Thursday, December 31, 2009

We Get Mail

So yesterday’s mail finally brought a letter from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. It reads:
On Monday, October 5, 2009 at 10:00 a.m., BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Inc. employees discovered a theft of computer equipment at a network closet located in our Eastgate Town Center office location in Chattanooga, TN. The theft occurred Friday, October 2, 2009 at approximately 6:13 p.m. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has established that the items taken include 57 hard drives, containing data which was was encoded but not encrypted.

I wrote about this data theft waaaay back on November 25. The letter we received yesterday was dated December 24.

The theft occurred October 2. That’s two and a half months between when the theft occurred and when we were notified. And I’ve known about it for a month.

You know, when computers were stolen from the Davidson County Election Commission, we knew about it right away. Guess the private world doesn’t work that way.

Moving on:

The hard drives contained encoded audio and video recordings of member and provider eligibility and coordination of benefits calls to BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s Eastgate call center. As a current or former member, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennesee has identified that some of your information was stored on the hard drives and potentially could be accessed. The information potentially at risk includes your name, address, member ID, diagnosis code, Social Security number and/or date of birth.

Well that’s just lovely. Thanks for waiting two and a half months to let me know.

This is the second data breach for BlueCross/Blue Shield this year, it appears. Also in October, a laptop containing sensitive physician information was stolen:

This is the second reported insurance company data breach this year involving thousands of physicians. The other came to light in October when BlueCross BlueShield-affiliated plans across the country began notifying physicians that a laptop belonging to an employee of the Chicago-based BlueCross BlueShield Assn. was stolen in August.

An unencrypted file containing identifying information for every Blues-contracted physician in the country -- about 850,000 physicians in total -- was saved on the laptop. So far there's been no evidence the data have been misused, but state regulators have been critical of the Blues for allowing the breach to happen and for taking months to report it.

Taking months to report it, huh? Where have we heard that before?

So, we’re being offered Kroll’s “ID TheftSmart™” program to monitor us for identity theft for one year. Kroll is one of those major business intelligence/security firms that always scare the crap out of me, sort of like a privatized NSA. I think I’d rather stay off their radar, thank you. And I always get suspicisious when one giant corporation that knows too much about me wants to sign me up with another giant corporation that knows too much about me. Something doesn’t smell right here.

Anyway, I’ve seen local news reports on this BlueCross BlueShield hard drive theft, but I haven’t seen anything in the national news about it, which I find puzzling. Has there been some kind of news blackout? After all, it's affected tens of thousands of customers all around the country.

Seems to me this kind of stuff is happening with increasing frequency. HealthNet lost a drive with information on its members and physicians, and waited a full six months to tell anyone.

That just isn't right. If we're forced to do business with you people, as a government mandate, then there needs to be some kind of penalty when you folks twiddle your thumbs while customers' Social Security numbers and other private information is out there loose in the world, waiting for anyone to snap up. I don't think they take our privacy very seriously, and I think waiting six months or even two months to notify customers shows you were more concerned about covering your own asses than your customers' protection. Also, I don't think one years' worth of "identity theft protection" is going to make anyone feel better. What happens in two years? Three?

Anyway, just a thought. The media coverage of this has been a big fail (no surprise there) and I get the sneaking suspicion that BlueCross BlueShield is hoping no one will really notice.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Message To Our State Legislature

Dear Rep. Susan Lynn & TN State Legislators:

I understand you are considering legislation that would allow Tennessee to “opt out” of any federal law the state doesn’t like, with the pending healthcare reform bill the first on your kill list.

Setting aside for the moment the dubious constitutionality of such legislation, I’d like to ask what your alternative healthcare plan for Tennessee might be.

A few things for you to consider (stats via Families USA & THCC and TN’s Small Businesses & Factors Influencing Health Insurance Coverage):

• For 2007-2008, 32.4% of Tennesseans under the age of 65 were uninsured.

• 74.7% of them were members of working families.

• 45% of Tennessee’s small businesses did not offer their employees insurance, with cost listed as the most common reason why.

Please tell me what your solution is for these problems. I understand you don’t like Congress' pending bill--I don’t like it either (for reasons completely different from yours). But I’ll take it over what we’ve got now.

Which is:

We have the nation’s highest infant mortality rates.

• We’re the fourth fattest state in the nation.

• Medical bankruptcy is a growing problem in the state.

• We rank third in the nation for deaths from stroke and Cerebrovascular disease.

• We rank fourth in the nation for cancer deaths.

Even conceding that some of these figures are a couple of years old, there’s no denying the obvious: We’re not the healthiest bunch, and it’s affecting everyone’s pocket book. So, what’s your grand idea?

Healthcare has been the number one topic occupying the nation for the past year. So I’d like to know what you’ve done to get Tennesseans access to affordable health insurance in the past few months. Frankly, I think y'all should be ashamed of yourselves. Every year our state budget is slashed, cutting more people from the state’s health insurance program and slashing benefits. Every year. Next year looks worse.

What did you people do with your time in the legislature? You passed a bill cutting $1.1 million in state funds from Planned Parenthood. You passed SJR 127, the anti-abortion bill. And we had the guns-in-bars and guns-in-parks bills.

But anything to actually help people access health insurance or get healthcare or make them healthier in general? Bubkis.

So, since you’ve made clear that you don’t like Congress' pending plan, and you’ve done absolutely nothing to help Tennesseans access affordable health insurance, I can only assume you’re happy with the status quo. You think the healthcare situation in Tennessee is just fine the way it is, and all of those people dying of strokes and cancer and the newborn babies dying because of lack of prenatal care and the mentally ill who are unable to get treatment because the clinic was closed ... well, I guess that’s all just fine with you. Is that right?

If not, I’d like to hear your alternative plan to what the U.S. Congress is close to passing. How are we going to get people the insurance they need to access healthcare?

I'll be waiting.


Southern Beale

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

IOKIYAR, Shut Up & Sing Edition

(AP) The Dixie Chicks are drawing criticism from country music fans for remarks singer Natalie Maines made about President George W. Bush during a recent performance in London.

Maines told the audience earlier this week, “Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”



Rocker TED NUGENT isn't a fan of U.S. leader BARACK OBAMA - he thinks the president should be jailed.

The Cat Scratch Fever hitmaker, a fervent Republican, insists America should be ashamed about voting in the Democrat, who took office in January (09). 

He tells Royal Flush magazine, "I think that Barack Hussein Obama should be put in jail. It is clear that Barack Hussein Obama is a communist. 

"(Former Chinese leader) Mao Tse Tung lives and his name is Barack Hussein Obama. This country should be ashamed. I wanna throw up."

”Ashamed the president is from Texas” vs “the President is a Communist who should be jailed."


One remark sparked radio station CD crushing parties, a nationwide boycott of a No. 1 album, and a grilling by Diane Sawyer normally reserved for heads of state and corporate crooks. One remark spawned a media meltdown as Nashville’s music business turned on its own, taking down its top platinum-selling act in an act of cannibalism unmatched in its severity or swiftness.

One remark dominated the news cycle for weeks, even months, and prompted this response:

Anyone want to place bets on the reaction the other remark will get?

** crickets **

If there's anything our media should be most ashamed of over the past decade, it's how they took down four entertainers for making a rather innocuous comment on stage in London.

Sarah Palin, Andy Williams, Sen. James Inhofe and now Ted Nugent seem to have forgotten that it was once treasonous to voice even a tepid criticism of the sitting U.S. president on foreign soil during war time. Bygones!

Now it’s perfectly OK to call the president a Communist and demand he be thrown in jail.

Right wing hypocrisy is a feature, not a bug. But as we close the book on the suckiest decade of my lifetime, I’d at least like to hear someone in our media/entertainment complex send the Dixie Chicks an apology.

Fear de Siecle

What were you doing 10 years ago this week?

I know what I was doing: I was waiting in line at the old Wild Oats on Belmont Blvd. (now a hipster furniture store), stuck behind the half dozen or so (mostly) senior citizens who were filling up two and three shopping carts full of 5-gallon water bottles.

People who had never before thought to schlep to the health food store for filtered water were so freaked out over Y2K that they set by several months’ supply of drinking water in anticipation of the Big Apocalypse. Those of us trying to fill up our usual one or two gallon jugs walked away empty 10 years ago this week: the Y2K freak-out brigade had shut down the machines.

This is how we ushered in the Oughts. On a wave of fear about the unknown, anticipating a failure of technology and our supporting systems. Our media told us nightly it all might--might--come crashing down as the clock turned, unleashing a cataclysmic chain of events that would forever alter how we live. The power grid would be history. Bank ATMs would shut down, stock markets would fail, airport control towers would go dark and planes would literally fall from the sky. Panic in the streets. No wonder Y2K Survival Guides were hot sellers.

And now here we are, 10 years after the fact, still in freak-out mode over a failure of technology and supporting systems as a wannabe terrorist tried to blow up his underpants and got taken down by a Dutch filmmaker sitting across the aisle. What a perfectly hilarious bookend to the Decade of Fear. In like a lion, out like a clown. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

I think it’s pretty much universally agreed that the Oughts were the worst decade in anyone’s memory. Time Magazine called it "The Decade From Hell.” Frank Rich dubbed it the "flim-flam decade,” pointing out how we were bamboozled by Enron traders, warhawks and even celebrities who invariably were not what they were portrayed to be. ThinkProgress, God love ‘em, called it the "Decade of Bush.” In fact, there’s been a lot of attention on George W. Bush and 9/11, as if they were the sole reason for the decade’s suckitude. I think that gives them far too much credit.

Those folks are all missing something. The one thing that characterizes the Oughts was fear. We were sold fear going in, and we’re being sold fear going out. Going in it was Y2K and the Enron-created energy crisis and Chandra Levy and the “Summer of the shark”. And then 9/11 happened and it was a steady drum beat of terrorism-related fear like Saddam’s fantasy WMD and “duct tape and plastic sheeting,” punctuated by a few non-terrorism scary events like the Northeast’s grid collapse of 2003.

I don’t remember having the crap scared out of me with such regularity in all of my nearly 5 decades on this planet. And the one thing about being told “boo!” all the time is that it eventually stops working. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis I think we all pretty much decided that those politicized terror alerts we were getting from the Bush Administration couldn’t hold a candle to the very real scary stuff Mother Nature and our crumbling national infrastructure had in store.

So as the Oughts limp to a close and we’re given more “terror in the skies” headlines and U.S. Senators call for pre-emptive attacks and economists say we aren’t out of the recessionary woods yet and a sitting U.S. Congress person calls for revolution, I would just like to wave a hearty goodbye to the Decade of Fear.

Your suckitude knows no depths. Yes, some good things happened--some great things happened, personally. But I can’t close the book on this decade fast enough.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Stupid Security Theater


That didn't take long:
DALLAS – Airline officials say in-flight security rules have been eased after a two-day clampdown.
At the captain's discretion, passengers can once again have blankets and other items on their laps or move about the cabin during the tail end of flight, two industry officials briefed on the situation said Monday.

It was a stupid rule to begin with.

Airline travel has just gotten substantially suckier thanks to our ridiculous Transportation Security Administration:

"Among other things, during the final hour of flights, customers must remain seated, will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage or have personal belongings or other items on their laps," the airline said.

Look, in the interest of safer air travel, I will accept pat-downs and more scrutiny of my carry-on bags. But this “remain seated for the last hour of flight with nothing in your lap” bullshit is the last straw.

What does the “last” hour of flight have to do with anything? Just because the foiled Detroit attack took place in the “last” hour of flight, do you think they all have to be that way? Why not the first hour of flight? The second? How arbitrary and ridiculous. Al Qaeda is laughing their asses off at us.

Second of all, anyone who has ever traveled with children knows you simply cannot keep them locked in their seat for a full hour, no trips to the bathroom, no access to personal belongings, no toys, no games, hell not even a blanket. Good luck with that. Oh, and I’m sure the flight crews will have a grand ol’ time wiping urine off the seats.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s ridiculous that our safety screening is based on foiled terrorist plots? Richard Reed failed to light his shoes on fire so now we all take our shoes off at security. Some other terrorists failed to mix liquids into an explosive, so now you can’t take liquids through security. And now we have to stay out of the bathroom and twiddle our thumbs for an hour.

As I wrote last year when an eager TSA employee in Dallas stole took labeled my niece’s Christmas gift contraband:

Thank God the Maxwell Smart of terrorists didn't have an exploding pen, or we'd all have our writing implements confiscated at security.

It seems to me there’s a better way to do this. Telling me I can’t read a freaking magazine for the last hour of flight or take a pee after you’ve plied me with ginger ale for two hours doesn’t seem to be the right approach. I’d rather we figured out how someone on the terror watch list was able to board an aircraft with a bomb strapped to his balls, when I can’t even get a damn bottle of Dasani past security.

Y’all ever think of that?

No, Janet Napolitano, our system did not work.

How about a little extra pat-down to the guy on our terror watch list who was denied an entry visa to the United Kingdom last spring? I realize hindsight is 20/20 and I don’t know all of the ins and outs of airline security but it seems like treating every single person like a potential terrorist accomplishes nothing, when there are actual, concrete things we should be doing to make air travel safer.

In my post last year I linked to this “Ask The Pilot” column, in which a pilot had this to say about airport security:

What we need is a TSA willing to concede that the real nuts and bolts of keeping terrorists away from planes take place well out of view. We need to immediately rescind most of the rules restricting sharp objects and liquids, with a return to basic screening for firearms and bombs. With respect to the latter, the emphasis should be put squarely on improved anti-explosives screening of all luggage and cargo.

And although the attacks of 2001 took place on U.S. soil, the greater threats are at airports abroad. American carriers now operate throughout Asia, South America, Africa and beyond, where they remain potentially high-profile targets for extremist groups or rogue terrorists. Here we are confiscating scissors from somebody's grandmother in Indianapolis when most of our security in foreign countries is outsourced to local authorities. How about relocating some of our domestic manpower overseas to help prevent a bombing or shoot-down?

All of those things would be nice. How about those new liquid-explosive screening devices soon to be available in the EU? Can we get some of those in the U.S., please?

I’m tired of these ridiculous security rules designed to give the appearance that we are doing something when in fact we are doing nothing at all. If we're going to have terror watch lists, for crying out loud, use them.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wounded Nation

When I read this story in yesterday’s paper I thought: this is so rife with cliches about Southern rednecks that if I met Warren "Gator" Taylor in a movie, I’d complain the writers had cooked up a character offensive to Southerners.

Taylor is the 53-year-old, wheelchair-bound resident of Sullivan County, Tn., who this week took people hostage at the Wytheville, Va., post office. Why Wytheville? No reason except it reminded him of Gatlinburg. Why hostages? Oh, the usual reasons:
The gunman said he had no money, and his 2007 red Dodge diesel pickup truck was about to be repossessed. Mostly, he railed against the government — high taxes, gun control, and President Barack Obama.

"He was really down on the government," Oliver said. "About the government taking over the right to bear arms ... he was angry at the government overtaxing us."

This man lives in a state where they’ve just loosened a host of gun carry laws. And then there’s this:

Taylor, who has a criminal record and was registered as a sex offender in Florida, didn't argue for bail but had his lawyer ask about accommodations for his health conditions. He has a prosthetic leg and diabetes, public defender Randy Cargill said.
Wondering if he had a CCW permit or was mad because he couldn’t get one because of his criminal record. We’ll probably never know. But there seems to be a huge disconnect here. You know, the surest way to lose your Second Amendment rights is to take folks hostage.

And then there’s this:
A woman who answered the door at Taylor's trailer in the Beverly Hills Mobile Home Park in Bristol, Tenn., said she was his girlfriend and they spent a lot of time talking about the Bible and religion. Her Christmas gift to him was going to be an index to the Bible.

I’d say Gator Taylor is one of those right wing nut jobs we find in our rural communities who has bought every wacko conspiracy theory talk radio and Glenn Beck-types dish out. But I think there’s also more at play here beyond the irresponsible rantings of people behind the microphone pushing the Gator Taylors over the edge.

Gator Taylor claims his son was recently killed in Afghanistan (the AP could not verify that) and also says he himself is a veteran (also unverified). He certainly was in financial distress, was about to lose his truck, and had health issues. That's a lot of hurt for one person to shoulder.

We’re a wounded nation, people. The past decade has seen war, war profiteering, bankers and corporations stacking the deck in their favor, and political parties exploiting a divided nation. The result: ordinary people feel increasingly isolated and powerless.

The Gator Taylors of the nation are a symptom of a deeper wound. The question is, do we have the will to resolve these deep divisions? Do we even know how to do this? Or do those in power prefer to exploit our divisions to pursue their own agenda, and let the Gator Taylors of the country suffer the consequences?

At what point do we say “enough”?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas In Kentucky

The bookend to last year's Thanksgiving in Kentucky. Because nothing celebrates the birth of the Prince of Peace like a rifle and a bottle of bourbon.

Ya gotta love this family.

Christmas Music

I’ve always loved Selah and in particular Nicole Smith’s smoky-soul vocals. Here’s “Light Of The Stable” for your Christmas listening pleasure. Ignore the cheesy Trinity Broadcasting logo and no, that’s not Joe The Plumber. Merry Christmas one and all.

Love, Peace & Dolphins

Southern Beale

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Empty Gestures

So, a local Mazda dealership has been advertising it will give away free cars if Nashville gets 5” of snow on Christmas Day. Which sorta makes me wonder why they even bothered.

According to NOAA’s Nashville White Christmas Climatology:
Since the winter of 1884 and 1885, when snowfall records began in Nashville, snow has fallen 23 times on Christmas Day. Only 9 have been a measurable amount. A measurable amount is one tenth of an inch or more.

From a statistical standpoint, there is a 19 percent chance of a trace or more of snow on Christmas Day, and only a 7 percent chance of measurable snow.

The last time snow fell on Christmas was in 2002 when a trace occurred.

The last time measurable snow fell on Christmas was 1993 when 0.3 inches occurred. 0.3 inches also fell on Christmas in 1992 in downtown Nashville, but 1 to 2 inches fell in the Joelton and Ridgtop areas.

It’s 54 degrees and raining right now. We just don’t get that much snow here; I don’t know if we’ve ever received five inches at one time, at least recently. Certainly not on Christmas Day.

This Mazda dealership’s “free car” offer has annoyed Mr. Beale to no end. It’s obvious they only made it because they know they won’t have to pay up, which is a classic dick move if you ask me. They might as well have offered to give away free cars if martians landed in LP Field.

Last week when we were in New York and that big snowstorm hit, Mr. Beale was wishing it would snow five inches on Christmas Day, just teach that car dealership a lesson.

It really annoys me when businesses and corporations treat us like we’re idiots. BlueCross/BlueShield of Tennessee called me no less than a dozen times to tell me about their amazing, wonderful “wellness” program which they are now calling MVMT for Life. Basically it’s just a website where a virtual coach named Rachel tells you to lose weight and quit smoking and you make proclamations like “I will loose weight by using the stairs at our office.”

That’s all very well and good but I don’t need my insurance company wasting its time and money harassing me to sign up for this thing. And I did get daily phone calls from a real, live person telling me about how I needed to sign up. I don’t want a website, I’d rather have more concrete benefits. How about being able to get more than one blood test a year covered? Or more than one wellness visit a year covered? Heck, if you’re really on the “wellness” bandwagon, how about covering things like gym memberships or counseling with a nutritionist?

We’re tired of these empty PR gestures. We see them for what they are. They're dick moves, plain and simple, and it seems that's all we're getting these days.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Memory Hole: Medicare Part D

Ah, the hand-wringing over the “sweetheart deals” which brokered the healthcare bill into being. I’m still playing the world’s tiniest violin for Republicans.

I have no idea if this is “how it’s normally done” as I don’t work in D.C. But I did have a nagging little memory in the back of my head about some shenanigans Tennessee’s own Bill Frist, then Senate Majority Leader, fenagled to bring about the unfunded, politcally-motivated, fiscally irresponsible Medicare Part D expansion back in 2003 (Note: I'm remembering some shenangans in the Senate but the link is clearly about the House bill). After a few attempts my Google-fu hit pay dirt:
Recall the situation in 2003. The Bush administration was already projecting the largest deficit in American history--$475 billion in fiscal year 2004, according to the July 2003 mid-session budget review. But a big election was coming up that Bush and his party were desperately fearful of losing. So they decided to win it by buying the votes of America's seniors by giving them an expensive new program to pay for their prescription drugs.

Recall, too, that Medicare was already broke in every meaningful sense of the term. According to the 2003 Medicare trustees report, spending for Medicare was projected to rise much more rapidly than the payroll tax as the baby boomers retired. Consequently, the rational thing for Congress to do would have been to find ways of cutting its costs. Instead, Republicans voted to vastly increase them--and the federal deficit--by $395 billion between 2004 and 2013.

Okay, that’s all preamble. Now we get to the heart of the matter:

What followed was one of the most extraordinary events in congressional history. The vote was kept open for almost three hours while the House Republican leadership brought massive pressure to bear on the handful of principled Republicans who had the nerve to put country ahead of party. The leadership even froze the C-SPAN cameras so that no one outside the House chamber could see what was going on.

Among those congressmen strenuously pressed to change their vote was Nick Smith, R-Mich., who later charged that several members of Congress attempted to virtually bribe him, by promising to ensure that his son got his seat when he retired if he voted for the drug bill. One of those members, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was later admonished by the House Ethics Committee for going over the line in his efforts regarding Smith.

Holy WTF? I mean, at least offering Medicaid funding for Nebraska and Louisiana helps, you know, Nebraskans and Louisianans. “Ensuring” the son of a sitting Senator his seat when he retires (how do you even do that? Really?) is completely beyond the pale.

Eventually, the arm-twisting got three Republicans to switch their votes from nay to yea: Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, Butch Otter of Idaho and Trent Franks of Arizona. Three Democrats also switched from nay to yea and two Republicans switched from yea to nay, for a final vote of 220 to 215. In the end, only 25 Republicans voted against the budget-busting drug bill. (All but 16 Democrats voted no.)

Wonder if there were any “sweeteners” to get those folks to change their votes--which, by the way, happened at 3 a.m. Ya think?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I’ll Show Ya Some Sweetheart Deals

I’m playing the world’s tiniest violin for Republicans crying about how Sen. Harry Reid larded up the healthcare bill with so-called “sweetheart deals” to “buy” support. It’s been all over Fox, conservative blogs, “the Twitter” etc. Bill Kristol even called them “sleazy.”

Y’know, one way to have avoided that was if you’d dropped your filibuster threat. Then the Democrats would have had 51 votes, and we wouldn’t have needed to cut any deals to pass this legislation.

C’mon, admit it, y’all are just pissed you got outmaneuvered and you’re walking home to your states empty-handed.

But let’s take a look at these “sweetheart deals,” shall we?
The “Louisiana Purchase,” as it is being called, a provision for Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, who obtained an extra $300 million in Medicaid funds for her state.

Eh, I don’t have a problem with that. Louisiana is struggling, the money is going to help low-income people needing medical care. Too bad Tennessee couldn’t get in on that deal; guess that’s what happens when you’re represented by the Party of No in the U.S. Senate. Once again, our Senators Alexander and Corker show themselves to be absolutely useless.

It’s those “sweetheart deals” that benefit no one save the insurance industry that make me nuts. Look what Sen. Ben Nelson brought home to Nebraska:

Insurance giant Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Nebraska, for instance, would pay between $15 million and $20 million less in fees under the Senate bill than it would have without a change the Nebraska Democrat helped broker, according to Nelson's office. Another insurer, Mutual of Omaha, won't have to pay taxes on so-called Medigap insurance that buttresses Medicare insurance used by the elderly.

Unlike the Blue Cross/Blue Shield deal, that tax break will be extended to other companies. Mutual of Omaha spokesman Jim Nolan said he didn't "have a figure to share" about how much the company may save.

So Nelson brokers a tax break for BlueCross/BlueShield and Mutual of Omaha. That’s what I call a “sweetheart” deal!

And really, the dollar value of all these “sweetheart deals” pales in comparison to the massive amounts of moolah thrown around by lobbyists trying to influence reforms. It’s on tap to beat last year’s record:

Washington’s influence industry is on track to shatter last year’s record $3.3 billion spent to lobby Congress and the rest of the federal government — and that’s with a down economy and about 1,500 fewer registered lobbyists in town, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.


And the lobbying expenditure figures don’t include the heaps of cash interest groups are throwing at advertising, coalition-building, grass-roots and Astroturf outreach — all of which don’t get reported in the figures. Advocacy groups have spent almost $200 million on ads on the health care issue so far this year, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group.

How much of that was spent on derailing the healthcare bill? That’s hard to say: the New York Times, quoting the Center for Responsive Politics, says for the first nine months of this year, healthcare lobbyists spent $396 million. That’s on top of the $486 million the healthcare lobby spent last year, in anticipation of this year’s big legislative issue.

But wait, there's more:

But even those figures do not give the full picture of the cash funneled into lobbying on health care in 2009.

For example, the center’s health care figures do not include lobbying by the insurance industry. Mr. Levinthal said the center could not isolate the amount the industry spent only on health insurance, as opposed to other forms of insurance.

Nor do the figures include spending by groups like the United States Chamber of Commerce, which has multiple issues pending before Congress but led the effort to kill the public option.

And they do not include the $170 million that all sides have spent so far this year on television advertising.
It’s obvious looking at this sham “reform” that lobbyists’ efforts have paid off in a big way. I have far less problem with Senators taking home a few hundred million dollars to expand their state Medicaid programs than I do these corporate handouts. I’m sure the folks at BlueCross/BlueShield and WellPoint are high-fiving each other right now.

So, Merry Christmas everyone. I won’t go so far to say the American people got handed lumps of coal; we got a few crumbs. But I think we deserve so much more.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sarah Palin Joins The American Morans Club

I normally ignore all the stupid things Sarah Palin says and does, but I just saw this on Twitter and had show it to y’all:

Ions? Ions? Honey, you were so not ready for national office. Hell, I don’t think you were ready for Alaska state office.


(More American Morans here; original American Moran here.)

You Break It You Own It

Paul Krugman did a good piece yesterday on our broken political system and our dysfunctional U.S. Senate. He points the finger at the “filibuster,” a self-imposed rule in the Senate that appears nowhere in the Constitution, which the Republicans have used to an unprecedented degree to grind Senate business to a halt.

He writes:
Some people will say that it has always been this way, and that we’ve managed so far. But it wasn’t always like this. Yes, there were filibusters in the past — most notably by segregationists trying to block civil rights legislation. But the modern system, in which the minority party uses the threat of a filibuster to block every bill it doesn’t like, is a recent creation.

The political scientist Barbara Sinclair has done the math. In the 1960s, she finds, “extended-debate-related problems” — threatened or actual filibusters — affected only 8 percent of major legislation. By the 1980s, that had risen to 27 percent. But after Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006 and Republicans found themselves in the minority, it soared to 70 percent.

I’m glad people like Paul Krugman have finally awakened to a story that us lefty bloggers have been writing about for over two years. In September 2007 I linked to a Digby post about this (complete with a very interesting chart), noting the hypocrisy of Republicans filibustering everything that crossed their path when they whined about “Democratic obstructionism” when they were in the majority.

Anyway, here we are talking about the filibuster again, and here I am linking to another Digby post, with lots of very interesting charts. Here’s one:

Digby writes that abolishing the filibuster is a nice pipe dream but it won’t happen because both parties like it too much, plus there’s not much difference between 50 and 60 votes. She writes:

The argument for abolition of the filibuster falls apart when you see that the Dems have the 60 votes and---it doesn't make any difference. And that's because there is always some pampered little prince or princess who thinks he or she should be running everything and they will hold up the process regardless. That 50th Senator for the vote would be as hard to get as the 60th for the filibuster unless the Democratic party starts to require some partisan loyalty.

That’s exactly right. I don’t see how abolishing the filibuster will do anything but give fodder to the “Democrats are totalitarian Fascists/Socialists” tea bagger set.

But here’s what I don’t get. If the Republicans insist on gumming up the works, threatening to filibuster everything from this healthcare bill, to judicial nominations to the federal appeals court (remember when "the president's judicial nominees deserve an up or down vote”?), to an extension of unemployment insurance, to whether D.C. should have House representation, well, I say: call their bluff, Democrats.

Seriously, I realize it will grind things to a halt but that seems to be the Republican Party’s intent here, anyway. So let’s just let them stand up there and talk for hours and hours on end about why people can’t have an extension of their unemployment benefits or why the dang Department of Defense can’t be funded.

Can you imagine if the Pentagon ran out of money and when everyone asked why the answer would be, “Republicans are filibustering the bill, and you can watch it on C-SPAN”? I’m betting that filibuster won’t last too long.

Democrats need to play some hardball here, instead of constantly capitulating to the minority party. If the Republicans are going to insist on breaking our system, then for crying out loud, make them own it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More Magic

Sunday Snowday in Central Park:


What a difference a day makes. The before, during and after of the great snowstorm of Christmas O'Nine:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dick Corporate Moves

Nothing illustrates the failure of the “free hand of the market” more than the growing list of dickish corporate practices designed to trip up consumers and fleece them for money. I’m talking about the booby traps and potholes consumers are now expected to navigate as we simply try to live our lives in this world and make use of modern conveniences.

It’s created an “us vs them” climate in the marketplace; no longer are there goods and services presented and consumers select what they want. Now stuff is slipped in your pocket, unbeknownst to you, and then you’re stuck with the bill at the end of the month.

For example, unknown fees on your phone bill:
His March phone bill included a company's charge for an enhanced long distance set up fee of nearly $19.

"The only thing I know they're enhancing was my bill," Bradley said.

The bill also had a $12.95 voicemail charge from another company. What Bradley didn't know, until CBS 2 inquired about the case, was he'd paid that amount for 11 months, a total of $142.

And if you’ve got a cell phone, you’ve got an even worse problem:

About a year ago, I was offered a chance to try VCast for 1 month free. I did not care to continue this service after the month was up and yet somehow the $15 per month fee was never removed from my bill even though I assumed the VCast had been disabled. By my own stupid neglect, I failed to notice that I was being overcharged since November 2007 and assumed the extra fees were because of picture messaging or the few accidental times my phone connected itself to some bullshit internet service. I know that many cell phone companies probably make hundreds of extra dollars by taking advantage of their customers in this way. Verizon, next time you offer a customer a "one month free" subscription please make sure the customer understands that they need to cancel this extra nonsense themselves and not rely on the network.

Yes, we should all be on top of these things but hey, life is complicated and busy enough. Things fall through the cracks. The idea that a company would set up a “free service” with the idea of tricking you into shelling out a few bucks every month and hoping you won’t notice is the definition of a Dick Corporate Move.

And yes, Verizon is the king of Dick Corporate Moves. They’ve actually designed their phones to fleece you:

At about the same time, I got a note from a reader who says he actually works at Verizon, and he's annoyed enough about the practice to blow the whistle:

"The phone is designed in such a way that you can almost never avoid getting $1.99 charge on the bill. Around the OK button on a typical flip phone are the up, down, left, right arrows. If you open the flip and accidentally press the up arrow key, you see that the phone starts to connect to the web. So you hit END right away. Well, too late. You will be charged $1.99 for that 0.02 kilobytes of data. NOT COOL. I've had phones for years, and I sometimes do that mistake to this day, as I'm sure you have. Legal, yes; ethical, NO.

"Every month, the 87 million customers will accidentally hit that key a few times a month! That's over $300 million per month in data revenue off a simple mistake!

"Our marketing, billing, and technical departments are all aware of this. But they have failed to do anything about it—and why? Because if you get 87 million customers to pay $1.99, why stop this revenue? Customer Service might credit you if you call and complain, but this practice is just not right.”

No, it’s not right. And it’s not even the worst Dick Corporate Move I’ve heard, either. That honor goes to our illustrious banks, who have figured out if they disguise your bill as junk mail, maybe you won’t pay it and they can fleece you with fees.

Digby alerted us to this scam last month:

The same thing happened to me. The plain brown envelope looked like it was one of those car dealership "checks" that were all the rage before the credit crisis hit. And because I didn't realize the first month that I hadn't gotten my bill, it created a black mark on my credit for a late payment which resulted in a cascade of raised rates on several cards.

After I read that I started to panic every time one of my bills was late. Did I accidentally throw it away? The last thing I need right now is a cascade of escalating fees because I was “late” making a payment. As Digby wrote at the time:

And that's what people are dealing with all the time as consumers, with their health insurance, their credit cards, their mortgages, their pensions---overwhelming complexity designed to trip them up and cost them money or deny them benefits to which they believed in good faith they were entitled. And its all perfectly legal --- or at least there's no visible accountability for it.

This is exactly right. And it’s pissing me off. It’s not dealing with customers honestly or fairly. It’s “how can sneak one past my customers today and scam them for a few bucks.” Well, screw you.

DirectTV has been so egregrious that the Washington State AG’s office is suing:

California-based DIRECTV is accused of wooing new viewers with ads for low prices while hiding a multitude of fees, planned rate changes, and terms that call for automatic renewals in the fine print.

DIRECTV's contracts "are so one-sided as to grossly favor defendants. The contracts limit the customer's rights and remedies and impose numerous, sometimes undisclosed fees, while at the same time maintaining defendants' flexibility to alter any terms and conditions," the state's complaint states.

This all reminds me of that new “Harry and Louise” ad the health insurance companies threw out last summer, the one that got the media’s attention because it was supposedly in favor of healthcare reform whereas the one from the Clinton era was not. Of course, our media missed the real story in the message of the ad: that AHIP supports Congress’ effort to make the words “pre-existing condition” a thing of the past. Hey, AHIP ... you guys could just, you know, stop the practice all on your own. You don’t actually need an act of Congress to outlaw your own dick policies.

You ever think about that? Of course not.

And that goes for Verizon and DirectTV and the banks and all of the other assholes out there trying to trip up us consumers with their hidden land mines. Congress shouldn’t have to tell y’all to behave like good “corporate citizens” (and I'm not entirely sure what that even means anymore). Instead, we have a series of Dick Corporate Moves that these companies invent. As soon as consumer complaints are heard and one Dick Corporate Move is banned, they dream up a new one.

Since when has the marketplace become a battlefield? Does anyone really think this is a good way to do business?

Friday, December 18, 2009

How They Do It In Ireland

Too bad something like this would never work here:
OVER 40,000 people have cancelled their private health insurance following pay cuts and insurance premium hikes.

Some 2pc of the 2.27m people with health insurance have stopped their payments because of the growing pressure on their incomes, an Oireachtas committee heard yesterday.
The story goes on to say that the majority of those cancelling their private insurance policies are under the age of 40, and this will burden the public healthcare system. And the insurance companies are whining that their costs are going up as a result. Well, maybe they need to look at lowering their premiums then.

Of course, this would never work here in the State because unlike Ireland, we do not have a public healthcare system to fall back on. Here in the States, if you don’t have insurance you don’t have healthcare (or you pay two or three times as much for it as you cannot take advantage of the “repricing” agreements insurance companies have with providers.)

So American consumers are basically slaves to our broken system. Because of the insurance monopoly, consumer choice is limited, and when you limit choice, you stifle our voice. Neat how that works out.

Something that seems to be pretty unique in the world is our system of benefit events to raise funds for a family’s medical expenses. Who hasn't seen that tip jar at the gas station cash register with the photo of the adorable little boy or girl needing an operation? Who hasn't heard stories like this:
BETTENDORF, Iowa - Friends and family of a Davenport infant who died less than a month ago came together to help his mother pay for medical expenses.

That just breaks my heart. There is a strong moral component to our healthcare debate that never seems to get into the conversation. Our system is broken, and corporate-tool obstructionist Republicans and Democrats need to fix it or there will be consequences.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How’s That Lapse Of The Assault Weapons Ban Working For You

Not too well, according to today's USA Today:
Criminals increasingly are choosing high-powered firearms such as assault weapons, a new survey of 166 U.S. police agencies shows.

Nearly 40% of the departments reported an uptick in the use of assault weapons, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank. In addition, half reported increases in the use of 9mm, .40-caliber and 10mm handguns in crimes — among the same types of weapons that police use. The survey offers one of the broadest indications of officers' concerns about the armed threat from criminals involved in murder, assault and other weapons-related offenses.

Nobody could have anticipated that allowing the federal assault weapons ban to expire in 2004 would have resulted in criminals’ increasing use of assault weapons.

So I guess the gun nuts’ solution is for all of us to be armed with assault weapons so we can return fire? Yee haw.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Debt: As American As Apple Pie

I’m having a hard time getting worked up about Congress temporarily raising the debt limit, partly because with our economy on the brink of collapse it seems like debt is the least of our worries, at least for the near future.

But also, let's face it folks: Debt is our national past-time. As I’ve blogged a gazillion times before (here and here, for starters) it seems debt is the only thing America manufactures anymore. Well, that and war machinery of course. And I simply don’t understand how we can have any kind of real economic recovery, including reducing the national debt, as long as we have waved a permanent goodbye to our manufacturing base.

At one time, Americans made things. I grew up with the “look for the union label ...” ditty playing on the TV. “Buy American” meant you really were buying something made in America, not something pieced together in a sweatshop by immigrant workers in the Northern Mariana Islands.

If we stop making things here, then how can we put people to work? It simply doesn’t make sense.

The current issue of Harper’s Magazine contains these recommendations for President Obama by Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council. Tonelson, as his affiliation indicates, is concerned about America’s waning manufacturing base and its effect on our economy, and he fully embraces the so-called “protectionist” stance requiring those taking federal contracts to use American-made steel and other products.

He adds:
But the full potential of the Buy American approach has been limited by U.S. treaty obligations under NAFTA, and by our membership in the World Trade Organization. Hence, at the very least, the United States should declare these obligations suspended until the economic crisis has been vanquished. Buy American measures also should govern all federal support programs for specific companies and industries (e.g., the auto rescue), and industries-to-be slated for subsidies (e.g., alternative energy systems and other “green” manufactures). In addition, strategies are needed for attracting advanced production to the United States in areas where Buying American is no longer possible.

I never understood why a little protectionism was supposed to be a bad thing, especially since it’s something every other country does.

Two critical “do no harm” steps can further reduce American multinationals’ strong incentives to move production and jobs offshore. First, Washington should declare a moratorium on all new trade agreements until it figures out how to ensure that they promote more domestic production and employment. Second, if Congress does pass a climate-change bill, it must include stiff carbon tariffs. Otherwise, more and more American manufacturers will relocate to countries that lack complicated cap-and-trade programs or other limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.

A lot of this makes sense to me. Some of it might have repercussions--pissing off the Chinese might have them calling in our loans, for instance. But I don’t know why we don’t have some kind of tax discouraging multinationals from outsourcing their production.

I don’t know why it’s so damn hard to “buy American” in this globalized world: surely there can be a way of showing consumers whether 10%, 30% or 100% of a product is made in the USA.

And I don't know why our corporate overlords aren't interested in putting Americans back to work. Scratch that--I do know why. They're more concerned about profits, and outsourcing production to cheap labor countries like Vietnam and Honduras is more profitable. But now that our economy is in the toilet and unemployment is over 10%, Congress needs to take some drastic action to get people back to work. Ballooning the debt doesn't seem like a longterm solution, just as lowering interest rates was not a longterm solution.

People need jobs. Let's put people back to work first.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Howard Dean Says: Kill Senate Healthcare Bill

Yes, it’s true:
In a pre-recorded interview given today by Howard Dean and set to air at 5:30pm EST on Vermont Public Radio, Dean has called for the Senate health care bill to be put to death as it no longer proposes enough reform to make a difference. Dean’s comments come in reaction to what appears to be the Democratic Caucus’ decision to remove both the Medicare buy-in and a public option from the Senate health care reform package.

Well, let me say, I find this a tremendous relief. As I wrote last week, this so-called “reform” is a joke. If they need to blame it all on Joe Lieberman to cover their asses or what, I don’t care. But this bill needs to die a swift, efficient death.

So what do we do to bring about healthcare reform? Here’s Dean’s suggestion:

"This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate. Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill.”

Works for me.

If We Can’t Get Real Healthcare Reform At Least We Can Get THIS

OMG this goes so far beyond “pet peeve” for me. I’ve literally felt my heart skip a bit when HEAD ON APPLY DIRECTLY TO THE FOREHEAD comes screaming at me from the television set.

Watching the Titans game on Sunday it was so bad, Mr. Beale put the TV on mute during all of the commercials. You’d think that advertisers would realize that pumping up the volume on their ads is a surefire way to get people to turn them off and miss the message entirely. I guess you’d be wrong.

Anyway, apparently we can’t have decent healthcare reform or anything regulating carbon emissions, or a withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. But maybe, just maybe, our glorious Democratic majority that we all worked so hard to achieve can do something about this:
Congress goes after those annoying TV ads that are WAY LOUDER THAN THE PROGRAMS

December 14, 2009 |  4:44 pm

You know how sometimes those folks on TV -- even on our favorite Sunday political talk shows -- are conversing so softly that you turn up the volume a little. And then forget about it.

Until the commercial comes on and it's, WHOA! SO MUCH LOUDER THAN THE SHOWS?

So you scramble for the remote, fiddle with the volume button and curse the product being advertised, ranting about how these stupid things should be illegal.

Even though, come to think of it, there's a serious question about inviting the feds in to control television volume in individual homes.

Apparently, this loud volume has also struck the ears of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. He's a Democrat, of course. From Rhode Island.

He's now introduced legislation called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Migration Act of 2009 -- the unnecessary "M" word obviously being thrown in to construct the cutesy acronym, CALM. Feels better already, right?

The bill proposes that the Federal Communications Commission regulate commercials, mandating that the sales pitches must remain at the same decibel level as the show that precedes them. Rep. Anna Eshoo, of Menlo Park, another Democrat, has introduced companion legislation in the House.

Actually, I thought we already had a regulation about this. Guess not.

Trust me, I'd much rather have healthcare reform, and our troops home for Christmas, and some kind of action on climate change, and a whole mess of other stuff. But clearly our Democrats in Congress are completely unable to do anything major so I would like to offer my wholehearted support for CALM.

Try not to fuck this one up too, okay?

Monday, December 14, 2009


What I did in my 6 weeks off:

• I tried (and failed) at something, but am so much richer for the trying;
• I threw up a few blog posts (I don’t know how to quit you);
• We lost a feline friend to cancer, nearly lost another to kidney disease, and put the dog through chemo;
• We nearly finished building on our house and moved into the new quarters.

Yes it’s been a busy month and a half. The thing I tried and failed at was NaNoWriMo, where you try to write a novel in a month. I wrote about half of one, but worked out some really major issues with plot and characters and structure, so it’s all good.

One important thing I learned is that writing a novel requires absolute, 100% focus on a daily basis. I could not write a novel and blog at the same time. I tried it and it doesn’t work. So if blogging gets light, you can assume I’ve gotten back to my manuscript.

There will be some other changes to the blog in coming weeks. For one thing, I’ve just learned that Haloscan, my commenting program, is about to go permanently kaput. I’ll have to find another commenting program; not sure what that will do to my comments archive but I assume it will go away. Apologies ....

I will also be adding a tip jar to the blog, to make it easier for George Soros to send me my Liberal Agitator check. If anyone wants to pop a tip in the jar, that would be greatly appreciated.

Several people have asked me why I don’t have ads on my blog. It’s simple: as much as I rant about how I hate being marketed to, I feel like that would be a little hypocritical of me. Yes, I’ve actually turned down several offers to accept money to “mention” a product on my blog--I mean really, I may blogwhore but I’m not a complete sellout. Someone else offered me money to host “a very small link” over here--well, that’s advertising. Nothing against the folks who do have Blogads and whatnot, it’s just not for me, not at this space, and not at this time.

So, thanks for reading, and let's see how this thing shakes out over the next few weeks.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Things That Aren’t In The Bible, Holiday Edition

The following parts of the Christmas story are not in the Bible: Mary riding a donkey to Bethlehem, an innkeeper, a stable where Jesus was born, three Kings, camels, and singing angels. Oh, and also, the date of December 25.

None of it is there.

The Bible does not say that Mary rode a donkey, just that she gave birth while she was in Bethlehem. She could have been there for months.

It says Jesus was laid in a manger “because there was no room for them in the inn.” But no stable or innkeeper are mentioned.

Luke’s gospel makes reference to “shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” This would have happened in the spring months, not December. And there was one angel appearing to the shepherds--one. And Luke writes:
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

Saying, not singing. And do we know what the "heavenly host" is?

And then we have my favorite Christmas myth: the three kings. No, Virginia, three wise men did not visit the Jesus in a stable on the night of his birth. The Biblical text merely refers to “Magi,” and they visited Jesus months or even years after his birth. It even says in Matthew 2

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea...

After. Not the night of. After. And nowhere does it mention that they rode camels.

It has become so ingrained in our culture’s Christmas narrative, with carols like “We Three Kings” and nativity scenes showing three men wearing crowns and flowing robes bowing before the manger, that this may come as a shock. However, none of that is in the Bible. Even the entire nativity scene is not in the Bible.

The Magi that are mentioned in the Bible a) were not especially wise, b) were not kings, and c) may have numbered two or twenty. They were Persian astrologers (some sources even say sorcerers). And they weren’t all that bright if you ask me because they wandered around Jerusalem, where King Herod’s paranoia was legendary, asking after this newly-born “King of the Jews” so they could worship him.

Not smart. And thanks for unleashing the Massacre of the Innocents. Jerks.

So how's that for a war on Christmas for you? I find it very interesting that human tradition has supplanted what the Bible actually says about the birth of Christ--even though there are bazillions of Bibles out there for anyone to pick up and read for themselves. We have legal battles and a "War On Christmas" over things like nativity scenes when the nativity scene isn't even in the Bible!

I'm wondering what else about the Bible is the product of our human traditions?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Screw Healthcare Reform & The Horse It Rode In On

On the crap sandwich we are being presented that is supposed to represent healthcare reform, Atrios nailed it yesterday:
Once it passes they will own all of it, not just the reforms. Republicans will turn every health insurance horror story in a story about how the Dems' HCR is a tremendous awful horrible failure, whether or not it has anything to do with specific reforms enacted.

This is exactly right. So I am absolutely, completely befuddled as to why anything that represent real reform is being blocked by Senate Democrats.

I simply don’t understand this apparent determination to gut healthcare reform at all costs. The two biggest problems with our current healthcare system--high cost and lack of access for millions of people--are being gutted right and left:

• Importation of drugs from overseas, which would lower costs? No way. Pharmaceutical companies don’t like it, so it’s a no-go.

• Eliminating caps on insurance benefits? Of course not! Someone facing a catastrophic illness like cancer or severe brain injury--something requiring loads of expensive hospitalization and rehab--should still face bankruptcy and financial ruin under the “new” rules.

• Real competition for insurance companies in the form of a “public option”? That’s crazy talk! Insurance companies must be allowed to maintain their monopoly to provide whatever service it is they perform -- and I’m still unclear as to what that is, since they no longer pool risk but seem to exist simply to skim their profits off the top.

• Repealing the antitrust exemption insurance companies have enjoyed since 1945, limiting competition and keeping costs high to consumers? Not yet! We’re still holding out on that one, though.

Listen, the healthcare bill sucks. It’s worse than bad because near as I can tell, it’s nothing more than a big handout to insurance companies, which in my opinion is an industry that has outlived its usefulness. Listen, insurance folks: You’re supposed to pool risk and keep costs low. You aren’t doing that, in fact, you’re doing the opposite. You’ve become a little scam fleecing hardworking people of their life savings. And you act as if you are completely unable to change your most egregious policies yourself, begging Congress to come in and pass a law against them.

What the hell?

Anyway, Democrats need to get a fucking clue. What they are expending so much time, energy, money and effort on sucks. Not because it’s “socialism” or “government-run healthcare” but because it doesn’t change a damn thing. And we’re going to come out of this nine months of town brawls and hanging Congress critters in effigy and divisive political angst and agita with a healthcare system that is still broken. I'm absolutely dumbfounded.

And excuse me, but the Republicans are no better, in fact, they're worse. They're throwing up roadblocks right and left, even trying to tell us that the system we have now is just super, in fact, is so much better than what people in other countries have. How stupid do you think we are?

Republicans and Democrats alike have come at it from opposite directions but they seem to have arrived at the same place: keep the broken system we have now. A privileged elite are making far too much money off the scam to change it.

If you ask me, it’s better to have no healthcare bill at all right now. Because it’s not worth the paltry “reforms” we’re being presented. I’d rather not have an individual mandate forcing people to buy costly private health insurance when that health insurance still caps benefits, is exempt for any competition, and the only piece of candy we’ve been presented is eliminating pre-existing conditions. Nice but not worth it.

So everyone who is asking me to call my Senator asking them to support the healthcare bill: No. My Senators are Republicans and they are not going to support it anyway. They aren’t supporting it for all the wrong reasons but we at least have arrived at the same place.

Democrats: you screwed up. BIG time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Things That Really Suck

Editor & Publisher is shutting down.

There simply are no words. None. I can't right now express how important Editor & Publisher has been over the past century to American journalism. You're just going to have to trust me on this.

Since I come from a family of newspaper people, I grew up with E&P arriving at our doorstep every week. It's analyses of the news media, not to mention the copious job listings, were like oxygen to the American media. E&P closing down is a bellweather.

Today is the day the media died.

Climate Change With Purty Pitchers

Our friend the cephalopod has a great post up about climate change. It’s got lots of graphics and graphs and I don’t think it required any hacking into computers to retrieve, either.

Honestly, the whole “climate gate” thing amuses me greatly. Some tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists who believe climate change is a giant hoax cooked up by eeevul lie-brul scientists and tree huggers basically stole some e-mail communications and then went on a fishing expedition looking for evidence to support their crackpot theory.

In other words: the exact opposite of the scientific method. Scientists do not cook up a hypothesis and then go out and find evidence to support that hypothesis, ignoring all contrary data. Any good investigator knows that’s a surefire way to get a false view of the world. What scientists do is test their hypotheses, and make their conclusions available to review by their peers. The hypothesis is modified as the data dictates. Hypotheses that do not stand up to this rigorous testing are revised.

This particular "e-mail-gate" hypothesis has been debunked a hundred times already (here's a wonderful video that explains it all very simply). Basically, a lay person eavesdropping on a scientific discussion may be unfamiliar with certain terminology used in the scientific community. But cherry-picking certain quotes and statements because they appear inflammatory, with the express intent of deluding the lay public, is highly irresponsible.

I wonder who would be behind such a plan. I’m thinking .... thinking .....

Of course, it’s mere speculation on my part. We are still compiling a complete body of evidence.

So when a business group like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received millions of dollars in funding from ExxonMobil, decides to file suit to see e-mails from NASA climate scientists, let me be the first to say: No. You show us your private e-mails, so we can manipulate, extrapolate, cherry-pick, and exaggerate, and maybe we’ll talk.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Out Of Touch

Don’t know how we got on the Hammacher Schlemmer mailing list but Mr. Beale and I got a good laugh out of this item for sale for a mere $32,000:
The Junior 35 MPH Classic Corvette.

This is the 2/3-scale, gasoline-powered replica of a 1956 Corvette C1, renowned for racing at Florida's famous Sebring International Raceway, that can reach a maximum speed of 35 mph.

Its exterior is painstakingly reproduced using details from the original, including the single driver-side mirror, twin turn indicators on the right side of the hood, and the cowling on the trunk that housed a light which illuminated the racing number. The racer is powered by a 6.9 hp, 107cc four-stroke engine that uses a gallon of unleaded gasoline. It has automatic transmission; a single shifter controls forward, neutral, and backward movement. Its square steel chassis forms the core of the racer, surrounded by a fiberglass-reinforced polyester body; supports up to 330 lbs.

Ages 8 and up. 108 1/4" L x 44 3/4" W x 34 1/4" H. (430 lbs.)

Price: $32,000

Let me say right now: if you are putting your 8 year old in a gasoline powered, $32,000 replica of a Corvette, you are an asshole.

We used to say "the rich are different." We learned otherwise in the last economic downturn: it affected all of us, rich and poor alike.

The world has changed. Get used to it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rick Kelly Is My New Hero


In comments, Rick Kelly writes that Mayor Wiseman denies sending the threatening e-mail. Kelly says he has the original IP address and will be looking into it.

Like I said, grab the popcorn!


I do not know Rick Kelly but a friend passed on to me his e-mail exchange with the Obama-hating mayor of Arlington TN. Sit back and grab the popcorn because man, it’s a doozy.

Kelly, a Tennessean, was a little ticked off at Mayor Wiseman’s Facebook rant accusing President of Obama of purposefully pre-empting wholesome, Christian entertainment like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to talk about something as trivial as sending our troops to war.

He sent Mayor Wiseman the following e-mail:
Mr. Mayor.

Please refrain from making remarks of such a profoundly ignorant and racist nature on a forum that will allow you to reflect on the state of Tennessee in such a way. You are an embarrassment to thinking people everywhere, and the fact that your idiocy has been picked up by the Tennesseean and will inevitably end up on the national media might cause the rest of the country, and the world, to think that all Tennesseans are as reprehensible, backwards, and moronic as you.

I hope you at least weren't wearing your Klan robe in your facebook profile picture.

You pinhead.


Rick Kelly

Kelly received the following response:

Mr. Kelly,

America is still a free country and every American has the right to free speech. You should know this coming from a family of liberal fuckheads. Anytime that you're ready, you should relocate northward as you're an embarassment to the South. Your sensibilities would be more appreciated there, you sad little single man.

Just take care the next time that you or your brother James pass through Arlington. We'll skin you both alive and use your combined blubber to fuel the oil lamps on our thoroughfares on into the 22nd century.

All the best,

City of Arlington

Kelly posted the entire exchange on his Facebook page.

Yesterday via Kleinheider I read Wiseman’s latest statement in which he states he regrets

any embarrassment that might have been unfairly visited on my friends, my family, my church, and the citizens and officials of the Town of Arlington.

Dude. You just threatened to run two people out of town and melt them down, and signed it “City of Arlington.” I think someone has some anger management issues.

And I think the City of Arlington needs to find itself a new mayor. I dunno, I don't live there, but I don't think this kind of stuff reflects well on the community.

As an interesting sidebar to this story, I learned via the Memphis Flyer that Russell Wiseman’s brother Lang is chair of the Shelby County GOP.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Time & Money

Shit like this pisses me off like you would not believe:
Time Inc. has opened up a fantastic new market: charging its freelancers for the privilege of being paid for their work in a timely fashion.


If you choose to actually get all the money Time Inc. owes you, our tipster says, you usually get it within a month. But if you want it faster, here is the payment schedule—on the left are the number of days you have to wait to get paid, on the right is the portion Time Warner will skim off the top for the service.

25 days - 0.5 percent
20 - 1 percent
15 - 1.5 percent
10 - 2 percent
5 - 3 percent
3 - 4 percent

To which I say: Fuck you. It’s hard enough being a freelancer the way small operations jerk you around on payment. A popular ruse is to tell your freelancer that the payment policy is net 90 days -- three months to be paid. In the meantime, you keep getting assignments and filing invoices, only to find after 90 days that payment is just a pipe dream. Yes, that happened to me once. I also had some really awesome clients on the 90-day payment schedule, people for whom I wrote for literally years without ever having a problem -- until, naturally, I had a problem. They ended up going out of business owing me close to a thousand dollars.

But these were smaller magazines, nothing with the power and circulation and clout of a Time Inc. When Time starts treating its freelancers like so much sausage makers, well, all I can say is, it’s all over.

And I love the commenters on this story who see nothing wrong with this, that it’s “standard practice” for vendors. WTF? I’ve never heard of this before in the writing world. You know, writing a story is not exactly the same as making sure the coffee supplies and copier toner are fully stocked.

And even if it were “standard industry practice,” wouldn’t it be something the vendor offered, not something the one who owes the money presented? Hey, Time Warner: how about next time I buy a copy of Time Magazine I offer to pay now for 15% off the cover price, or you can get the full cover price in a month or so? Does that work for you?

I mean for crying out loud, how is this not extortion? What incentive do you people have to pay your bills on time? Absolutely none.

Sadly, this is just more proof that writer’s work is no longer valued. It stopped having value when we started letting people refer to what we do as “content” that is “consumed.” It’s not “content,” some nondescript “filler,” like the crap they put in hamburgers. It’s information, ideas, articles that make you look at your world differently or take you to another world entirely. It’s thoughtful and creative and it takes time to do it right and dammit it’s hard work.

As opposed to cutting my check, which is something they have literally invented a machine to do. And you think I should take a cut in pay for the fruits of my creative blood sweat and tears in exchange for getting paid in two days, which takes zero effort on your part?

Again: fuck you.

The internet with all of its “free content” (on blogs like this one, for which I receive not one dime) has ruined it. It was insane back in the early days of the internet; I remember getting paid $1-$2 a word for little 175-word pieces. Everyone needed a website, everyone needed “content,” and they needed a lot of it, because the key to getting hits was to have fresh articles up all through the day.

Those were the good ol’ days. Now content factories like Demand Studios churn out thousands of articles based not on any kind of editorial direction but rather search engine algorithms. And they’ll pay a paltry $30 per article. That’s just a shade better than the deal beginning freelancers invariably get offered: no pay at all, “but you’ll get exposure!” Um, thanks but no thanks.

Back in the old days when we walked to school in the snow, uphill, both ways, you’d run across people trying to take advantage of you and your talent and you’d tell them to take a hike. Usually it was some start-up or some small-market niche publication. You took some assignments you might not have wanted to because you were paying your dues; you were trying to get some clips and make your name in the hopes, one day, of working for one of the big guys, like Time Inc.

And here we are.

The media sucks, not just for people who “consume” it but for people who create it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Still Embarrassed By My Fellow Tennesseans


Absolutely perfect: Palin/Wiseman 2012.

A movement has begun!


Oh, Tennessee! What are we to do with thee?

I honestly don’t know how much longer I can endure stupid headlines like this one:
Muslim Obama hates "Charlie Brown"?

And then read on to find yet another story originating with a wackadoodle Tennessee politician. It's hard to present our state as a vibrant place for industry to locate when our local pols insist on acting like a bunch of hayseeds.

The Commercial Appeal reports:

In the opinion of Arlington Mayor Russell Wiseman, President Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday night on the war in Afghanistan was deliberately timed to block the Christian message of the "Peanuts" television Christmas special.

Wiseman made the statements on his Facebook page, where he declared Obama to be a Muslim. Only people on Wiseman's "friend's list" had access to the post. He has more than 1,600 friends on Facebook.

"Ok, so, this is total crap, we sit the kids down to watch 'The Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and our muslim president is there, what a load.....try to convince me that wasn't done on purpose. Ask the man if he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he will give you a 10 minute disertation (sic) about it....w...hen the answer should simply be 'yes'...."

(Extra irony points for noting the mayor's name is Wiseman, he said something stupid, and it's all about Christmas. Trifecta!)

Arlington is a tiny hamlet off of I-40 which, according to the Mayor’s "welcome” statement is “a vibrant and caring community that is a premier place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Really? I’m not sure I want to live there. The Commercial Appeal goes on:

In Wiseman's extensive thread that attacked the president, his supporters and Muslims, he stated " obama people need to move to a muslim country...oh wait, that's America....pitiful."

At another point he said, "you know, our forefathers had it written in the original Constitution that ONLY property owners could vote, if that has stayed in there, things would be different........"

What an innovative, albeit unconstitutional, idea. Perhaps Mayor Wiseman will consider such a policy for the next Arlington election?

If you want to let Mayor Wiseman know your thoughts on his diatribe, you can e-mail him here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

And When They Say “Friends” They Really Mean It

Want a national TV interview where you’re guaranteed of being presented like the greatest thing since sliced bread? Fox & Friends is the place for you--as long as your agent is co-host Gretchen Carlson’s husband:
What was left unsaid was that Carlson’s husband is Jeter’s agent, Casey Close. This interview was such a transparent puff piece lauding Jeter’s current professional status that he should have paid a fee for it to be broadcast. But in the world of Fox News, conflict of interest is business as usual. A reputable news organization would not permit such a transgression, and would punish any employee who engaged in it. But Fox is already knee deep in ethical conflicts via their association with the Republican Party. Remember, they are the network that broadcast GOP talking points straight from the party’s own memo - typos and all.

And we wonder how the media elevated Tiger Woods to the status of God.