Monday, August 31, 2009
For the moment, anyway, Freedom owns newspapers throughout the Florida panhandle, including the Destin Log, the Santa Rosa Press Gazette, the Northwest Daily News out of Ft. Walton Beach, the Crestview News Bulletin, the Panama City News Herald, the Walton Sun out of Santa Rosa Beach, and the Washington County News in Chipley. In the coming bankruptcy reorganization, it's a certainty that some, if not all, of these newspapers will be sold off or shut down.
The Wall Street Journal is quoting [subscription only] an unnamed Hoiles family member as saying that while none of them will be destitute, the bankruptcy means "some" of them are now "forced" to go to work.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Some of the usual and predictably unreliable right-wing sources doubt the view being expressed by many, including President Obama, that Edward M. Kennedy "was the greatest United States Senator of our time." If we were into such games, we'd go further than the president, even at the risk of "falling into the trap of inflating the significance of the deceased's life" (as TPM puts it).
On the merits of Kennedy's very considerable legislative accomplishments we think he should rank near the top of all time.
For forty seven years Edward Kennedy played a central role in shepherding over 550 legislative bills into law. Almost every one of them, as the Los Angeles Times points out today, was aimed at improving the lot of average Americans, the dispossessed, and the damaged.
Particularly important, in our view, was Kennedy's work in behalf of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the National Cancer Act of 1971, Title IX forbidding discrimination against females in educational opportunities in 1972, the Federal Elections Campaign Act Amendments of 1974, the Orphan Drug Act of 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act of 1990, the Kennedy-Kassebaum Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and the Children's Health Insurance Program of 1997 and its Reauthorization in 2009.
At a time when the alternative looked like it would be a bloodbath in South Africa to end all bloodbaths, Kennedy introduced the anti-Apartheid Act of 1985. That broke the century-old apartheid dam and quickly led to a peaceful, non-racialist democratization of South Africa, something almost no one had thought possible before.
Historians and others are fond of 'greatest' lists for all manner of prominent personages, even though they know such assessments are inescapably subjective. Most of them realize, of course, that there is an artificial quality to such exercises. So much depends on the particularities of the times in which someone lived, the specific challenges he or she confronts, and the quality or tenacity of the obstacles to be overcome. Not all eras can be directly equated, much less the people living through them.
Playing the ''greatest' game is especially tricky when dealing with someone whose life work has yet to be assessed in the context of long-term consequences. That's a vantage only future historians of, say, the 22nd century or later can be confident of having about our time.
Moreover, when we look directly at old-time U.S. senators through history's eyeglass, it's a caution to realize the great majority of them turn out to have been mediocre nonentities who richly deserved to be forgotten. Of the rest, some were good, a few were universally popular, some became unusually influential or powerful in their day, and far too many turned out to be repulsive knaves and rapscallions who seized their public positions just to enrich themselves and their friends.
Very few senators can qualify for "greatness" if by that we mean someone, as Edward M. Kennedy was, who strives and succeeds in improving the quality of life, liberty, and a dignified existence for everyone -- not just a narrow group of privileged elites.
The U.S. Senate sometimes plays the "greatest" game with itself, as explained by the Senate's historical office. Five decades ago this year, a special committee composed of senators and headed by freshman U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy solicited from "an advisory panel of 160 scholars" the names of 65 deceased senators (out of over a thousand) who might be considered "great" and accorded special honors in the Senate's reception room.
In the end, partisan politics by right-wingers ruined the endeavor. The committee's original list of the greatest five included George Norris of Nebraska (1861-1944). Norris is most notable, today, for having sponsored the New Deal's TVA Authority legislation, which electrified much of rural America. He also crossed the aisle, as a Republican, on many occasions to support other New Deal policies for the good of the nation.
However, contemporary Republicans, including Roman Hruska (the same Roman Hruska who argued 'even mediocrities deserve representation on the Supreme Court') objected to naming Norris as "great" since he had left the G.O.P. to run for reelection as an Independent. In the end, the committee "compromised" history and substituted Robert LaFollette, Sr. of Wisconsin (1855-1925) for Norris. We have nothing against LaFollette, but sic transit veritas.
The committee also was rolled to include another highly questionable candidate, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina (1782-1850). Calhoun was the virulent (and violent) pro-slavery secessionist whose 'greatness' lay in exacting compromises that harmed the public good and served narrow sectional interests. It was his supposed "greatness" that led to repeal of the Missouri Compromise and "Kansas, bloody Kansas." Calhoun's militant career defending slavery still was inspiring Southern states, nearly a decade after his death, to secede from the Union and commence a Civil War.
The Senate's final five also included Daniel Webster of Massachusetts (1782-1852) and Henry Clay of Kentucky (1777-1852). No argument there.
Since then, the Senate's "greatest" list has been further debased with the addition of the always-present but reliably-inconsequential Roger Sherman of Connecticut (1721-1793) and the isolationist, anti-Labor former senator from Ohio, Robert Taft (1889-1953) -- another Republican who just said "no" throughout his career to everything except tax breaks for wealthy corporations.
It seems the Senate can't even pick through its own pile of bones without compromising truth and honoring lies. This makes it difficult to believe, as some are hoping, that the Senate will find its soul now and enact true health care reform to honor the late Senator Kennedy. More likely, we fear, Democrats in the Senate will reach out to compromise, once again, with the Grassley's and Coburn's on the other side of the aisle. And, what we'll wind up with is another corporate bailout -- probably one for the health insurance industry -- to the disadvantage of everyone else.
And, in a final insult, they'll probably name it after Ted Kennedy. Or, maybe Roman Hruska.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The classically educated international lawyer and author Scott Horton is one of the more acute tea-leaf readers of Washington politics. Is he hinting here ("All trails lead to the Vice President’s office") that the real target of Attorney General Eric Holder's newly announced investigation into the criminal torturing of detainees might be ex-Vice President Dick Cheney?
Aaron Burr, move over.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Wernowsky is a clerical employee about as low on the school district's totem pole as anyone can go. According to PNJ reporter Kris Wernowsky, the judge ruled at the close of the day that the evidence showed Wernowsky was insubordinate to her employer but not willfully contemptuous of the court:
Rodgers said that while Winkler clearly defied a superior's directive, she did not willfully violate a temporary injunction Rodgers implemented on Jan. 19, as the School District and ACLU hashed out a long-term written agreement.In other words, Michelle Winkler is stupid, but not crazy. That's good news for her, even if it should worry her genetic descendants.
The ruling also should worry high school principal Frank Lay and athletic director Robert Freeman. They still face far more serious criminal contempt charges brought on the judge's own motion.
The religulous defense attorney for Winkler refuses "to speculate as to what today's decision means for Mr. Lay and Mr. Freeman." But we're happy to do so.
As we see it, coach Freeman's best defense is to claim that he's dumb as a post and was just following orders from preacher Lay. That might or not might not fly with the court, but in either event Frank Lay is going to be left holding a very heavy bag. Even being stupid won't help him.
Sept. 18: Late Editorial Update ("Homo Neanderthalensis")
Sept. 17: Lay, Freeman Beat the Rap with the 'I'm Stupid' Defense
Sept. 17: Pictures of a Pep Rally
Aug. 22: Stupid, Not Contemptuous
Aug. 5: The One and Only Faith
Aug. 4: Frank Lay's Criminal Contempt Order
May 31: Principal Lay Has a 'Come to Jesus' Moment
May 27: Laying Down the Puritan Law
May 15: Southern Hos-Pee-Tility
Friday, August 21, 2009
WASHINGTON—After months of committee meetings and hundreds of hours of heated debate, the United States Congress remained deadlocked this week over the best possible way to deny Americans health care.
"Both parties understand that the current system is broken," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Monday. "But what we can't seem to agree upon is how to best keep it broken, while still ensuring that no elected official takes any political risk whatsoever. It’s a very complicated issue."
Hard truths lie at the root of the best humor. There's more pointed hilarity here...
The very same Norm Coleman who abused his position as chairman of a Senate subcommittee to lodge baseless charges against a British Member of Parliament when he was far across the ocean and couldn't answer them. When at last Coleman's target had a chance to respond in person, he properly punked the loathsome Coleman. All Coleman could do was blush furiously and look sick.
If the faculty and students at Harvard have one-tenth of George Galloway's courage, they will openly shun Coleman as the incontestably vile worm that he is. Alumni should let the Foundation know they won't be sending in any stocks this year, too.
Rewind: Here are excerpts from the Galloway-Coleman transcript. Below is Part I of MP George Galloway, justly humiliating the contemptible Coleman, plus links to Part 2 and 3.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
That's about the level of thinking our local county commissioners would indulge. The refusal of county and city governments to financially assist the Northwest Florida Zoo will stain the area's reputation for decades to come.
It's not merely a question of no more "smiles" on "childrens faces." Nor is it only the disappearance of the $1.4 million annual Zoo payroll; or the loss of gate receipts and tourist sales that average $1.5 million a year; or the deliberate decision of county commissioners to kick away an estimated $7 million a year in additional income attracted to the community by The Zoo, as a Haas Center economic study has calculated.
What hurts most is the loss of a much-beloved, unique, and irreplaceable cultural and educational resource. Face it. This is an area of the nation where civic culture and public education are in an execrable condition. We can ill afford to lose any of the slim pickin's we have.
Closure of the Zoo exposes local governments throughout the Florida Panhandle as feeble and purblind, at best. As Bobby Switzer, a prominent member of The Zoo's nonprofit governing body, pointed out this morning in an interview on public radio station WUWF-FM, "great cities have great zoos."
Zoos are as essential to the vibrancy of cultural and educational life of a community as public libraries, museums, theaters, and community halls or civic centers. Indeed, like each of those other common cultural institutions, zoos are more than mere public entertainment; they are a bridge that connects the public with lifelong learning opportunities to stay in touch with the world around us.
That's not for the likes of newspaper columnist Mark O'Brien, of course. He wants to see The Zoo "unplugged" because it can't operate without "constant financial worries."
Well, of course not! Neither can any other public cultural or educational institution survive anywhere, not without public funding. Not schools, not libraries, not museums. Not even the much-ballyhooed "Maritime Park" whose actual costs, you can be sure, will far exceed the promised $70 million. Even the recently-renovated Saenger Theater, which after spending $15 million turns out to need additional "repairs" that could escalate to a quarter of a million dollars more than planned, has financial difficulties.
Even the "museum" planned for the Maritime Baseball Park had 'constant financial worries' that local government was about to throw it overboard, too, until -- irony of ironies -- $13 million in federal stimulus money showed up, as we learn from the same newspaper page today that announces the Zoo's closing. (No thank you, Congressman Jeff Miller, who voted against it.)
Personally, we support public financing for the Maritime Park and Saenger Theater, just as we do expenditures for public libraries, museums, public schools, and all the rest. They enrich a community. They serve everyone regardless of wealth and status. They can be a vibrant attraction for families and businesses wanting to relocate -- or to stay put instead of moving away.
Such cultural institutions are a large part of what makes a true community instead of a mere place with houses. If Mark O'Brien had his way, none of them would exist unless they turned a profit for private shareholders.
Nearly 100% of all zoos in the nation are financed by local governments. Truly superior zoos are maintained and financed by forward-thinking communities of Pensacola's size all across the country.
But there is none in the Florida Panhandle. We have been exceptionally lucky over the years to have had one of the only privately-financed zoos in the nation. Once the Northwest Florida Zoo is gone, there will be none.
It's not like the money isn't there. Santa Rosa County's Tourist Development Council reportedly has "about $667,000 in reserves." Not long ago, that same county gave commissioner Gordon Goodin's business partner $3.1 million for yet another "industrial park" in Milton, which can't even fill the industrial park it has. A bigger waste of money is hard to imagine.
In Escambia County, about $7 million a year is earmarked for "tourist development," much of it -- just as with the SRIA's "tourist promotion" budget for Pensacola Beach -- shoveled into the outstretched palms of politically-connected local advertising agencies for services of dubious value. Yet, it's also worth noting, local hotels have combined to send a message to county commissioners speaking out in favor of using the county tourism "bed tax" to support The Zoo.
Knowledgeable Zoo insiders tell us the decision of Santa Rosa and Escambia county commissioners to refuse the modest support needed to keep the Zoo open, at least until a sustaining MTSU referendum can appear on the ballot, would be more livable if commissioners were honest about their reasons. Instead, we're told, some of them are flat-out lying when they tell the press The Zoo hasn't given them financials or a long-term plan.
"We've given every commissioner a package of extensive, detailed materials every year for the past three years," one source told us. "Included were detailed financial reports and a very specific 5-year statement of goals and the steps we were taking to achieve them. If Gordon Goodin and Lane Lynchard claim they don't have enough information, it can only be because they haven't read the information we've given them."
It might be, too, that some of those same commissioners secretly covet the 65 acres of prime real estate The Zoo now occupies. Once the lions and tigers are sold off, the only predators left will be our local politicians and their developer buddies.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
It's a work in progress, but it sure looks like something that would aid understanding when -- and if -- a final bill emerges.
Also, physicist and M.I. T. researcher Norm Margolus has slapped together another new and improved version.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The "public option" that dominates the news these days arises principally from Sections 221-224 of the bill. These would created a "public option," or government-administered health insurance plan, to compete with private plans in an "insurance exchange" marketplace. Essentially, under the bill nearly everyone in America could keep what they have or take advantage of the added choice, once a year, of buying health insurance from a government-administered insurance plan similar to Medicare, V.A. benefits, or a private plan.
As we have been repeatedly emphasizing, you should read the entire bill so you can think for yourself. If you do, you won't be dependent on intermediaries who may have a hidden agenda or other biases. And, you shouldn't feel the need to act like the impotent, deeply disturbed people who attend town hall meetings armed with guns, knives, and automatic weapons.
Yes, it's a long bill. But, no, anyone with a brain can understand it if they apply themselves.
The "public option" portion of the bill essentially creates a "health insurance exchange" in which both private plans and public plans would compete. It would work not unlike the way we, here in Florida, buy home owner's insurance against the possibility of flood or wind damage.
The bill in pertinent part provides:
Section 221. *** Public Health Insurance Option.There is more, particularly about how the "exchange," or health insurance market, would work. For now, we will defer to a later day analysis of the "insurance exchange" portion of the bill.
(a) Establishment- For years beginning with Y1, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (in this subtitle referred to as the `Secretary') shall provide for the offering of an Exchange-participating health benefits plan (in this division referred to as the `public health insurance option') that ensures choice, competition, and stability of affordable, high quality coverage throughout the United States in accordance with this subtitle. In designing the option, the Secretary's primary responsibility is to create a low-cost plan without compromising quality or access to care.
* * *
(b) Offering as an Exchange-participating Health Benefits Plan - (1) EXCLUSIVE TO THE EXCHANGE- The public health insurance option shall only be made available through the Health Insurance Exchange.
(2) ENSURING A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD- Consistent with this subtitle, the public health insurance option shall comply with requirements that are applicable under this title to an Exchange-participating [private insurance company] health benefits plan, including requirements related to benefits, benefit levels, provider networks, notices, consumer protections, and cost sharing.
(3) PROVISION OF BENEFIT LEVELS - The public health insurance option--(A) shall offer basic, enhanced, and premium plans; and(c) Administrative Contracting - The Secretary may enter into contracts for the purpose of performing administrative functions (including functions described in subsection (a)(4) of section 1874A of the Social Security Act) with respect to the public health insurance option in the same manner as the Secretary may enter into contracts under subsection (a)(1) of such section. The Secretary has the same authority with respect to the public health insurance option as the Secretary has under subsections (a)(1) and (b) of section 1874A of the Social Security Act with respect to title XVIII of such Act. Contracts under this subsection shall not involve the transfer of insurance risk to such entity.
(B) may offer premium-plus plans.
* * *
SEC. 222. PREMIUMS AND FINANCING.
(a) Establishment of Premiums - (1) IN GENERAL- The Secretary shall establish geographically-adjusted premium rates for the public health insurance option in a manner--
(A) that complies with the premium rules established by the Commissioner under section 113 for Exchange-participating health benefit plans; and
(B) at a level sufficient to fully finance the costs of--
(i) health benefits provided by the public health insurance option; and
(ii) administrative costs related to operating the public health insurance option.
* * *
(2) START-UP FUNDING-
(A) IN GENERAL- In order to provide for the establishment of the public health insurance option there is hereby appropriated to the Secretary, out of any funds in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, $2,000,000,000. In order to provide for initial claims reserves before the collection of premiums, there is hereby appropriated to the Secretary, out of any funds in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, such sums as necessary to cover 90 days worth of claims reserves based on projected enrollment.
* * *
SEC. 223. PAYMENT RATES FOR ITEMS AND SERVICES.
(a) Rates Established by Secretary-
(1) IN GENERAL- The Secretary shall establish payment rates for the public health insurance option for services and health care providers consistent with this section and may change such payment rates in accordance with section 224.
(2) INITIAL PAYMENT RULES-
(A) IN GENERAL- Except as provided in subparagraph (B) and subsection (b)(1), during Y1, Y2, and Y3, the Secretary shall base the payment rates under this section for services and providers described in paragraph (1) on the payment rates for similar services and providers under parts A and B of Medicare.
SEC. 224. MODERNIZED PAYMENT INITIATIVES AND DELIVERY SYSTEM REFORM.
(a) In General- For plan years beginning with Y1, the Secretary may utilize innovative payment mechanisms and policies to determine payments for items and services under the public health insurance option. The payment mechanisms and policies under this section may include patient-centered medical home and other care management payments, accountable care organizations, value-based purchasing, bundling of services, differential payment rates, performance or utilization based payments, partial capitation, and direct contracting with providers.
(b) Requirements for Innovative Payments- The Secretary shall design and implement the payment mechanisms and policies under this section in a manner that--
(1) seeks to--
(A) improve health outcomes;
(B) reduce health disparities (including racial, ethnic, and other disparities);
(C) provide efficent and affordable care;
(D) address geographic variation in the provision of health services; or
(E) prevent or manage chronic illness; and
(2) promotes care that is integrated, patient-centered, quality, and efficient.
It is sufficient to say that the bill guarantees almost every individual the choice of what (if anything) they have now, or a "basic" and "affordable" health insurance plan purchased through the "exchange". (Sec. 241 et seq.) Contrary to right-wing disinformation, illegal aliens explicitly are not eligible to participate. (Sec. 242) Medicaid-eligible poor people will be retained in that program, as before. (Sec. 241 [b]). And, individuals can always keep any insurance they have, rather than switch.
The careful reader will notice frequent reference to, and application of, Medicare standards in H.R. 3200 and associated sections of the bill. Essentially, the "public option," in practice, is intended to produce a health insurance policy that will work much as Medicare does, although with more room for private insurance companies to offer policies with other benefits so long as they meet minimum requirements and do not defraud purchasers.
A fundamental premise underlying the "public option" section, and indeed all of section H.R. 3200, is that the private health insurance market in the United States is broken. Private, individual health insurance policies are affordable only to the richest, healthiest, and youngest among us. The for-profit health insurance corporations reject the sick, those unlucky enough to have the wrong genetic family history, and the unemployed. And, it cruelly limits benefits to the rest, just when they need them the most.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, "The percentage of Americans [under 65] with private health insurance declined to 67.7 percent in 2005, marking a pattern of erosion for the past several years." But -- get this -- only 9.1 percent of that number are covered by individually-purchased private health insurance policies. The vast majority are insured through group policies made available as a job benefit.
Of these, the great majority of group insurance members are employees of federal, state, and local governments. (Just like your senators and congressmen). If current trends continue, they may be the only ones left with group policies. Everyone else, except a sliver of the richest among us, will go uninsured or be dependent on existing programs for the elderly or poor.
As a neurosugeons' web site explains, the history behind tying health insurance to employment has nothing much to do with logic. It is largely the accidental product of history:
Wartime (1939-1945) wage freezes imposed by the government actually accelerated the spread of group health care. Unable by law to attract workers by paying more, employers instead improved their benefit packages, adding health care.Times and circumstances have dramatically changed. As of 2006, 47 million Americans had no health insurance at all. This is nearly 16% of the total population. Today, after the meteoric rise in unemployment, those numbers undoubtedly are growing much worse.
On the other hand, we know the "public option" does work. In Canada and Britain, contrary to the disinformation from the lunatic fringe, it works extremely well. Even the Brits, from across the water, are getting fighting mad about how badly right-wingers have been misrepresenting their National Health Service. Just this morning, NPR covered the story and quoted British Conservative Party leader David Cameron as saying:
The fact is that in this country you can go to a hospital, you can go to a family physician, and they don't ask you how much money is in your bank account or who you are -- I think we've got the right system and we should build on it.Of course, in Great Britain, conservative party politicians are grounded in reality, unlike the U.S. where prominent conservative voices have slipped into dementia.
But you don't have to move to Great Britain to enjoy the benefits of a "public option." Right here in the U.S., some 36 million Americans receive Medicare, a government-administered "public option" program for those sixty-five and over. Furthermore, about twenty-five million Americans are eligible for Veterans Administration benefits. And, approximately 53 million receive some level of Medicaid benefits, a program designed to provide the poor with a minimum acceptable level of medical care.
While there is some overlap among the population subgroups of elderly, veterans, and Medicaid recipients, a very substantial part of the general population that has some sort of access to health care gets their medical care via government-sponsored programs.
We were reminded of this just the other day when we overheard a conversation with a very well-off, conservative Republican acquaintance of ours who lives right here in Northwest Florida. He mentioned to a fellow golf club member that he wouldn't be able to play in some prearranged outing this week because he had to oversee the transfer of his 80-something mother-in-law from his home, where she has been living, to a nursing home.
"She's been approved for Medicaid," he added. "Now we don't have to keep her in the house."
So, you see, even wealthier Americans turn for help to Medicaid when their parents or other relatives need long term medical care that would otherwise be ruinously expensive. In fact, nearly half the total U.S. population already participates to one extent or another in a "public option" government-sponsored medical care program. They're so popular that many of the deeply disturbed "town hall" cranks keep shouting "keep your hands off my Medicare."
Experts expect the number of Medicare, Medicaid, and V.A. beneficiaries will continue to rise in the coming decades. They also expect health cost increases to continue outstripping inflation. If so, unless we enact some form of "public option" insurance with, say Medicare's ability to bargain for more reasonable rates, just about the only Americans who will be left with private health insurance will be those lucky enough to work for employers who voluntarily offer insurance coverage as a job benefit (a fast-disappearing group), and the wealthiest one or two percent of all Americans.
To analogize to something familiar to Pensacola Beach residents, today it is as if the whole nation were headed for a property insurance system where there is no FEMA, no Citizens Property Insurance, and where only home owners who live on Colorado mountain tops can afford flood and wind insurance. Everyone else is being priced out of the market.
The analogy isn't perfect, of course, but it's instructive. Citizens Property Insurance and FEMA are the equivalent of what, in the health insurance field, is known as a "public option"system of insurance. In other words, each is a government-administered program that spreads the cost of a vitally needed service across the whole population so as to fill the hole left by a broken private market system.
We essentially do this, now, when we create public police departments, fire departments, public water and sewer services, federal, state, and local highway building programs, public libraries, military defense programs, port customs inspections, airport construction, and a vast array of other other critically-needed goods and services which the private enterprise system cannot, or will not, fulfill at an affordable price.
In Florida, we also do it to insure against catastrophic hurricane disasters to our property. Odd, isn't it, that without much quarrel about 'socialism' and other ideologies, we take such steps to guarantee injured property will be fixed -- but not injured or ill people?
Monday, August 17, 2009
Early this morning reality sank in with the media when the storm came ashore near Ft. Walton Beach. It's going to be a rainy day in the panhandle, that's about it.
How many times can the media cry wolf (while peddling dog foods and anti-depressants) before people stop paying attention? And how long after that will it be before a real tropical wolf slams into a large, somnambulant population grown skeptical about the media's ability to report anything straight?
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Tropical Storm Claudette is not gaining much strength, so the NHC forecast discussion remains the same as evening approaches: a landfall somewhere in the Northwest Florida panhandle, copious amounts of rain, and moderately high winds.
Very light occasional rain drops are being felt at times in isolated locations on the beach and Gulf Breeze peninsula. One report we received is that by 4 pm lead storm bands had begun raining in isolated spots over Pensacola and at mainland points north.
In all likelihood, we will experience Claudette only as a bad rain storm.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
|on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate|
Friday, August 14, 2009
To repeat what we have said before, if you read the actual proposed legislation, a primary source of factual information, you will have armed yourself against the thugs and hooligans who are trying to shout down all reasonable discussions about reforming America's broken health care system. Do not rely on untrustworthy secondary sources, like "Ross" who left comments a few days ago at the end of this post that make it clear he doesn't know the difference between a primary source and a prime rib.
Notice, if you will, that all the despicable Palins and Grassleys and, yes, even lowly bloggers like our "Ross" fellow, never quote a primary source -- such as the draft legislation known as H.R. 3200 -- to show us a factual basis for their inane arguments. As Darren Hutchinson wrote Thursday (filling in for Glenn Greenwald), critics of health care reform never "point to any specific language in the bill."
Why not? As Hutchison says, because "facts mean nothing in a smear campaign."
So much ink and so many television pixels have been wasted on the shouting bullies and Ross-like rutabaga-heads trying to disrupt town meetings or clutter message boards that the core provisions being proposed for health care reform have been buried under all the garbage. Yet, those essentials are plainly set out in an early section of H.R. 3200:
SEC. 122. ESSENTIAL BENEFITS PACKAGE DEFINED.
(a) In General- In this division, the term `essential benefits package' means health benefits coverage, consistent with standards adopted under section 124 to ensure the provision of quality health care and financial security, that--
(1) provides payment for the items and services described in subsection (b) in accordance with generally accepted standards of medical or other appropriate clinical or professional practice;
(2) limits cost-sharing for such covered health care items and services in accordance with such benefit standards, consistent with subsection (c);
(3) does not impose any annual or lifetime limit on the coverage of covered health care items and services;
(4) complies with section 115(a) (relating to network adequacy); and
(5) is equivalent, as certified by Office of the Actuary of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, to the average prevailing employer-sponsored coverage.
(b) Minimum Services To Be Covered- The items and services described in this subsection are the following:
(2) Outpatient hospital and outpatient clinic services, including emergency department services.
(3) Professional services of physicians and other health professionals.
(4) Such services, equipment, and supplies incident to the services of a physician's or a health professional's delivery of care in institutional settings, physician offices, patients' homes or place of residence, or other settings, as appropriate.
(5) Prescription drugs.
(6) Rehabilitative and habilitative services.
(7) Mental health and substance use disorder services.
(8) Preventive services, including those services recommended with a grade of A or B by the Task Force on Clinical Preventive Services and those vaccines recommended for use by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(9) Maternity care.
(10) Well baby and well child care and oral health, vision, and hearing services, equipment, and supplies at least for children under 21 years of age.
(c) Requirements Relating to Cost-sharing and Minimum Actuarial Value-
(1) NO COST-SHARING FOR PREVENTIVE SERVICES- There shall be no cost-sharing under the essential benefits package for preventive items and services (as specified under the benefit standards), including well baby and well child care.
(2) ANNUAL LIMITATION-
(A) ANNUAL LIMITATION- The cost-sharing incurred under the essential benefits package with respect to an individual (or family) for a year does not exceed the applicable level specified in subparagraph (B).
(B) APPLICABLE LEVEL- The applicable level specified in this subparagraph for Y1 is $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family. Such levels shall be increased (rounded to the nearest $100) for each subsequent year by the annual percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index (United States city average) applicable to such year.
(C) USE OF COPAYMENTS- In establishing cost-sharing levels for basic, enhanced, and premium plans under this subsection, the Secretary shall, to the maximum extent possible, use only copayments and not coinsurance.
(3) MINIMUM ACTUARIAL VALUE-
(A) IN GENERAL- The cost-sharing under the essential benefits package shall be designed to provide a level of coverage that is designed to provide benefits that are actuarially equivalent to approximately 70 percent of the full actuarial value of the benefits provided under the reference benefits package described in subparagraph (B).
(B) REFERENCE BENEFITS PACKAGE DESCRIBED- The reference benefits package described in this subparagraph is the essential benefits package if there were no cost-sharing imposed.
For now, we'll concentrate on three of the larger aspects of Section 122.
First, one huge reform is that no "annual or lifetime limit on the coverage of covered health care items and services" would be imposed. If your child, for example, has the misfortune to need especially expensive or long-term medical care -- say, because of Down's Syndrome -- under H.R. 3200, the insurance company could not refuse to pay after the bills hit a certain arbitrary ceiling level. To this extent, continuing medical care coverage is guaranteed for all insureds, just as it is now by federal medical insurance programs such as that provided by the Veterans Administration.
Second, "cost sharing" continues just as it does now under most for-profit insurance policies. But H.R. 3200 would limit the cost-sharing to, roughly, a maximum of 70-30 and no more than $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family" per year.
Third, no cost-sharing is allowed for certain preventive health services, such as "well baby" and "well child care" services. Preventive medical care really does work, as numerous medical studies have established. H.R. 3200 promotes preventive care for children by lowering the out-of-pocket costs for parents who seek to have their infants treated at the earliest sign of medical trouble. Presently, many parents, particularly those among the 47 million who no longer can afford insurance, defer things too long by wishful thinking. By the time they seek medical treatment for a sick child, things have gone from bad to worse and treatment often becomes much more costly.
All of this brings to mind a young mother we once knew who had three exceptionally bright children. The two boys had Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy, a condition that usually doesn't become manifest until age two or three. It's almost invariably fatal by the late 20's or early 30's. The woman's husband, a wealthy St. Louis businessman, left her and the children to fend for themselves.
The husband looked to escape by suing for divorce. Eventually, a settlement was approved by the divorce court under which he was obligated to continue paying for the health insurance policies he had taken out on each of the children when they were born.
Little did the mother or the judge realize at the time that the policies contained a "lifetime" maximum limit on health benefits, or that the described limit would be exceeded by the time the boys were 13 and 11, mostly due to unprecedented inflation, well above the national CPI average, in medical and hospital costs. When the children maxed out on the policy, the insurance company refused to pay the pending bills and dropped the kids.
The now-absent father shrugged his shoulders. 'It's not my problem,' he said. 'The court approved the policy." He also argued, probably correctly, that all the other policies on the market had a lifetime maximum, too.
The mother couldn't buy another health insurance policy anywhere else due to "prior medical conditions." So, she was ruined and took bankruptcy. The cost of the bankruptcy, of course, fell most heavily on the innocent creditors, the mother, the children, the doctors and the hospital where the boys has been treated previously, and the public.
Now that they had become destitute, future medical care was provided by Medicaid. But the program had no authority to pay past medical bills which the private insurer had turned down.
Needless to say, the absent father, his new trophy wife, and the health insurance company did very well for themselves.
Just like commentator "Ross," whose various comments reveal a deplorable disregard for anyone other than himself, the ex-husband didn't think the boys' health was his problem anymore. For him, as with "Ross," when it comes to medical care every man is an island. Such people are not "involved in mankind" and the bell will never toll for them.
Or, so they think.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
The first thing to understand about the current status of health care reform is that there is no "Obama bill," as such. Instead, there are more than two dozen specific legislative proposals, large and small, pending in Congress. As of this month, none -- zero -- have made it through all required committees. All proposals are still in the process of being written and studied and rewritten before they will be ready for an up-or-down vote at the committee level and, for those that survive, sent to the floor of the House or Senate for action.
The nearest bill to being ready for a floor debate is H.R. 3200 (also known as "America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009"). The full text as it stands right now is here. If you make the effort to read the bill itself, you'll learn that H.R. 3200 does not 'encourage senior citizens to kill themselves', as Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News Network claim, or set up "death panels" as Sarah Palin claims.
In fact, it does nothing like what the fear-mongering critics and townhall bullies falsely charge. They're counting on you not to take the time to check out the facts yourself. They think you're too stupid or lazy to consult primary sources.
Also as we've said before, Please Cut the Crap is doing yeoman work in taking the deeply deceptive claims of many secondary sources and comparing them with the reality of the actual words in the proposed legislation. For now, the main focus is on H.R. 3200, a House of Representatives version of health care reform that is the farthest along in the legislative process.
The bill is, however, lengthy. That became inevitable when Congress rejected our personal proposal for a three-sentence Health Reform Bill which we sent in on the back of a napkin. On our napkin, we wrote: "Everybody is eligible for Medicare or the same health insurance U.S. Senators have, whichever is better, regardless of age. The option is yours. Take one, or the other, or stick with what you have."
"Please Cut the Crap" is doing a great job of exposing the lies being spouted by health reform opponents. But we would like to focus on the positive aspects of H.R. 3200. Because of its length, it's helpful to read the House bill in small bites.
More's coming, but here's your first spoonful:
SEC. 111. PROHIBITING PRE-EXISTING CONDITION EXCLUSIONS.What this provision of H.R. 3200 means for many of our friends -- and everyone else, too -- is plain. They would have more options, not less.
A qualified health benefits plan may not impose any pre-existing condition exclusion (as defined in section 2701(b)(1)(A) of the Public Health Service Act) or otherwise impose any limit or condition on the coverage under the plan with respect to an individual or dependent based on any health status-related factors (as defined in section 2791(d)(9) of the Public Health Service Act) in relation to the individual or dependent.
- One dear friend we're thinking of is a lawyer in the Middle West who just had prostate surgery after a very bad PSA. He's not the silk stocking kind of lawyer that crowds Wall Street. He's the Atticus Finch kind of lawyer who helps rescue old ladies from con artists, charges only what the client can afford, gets paid with tomatoes from the client's garden, and then, when he hears she's feeling poorly, shows up Saturday morning to mow her lawn and bring her a hot meal. If he loses his job or decides to move out of state to be nearer his new grandchild, he probably can still get some kind of health care coverage -- but future cancer treatments will be excluded unless something like H.R. 3200 is adopted.
- If a recently widowed woman we know accepts her physician's suggestion that she should go through a few grief counseling sessions, when it comes time for health insurance policy renewal if H.R. 3200 was adopted, she wouldn't be forced to swallow an "exclusion from coverage" addendum for depression or other mental health treatment -- as we know others in the same situation have been forced to do by Blue Cross of Florida, among other private insurance companies. "Take it or it leave it," Blue Cross tells new arrivals in Florida when they try to switch their old Blue Cross of Some-Other-State to Florida.
- If another friend of ours who is living on Pensacola Beach, and who beat breast cancer a year ago, wants to change insurers or for some reason moves out of the area, she still would be eligible for full health insurance coverage under H.R. 3200, with no "preexisting medical condition" exception. As it is now, this cancer survivor is paying almost as much for single person health coverage as most Americans pay monthly on their home mortgage. And she's stuck where she now lives for life if she wants to keep fully insured.
When you're done, you'll be more informed than any of the critics and protesters, like the bully with the Air Force hat, Sarah Palin, or even Newt Gingerich -- who deliberately misstated the bill's contents until he was punked by George Stephanopolous.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Why? Based on the confusion we hear from many locals, on and off the golf course, we suspect one of the reasons is that too many Americans these days know too little about their own government. They're barely familiar with the child's story-book version of own nation's history, how its government functions, how a bill becomes law, or why the legislative process at times is so damnably complicated.
That last one you can blame on the Founding Fathers and their fondness for Montesquieu's then-radical idea that power is best checked by dividing it among three co-equal branches of government. It was a good idea turned into nightmare by the Founding Fathers when they took one step more by re-dividing one of those three branches of government into two, called the House and Senate.
Effectively, that makes a total of three-and-a-half branches. That "half" branch, the U.S. Senate, strictly for political reasons was designed to thwart the will of the majority of citizens, as Henrick Herzberg recently pointed out:
In 1790, the least populous state (Delaware) had one-twelfth as many people as the most populous (Virginia). And now? Now the emptiest state, Wyoming, has one-seventieth as many people as the fullest, California. Guess which of the two has a senator who, having clung to his seat long enough to become chairman of the Finance Committee, has more power over the fate of health-care reform than anyone else in Congress? (Hint: his state has more people than Fresno, but fewer than Fresno and its suburbs.)In the "Information Age" we find ourselves in the vast majority, sadly, relies for its news and information on television, radio call-in-shows, and the endless stream of circulating email messages which are intended to frighten, enrage, beggar, or cheat the recipients. Even the best of these sources can be only secondary in character. That is, they are mere intermediaries. Sometimes, they are many steps removed from the original information source -- the actual facts, as it were.
Worst-case scenario, the filibuster means that a forty per cent minority of the Senate, representing as few as one-tenth of the nation’s human beings, can thwart the other sixty per cent, representing as many as nine-tenths. But even a majority of the Senate—fifty-one votes—can represent as little as eighteen per cent of the population.
In the United States Senate, there is no such thing as a “simple” majority.
A few newspapers, magazines, and TV programs in our popular culture of secondary sources have proven over time to be reasonably reliable. Occasionally, a more political organization also will have reliable information, as the White House does with its new Reality Check web site.
Still, these are all secondary authorities. When it comes to enacted legislation, the gold standard is what's known as primary authority. For that, there always have been primary sources of information such as statute books, transcripts of lawmakers at hearings and in floor debates, and the Daily Record of congressional bills and other doings -- the very kind of evidence that judicial rules of evidence permit, unquestioned, in determining the intention of a statute.
Time was when access to such primary sources was limited largely to those who lived in big cities with great federal repository libraries and good law libraries. No more. Today, thanks to the Internet, many of these primary sources are easily accessible to the general public.
If you really care about an issue such as health care reform, you'll spend the time learning where the reliable primary sources are. If you have the sapience to understand and analyze the information available, you can justly claim to be fully and accurately informed. Scare tactics won't work on you. You'll know more than the scare-mongers.
When it comes to pending legislation not yet enacted, the best primary source for information on the Internet, hands down, is www.Thomas.gov. It's run by the Library of Congress, a notoriously non-partisan branch of government. Among other services, Thomas.gov publishes the full text of every bill introduced in Congress, all recorded actions taken by congressional committees, the votes, and the daily Congressional Record of official House and Senate actions and debates.
So, anyone who is genuinely interested in knowing the content of a proposed bill -- say, for example, one to reform health care -- doesn't have to rely on what some hypocritical bully with tell-tale dried spittle at the corners of his mouth, has to say. You can check it out yourself by reading the actual legislative proposals.
"Please Cut the Crap" is doing just that. Paralegal Milt Shook has been assembling all of the outrageous lies and deceptive misrepresentations being shouted around by health care reform protesters. Then he compares the assertions to the primary source: the actual, proposed legislation.
So far, "Please Cut the Crap" has written three separate articles comparing the critics' claims to the actual legislation pending. Each article is lengthy, yes, but a lot shorter than the bill itself. It's now clear that Milt Shook is one of those few reliable "secondary" sources we mentioned earlier.
Two of his blog articles, helpfully, are divided by references to pages in the pending House bill. Read all three for yourself to compare the critics' delusional lies with actual reality:
Part I: Deconstructing the Right Wing Lies on the Health Insurance Bill, Pages 1-500.To be sure, the White House has a new web site known as Reality Check that tries to do the same thing, too, mostly through videos rebutting misinformation from the shouters, cranks, and nutcases. Even that web site, however, doesn't focus on the positive aspects contained in pending legislation.
Part II: Deconstructing the Right Wing Lies on the Health Insurance Bill -- Pages 500-730
Part III: Even Newer! Deconstructing the Right Wing Lies on Health Care Bill - Part III
What makes Milt Shook's effort so notable is he rebuts the lies by contrasting them with primary authority -- namely, the specific provisions of the health care bill, itself, that has advanced the farthest in the legislative process.
spell edit 8-13
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
As usual there is considerable uncertainty as to the strength of this system later in the forecast period. If the cyclone moves farther North than anticipated below it will probably encounter stronger shear and not intensify as much as forecast. On the other hand if the system moves farther south than expected late in the period... It will probably become stronger than anticipated here.Is it a logical oxymoron to anticipate the unexpected path and intensity of a storm? Or, is it simply a down-to-earth quantum effect of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle?
Truly, the demented ravings of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly have wormed their way into the mainstream media like a deadly virus, infecting everything about our body politic. Newspaper and television outlets cover rabid, spittle-spitting shouters and gun-toting Neanderthals at public health care reform meetings as if they were normal participants in a First Amendment civics demonstration.
They are not normal. They are not there to inform the discussion or advance debate. They are there to prevent free speech by others. And, to misrepresent the various health reform proposals that are being deliberated in Congress.
This kind of behavior has never been sanctioned by the First Amendment, any more than falsely yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. News reporters who cover them have some real reporting to do beyond describing the manufactured outrage on display. Find out who the protesters really are; where they really come from; and what biased baggage they're bringing into the room. As did Green Bay TV reporter Christoffer Engebretson.
Even better, as Jamison Foser suggests, ignore them.
A dozen people shouting at a town hall meeting -- even a dozen people shouting at each of a hundred town hall meetings -- just doesn't tell us anything meaningful about public opinion. It tells us that there are at least few thousand angry people, and that they're organized. We already know that.To return to the Oliver Wendell Holmes' analogy, large segments of our news media have sunk so low that if a mental case suddenly shouted "Fire!" to stampede a theater crowd, too many reporters in America today would cover it by filing a story that says, "One man offered the opinion that the theater was on fire. While some disagreed, everyone ran for the exits."
Look: Sarah Palin drew big crowds last year -- and a lot of those people were angry. They yelled, they held up nasty signs, and they convinced a lot of the media there was some huge groundswell of opposition to Barack Obama. Then he went out and won North Carolina and Indiana.
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Video of people yelling about health care may make for good television, but it makes for lousy journalism. It exaggerates the numbers and significance of the people who yell the loudest, whichever side they're on.
Monday, August 10, 2009
At the 19th hole, after toting up the scores and distributing the modest prize money, drinks were ordered and the conversation quickly drifted into current events -- namely, health care. If conversations came with footnotes, "some email I got from someone" would have been the most popular citation of authority.
As illustrated all too well even here-- in a spate of idiotic, fact-free, scare-mongering messages attached to older posts over the weekend from multiple "Anonymous" readers -- misinformation about health care reform has gone viral across the nation. In rapid succession, we were told (1) Obama isn't a U.S. citizen; (2) Obama is no longer a Muslim, he's the devil ("He really is, I'm not kidding."); (3) Obama wants to "take away my health insurance;" (4) Obama's health care bill will cut Veteran's benefits; (5) Under a health care bill proposed by Obama "everybody will be put on Medicaid;" (6) Obama plans to "require everyone to have a living will so they have to die when they get sick;" (7) "they're going to take away my Medicare;" and more errant nonsense along the same lines.
Over the weekend, the White House finally began pushing back.
As of today, there's now a web site devoted expressly to correcting the most common misconceptions, disingenuous criticisms, and outright lies being circulated -- and often shouted -- by town hall meeting protesters, through the internet pipes, in circulating emails, and at all the 19th holes where we were trapped. In addition to several short but informative video clips, the web site has a Frequently Asked Questions section that gives you the latest info on where we are with health care reform.
Below, one of those videos. Check out the others, too.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
He's the one who thinks small businessmen "should go away."
The cash-for-clunkers program works, so of course Miller opposes it. It's good for the environment, good for the auto industry, saves jobs, stimulates the economy, and helps the average guy and gal on the street.
Nothing there for Miller.
By contrast, our incumbent congressman loves the disastrous F-22 "stealth" fighter plane. He still wants to restore $4 billion in additional funding for this disastrous, corporate-friendly pork barrel project, even though the Defense Department doesn't want it, the plane typically flies only 1.7 hours before "critically failing", and it's exposed to the enemy whenever it rains.
If Jeff Miller had designed the automobile stimulus program, average citizens would be forking over their cash to arms merchants and towing home nothing but clunkers.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Friday, August 07, 2009
He later told a credulous local TV reporter he went to the meeting being held by another local congressman about a new transportation bill just "to ask... if he was planning a town hall meeting regarding healthcare reform during the August recess."
So who is this guy? More to the point, what kind of health care does he have?
His name is Don Jeror. He is a right-winger who, last April, organized one of those bizarre, unfocused "tea party" anti-tax gatherings. He claims "my group" (get that -- 'my group') "consists of me, five women over the age of 60, and one young African American woman... ."
No one seems to have noticed, but Jeror is wearing a U.S. Air Force cap. It's the kind popular with a lot of retired U.S.A.F. veterans. We see them all the time around the Pensacola area.
What that suggests, of course, is that Don Jeror has for himself and his dependents the very best health care in the United States: Veterans Administration health benefits. Totally managed by the federal government. Totally free.
"Socialist," some would say. "No, just sensible," we would reply.
Jeror has no need to work at a shitty job just to keep his health insurance. He will never be notified that his new medical problem is excluded from coverage because of "prior conditions." He has no reason to fear having his health insurance summarily canceled if he really gets sick. He and his doctor will never have to wait on "approval" for some medical procedure from an anonymous corporate flunky for some private insurance company.
Come to that, "his" group of five women includes at least four "over the age of 60." Soon enough, all of them will have the second-best health care in the nation (if they don't already). We mean, of course, Medicare.
Again, run by the federal government. Again, no "prior exclusions" nonsense. No "change your job and lose your benefits" confusion. No waiting for prior approval from some faceless voice on the phone before you get that surgery your doctor recommends.
So, why is it that Don Jeror and "his" little group of older women, who enjoy such great health care benefits themselves, want to deny them to the rest of us? Is it a selfish, reverse Robin Hood syndrome? Is it some twisted reasoning that says, "me get, you don't"? Is it ignorance? Is it partisan politics? Is it "I'm against whatever Obama is for?" Is it racism?
Whatever the answer may be, you can be sure of one thing: Don Jeror and his grandmother groupies aren't going to be changing their own health care benefits any time soon. They like it just fine for themselves. They just don't want you to have any, too.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Fox News' Trace Gallagher interviewed Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on "cash for clunkers" yesterday, and apparently she was doing a little too good a job responding to Republican talking points. He quickly ended the segment, saying he a "breaking news" story he had to report. The big story? "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel.Daily Kos TV has the video:
It makes you wonder... How can anyone working for Fox TV News look themselves in the mirror without retching?
NOAA now expects a near- to below-normal Atlantic hurricane season, as the calming effects of El Niño continue to develop.In another weather forecasting news, we are predicting the Philadelphia Phillies will suvive the weather to win the 2008 World Series, the Mars Climate Orbiter will fail in 1998, and a great big black cloud will engulf the Midwest on April 14, 1935.
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NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, now predicts a 50 percent probability of a near-normal season, a 40 percent probability of a below-normal season, and a 10 percent probability of an above-normal season. Forecasters say there is a 70 percent chance of seven to 11 named storms, of which three to six could become hurricanes, including one to two major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5).
The main change from the May outlook is an increased probability of a below-normal season, and an expectation of fewer named storms and hurricanes. The May outlook called for nine to 14 named storms, of which four to seven could become hurricanes, including one to three major hurricanes. During an average season, there are 11 named storms with winds of at least 39 mph, of which six become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or greater and two of those become major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.