had ratified the BP deal. The prisoner transfer agreement was finalised in May this year, leading to Libya formally applying for Megrahi to be transferred to its custody.

For those who haven’t been following this story:

On Aug. 20, 2009, the Scottish government released him on compassionate grounds, saying that medical evidence showed he would die within months of prostate cancer. Mr. Megrahi, who served 8 years of a 27-year minimum sentence, was flown to Tripoli, Libya, and welcomed home as a hero, setting off angry protests in Britain and the United States.

I’m wondering just what, if anything, the West won’t do for oil.

We invade countries that were not a threat to us, killing tens of thousands of civillians.

We lie to our own people.

We poison our air and land and threaten the future of the entire globe.

We torture and indefinitely imprison people who, if they didn’t hate us before, surely do now.

And we release a convicted terrorist, who killed 270 people, to a hero's homecomning.

It seems to me that oil is a pernicious thing, bringing us so much wealth and such a high standard of living over the past 50 years. But at what cost?

I ask you this: What good will it be for a man to gain the whole world, if he loses his soul? What price have we placed on our souls?

Is this it? Easy living, big cars, cheap food, big houses, nice clothes? Are we bought so cheap, then?

Surely the devil is laughing.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bump On The Head & A Political Lesson

Late yesterday afternoon I got clocked in the head, hard, with a metal towel rod. So last night was a fun trip to the ER. And by fun I mean three hours of sitting around waiting with an ice pack on my head as a sick baby screamed on one side of me and a woman who wouldn’t shut up yakked to her friends on the other.

Yeah, call me grace, whatever. We’re using our bathroom as a temporary kitchen during construction. I was doing dishes in cramped quarters, water splashed all over the floor, and I thought it was a safety issue, so I wiped it up. When I stood up, BAM! Brought tears to my eyes. And stars. And a giant purple egg on my forehead.

So, Jackson Dinner tonight is gonna be fun. Think I should tell everyone I got injured at a Marsha Blackburn Town Hall meeting? LOL.

I wasn’t planning to go to the ER but everyone reminded me of Natasha Richardson and that little girl who died after getting hit in the head with a hockey puck, and I had a throbbing headache aside from the knot on my head. So trooper that he is, Mr. Beale carted me off to the ER on a Friday night, as long as I promised to assure everyone that this wasn’t a domestic violence incident.

It took me over two hours to see the doctor. When he finally came in the room he told us that for about a month after Natasha Richardson’s death they saw a lot of folks with bumps on the head at the ER.

He then proceeded to say not once but twice that "they didn't have a CAT scan in the Canadian health system, go figure."

I let it pass the first time but when it happened a second time, I realized this is probably something he says a lot and I couldn’t let it go unchallenged. I reminded him that she was skiing in the mountains of Quebec, at a National Park, i.e., in a remote area, not walking through downtown Montreal. Honestly, I don’t know how many rural hospitals here in America have CAT scan machines, either. He said something about how none of us were there, yada yada.

So I got two headaches last night.

He then gave me one of those ammonium nitrate crystal cold packs which I noticed are made in--guess where?--Canada. Mr. Beale observed that no one knows how to keep things cold like Canadians. Oy vey.

What this incident tells me is that even doctors can be really smart about some things and really dumb about some others.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Anti-Healthcare Reform Street Theater



You use the word "Massa"?

Y'all have officially descended into self-parody.

And by the way ... if anyone knows why my YouTube embeds suddenly are cut off on the right side--irony!!!!--please let me know.

(H/T, Slog)

Fear & Waiting In America

Steve Inskeep’s piece on the historic use of fear to scuttle healthcare reform devoted a lot of time to “the science of fear.” But what really interested me was the brief history of the movement to reform our healthcare system which introduced the piece.

I was especially struck by this information from political scientist Jonathan Oberlander of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
Oberlander says opponents used scare tactics the very first time the idea of national health insurance was broached — around 1915 — by tying would-be reformers to the nation's then-greatest international threat.

"They said that national health insurance was a plot by the German emperor to take over the United States," he says.

Damn. Should I laugh or cry? I don’t know which is worse: that we’ve been trying to get national health insurance in this country since 1915 or that fear-mongering about Kaiser Wilhem II actually worked.

You know, every time I see that news clip of Marsha Blackburn telling us healthcare is so “important to the American people” that “we need to slow down and do this right” I want to tear my hair out.

What, 94 years isn’t slow enough for you? How slow is slow enough? We tried to get national health insurance in 1915, Roosevelt took it out of the Social Security legislation in 1935 as a concession to the AMA, we tried again in the 1940s and were told it would lead to the Red Army marching down Main Street USA. We weren't successful getting anything until the 1960s when Medicare passed--over the dire warnings of Ronald Reagan that we'd all spend our sunset years "telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."

Let me repeat what I wrote back in July when I first addressed the “slow down” meme:

I'm starting to question your commitment to the issue.

Of course, “slow down” is part of the fear message: haste makes waste! If we rush we’ll screw it up and then it will never be fixed!

Can someone tell me why the idea of giving all Americans access to healthcare is so scary that for nearly 100 years certain factions of the country have yelled “BOO!” every time we tried? Don’t you people want the American workforce healthy?

Oberlander says:

”[...] And I think the reason that people use fear again and again is that it's effective. It's worked to stop health reform in the past. And so they're going to try and use it in the present."

I still say this stuff wouldn’t work if the media didn’t let them get away with it. How many hours of television time were devoted to debating “both sides” of the “death panels” issue, as if there were any side other than the “this is absolute bullshit, total fearmongering, and you should ashamed of yourself for even trying it” side?

Anyway, I found this issue brief on the history of major health reform movements in America. Seems like every 10-15 years we’ve tried to get some kind of national health program going and the best we’ve been able to do is Medicare and Medicaid.

So, yeah. I think it's time we stopped diddling around, scaring the crap out of people using whatever boogeyman resonates with the American people at the time (the Kaiser, the Russians, the "government bureaucrat/death panel," etc.). Because we've waited long enough.

Congressman Blackburn and the rest of the "slow down" crowd, it's obvious you have no intention of fixing this mess anyway. All of the years the Republicans had Congress and the White House you never uttered one word about this. All of the tax cuts and deregulation and free hands of the market didn't give us anything.

I'm done waiting.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why We Need Government-Run Universal Socialized Health Insurance

It's all very simple, really:

There Will Be Politics

Republicans are nothing if not adept at harnessing the political moment. As Amanda astutely observes:
... anyone who is a liberal in the public eye at all should explicitly spell out their wishes about the “politicization” of their deaths, or else the wingnuts will declare that the only proper way to honor your legacy is to start by undermining it.

And indeed, the ink was barely dry on Kennedy’s obit before I read Kevin Moon’s callous eulogy in the Macon County Conservative Examniner (you’re going to have to Google it if you want to see the real thing; I won’t link to it. Examiners are part of right-wing billionaire Phil Anschutz’s empire. Writers are paid by the number of hits they receive, something which plays into my refusal to link to this crap. But mostly, it’s tasteless crap):

Nature's long overdue removal of Ted Kennedy from the U.S. Senate is a silver lining in what would otherwise be a hopelessly dark moment in the history of this country. It is a step in the right direction (only 59 to go). We have shed a back-stabbing, perverted crook who has spent decades betraying his country and everything it stands for...and was completely unaccountable to society.
One has to imagine that there is a special place in Hell (right next to O.J., Bernie Madoff, and Drew Peterson) for such a corrupt, ultra-partisan drunk who literally got away with murder, whored himself out to anything that would say yes, and openly fought for abominations like partial-birth abortion.

Wow. Amazing how when Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter gets knocked up or her extended family is in legal trouble for drugs and crime, it shows what a “real American” she is, facing “real American problems” “just like the rest of us.” But when a Democrat faces "real" problems he’s a “drunk” who is “unaccountable to society.”

But oops, I’m not supposed to say anything like that, lest I be accused of “politicizing” Kennedy’s death. If i’m not careful I might just be part of what Instapundit called "a Wellstone memorial on steroids." Yes, that would be just awful. Cue eyeroll.

This seems to be the strategy among conservative bloggers, who are the forefront of Republican thuggery. Andrew Breitbart’s Tweets about Kennedy were possibly more vile than Moon's column:

Over the course of the next three hours, Breitbart unapologetically attacked Kennedy, calling him a “villain,” “a big ass motherf@#$er,” a “duplicitous bastard” and a “prick.” “I’ll shut my mouth for Carter. That’s just politics. Kennedy was a special pile of human excrement,” wrote Breitbart in one tweet.

This kind of stuff always goes unchallenged (save in this instance by the brave Meghan McCain). Imagine if a leading liberal blogger had said such things about Ronald Reagan after he died. They’d call for the fainting couches.

And then there’s this:

“Looking forward to the Democratic line-up at TK's memorial service,” Hot Air’s AllahPundit wrote in a sarcastic Twitter post. “I'm sure the eulogies won't be politicized at all.”

So in other words, right wingers are allowed to say every tasteless, nasty, filthy insulting thing they wish about a liberal icon and claim it is never, ever political. And God forbid that liberals should try to defend against that because then that would be political.

Love these rules!

You have to wonder what’s behind all of this messaging. I have an idea: John Cole links to this tidbit from the New Republican Republic’s Noam Scheiber, written on August 23, no less:

Beyond that, I suspect the coverage of Kennedy’s death would silence healthcare reform critics and boost proponents in a way that netted at least a couple of wavering moderates—so clearing the 51-vote threshold wouldn’t be a problem. Heck, you might even see Utah Republican (and longtime Kennedy friend) Orrin Hatch back in the reformist camp.

Yes that would be lovely but, wow that’s just pretty obtuse.

The modern GOP is the party of tea shouters and birthers and people like Kevin Moon. The idea that Senate Republicans might be swayed by the death of a man their base calls “a big ass motherf@#$er” and "a back-stabbing, perverted crook" would be laughable if it weren't so sadly out of touch.

But I can definitely see a bunch of Frank Luntz types sitting around wondering how they can use Kennedy’s death to completely kill healthcare reform. They will, as Atrios posted, try to pull a “Wellstone hissy fit,” fabricating boos and hisses, pretending conservatives have been attacked, hell maybe even serial victim Phil Parlock will make an appearance. It’s all designed to quell any sympathy for Democrats and liberal ideas, the way they used Wellstone’s funeral to kill Mondale’s senate race.

I can see it now: the usual liberal talking heads like Donna Brazille will be cowed into offering tepid defenses of these imagined slights, and clueless media types like Chris Matthews will play along as they follow the trail of breadcrumbs left by Drudge and Fox News.

Please. Haven’t we seen this movie already? Like, a thousand times? You always end up embarrassed at the other end when you are revealed to be fools. Let’s just skip the formalities already, shall we? You're fools. Then again, you could do your jobs on the front end. Remember to hit teh Google and teh MySpace and teh Facebook. Do it right the first time for a change, okay?

Liberal bloggers will have to be vigilant as the freak show unfolds. Watch for signs of fauxtrage, maybe even plants at public memorial events. Pray to the gods that your Google fu is on fire the next few days because as several people have said, it is going to get ugly. There's simply too much at stake.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In Which I Defend Jim Cooper While Criticizing Him

Welcome to my novella about Congressman Jim Cooper. I didn’t mean this post to be so long but I guess I’ve got a lot to say, mostly because I’ve said so little in the past.

I actually feel sorry for the guy right now. I think he honestly felt like he would be this year’s healthcare hero, bringing about the meaningful reform we all want. Instead, he’s been attacked by progressives and now there’s talk of union support for a primary opponent.

Such is the anger my fellow lefties have toward Cooper these days that my post about Karl Rove’s appearance at the “Third Rail” conference got turned into an attack on Cooper, when obviously my intent was to question the motives of the “Third Rail” organizers. (Rove has since been uninvited, by the way.) It’s ironic, because I’ve been accused of “carrying water” for Jim Cooper in the past. Now, after yesterday’s blog post, I’m accused of being an anti-Cooper agitator. Go figure.

On the one hand, it’s damned nice to have a Democratic congressman, even a conservative one. You bloggers in Berkeley and Los Angeles have no clue what it’s like to live in a red state like Tennessee, where I’ve been represented by Republican Senators for the past 15 years. Lobbying Bill Frist about anything was like shouting into the wind. You just knew he didn’t give a shit by the way his interns wouldn’t even condescend to write down your name when you called. Once, one of them even hung up on me.

Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker at least pretend to give a shit but both end up voting with the Republican Party 90% of the time. Really, it’s sad being a blue person in a red state. If I lived in Marsha Blackburn’s district I might just slit my wrists.

So it’s nice to have a Democrat to call about issues. I feel like I at least get a fair hearing. Cooper’s office is good at constituent relations, returning phone calls, setting up meetings, etc. I’ve even had aides call me when I was especially concerned about a vote, and without my nom de blog they don’t know me from Adam. Most importantly, Coop votes the way I want him to 95% of the time.

But every now and then he does something that causes a flood of “time to primary Cooper” e-mails to hit my in-box, and this healthcare thing is one of those times.

A couple months ago I got a call from someone with a national organization asking if I thought Jim Cooper could be unseated in a primary. We talked a long time but in a nutshell I said no. Nashville, I told them, is not nearly as conservative as Republicans like to think, nor is it as liberal as Democrats like to pretend.

Yes, I realize we vote reliably Democratic. I heard that argument when Ginny Welsch ran against Cooper in 2006; even Kos brought it up on Monday.

To which I say: so what? Those are the same people who have voted for Jim Cooper year after year. Cooper would have to screw up pretty royally--I’m talking a “caught with a dead girl or live boy” kind of screw-up--and/or they’d have to find an awfully dynamic and solid opponent before Cooper would be sent packing. It’s just not gonna happen.

Besides, large chunks of Cooper’s district extend into solid wingnut territory: Mt. Juliet in the east, Cheatham County on the west, Goodlettsville up north, as well as conservative blocs in Davidson County itself (places like Belle Meade or anti-gay crusader Robert Duvall’s council district). Nashville is not all Vandy students and East Nashville hipsters. It’s a diverse community. Any Democratic candidate pleasing to progressives is going to be far too liberal for most Dist. 5 voters. That’s just reality.

And here’s another thing: People vote incumbents because it’s familiar. Most people don’t pay close attention to political stuff, so they go with the name they recognize. I have a conservative friend who voted for John McCain because--swear to God--he really liked Sarah Palin. But he also voted for Jim Cooper, the familiar name on the ballot. One day my friend said he was so angry about the bank bailouts he was going to call “Senator Jim Cooper.” When I told him Cooper was in the House not the Senate, he actually argued with me about it. I then had to explain the whole bicameral thing to him.

Oy vey.

So yes, people vote the familiar name on the ballot. But if the choice is between two unfamiliar names, then I think people vote for the party.

So if a primary campaign against Jim Cooper didn’t fail, it’s very likely I’d get stuck with a Republican congressman. And let me say right now, if the delusions of a bunch of out of state progressives saddle me with a Republican congressman on top of two Republican Senators I will find you. And it won’t be pretty.

Now here’s my message to Jim Cooper:

You can’t keep taking the votes of Democrats in your own district for granted. It’s a very odd thing that the Republican Party embraces its base, no matter how loony they may get, while the Democratic Party runs from theirs. Why is that?

You will not have this seat for life. Some day a really dynamic opponent will appear--of either party--and then you will need the support of the activist base, the people you seem to be doing your damnedest to alienate right now when the living is easy.

There are a few things you need to know. Some of us are angry and mistrustful because of your role during the whole “HillaryCare” debacle. You need to keep that in mind when you try to sell us the Healthy Americans Act and waffle on the public option.

Here’s something else: any plan that basically hands the healthcare of 300 million Americans over to the despised insurance companies is going to be controversial. Have you read a liberal blog lately? Have you seen what the insurance companies are doing with their astroturfing and lies about death panels and phony letters to the editor and lies to British citizens so they’ll diss the NHS on camera?

You look like you’re defending this crap. That’s not working very well. We do not like insurance companies. They are not honest brokers. Your bill is basically a taxpayer bailout to a bunch of leeches whose only selling point is that they’ve got their fangs so firmly inserted in the American healthcare system that it would be kinda difficult to remove them now.

The thing that really ticks me off is that you and the other Blue Dogs immediately wrote off single payer as something that didn’t have a prayer of passing. You didn’t even try, because you didn’t want to. Maybe you were being pragmatic, but you were also being politically tone deaf.

The reality is, those of us supporting the public option find we’re actually fighting the battle for single payer anyway! People are showing up at town hall meetings with “No Socialized Medicine!” signs, fer chrissakes. What does that tell you? As I wrote last week, Rick Scott’s group began crafting an anti-single payer message after the election!

So, we’re basically fighting the single-payer battle but if we win, we won’t actually get single payer. We’ll get a “public option.”

This pisses me off. How could the Democrats screw this one up so royally? How can you folks be so bad at politics? Because a bunch of Blue Dogs decided to be pragmatic, and give up on single-payer because, they said, it didn’t have a chance!

And here’s the thing: the pragmatic argument is the same one I used when debating whether we should primary Jim Cooper. It would never work, so why even try?

Look what that got us. A whole lot of nothing.

That leaves me in a very awkward place where I'm questioning a lot of my dearly held notions about Tennessee politics. And, Rep. Cooper, I think you need to be doing the same.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Karl Rove is no longer on the bill for Saturday's health care conference. Because there were some comments on other blogs questioning where I got the information about Rove's appearance, here's a screen shot of the agenda which led me to believe he was on a panel with Jim Cooper:

And here's the new agenda as of Monday afternoon:

Funnily enough, the only reason I took the screen shot yesterday to begin with is because I've only recently discovered my fun "Grab" app and I was playing with it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Karl Rove? Really?


Karl Rove is now OFF the agenda. Check out the new lineup posted.


This morning I received an invitation to an event next Saturday at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Center, the Third Rail of Health Reform: Cost. It’s billed as an “objective discussion of the facts about one of the critical issues of the health reform debate: what to do about rising health care spending.”

Vanguard Health Systems is hosting the event and Gov. Bredesen and Rep. Jim Cooper will also appear, along with folks from the Rand Corporation, a West Coast think tank. It sounded intriguing and informative so I followed all of the links, whereupon I learned that Karl Rove will be speaking with Rep. Cooper on the topic of “Battling Cost.”

I have a little problem with this. Karl Rove is a divisive, partisan political figure. He has no special expertise in health care or health care costs or anything germane to the issue we are battling. His entire career has been in managing political campaigns.

Karl Rove’s sole expertise is in politics--in particular, the politics of dirty tricks, wedge issues, and political manipulation. He’s a controversial figure, to put it mildly, facing his own barrage of scandals over the U.S. Attorney firings. Putting Karl Rove on a panel on health care costs, of which he knows nothing, is offensive and alienates anyone to the left of George W. Bush.

I can only conclude that this “third rail” event is not intended to be a serious discussion of an important component of the health care debate but rather a political spin exercise.

So thanks, Vanguard Health Systems and Charlie Martin, but no thanks. Karl Rove is the “third rail” of political figures. His presence on a panel of this type tells us everything we need to know about your intentions.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Angela Brawley, CEO of insurance giant WellPoint, didn’t do herself any favors with her Morning Edition interview Friday. Her defense of the poor, beleaguered insurance companies who couldn’t possibly survive against the big, bad public option fell apart under Steve Inskeep’s rather mild questioning. Inskeep did a good job countering Brawley’s talking points-laden delivery but this was hardly a tough grilling.

For example:
Steve Inskeep: Although isn’t there some fairness to the Administration’s contention that your concern is not necessarily cost-shifting so much as you just don’t want the extra competition?

Angela Brawley: You know, there is competition in the health insurance market, there are over 1,300 health insurance companies competing and--

SI: Whoa, whoa, whoa. They don’t all compete in the same place for the same customers. Aren’t there huge swaths of America where there’s only a handful of companies to choose from?

AB: We think there’s pretty broad competition, particularly among the major national insurance companies. So you know really what’s interesting about this debate is that it’s shifted to this question about insurance companies when where we started out in the discussion was about healthcare reform.

Ooh nice way to change the subject! Brawley happened to hit upon a pet peeve of mine, which I’ve written about a-plenty: It is indeed frustrating that the issue has been framed as an insurance issue, not a healthcare issue. My concern is that we all know way too many people who have health insurance and pay through the nose for it, yet they can’t afford healthcare because of the insurance company bureaucrat standing between them and their doctor.

Inskeep didn’t ask about that.

I caught the interview while stuck in the car this morning and frankly I nearly drove into a ditch. I’m not all that familiar with WellPoint, I don’t even know if the company operates here in Tennessee since most of their business seems to be operating BlueCross/BlueShield licenses (Great! That’s two insurance companies skimming profits off your doctor’s visit!). Indeed, the discussion about insurance company profits was especially frustrating:

Brawley: Our profit is in the 3-4% range, I think this year around 4%? When you look, though, across healthcare there are profit margins in a number of sectors around healthcare that are 3, 4, 5 times ours. If you look at biotech margins, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, they’re 3-4-5-6 times the margin of the health insurance industry. And the irony of that is, it is our job to get to the efficiency of healthcare.

Yes, ironic, isn’t it? You know, there are millions of people around the world who have healthcare without the benefit of an insurance company. However, it’s awfully hard to get quality healthcare without pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers and the like. Now, I’m not defending obscene profit margins by any means, and frankly I think Ms. Brawley pulled these figures out of her ass, but I'm just making the distinction here: insurance companies are vampires on the healthcare system which serve no earthly purpose that I can fathom, as Brawley herself seemed to admit.

Inskeep, in fact, made that point, which is that if “efficiency” is the insurance companies’ job, and yet costs have doubled in the past five years,

somebody might suggest you’re not doing a very good job.

Some might say that, yes.

And speaking of profits, perhaps coincidentally I recently stumbled upon this information about Ms. Brawley.

I think Ms. Brawley, who earned $9.84 million in 2008--an $800,000 increase over 2007--and whose compensation includes use of a private jet, doth protest too much.

The interview ended with Brawley calling for the whaaambulance because, she claims, the insurance companies came to the table early and offered “good solutions,” “real reforms,” “sustainable reforms,” and this is all the thanks they get! Let me offer a hearty “bullshit!” All you’ve done is call for Congress to end abusive insurance company policies that are entirely within your own power to stop anytime you wish. Meanwhile you’ve spent millions lobbying Congress and organizing astroturf, even sending phony letters to the editors of small-town newspapers.

I wonder, as Angela Brawley hopscotches around the country on her private jets, does she seriously think anyone buys this BS?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Barney Frank Opens Can Of Whuppass

Telling a gay, Jewish guy that he’s supporting Nazi policies just might get you labeled a crackpot:

Well, it’s about damn time! And, I might add: what the hell took so long?

While the black helicopter set shows up to shout down reasonable dialogue at town hall meetings around the country, most Congress Critters have mirrored Arlen Specter’s deer in the headlights look, completely incapable of handling people whose whacked-out notions about the president and Congress have been matched only by the volume with which they shout their crazed ideas.

Our media has presented these wackos as “the other side of the debate,” as if it’s reasonable to discuss whether the President of the United States really might be a Nazi. Funny thing: when folks like town hall protestor Mike Sola show up for their Fox News moment, they start with the crazy talk, like “Democratic thugs” visiting them in the middle of the night:
"If you call my son un-American, your thugs already know where we live. They came to us in the middle of the night," Sola said, speaking directly to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Sola said this "visit" happened the night his tirade against Dingell aired on television. He then threatened to kill "the person" if he sees him on his property.


As Joan Walsh pointed out on Hardball last night:

What’s going on is a kind of thuggishness. We’re supposed to treat these people like they deserve an equal place at the table when they’re being organized by right-wingers.

William Kostric, you had him on your show--he said he’s wasn’t a Birther, he’s a Birther, he belongs to We The People. Katy Abram--Lawrence O’Donnell did a great job with her last week--everybody’s acting like she’s just a normal American housewife. She’s a leader of the 9/12 movement, which is Glenn Beck’s insane right wing movement.

I’m trying to remember all of the anti-war lefties that cable news yakkers like Chris Matthews interviewed after major events like the 2006 anti-war protest.

Oh, wait.

I eagerly await the day when our news media gets over its conservative addiction. But I guess that would require they first admit they have a problem.

Anyway, I’m hoping this Barney Frank thing energizes some folks. It’s one thing to have a vigorous debate, but Democrats need to quit coddling and enabling the crazy at their events, and the media needs to quite trotting them out for their 15 minutes of cable news fame.

And if you can’t tell who the players in this game are, here’s a tip: the person carrying the picture of President Obama with a Hitler mustache drawn over his upper lip probably doesn’t have anything legitimate to contribute to the dialogue. And MSNBC, CNN and all the rest might want to quit interviewing these folks after every town hall, unless you want “the most trusted name in news” to start resembling the latest episode of Inside Edition.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lamest Marketing Idea Ever

This would be the coal industry’s new coloring book for kids which features “Power Rock” (pictured at left) and his sidekick “Spurt.” Is it my imagination or is Power Rock giving me the evil eye?

It all comes from Families Organized to Represent the Coal Economy (FORCE, which pretty much describes what the coal industry is trying to do to Americans). Ironically, FORCE is a coal industry group which does not actually allow families to join. Instead, as Grist discovered:
"membership is through coal and coal related company sponsorship. When a company joins it agrees to distribute FORCE materials and information to its member employees. This distribution network helps FORCE maintain a low overhead while supplying high quality service to its members.”

Apparently membership is just for

“Any Pennsylvania company doing business with the coal industry...”

Oh, I see. So in other words, if you work for a Pennsylvania coal company, you will likely get coal industry propaganda to take home to your kids.

Sorta like a drug pusher making sure the next generation of addicts is secured.

One problem though: media releases issued under the name “Families Organized” does sorta indicate that it’s an organization of families, not businesses. But in this era where truthiness is more important than fact, I’m sure our clueless, Google-challenged news media won’t even notice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

This Year's Karen Ryan?

Pity these poor British citizens, naive to the ways of American corporate astroturfing! They got duped by Rick Scott’s Conservatives for Patients’ Rights into appearing in an anti-healthcare reform advertisement:
Two British women who have become the unwitting stars of a campaign to derail Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms yesterday said that their views on the NHS had been misrepresented.


Ms Spall, whose mother died of kidney cancer while waiting for treatment, and Ms Brickell, who had cervical cancer diagnosed after being refused a smear test because she was too young, appear in the adverts telling how they were failed by the NHS.

But they informed The Times that they were told they were being interviewed for a documentary examining healthcare reform. Neither was aware that the footage was to be used for right-wing advertisements. Ms Spall said: “It has been a bit of a nightmare. It was a real test of my naivety. I am a very trusting person and for me it has been a big lesson. I feel I was duped.”

Here’s a thought: if you have to lie and misrepresent who you are to get British citizens to trash their National Health Service on camera, perhaps their system really ain’t so bad. But I digress.

Here’s where it gets weird:

CPR was set up by Richard Scott, a multimillionaire who founded the Columbia Hospital Corporation. Ms Spall was approached by a woman, who identified herself as Betsy Kulman, who said that she was making a documentary for the company. In an e-mail Ms Kulman wrote: “Columbia Healthcare in the US is underwriting a web documentary spanning the US, the UK, and Canada on the debate on healthcare reform. This segment will explore the difficult issues around the intersection between private and nationalised medicine.

“Who has been failed by socialised medicine and why? What can be done to change things for the better”

Oh, my.

For one thing, there is no company called “Columbia Healthcare.” That company has been HCA ever since Rick Scott was ousted after his company defrauded taxpayers and gave doctors kickbacks.

You know, the kind of rapacious behavior a for-profit healthcare system just begs for. The irony of this assclown becoming the voice of healthcare reform should be lost on no one.

[Unrelated fun fact: in the early ‘90s, Rick Scott was George W. Bush’s partner in the Texas Rangers. The Republican Party is nothing if not incestuous.]

Here’s another odd thing: A British blogger named Gordon Cooper, whose wife has breast cancer, has been chronicling his family's ordeal on his blog. And in January of this year Betsy Kulman left the following comment on his blog:

Hello Gordon,

My name is Betsy Kulman, and I am a journalist in the US. I'm so sorry about what your wife (and you) are going through with her cancer. I am sure this is a very scary time.

I am working (urgently) on a web documentary on privatized vs socialized medicine, which will include the US, Canada, and the NHS in the UK. What are the pros and the cons of the US moves toward more nationalized care.

It seems you have you been somewhat dissatisfied with some of the care your wife is receiving... and I would like to talk to you further if you think that is due the NHS or just bad record keeping etc... Are you and your wife interested in sharing any information? Ultimately I want to find someone to interview/profile on camera (to shoot in mid-February) for this web story being underwritten by Columbia Healthcare in the US. If you all want to talk about this, my email is I am on a crazy short deadline so please let me know... I would be very interested in your viewpoint and thank you both so much for even considering helping us at this juncture, considering all you have on your plate. I appreciate it and do hope I will hear from you.

Many thanks, Betsy

January 31, 2009 9:45 PM

Interesting. President Obama had barely taken his oath of office and they were already collecting footage and horror stories from across the pond to trash “nationalized care”?

Who is Betsy Kulman, anyway? She identifies herself as a journalist, and there is indeed an award-winning field producer named Betsy Kulman who has worked for CNN, ABC, Fox and others. I also found a Betsy Kulman--a Vanderbilt University graduate, no less--who is owner of BK Productions, a media firm in Washington, D.C.

Are they the same person? If so, field producer Kulman can kiss her award-winning news career goodbye now that she’s working for a lobbyist and misrepresenting herself to overseas sources. "Karen Ryan, reporting" anyone?

The other question I have is, what is HCA’s financial relationship to Rick Scott’s Conservatives For Patients’ Rights group? In January Ms. Kulman was telling people that her “web documentary” was being underwritten by “Columbia Healthcare.” Conservatives For Patients’ Rights opened its doors in February--and it turns out her "documentary" is in fact no more than advertisements against healthcare reform. So I guess we can surmise that HCA is underwriting the anti-reform activities of Conservatives For Patients Rights, which makes sense since Rick Scott used to be head of the company.

This is good to know. HCA is a for-profit hospital chain. The company paid $1.7 billion to settle the government’s fraud claim, the largest healthcare fraud case in U.S. history.

Vendetta, much?

This is who is fighting healthcare reform, misrepresenting themselves to people in the United Kingom as “journalists” working on a “web documentary,” and trying to stop moves to reform our broken system.

Betsy Kulman the journalist has an impressive resume. But if this is the same person who has been shilling for Conservatives For Patients' Rights, it's going to discredit any future work she may do for the networks.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Campaign 4-Ever

You cannot convince me that this is in the nation’s best interests:
Interest groups on all sides of the debate have spent more than $57 million on television advertisements in six months, most of it in the last 45 days, said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks television advertisements.

“It’s the most we’ve seen this quick,” Mr. Tracey said. “If it goes on all year, we’re looking at one of the biggest public policy ad wars ever.”

I’ve long suspected that our media willfully keeps the American public ignorant and at each others’ throats to the point where a sector of the population would believe in outlandish ideas like government “death panels.” Why? For the express purpose of creating an ad war. Sounds crazy, I know, but when I survey the landscape to see who is profiting right now, all I come up with is alphabet soup: CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, CBS.

Think about it: the networks get rich off the election cash cow that arrives every two years. But how to rescue the bottom line in off years? Of course in 2007, we had our earliest presidential primary season ever. Remember this?

As such, Tracey predicts that there could be as much as $600 million in broadcast political ad spending this year. While that pales in comparison to last year's record $2.3 billion in political commercials, fueled by the bitter mid-term elections, Tracey said ad spending in 2007 could be the highest ever for an odd-numbered year.

2008 we were in full campaign mode. 2009 could have been a wash, but it looks like the networks’ bacon has been saved by healthcare reform. Next year we will have the mid-term elections, and then the Republican presidential primary.

Of course, this sounds way too “tin-foil hattish” for my liking. But anyone wondering why our news media specializes in lies and distortions might also keep in mind all the public policy groups advertising to “correct the record”:

Supporters of Mr. Obama’s plan to overhaul the system have outspent opponents, with $24 million worth of advertising, compared with $9 million from opponents. An additional $24 million has been broadly spent in support of overhauling the system without backing a specific plan.

Sound crazy? No crazier than a government-sponsored “death panel” pulling the plug on your grandma.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

We Suck

The BBC looks at healthcare systems around the world. We suck:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

If You Like The Status Quo

Watch this Dana Gould piece from last night's “Real Time With Bill Maher” (via Crooks & Liars):

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Loneliest Protester

I’m playing the world’s tiniest violin for Tom Kovach, the only one to show up at an anti-healthcare reform protest at West End Middle School today:
Tom Kovach, state director of America’s Independent Party, said he’d hoped to see at least 50 people at the protest in a parking lot in front of West End Middle School near downtown.

Instead, the only company he had was a hand full of reporters and a few passing joggers.

This protest was a giant fail from the get-go. Rep. Jim Cooper was scheduled to welcome West End Middle School students to their first day of school. Somehow Kovach got the idea that this was a town hall meeting.

Think about it: a town hall meeting? At a public school on the first day of school? During school hours? Who would plan that?

Regardless, Kovach scheduled a protest, which the media dutifully reported. Cooper pulled out, not wanting to disrupt the first day of school. Kovach was undeterred, and appeared for his lonely man protest anyway.

Well, not quite so lonely. Remember:

Instead, the only company he had was a hand full of reporters and a few passing joggers.

Ah, yes, our glorious media. Of course! You can always count on them to sniff out a hot story, which usually happens to be where a conservative activist is calling for the whaaaambulance.

It took the Tennessee Democratic Party to point out Kovach’s checkered past:

Kovach was fired from his job at Whites Creek High School in 2007 for abusing a student. He was subsequently arrested by Metro police for the same incident after charges were filed.

Meanwhile, the No Chaser blog reminds us that Cooper opened a can of whupass on Kovach in the 2006 election, beating him 122,919 to 49,702. Looks like Kovach is the epitome of the sore loser--something else our media failed to mention. They apparently still haven’t discovered the Google.

If Ticketmaster Ran Healthcare

I just bought two tickets to a show at the Ryman Auditorium this fall. Somehow two $42.75 tickets ended up costing me $106.70.

Let’s break it down, shall we? For two tickets we have:

• Convenience Charge, $6.95 x 2 = $13.90
• Delivery Charge (TicketFast, which means I print them myself): $2.50
• Order processing fee: $3.50
• Additional taxes: $1.30

Grand total: $21.20 in fees, charges, and taxes on $85.50 in tickets.

Gotta love it when private enterprise hits the service sector! They get you coming and going. What’s the difference between a “convenience charge” and a “processing fee,” anyway? Why am I charged for delivery? What delivery? I go online to the Ticketmaster site, download my tickets myself, and print them out on my own paper, printer and ink. Just who is being convenienced here, anyway? It’s just another way to fleece consumers so Ticketmaster can inflate its profits and company executives can make big salaries.

Can you imagine if Ticketmaster ran our healthcare system? Yet this is exactly how our healthcare system works. A friend whose husband is a doctor sent me this 2008 article from the newsletter of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. It’s called “America Un-Covered” and starts on Page 10. I highly recommend everyone read the entire thing, but this struck me:
”Thirty-one percent of all health care dollars now go to absorbing the administrative costs of the big carriers. Medicare has an administrative cost of 3 percent. When you are dealing with a system where every percentage point is 21 billion dollars, the costs are fairly significant.”

So 31% of every healthcare dollar is going to insurance companies--the middle-man who levies a “convenience charge” so I can have the pleasure of going to his online store and taking advantage of a self-serve feature.

You know what would really be convenient? If y’all came to my door at a time of my choosing, gave me my tickets, and how about a slice of chocolate fudge cake and a bottle of champagne while you’re at it?

You know, housecalls. Whatever happened to those?

Listen, I don’t have to buy concert tickets. Entertainment is a luxury item. Healthcare is not. If I’m sick or injured, I am getting treatment. I don’t want to shop around for the best deal, I don’t want to clip the coupon, I’m not going save up until I can splurge on that superfun biopsy. I’m getting my medical issue taken care of. And that should not be a for-profit transaction where some middle-man skims 31% off the top so his shareholders and board of directors can buy new jets.

This makes no sense to me at all. Basically the tea-shouters are hollering that they'd rather pay 31% more for every healthcare transaction, the cost of "not being socialist." Maybe we should call it a freedom tax. Freedom ain't free, yada yada.

The great irony is that the whole single-payer option was taken off the table early in the game. People are fighting against a public option. That's like someone fighting to prevent me from choosing the U.S. mail option on my Ticketmaster transaction.


Happy Birthday, Social Security!

On August 14, 1935 President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. You can check out the vote tally here.

It’s worth remembering that when the debate over Social Security raged, groups like the National Assn. of Manufacturers, AMA, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce denounced the Social Security concept as “totalitarian.”

Now there’d be a revolution if anyone tried to touch it.


I just saw one of those TV ads from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asking us to tell Congress to “slow down” on healthcare reform, which is hilarious since we’ve been trying to get some kind of healthcare reform in this country for decades. National healthcare was included in the original Social Security Act, but President Roosevelt removed it in a concession to the American Medical Assn. Figures. We've been suffering without it ever since.

In 1985 on the 50th anniversary of Social Security, Wilbur Cohen, one of the architects of the Social Security Act, reflected:
In 5 short months in 1934 the basic framework of the Social Security Act was formulated. And in another 7 months in 1935 it was enacted into law! A monumental change in the relationships between individuals, the States, and the Federal Government had been instituted. Today, 50 years later, we can see the significance and magnitude of that historic legislation in protecting families, communities, and the Nation.

Yet it’s been eight months and we still don’t have a healthcare bill. But we do have members of Congress bragging about how they’ve slowed the process down. Interesting.

Meanwhile, over at the Social Security Administration’s archives, one can read Congressional testimony and other documents from the program’s founding.

Here is Elon H. Hooker, president of the Manufacturing Chemists Assn.:

My opposition to this bill rests, in the first place, on the ground that, to my knowledge, it has been prepared without an factual study and without the necessary consultation with persons who will be most directly affected by its provisions.

I am sorry Senator Harrison is not here, because he takes exception to that, as I listened to the previous speaker. This bill was prepared with 6 months of study by a committee. That may seem to you gentlemen a long time, but the provisions contained in this bill are to cover a period of time running on to our children’s children, and our grandchildren, and months of experience in this kind of a complicated thing, 6 months study is not nearly enough.

In other words: slow down! This is too important! Not much has changed, has it?

Here is John Corson, another Social Security architect, recalling political opposition to the program:

Despite widespread approval of this new law, the times were rough. The Republican candidate for president in 1936 promised, if elected, to repeal the law. At his suggestion many employers inserted materials in their employees' pay envelopes warning them that the payroll taxes to be deducted from their wages would be lost. And when it was proposed that Social Security numbers would be issued, this candidate branded them as "dog tags to be hung around the neck of every American worker."

Fearmongering and lies, can you imagine? No indeed, not much has changed at all!

The American Medical Assn. fought both including a healthcare provision in the Social Security Act and fought private insurance, calling both “socialist.” From

By the 1930s the AMA was a very powerful political organization that controlled medical schools and medical education and defined the nature of medical practice in the United States. It fought third-party-payment insurance schemes for decades because it saw most insurance schemes and other potential external controls as forms of governmental paternalism, or "creeping socialism." Dr. Morris Fishbein, the editor of the AMA's publications and its primary spokesman in the 1930s, warned that any form of group health insurance or governmental aid in medical care "breaks down that initiative and ambition which are the marks of a young country going ahead," and the young doctor who steps into such a job, "begins a mechanized routine type of service that is harmful not only to his patients but to his own character and advancement."

That’s fascinating to me. The AMA didn't want public OR private insurance? I wonder what would have happened if we had neither: no BlueCross/BlueShield or Medicare?

Finally, here’s John Harrington, general counsel for the Illinois Manufacturing Assn., making the argument that Social Security would sink already Depression-stressed small businesses, causing even greater unemployment:

We believe that this measure, if adopted, means at best an annuity of doubtful value for the aged of the future and unemployment benefit of doubtful value for the normally temporarily unemployed of the future--at the terrific cost of retarding the reemployment of those who are unemployed today.

It was interesting plowing through the archives because the arguments against creating Social Security are the very same points being voiced today by those who oppose healthcare reform--and from the same interests. I didn’t see anyone mention “death panels” but I did see lots of fearmongering about “socialism,” “totalitarianism,” higher costs, oppressing business, etc. etc. And yet here we are 74 years later, and Social Security is deemed the “third rail” of politics: mess with it and you’re toast.

We’ve been here before, people. Nothing has changed in America’s political discourse, save people have gotten sillier and more hysterical. But 74 years ago we were able to pass sweeping Social Security legislation in the face of opposition from Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, industry groups, and fearmongers worried about “socialism.” There is no reason to not reform our broken healthcare system now.

I leave you with a piece of pop culture, my favorite quote from “The West Wing,” as a reminder of who the players are in this fight:

"Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things. Every one. So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, liberal, as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won't work, Senator. Because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor."

Amen to that.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

America The Delusional

Please tell me this is a joke:
Posted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 8:26 pm    Post subject:

At this point it looks like the Healthcare issue is being used to stir up civil unrest. This could be a precursor to a planned crackdown that would allow them to finally start filling up those FEMA camps. I smell a rat in regards to this whole healthcare thing. Our economy is undergoing collapse, yet you want to focus on the health system? Are you kidding me? That's like re-upholstering the cabins of the Titantic while it's in the process of sinking!

I don't know the ulterior motives.

National healthcare database linked to a microchipped populace?
Greater control over how parents rear their children? Psychiatry, home schooling, pills, etc.
Government-sponsored insurance fraud and kickbacks?
Population reduction?
Furthering feudalism?
Civil unrest?
I haven't a clue, but I don't trust it for a second.

Dude, there’s medication for stuff like this.

Oh, wait. That would require health insurance.

Never mind. Looks like we’re stuck with the crazy. Prize goes to the person who stockpiles the most tin foil.


[UPDATE]: BTW for those who missed it, Popular Mechanics debunked the FEMA camps urban legend back in April.

Karma Gets Focus On The Family

Focus On The Family has a $6 million budget shortfall this year, according to the AP, and has been forced to go begging to its donors yet again.

Aww. Can you hear me playing the world’s tiniest violin for you folks? No?

Last November, you may recall, the group was forced to trim 20% of its staff, after sinking $500,000 into California’s Prop 8 campaign. Well, they won that battle but it looks like they lost the war:
Focus on the Family also says it will no longer stage "Love Won Out" conferences, which promise to "help men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome."

The events will go on, instead staged by Orlando, Fla.-based Exodus International.

I always say, karma’s a bitch!

The Return Of Phil Parlock

It just wouldn’t be a right wing-v-left wing campaign without an appearance by serial victim Phil Parlock! The Washington Times, in a lame effort to defend the right wing’s attack on 11-year old Julia Hall, has brought up this incident from the 2004 campaign:
Just because the Obama administration has an 11-year old asking a question about right wing meanies, doesn't mean friends of the left have patience for children of conservative activists either.  Remember this photo below?  This was taken in 2004 after conservative activist Phil Parlock and his three-year old daughter Sophia crossed paths with John Kerry supporting Union Democrats.

They grabbed the little girl's sign and tore it up.

Uh, yeah. When trying to defend the indefensible “you did it first!” is not usually the best argument.

Except in this case, we didn’t do it first. As was well documented at the time, Phil Parlock was a notorious serial victim, who claimed to have lost dozens of signs at the hands of big, mean union thugs going all the way back to 1996 when he alleged he was knocked to the ground for displaying a “Remember Vince Foster” sign at a Clinton rally. Attaturk at Rising Hegemon dug into the memory and found this quote:

"It must have been a strict Democrat who did this," Parlock said, feeling the red abrasions on his face. "Everyone with the exception of him was real peaceful about our protest."

At the time of the 2004 incident, Attaturk also noticed a striking resemblance between the alleged sign-ripping “union thugs” and one of the Parlock sons.

So thank you, Washington Times, for reminding us of this incident. As astroturf campaigns dominate the nightly news and tea shouters screetch that they want their country back after just eight months of an Obama presidency, it’s nice that you have reminded us of how low the right wing will stoop to flog its eternal victimization.

Can The GOP To Get Its Act Together?

Joan Walsh writes:
And unfortunately for Obama's dreams of bipartisanism, it's way past time for him to give up his hopes that he can bring "sensible" Republicans on board with a smart, fair bill.

Well, duh. That “bipartisan” ship sank before it ever left the harbor. The Republicans aren’t interested in bipartisanship or reforming healthcare, they’re interested in winning the 2010 midterm elections. Please don’t tell you’re just now cluing in to that reality.

What I want to know is, where are the “sensible Republicans,” anyway? Are they an endangered species? How much longer will the Republican Party allow stuff like this to represent their side of the healthcare debate?

Where are the grownups? Looks to me like there are none left in the GOP.

Doesn’t anyone at the GOP worry that with the tea-shouters and birthers on TV morning, noon and night defining the opposition, these folks might alienate that coveted voting block known as the “undecideds”? The “independents”? That great, glorified “middle” of the American electorate?

Yesterday I went to visit Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office to voice my support for healthcare reform and a public option. Several other women were there with the same message. And one asked why Alexander has basically been absent on the healthcare issue. I thought that was a damn good question.

I don’t agree with Sen. Alexander on most things but he’s one of those “elder statesmen” of the Republican Party who can usually be relied upon to offer a measured perspective on the issues. And yet, people like Alexander seem to be sitting on the sidelines.

Instead we have Sarah Palin and her fictitious “death panels,” and Newt Gingrich coming to her defense. We have folks going on cable news claiming it’s unconstitutional for the president’s advisers to be named "czars." Another protester told Fox News that Nancy Pelosi dispatched goons to his house in the middle of the night.

This is some serious crazy, and I don't mean that in the metaphorical sense. I’d blame the media for sensationalizing the fringe except even the “serious” people on the right are coming off like loons.

Arthur Laffer is seemingly unaware that Medicaid and Medicare are government programs. Investors Business Daily claimed in an op-ed this week that:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

Apparently they were completely unaware that Hawking is a British citizen, born and bred. Remind me not to take investment advice from these clowns.

Even a once-"sensible" Republican like Chuck Grassley looks ridiculous when he says:

"We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

Um, WTF? Well, Senator, you’d be thrilled to know that no one is advocating such a program. Can we have a serious conversation now?

Good grief. Pardon me for concern-trolling here, but if I were a strategist with the Republican Party I’d be deeply worried. Y'all are looking like a crazy train that no one in their right mind would want to board. You think this is going to bring you an election victory in 2010?

Now would be a good time for someone to step forward and be the voice of reason, someone like a Lamar Alexander. The fact that no one has is more than a little puzzling.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Because People Are Stupid

Another Nashville gun nut defines stupidity and consequently a young man is in critical condition:
Right after 9 p.m. Tuesday, police said the 44-year-old owner of Chico's Market was showing his employees his new semi-automatic 9 mm pistol, when he shot a 23-year-old employee in the stomach. According to the owner, he took the clip out, but he forgot there was a bullet in the chamber.

Emergency officials transported the 23-year-old to Vanderbilt where he was listed in critical but stable condition Wednesday morning.

So far, no charges have been filed and police were continuing their investigation.

Don’t know why you have to actually pull the trigger when you are showing off your new toy.

Of course, accidents happen! Even to people who supposedly know better, like this Memphis Police Academy instructor. Look what happened yesterday:

A male recruit at the Memphis Police Academy was accidentally shot in the arm during a training exercise this afternoon, authorities said.

The recruits were being taught how to draw with the non-shooting hand, according to a statement from department spokeswoman Officer Karen Rudolph.

At about 1:15 p.m., an instructor drew a weapon and the gun discharged. The recruit was struck in the left wrist and was treated and released at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.

Jeez. They are doing training exercises with loaded weapons?

I predict as more people start carrying their guns around to more places, accidents due to careless stupidity will become more common.

The Morality Of Taxes, Part 2

One of my conservative commenters wrote this a few threads ago:
At least he's asking for actual charity rather than expecting the government to come to his rescue at taxpayer expense.

This is such a common refrain among conservatives: “Why should my money pay for his/her/your/their [fill in the blank] ...”

Well, there are a lot of reasons why. For one thing, it’s not in the nation’s best interests to have large numbers of poor, starving, homeless, sick, uneducated, [fill in the blank] people in our communities. It’s a security issue, it’s an economic issue, and it’s a quality of life issue. And the most efficient way to handle this is through taxes which pay for social services. Relying on charity, as has been observed in the past, denies the constant of human nature: greed.

And for people of faith, it’s a moral issue. I wrote about the morality of taxes back in 2007. And now I direct you to one of my favorite faith bloggers, The Search for Integrity, which has been on my blogroll since almost day one. He has something to say about the theology of taxes:

On whether taxpayers have responsibility for the well-being of their neighbors, by means of government programs:

In the theocratic state envisioned by the Hebrew prophets (or even, in their critique of every nation) the responsibilities of kings was clear:  plead the cause of the fatherless and widow, demand justice for the poor.  See, for example, Psalm 82:3-4:  Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.  Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Nations were judged by how well their rulers implemented these simple principles.

In the United States of America, “we the people” (the voters and, yes, the taxpayers) are sovereign.  Therefore “we, the people” are under divine judgment if we fail to use our sovereign power to take care of the elderly, the disabled, the orphan and widows of our world.  “We, the people” as sovereign refers to our corporate role as king, which is to say, the government.  It is laudable for individual persons to do what they can by means of “charity,” but “we, the people” are not just an aggregate of individual persons.  We, together, are king, and as such are answerable to God for how well we rule.

Okay, usually I save the religious stuff for Sundays but it seems timely in light of the arguing about healthcare that’s taking place right now. The theological argument probably won’t mean much to most of the folks who visit this blog but it means something to me and it’s important element to the whole healthcare debate. Healthcare is a moral imperative and it’s an ethical issue. It’s why, as CNN has finally noticed, faith groups have joined the chorus for healthcare reform.

The moral argument isn't one we hear much of in this debate. That's curious, because our news media has not hesitated to trot out fundiegelical wackadoodles every time they need to present their idea of "modern American Christianity" on issues like gay marriage. But when it comes to a real moral issue--a war, say, or healthcare for all--suddenly people of faith aren't deemed relevant to the conversation.


My friend Therevr offers a very concise Biblical interpretation in defense of government programs like healthcare and welfare. Conservative faith groups like the Family Research Council which oppose healthcare reform offer nothing but lies about government-funded abortion and other fearmongering. That's not very Biblical to me, but it's about what I've come to expect from the Religious Right.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

If Only They Were In A Position To Do Something About That Pre-Existing Condition Stuff

This ad from America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) has always pissed me off. Especially the part where they say:
...and the words “pre-existing condition” become a thing of the past.

Psssst!!! Hey, AHIP! You know, you guys don’t need a freaking act of Congress to stop using “pre-existing conditions” as an excuse to deny coverage to your customers. You could just .... stop. All on your own! Y'all ever think about that?

The fact that you haven’t stopped abusive policies like denying coverage based on “pre-existing conditions” is one reason why we’re faced with Congressional action in the first place. And it is yet more proof that the glorious “free hand of the market” is not sufficient motivation for corporations to do the right thing.

Of course, the healthcare/insurance game is rigged from the get-go. Anyone who has a “pre-existing condition” is intimately familiar with that. If you are denied coverage because of your “pre-existing condition,” it’s not like there is a cornucopia of other insurance options from which you can choose. Nine times out of 10 your options are to go without, or go to an emergency room. Depending on how severe your “pre-existing condition” is, you can go untreated for the five-, seven- or however many years required before your policy will cover it as something “new.” But if you are in the full throes of breast cancer or MS or anything else, sorry.

So thank you America’s Health Insurance Plans for reminding us why you are the problem, not the solution. Thank you for proving our point: that reform requires a public option, because you could stop this “pre-exisiting condition” BS right now, and yet you state in your ads that you want Congress to fix it for you. How’s that for irony?

I suffer no allusions that AHIP wants Congress to reform our healthcare system. I think it’s all theater. This is all part of the Frank Luntz-advised message machine which warned Republicans to appear to be on the side of reform, because reform is a popular idea. So while groups like AHIP run feel-good ads claiming they support “bipartisan reform” (even though they could change many of the very policies which have caused this crisis to begin with), on the other hand they are working behind the scenes to make sure nothing changes at all.

Amazing that they not only think they can get away with this, but that they actually are getting away with this.

For now.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Tale Of Two Healthcare Activists

Perhaps the Tea Party set rallying against healthcare reform would like to donate some money to pay Kenneth Gladney’s medical bills. Because someone is going to have to.

Gladney is the conservative protestor who was injured outside a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO):
The irony is that Gladney’s situation underscores the vital need for health care reform. He was recently laid off and lost his insurance (14,000 Americans suffer a similar fate each day). Because he has no affordable health care option available, Gladney is now soliciting donations to pay his medical expenses.


Under the House’s health care proposal, Gladney would be guaranteed a coverage option and would likely receive a subsidy to purchase affordable health care.

That’s just precious. It’s like Joe The Plumber all over again, who finally admitted to being a welfare recipient, not once but twice. And let me say, while conservatives have blamed SEIU for the attack, one of the men involved who was there has another version of events:

But Elston McCowan, an SEIU staffer, said Gladney was actually an instigator. McCowan accused Gladney of attacking him as he walked to his car. McCowan said he suffered a dislocated shoulder.

"Out of nowhere, the guy just assaults me," said McCowan, 47, of St. Louis.

The SEIU says the Tea Party organizers created “a hostile atmosphere.” I just have to say, as the rhetoric from the right escalates, people are going to get hurt.

One thing that’s not disputed about those injured in Missouri? The guy who works for the union won’t need to go begging for donations pay his medical bills.

Tea Party activist Kenneth Gladney, on the other hand, does. And if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the two sides of this issue, I don’t know what will.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Don’t Talk To Me About Death Panels

Don’t talk to me about death panels, Sarah Palin.

You, who so carelessly bolstered a lie about healthcare reform to score a cheap political point; you, the most craven of political opportunists, who fearmongers about some dystopian socialist/fascist fantasyland; you, who earlier this year were only too happy to accept free medical, dental and veterinary care from the U.S. military for Alaska’s remote villages; you, dear lady, are an idiot.

In your free market wonderland everyone somehow manages to get healthcare, even those who are poor or live in isolated areas, though the poor and isolated in your own state required assistance from the federal government.

And despite all of this, you appear blithely unaware that the free market healthcare system we have now does, indeed, have “death panels.” I’ve been part of a death panel conversation. I know about death panels.

You have no idea what it’s like to be called into a sterile conference room with a hospital administrator you’ve never met before and be told that your mother’s insurance policy will only pay for 30 days in ICU. You can't imagine what it's like to be advised that you need to “make some decisions,” like whether your mother should be released “HTD” which is hospital parlance for “home to die,” or if you want to pay out of pocket to keep her in the ICU another week. And when you ask how much that would cost you are given a number so impossibly large that you realize there really are no decisions to make. The decision has been made for you. "Living will" or no, it doesn't matter. The bank account and the insurance policy have trumped any legal document.

If this isn’t a “death panel” I don’t know what is.

So don’t talk to me about “death panels” you heartless, cruel, greedy sons of bitches, who are only too happy to keep the profits rolling in to the big insurance companies while you spout your mealy-mouthed bumper sticker slogans about the evils of socialism. You don't even know what socialism is. You don't know what government healthcare is. You have no fucking clue about anything except that you lost the last election and you're pissed off.

You are young. Your parents are still alive. You don’t know enough to take any of this seriously. It's all an exercise in political theater for you. But that will change. We all get older. The time will arrive, someday, when you are tasked with caring for someone you love who is seriously ill. You will be ushered in to that sterile hospital conference room with an administrator you do not know, where you are told to "make plans" for a day you never hoped to see. And then you will get your education.

If on that day you still think the healthcare system we have now is fabulous and worth lying, cheating and threatening people to maintain, I can only conclude that you lack even the tiniest grain of a soul.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Three Time Offender

The gun nuts are always saying we don’t need more gun laws, we just need to enforce the ones we already have. I’d like to suggest we start with dealers like Wisconsin’s Eric Thompson, who armed the Pennsylvania gym shooter, the Virginia Tech shooter and the Northern Illinois University shooters.

Wow, does he get some kind of prize for that?

The Gun Guys blog reports:
Now, he has done it again. The tortured misogynist who killed three and wounded nine in a Pittsburgh area gym this week was another customer of TGSCOM, the online arms warehouse that Thompson operates, buying a magloader and a high-capacity magazine from the dealer last year.

Once again, Thompson is telling journalists how upset he is, and how the incident proves that potential victims should arm themselves, to protect themselves from killers. The victims the Pennsylvania killer shot were participating in an aerobics class.

Yes, tucking a pistol in my spandex before heading for pilates class is surely the workable solution.

If bars and restaurants and servers can be held responsible for drunk drivers who were over-served, then I don't see why gun dealers cannot be held responsible for failing to do an adequate background check not once, not twice, but three times. Of course, gun dealers are sued all the time by victims of the people they've armed. It just seems like someone who armed psychotic killers three times in the past few years should face some repercussions for their irresponsible behavior. Instead, he's telling folks that since he's arming the psychos, the non-crazies better arm themselves from him, too.

Of course George Sodini is the poster boy for everything wrong with our shoot ‘em up gun laws:

“The 48-year-old Pennsylvania gym shooter had been issued a concealed weapons permit. The high-capacity magazine he used would have been illegal for sale in the U.S. under the Federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004,” Helmke said. “Why do we make it so easy for these dangerous to get these dangerous weapons? We need to be asking this.”

Why, indeed.

Y’all must be so proud of yourselves.