Bushville: Tent City
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Today's Big Stories (8/28/09):
>Brain Study Suggests Differences Between Liberals, Conservatives
>Big Banks Under Obama: Even Bigger, Fewer Regulations, Higher Prices, Less Competition Encourage Risky Behavior
>O Vacations With Tax Dodgers' Company Rep., Whistleblower Jailed
>How Obama Gutted The Left For The Health Care Industry
>Promise Broken: O Ignores "Bush's Lawless Behavior"
>The Toxic, Pro-Corp Mindset of Obama/Emanuel
>Obama Has A Long History Of Being A Wuss
Previous Big Stories
Brain Study Suggests Difference Between Liberals, Conservatives (August 28, 2009) , Newberg
Forum Transcript: There have been some studies that have looked at political perspectives, trying to understand what happens in the brain[s] of people who are Republicans and the brains of people who are Democrats....One was an MRI study, which is a magnetic resonance imaging that looks at blood flow and activity in the brain, and it showed that people who scored higher on liberalism tended to be associated with stronger...conflict-related anterior cingulate activity.
Now, what that means is, you have a part of your brain called the anterior cingulate, which helps you mediate when things are in conflict with the way you already believe....People who had greater liberalism seemed to do better or were more sensitive to altering some habitual response pattern, implying that they were more open to change, more open to other ideas, more open to conflict, than people who scored lower on liberalism. Does that mean something about people who consider themselves to be liberals versus conservatives, Republicans versus Democrats?
Of course all people, regardless of what their particular perspectives are, when they’re viewing their own candidate, that has a different effect in their brain than when they are viewing a candidate from the opposite party. When you’re looking at somebody from the opposite party, or thinking about them, it tends to activate the amygdala, the limbic areas, again, that tend to trigger more of an emotional response, whereas when you’re looking at people who are concordant with your views and beliefs, that tends to activate some of the areas of the frontal lobe and also that anterior cingulate that helps you mediate your conflict-resolution powers.
How Obama Gutted The Left For The Health Care Industry (August 27, 2009) , OC
Entering the year with a Democratic president and strong majorities in both houses of Congress, and a clear public mandate to end our long health-care nightmare, President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders decided to compromise from the outset, and not pursue the most effective reform, Medicare for all.
Gambling they could bring along conservative opponents, the administration and Congressional leaders instead advanced a more limited plan that preserves the role of the insurance industry. Prospects of broader reform were further undermined by some liberal and progressive groups and labour unions, who chose to merely endorse the proposals of the administration and top Congressional Democrats, rather than fighting for a national system like single-payer, which many of them have long endorsed.
Overnight, the left flank was effectively gutted from the beginning of the fight. Most of the pressure has thus come from the right and those who embrace the status quo -- leading to further compromises by both Obama and the leading Democrats.
This retreat was clearly articulated by the former president, Bill Clinton, who chastised a conference of worried netroots activists Aug. 13, saying "I want us to be mindful we may need to take less than a full loaf."
But mobilizing activists for a half loaf has proven to be a challenge, as the White House and Congress have learned to their dismay in recent weeks as they struggle to counter those denouncing them from the right.
Even the grassroots network built by candidate Obama that set new standards for campaign activism last year has, the New York Times noted Aug. 15, failed to produce much enthusiasm for the current health plan, and most liberal constituency groups have not fared much better.
What's left is a proposal that will force the uninsured to buy private insurance with subsidies for low-income earners and only limited constraints on industry price gouging and care denials that characterize the collapsing insurance-based system.
In sum, it looks like another massive corporate bailout, following the earlier version for the banks, this time for an equally unpopular insurance industry, which will fuel even more public cynicism of the reform process and political system.
Another Broken Promise: Obama Ignores "Bush's Lawless Behavior" (August 26, 2009) , NYT ED
...Mr. Obama and his political advisers continue to shrink from the broad investigation of the full range of his predecessor’s trampling on human rights, civil liberties and judicial safeguards that would allow this country to make sure this sordid history [of]...lawless and morally repugnant detention policies...is behind [us] for good.
Indeed, the administration seemed reluctant to make public the C.I.A. report, which was released under a court order and was heavily censored, with whole pages blacked out — including the four pages of recommendations. Before Mr. Holder announced his investigation, the White House made it clear that it was unhappy with his decision — repeating its sadly familiar line about “looking forward, not backward.”
Attorney General...Holder displayed real courage and integrity in ordering the investigation. But he stressed that it was limited to the specific interrogations outlined in the C.I.A. report, and did not amount to a full-blown criminal investigation of the Bush-era detention policies.
The interrogations are certainly worthy of criminal investigation.... A long-secret report written by the CIA's inspector general in 2004 and released on Monday...describes objectionable and cruel practices well beyond waterboarding. They included threatening a detainee’s family members with sexual assault and threatening to kill another’s children; the staging of mock executions; and repeatedly blocking a prisoner’s carotid artery until he began to faint.
The report said the interrogations generally followed guidelines approved by Mr. Bush’s Justice Department, which dedicated itself to finding ways to authorize abuse and evade legal accountability. But it offered a scathing condemnation of those guidelines, which it said diverged “sharply” from the practices of military and police interrogators, and the positions of pretty much everyone else, including the State Department, Congress, other Western governments and human rights groups.
The inspector general said that, in some cases, interrogations exceeded even the Bush Justice Department’s shockingly lax standards. The report offers one more compelling reason for a far broader inquiry into Mr. Bush’s lawless behavior. It is possible to sympathize with Mr. Obama’s desire to avoid a politically fraught investigation. But the need to set this nation back under the rule of law is no less urgent than it was when he promised to do so in his campaign.
That will not be accomplished by investigating individual interrogators. It will require a fearless airing of how the orders were issued to those men, and who gave them. Only by making public officials accountable under the law can Americans be confident that future presidents will not feel free to break it the way Mr. Bush did.
Obama Has A Long History Of Being A Wuss (August 25, 2009) , Nader Forget about corporate law and order to restrain the corporate crime wave. The harmony, bipartisan President Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, have outsmarted themselves. What worked to defeat Hillary Clinton last year has succeeded in splitting the Congressional Democrats into progressives, corporate liberals and Blue Dog Conservatives Republicans can scarcely believe their luck and are busy exploiting these schisms.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, undermines his Speaker, Nancy Pelosi’s “public option” plan for health insurance. Senator Max Baucus—a closet Republican masquerading as the Democratic Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is working hand-in-glove with right-wing Republicans and the White House to craft a weak “bi-partisan” bill that keeps getting weaker as the corporatist Republicans sniff increasing weakness in the White House.
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the more progressive legislators are accusing their former colleague, Committee Chair, Henry Waxman of selling out to the defiant Blue Dog Democrats on his Committee. While Mr. Waxman himself has to be worried that even his compromised “public option” (which Democrats should be calling “public choice”) will be derailed by the bill that the Baucus/Grassley/Obama axis will soon reveal in the Senate.
The Obama voters do not know what they are supposed to support. Obama never did identify with a clear health insurance proposal—not to mention the single payer approach (full Medicare for all) he says he would favor if he was “starting from scratch.” There has been nothing upstanding for his supporters around the country to rally around.
It is sad to say that all this could have been predicted by Obama’s political record as an Illinois and U.S. Senator. He rarely has taken a stand and fought against his adversaries. Even after he cuts a deal with them, they continue to undermine his agenda.
Once again, Bob Herbert senses the disturbing trend: “More and more the president is being seen by his own supporters as someone who would like to please everybody, who is naïve about the prospects for bipartisanship, who believes that his strongest supporters will stay with him because they have nowhere else to go, and who will retreat whenever the Republicans and the corporate crowd come after him.”
The Failures of Reagan, Bush, and Obama (August 24, 2009) , Krugman Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good. Call me naïve, but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it.
Even before the current crisis Reaganomics had failed to deliver what it promised. Remember how lower taxes on high incomes and deregulation that unleashed the “magic of the marketplace” were supposed to lead to dramatically better outcomes for everyone? Well, it didn’t happen.
To be sure, the wealthy benefited enormously: the real incomes of the top .01 percent of Americans rose sevenfold between 1980 and 2007. But the real income of the median family rose only 22 percent, less than a third its growth over the previous 27 years.
Moreover, most of whatever gains ordinary Americans achieved came during the Clinton years. President George W. Bush, who had the distinction of being the first Reaganite president to also have a fully Republican Congress, also had the distinction of presiding over the first administration since Herbert Hoover in which the typical family failed to see any significant income gains. And then there’s the small matter of the worst recession since the 1930s.
There’s a lot to be said about the financial disaster of the last two years, but the short version is simple: politicians in the thrall of Reaganite ideology dismantled the New Deal regulations that had prevented banking crises for half a century, believing that financial markets could take care of themselves. The effect was to make the financial system vulnerable to a 1930s-style crisis — and the crisis came.
“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. “We know now that it is bad economics.” And last year we learned that lesson all over again. Or did we? The astonishing thing about the current political scene is the extent to which nothing has changed.
The debate over the public option has...been depressing in its inanity. Opponents of the option — not just Republicans, but Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad and Senator Ben Nelson — have offered no coherent arguments against it. Mr. Nelson has warned ominously that if the option were available, Americans would choose it over private insurance — which he treats as a self-evidently bad thing, rather than as what should happen if the government plan was, in fact, better than what private insurers offer.
But it’s much the same on other fronts. Efforts to strengthen bank regulation appear to be losing steam, as opponents of reform declare that more regulation would lead to less financial innovation — this just months after the wonders of innovation brought our financial system to the edge of collapse, a collapse that was averted only with huge infusions of taxpayer funds.
So why won’t these zombie ideas die? Part of the answer is that there’s a lot of money behind them. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” said Upton Sinclair, “when his salary” — or, I would add, his campaign contributions — “depend upon his not understanding it.” In particular, vast amounts of insurance industry money have been flowing to obstructionist Democrats like Mr. Nelson and Senator Max Baucus, whose Gang of Six negotiations have been a crucial roadblock to legislation. But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism.
Politex Note: Krugman neglects to mention Obama's failure to protect the unemployed poor and middle class as well as he has protected the wealthy, and his willingness to accept a health care plan that will force more Americans to purchase private insurance health care, while uncontrolled costs will continue to rise and the profit margin of the industry will remain higher than what casino owners get in Vegas.
Seniors Caught In New Social Security/Health Care Squeeze (August 23, 2009) , Jerry Politex, JoeBama Watch SOCIAL SECURITY: "Millions of older people face shrinking Social Security checks next year, the first time in a generation that payments would not rise. The trustees who oversee Social Security are projecting there won't be a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the next two years. That hasn't happened since automatic increases were adopted in 1975."
Barbara Kennelly, a former Democratic congresswoman from Connecticut who now heads the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare: "To some people, it might not be a big deal. But to seniors, especially with their health care costs, it is a big deal."
"More than 32 million people are in the Medicare prescription drug program. Average monthly premiums are set to go from $28 this year to $30 next year, though they vary by plan. About 6 million people in the program have premiums deducted from their monthly Social Security payments, according to the Social Security Administration."
"Advocates say older people [,typically on fixed incomes,] face higher prices because they spend a disproportionate amount of their income on health care, where costs rise faster than inflation. Many also have suffered from declining home values and shrinking stock portfolios just as they are relying on those assets for income." --HuffPost
CONGRESSIONAL HEALTH CARE PLANS: Knowing that Medicare itself faces a financial crisis, many older Americans object to Congress’s tapping the program to help pay for coverage of the uninsured. They say they do not believe that all the Medicare savings will come from eliminating waste and inefficiency, as Mr. Obama says.
“Medicare is nearly broke,” said James P. Ivey, 66, of Deer Park, Wis. Mr. Ivey predicted its financial problems would grow as the ratio of beneficiaries to workers increased in coming years.
In effect, Mr. Obama says he can cut bloated Medicare payments to inefficient health care providers without adversely affecting any beneficiaries.......In the past, insurers reacted to such cuts by increasing premiums, reducing benefits or pulling out of the Medicare market, and beneficiaries complained loudly....
Medicare officials recently proposed changes that could increase payments for some primary care services but reduce payments to many specialists. Cardiologists would be especially hard hit, with cuts of more than 20 percent in payments for electrocardiograms and 12 percent for heart stent procedures.
“Cuts of this magnitude could cripple cardiology practices and threaten access to services for millions of patients,” said Dr. John C. Lewin, chief executive of the American College of Cardiology.
Obama Is Saving Corporations, Not People (August 22, 2009) , various HEALTH CARE:
A Rasmussen Reports poll last week found that 78 percent of conservatives opposed the reform plan. This week, they were asked if they would support the plan if the controversial public option was removed, and 73 percent said that they would still oppose it. By contrast, liberal support for the plan sans public option dropped by a third.
According to an NBC News poll released this week, 76 percent of Republicans believe that the health care plan will lead to a government takeover of the health care system; 70 percent believe it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly; and 61 percent believe it will allow the use of taxpayer dollars for abortions.
According to a report on Wednesday by OpenSecrets.org’s Center for Responsive Politics, health services and H.M.O.’s increased their campaign donations by 37 percent from the first to the second quarter this year. Republican and conservative advocacy groups increased their contributions by a whopping 237 percent over the same time period. For comparison, donations by Democratic and liberal advocacy groups declined. --CHARLES M. BLOW
Economist Nouriel Roubini, who was among the first to predict [our present economic crisis], still sees it as far more serious that most of us realize: “This is the worst US and global recession in 60 years. If the US recession were—as is most likely—to be over at the end of the year, it will have been three times as long and about fives times as deep—in terms of the cumulative decline in output—as the previous two.” Notice he is not quite predicting its end, using the “If” word to mask his own uncertainty. The Financial Times cautions against optimism taking refuge in the term “caution.”
Another new study finds, “Income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high, surpassing even levels seen during the Great Depression, according to a recently updated paper by University of California, Berkeley Professor Emmanuel Saez. The paper, which covers data through 2007, points to a staggering, unprecedented disparity in American incomes. On his blog, Nobel prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called the numbers "truly amazing."
The LA Times reports, “The consumer debt problem in the economy really is a debt problem for the middle class. The need to work off a chunk of that debt will sap middle-class family spending power for perhaps years to come. By contrast, the upper 10% of income earners face a much smaller debt burden relative to income and net worth. Those people should have ample spending power to help fuel an economic recovery.”
Economists are now getting us used to a new term: “jobless recovery.” Already employers are introducing compulsory furloughs, as the Christian Science Monitor reveals: “For millions of Americans, this might be the year of the furlough. Over the course of a month or so, workers—both white-collar and blue—may have to take several days off whether they want to or not. Call it a temporary pay cut—an action that is sold by management as a way to help save some jobs.”
Here in the Big Apple, The City’s top money man, Controller Bill Thompson says, “108,000 jobs evaporating citywide between August, 2008 and May, 2009. Typically, unemployment continues to climb even after the economy bottoms out and begins to recover. I expect the number of unemployed in New York City to reach 400,000 in 2010, for the first time in decades.”
Inequality is mounting in social and racial terms. Recent statistics: cited in a Times study: "From the first quarter in 2008 to the first quarter in 2009, the national unemployment rates for blacks rose from 8.9 percent to 13.6 percent, compared to a rise for whites of 4.8 percent to 8.2 percent. In NYC, it was even worse: from 5.7 percent to 14.7 percent, compared to 3.0 percent to 3.7 percent for whites.” --DANNY SCHECHTER
As Nate Silver pointed out on his blog last week, “Without major intervening events like 9/11, the party that wins the White House almost always loses seats at the midterm elections — since World War II, an average of 17 seats in the House after the White House changes parties.” There is no reason to believe that this won’t be the case next year. A poll released by Rasmussen Reports this week found that on a generic Congressional ballot, Republican candidates hold a 5 percent advantage over Democratic ones. --CHARLES M. BLOW
Progressives No Longer Trust Obama; Abandoning HC Option Final Straw (August 21, 2009) , Krugman There’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar. Now, politics is the art of the possible. Mr. Obama was never going to get everything his supporters wanted. But there’s a point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line....
A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach....
On such fraught questions as torture and indefinite detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge or change Bush administration policy. And then there’s the matter of the banks. I don’t know if administration officials realize just how much damage they’ve done themselves with their kid-gloves treatment of the financial industry, just how badly the spectacle of government supported institutions paying giant bonuses is playing....
On the issue of health care itself, the inspiring figure progressives thought they had elected comes across, far too often, as a dry technocrat who talks of “bending the curve” but has only recently begun to make the moral case for reform....The idea of letting individuals buy insurance from a government-run plan...was picked up by John Edwards during the Democratic primary, and became part of the original Obama health care plan....The public option offered a way to reconcile differing views among Democrats. Until the idea of the public option came along, a significant faction within the party rejected anything short of true single-payer, Medicare-for-all reform, viewing anything less as perpetuating the flaws of our current system....
It seems as if there is nothing Republicans can do that will draw an administration rebuke: Senator Charles E. Grassley feeds the death panel smear, warning that reform will “pull the plug on grandma,” and two days later the White House declares that it’s still committed to working with him. It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Obama has wasted months trying to appease people who can’t be appeased, and who take every concession as a sign that he can be rolled.
Indeed, no sooner were there reports that the administration might accept co-ops as an alternative to the public option than G.O.P. leaders announced that co-ops, too, were unacceptable....Nonprofit co-ops, is a sham. That’s not just my opinion; it’s what the market says: stocks of health insurance companies soared on news that the Gang of Six senators trying to negotiate a bipartisan approach to health reform were dropping the public plan. Clearly, investors believe that co-ops would offer little real competition to private insurers....So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it.
Obama's Driving Average Joe Into Arms of Lunatic Right (August 20, 2009) , Kuttner People should be plenty angry about their jobs and their mortgages and their health insurance. With health care, however, virtually all of the fears attributed to the Obama health reform efforts more accurately describe the existing private system. It is private insurance companies that ration care by deciding what is covered and what is not. Private plans limit which doctor and hospital you can use, define "preexisting conditions" and make insurance unaffordable for tens of millions. For many, all this can cause suffering and sometimes even death. Our one oasis of socialized medicine, Medicare, has the most choice and the least exclusion. The misdirected citizen anger at the Obama health reform efforts is a surrogate for broader, entirely legitimate, popular economic backlash....
When economically stressed and frightened people are anxious and sullen, you never know who will capture their fears and hopes. In the 1930s, economic anxiety produced leaders as different as Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. History shows that if the reformist left doesn't offer a plausible story and strategy of reform, the lunatic right will gain ground even with an implausible one. So where are the liberal protesters? The initiative has passed to the know-nothing right for two big reasons.
One is Obama himself. This president recoils from confrontation, even with those who are out to destroy him. He has had ample opportunities to put himself on the side of popular economic grievances and to connect America's economic troubles to the forces that Roosevelt called "economic royalists." But Obama, whose propensity for consensus is hard-wired, keeps passing up those opportunities. Even now, he won't make clear that the private insurance industry is the problem. Recent administration statements on the "public" insurance option have been classics of mixed messaging. Obama's economic team is far too cozy with Wall Street, fanning populist suspicions.
Despite the president's history as a community organizer, his style as president is to tamp down popular protest, not rev it up. I know of several cases in which the White House requested allied progressive groups to cool it. When government-subsidized AIG disgracefully paid culpable executives "retention bonuses," Obama dispatched Larry Summers to the Sunday talk shows to helpfully explain that "We are a country of law. There are contracts." Tell that to laid-off and outsourced factory workers. It's hardly surprising that regular people resent the corporate-connected Washington of Barack Obama.
Second, the progressive grass roots have been weakened by the same Wall Street-dominated economy. The labor movement, the best single instrument for turning popular economic distress into reform, has been savaged by illegal corporate union-busting. While the Obama administration offers kind words to unions, reform to ensure workers' rights to organize is not one of its priorities. Too many other liberal interest groups have become Beltway operations, packaged and polite affairs disconnected from the real grass roots....
One way or another, hard times produce popular anger at callous elites. Presidential leadership and progressive organizing energy to connect the mounting outrage to the real economic abuses are overdue. Otherwise, even a ticket of Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford could pick up the pieces.
Health Care Industry Drooling Over Obama's Phony "Reform" (August 18, 2009) , Herbert It’s never a contest when the interests of big business are pitted against the public interest. So if we manage to get health care “reform” this time around it will be the kind of reform that benefits the very people who have given us a failed system, and thus made reform so necessary.
Forget about a crackdown on price-gouging drug companies and predatory insurance firms. That’s not happening. With the public pretty well confused about what is going on, we’re headed — at best — toward changes that will result in a lot more people getting covered, but that will not control exploding health care costs and will leave industry leaders feeling like they’ve hit the jackpot.
The hope of a government-run insurance option is all but gone. So there will be no effective alternative for consumers in the market for health coverage, which means no competitive pressure for private insurers to rein in premiums and other charges. (Forget about the nonprofit cooperatives. That’s like sending peewee footballers up against the Super Bowl champs.)
Insurance companies are delighted with the way “reform” is unfolding. Think of it: The government is planning to require most uninsured Americans to buy health coverage. Millions of young and healthy individuals will be herded into the industry’s welcoming arms. This is the population the insurers drool over.
This additional business — a gold mine — will more than offset the cost of important new regulations that, among other things, will prevent insurers from denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions or imposing lifetime limits on benefits. Poor people will either be funneled into Medicaid, which will have its eligibility ceiling raised, or will receive a government subsidy to help with the purchase of private insurance.
If the oldest and sickest are on Medicare, and the poorest are on Medicaid, and the young and the healthy are required to purchase private insurance without the option of a competing government-run plan — well, that’s reform the insurance companies can believe in.
The White House, for its part, agreed not to seek additional savings from the drug companies over those 10 years. This resulted in big grins and high fives at the drug lobby. The White House was rolled. The deal meant that the government’s ability to use its enormous purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices was off the table. ...Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, wrote that the deal struck by the Obama White House was very similar to the “deal George W. Bush struck in getting the Medicare drug benefit, and it’s proven a bonanza for the drug industry.”...
While it is undoubtedly important to bring as many people as possible under the umbrella of health coverage, the way it is being done now does not address what President Obama and so many other advocates have said is a crucial component of reform — bringing the ever-spiraling costs of health care under control. Those costs, we’re told, are hamstringing the U.S. economy, making us less competitive globally and driving up the budget deficit.
Giving consumers the choice of an efficient, nonprofit, government-run insurance plan would have moved us toward real cost control, but that option has gone a-glimmering. The public deserves better. The drug companies, the insurance industry and the rest of the corporate high-rollers have their tentacles all over this so-called reform effort, squeezing it for all it’s worth.
Meanwhile, the public — struggling with the worst economic downturn since the 1930s — is looking on with great anxiety and confusion. If the drug companies and the insurance industry are smiling, it can only mean that the public interest is being left behind.
Krugman Backpedals As Obama Caves On Public Option (August 17, 2009) , Krugman Reform isn’t worth having if you can only get it on terms so compromised that it’s doomed to fail.
What will determine the success or failure of reform? Above all, the success of reform depends on successful cost control. We really, really don’t want to get into a position a few years from now where premiums are rising rapidly, many Americans are priced out of the insurance market despite government subsidies, and the cost of health care subsidies is a growing strain on the budget.
And that’s why the public plan is an important part of reform: it would help keep costs down through a combination of low overhead and bargaining power. That’s not an abstract hypothesis, it’s a conclusion based on solid experience. Currently, Medicare has much lower administrative costs than private insurance companies, while federal health care programs other than Medicare (which isn’t allowed to bargain over drug prices) pay much less for prescription drugs than non-federal buyers. There’s every reason to believe that a public option could achieve similar savings....Yes, the perfect is the enemy of the good; but so is the not-good-enough-to-work. Health reform has to be done right. --Krugman, June 25, 2009
Look, it is possible to have universal care without a public option; Switzerland does....To have a workable system without the public option, you need to have effective regulation of the insurers. Given the realities of our money-dominated politics, you really have to worry whether that can be done — which is a reason to have a more or less automatic mechanism for disciplining the industry. --Krugman, August 17, 2009
Paul Krugman, in an Aug. 17 New York Times column, likens health reform to the reforms Switzerland instituted in 1994: “[E]veryone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.” But there’s a significant difference. In Switzerland, private insurers are required to provide basic health coverage on a nonprofit basis. Under Obamacare, private insurers will continue to seek profits, and it’s quite possible that the new regulatory restraints imposed on them (take all comers, don’t punish the sick with higher premiums, don’t seek out fine-print reasons to cancel policies after policyholders get sick, etc.) will inspire them to find ever-more-ingenious ways to avoid payouts. --Tim Noah, August 17, 2009
Turncoat Obama Caves On Public Option, End-Of-Life Counseling (August 16, 2009) , Politex Speaking for the White House on CNN's "State of the Union" and ABC's "This Week," Obama's Sec. of Health said that health co-ops would be an acceptable alternative to the public option and end-of-life counseling will likely be removed from the final health care bill: "We wanted to make sure doctors were reimbursed for that very important consultation if family members chose to make it, and instead it's been turned into this scare tactic and probably will be off the table. And that's not good news for the American public and not good news for family members."
As for the public option, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the plan to federally run a national insurance plan in competition with private insurance plans is "not the essential element": "I think there will be a competitor to private insurers," she said. "That's really the essential part, is you don't turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing. We need some choices, we need some competition." However, critics of the co-op plan note that, while federally funded, it would not be national, nor would it be run by the government, and it would not be a network, making it a toothless alternate to the public option, not able to hold down present health care costs or negotiate future prices as a group.
Hiding behind the skirts of Health Sec. Sebelius, Obama has delivered the bad news that corporate money runs his administration, since he has received the most campaign money handed out by the health care industry, more than John McCain, more than the the other members of Congress, Republicans and Blue Dog Dems, more than Max Bacaus, whose moderate-conservative Senate Finance Committee with combined states representing less than 2% of the American people is favored by Obama. When it comes to Obama, actions speak louder than words, and his actions show which side he's really on, lending truth to what we said during the Dem primaries: When Obama speaks of change, it's the change in your pockets, left after he keeps your dollars for himself and his corporate backers. --Jerry Politex, JoeBama Watch
WH Lies Shifting Anger From BushCorp to Obama (August 15, 2009) Dan Froomkin The chasm between the interests of the health industry and the American public is fundamentally unbridgeable. Without the kinds of cost controls that will make the health industry titans used to utterly obscene profits howl and snarl and fight back with everything they've got, universal, quality health care will continue to be unaffordable for this country and its people. Without some mechanism to check the impulses of the insurance industry -- like a public plan option -- and without the ability to force prescription drug prices down, Obama's plan just won't work.
So in trying to make the deal appear palatable to all parties, White House officials are reduced to either lying to one side, or the other, or both. And to reporters, when they start to ask pesky questions, as well....
It's not surprising to me that Obama's poll numbers are going down. Part of that is most assuredly due to a GOP-fueled resurgence of the ugliest aspects of our national character -- nativism, racism, and know-nothingism -- within a population that it's hard to imagine were big Obama boosters in the first place. But I suspect the poll numbers are also reflecting a growing disillusionment among those who placed a lot of hope in an Obama presidency -- disillusionment that he's not standing up for what the people who voted for him stood up for in November.
And not just disillusionment, either. Anger, too. Professor Drew Westen, an astute analyst of the national psyche, blogged yesterday that "if Americans are starting to turn populist anger toward a White House that has doggedly refused to focus that anger where it belongs -- toward the banks, the mortgage brokers, the regulators who failed to regulate, the oil companies that have blocked energy reform for decades while racking up record profits, the health insurance companies that make their profits by denying coverage and discriminating against the ill, the pharmaceutical companies whose lobbyists have negotiated away the right to negotiate, and the Republicans who bankrupted the treasury during the eight long years of the Bush Presidency and crashed the economy on their way out -- I can understand why."
Now, maybe Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein is right, and it's not a lack of effort or will or clarity on Obama's part that's to blame for Washington's inability to achieve bold and effective health-care reform. Klein writes that when it comes to domestic initiatives, the modern presidency simply isn't very powerful -- at least not "[c]ompared with the structural power of Congress to block legislative change, the tendency of the public to fear legislative change and the capacity of industry to fight legislative change." But having watched Congress go belly up time again during the last administration, it seems clear to me that the president can exert enormous pressure on the legislature if he can harness the power of an angry (or scared) electorate.
Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column today that what's missing from Obama's repertoire right now "is a sense of passion and outrage -- passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the health care he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal."
Obama Is Screwing The People Through Health Care Deals (August 13, 2009) , NYT
Behind the scenes...Mr. Obama and his advisers have been quite active...negotiating deals with a degree of cold-eyed political realism potentially at odds with the president’s rhetoric....
Some Democrats and industry lobbyists now argue that, in negotiating deals through Mr. Baucus’s [Senate finance committee] with powerful health care interests, the White House was tacitly signaling as early as last spring that it might end up accepting something more modest than the government insurer the president has said he prefers....The Finance Committee, for example, appears to be coalescing around the idea of nonprofit insurance cooperatives instead of a government-run plan. ...Cooperatives are likely to have less leverage over health care prices....Industry lobbyists and moderate Democrats in both chambers, though, argue that the White House’s actions behind the scenes show a recognition that the finance panel’s anticipated compromise is the most likely template for any final legislation.
Lobbyists for the drug and hospital industries say that, as early as June, White House officials directed them to work out cost-saving deals with Mr. Baucus’s committee. Drug industry lobbyists said they negotiated a deal to contribute $80 billion over 10 years toward the cost of an overhaul with Mr. Baucus, under White House supervision, before taking it to the president for final approval. House lawmakers have said they were caught by surprise when it was announced. Hospital industry lobbyists, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of alienating the White House, say they negotiated their $155 billion in concessions with Mr. Baucus and the administration in tandem. House staff members were present, including for at least one White House meeting, but their role was peripheral, the lobbyists said. Several hospital lobbyists involved in the White House deals said it was understood as a condition of their support that the final legislation would not include a government-run health plan paying Medicare rates — generally 80 percent of private sector rates — or controlled by the secretary of health and human services.
Mr. Obama and his top aides have immersed themselves in the Senate Finance Committee process. The president talks to Mr. Baucus several times a week, people briefed on their conversations say. Mr. Obama has also held a few calls with the panel’s ranking Republican, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa. In addition, Mr. Obama invited both senators to a private lunch at the White House early in the summer and met with six panel members for another White House session last week. White House advisers have held long evening and weekend meetings with Finance Committee staff members.
Three Health Care Strikes. Will Obama Will Be Out? (August 11, 2009) , Huffington, NYT, Politex
1. and 2. The White House has now shown itself willing to cave on the two essential elements of real health care reform -- drug price negotiations and having a public option. Giving us health care reform without those key ingredients is like serving a PBJ sandwich without the peanut butter or the jelly. This white-bread-only reform makes no sense practically -- or politically. Health care reform that doesn't contain costs is destined to fail -- arming the GOP with a powerful "I told you so" cudgel to swing in 2010 and 2012. --Arianna Huffington
3. To help finance coverage for the uninsured, Congress would squeeze huge savings out of Medicare, the program for older Americans and the disabled. These savings would pay nearly 40 percent of the bills’ cost. The legislation would trim Medicare payments for most services, as an incentive for hospitals and other health care providers to become more efficient. --NYT
Presently, many doctors and clinics either do not accept medicare patients or limit their number, because medicare does not pay as much for services as does private insurance companies. There is nothing in the various bills to stop this practice, or to prevent such paractices fron increasing, or to pass on the greater uncovered costs to medicare patients. Further, the White House has encouraged the drug industry to believe that it will not insist on Medicare negotiations of drug prices. --Jerry Politex
Obama's "just another corporatist, punking voters"? Well, Dah. (August 9, 2009) , Politex
To answer Frank Rich's question in his NYT op-ed piece this morning: Of course, what did you expect? Bill Clinton ran on "hope"; Barack Obama ran on "change"...oh, and "hope." They both won in the face of the corporate greed and corruption of the previous GOP administrations. In order to save his presidency, Bill Clinton became Republican lite; Obama has flirted with Republican lite from the git-go. It's instructive that Obama's biggest campaign contributor has been the finance industry, with the health care industry second. Of course, Hillary wasn't any better, with her campaign strategist being a "high-powered corporate flack." Nevertheless, we favored Hillary over Barack because a key issue, a health care plan, was more progressive than his, while she eventually agreed with Obama on a key issue, the need to get out of Iraq asap. (Re other choices: GOP presidential candidates are uniformly worse, and third-party selections are for idealists and single issue voters, which we are not.)
One other reason we supported Hillary over Barack: Obama's mantra of "hope" and "change" struck us as hypocritical, given his centrist/moderate political positions on most issues. Articles on this are beginning to appear, the most interesting being David Bromwich's "The Character of Barack Obama, in which in writes, "His instinct is to have all the establishments on his side... and the quick-take pulse of popular opinion on any given issue." Given this impossible task, his deeds are often disappointing follow-ups to his words.
Rich reminds us that "Obama tapped into... the sinking sensation that the American game is rigged — that... the system is in hock to 'the interests of powerful lobbyists or the wealthiest few' who have 'run Washington far too long.'” His deeds have not reinforced his promise to do something about it:
"Obama promised change we could actually believe in". "His first questionable post-victory step was to assemble an old boys’ club of Robert Rubin protégés and Goldman-Citi alumni as the White House economic team, including a Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, who failed in his watchdog role at the New York Fed as Wall Street’s latest bubble first inflated and then burst. The questions about Geithner’s role in adjudicating the subsequent bailouts aren’t going away, and neither is the angry public sense that the fix is still in. We just learned that nine of those bailed-out banks — which in total received $175 billion of taxpayers’ money, but as yet have repaid only $50 billion — are awarding a total of $32.6 billion in bonuses for 2009."
Now, the disconnect between Obama's words and his deeds are being experienced with respect to his health care plan:
"In the 2008 campaign, Obama ran a television ad pillorying Billy Tauzin, the former Louisiana congressman, for his role in preventing Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices. Last week The Los Angeles Times reported — and The New York Times confirmed — that Tauzin, an active player in White House health care negotiations, had secured a behind-closed-doors flip-flop, enlisting the administration to push for continued protection of drug prices. Now we know why the president has ducked his campaign pledge to broadcast such negotiations on C-Span....The cynicism being whipped up among voters is justified."
"It’s in this context that Obama can’t afford a defeat on health care. A bill will pass in a Democrat-controlled Congress. What matters is what’s in it. The final result will be a CAT scan of those powerful Washington interests he campaigned against, revealing which have been removed from the body politic (or at least reduced) and which continue to metastasize. The Wall Street regulatory reform package Obama pushes through, or doesn’t, may render even more of a verdict on his success in changing the system he sought the White House to reform."
Riot At Tampa Town Hall On Health Care: Violent Protesters, Some With Racist Signs, Say They Had Been Spurred On By Conservative Activist Group, Fox News Host, GOP E-Mails (Video, August 7, 2009) , HuffPo
Police officers were called to calm down an unruly crowd outside a health care reform town hall meeting in downtown Tampa, Florida on Thursday evening, according to local news reports. Angry protesters screamed, yelled and banged on windows as officers hurried to guard the entrances to the facility, where U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor was trying to discuss the various health care reform proposals being debated in Congress. One photojournalist said that a fistfight broke out inside the building, reports WTSP....The spectacle...sounded more like a wrestling cage match than a panel discussion on national policy, and it was just the latest example of a health care meeting disrupted by livid protesters.
The Tampa Tribune reports that some protesters carried racist caricatures of President Obama and added details of more fights and scuffles: "Several of the protesters' signs bore an image of Obama with his face painted as the Joker, an image that drew protests of racism locally when it appeared on a Web site thought to be associated with the Pinellas Republican party."
Right Disruptions Of Health Care Forums Recall Bush Bullies During Florida Recount, Nixon Racism (August 7, 2009) , Krugman
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, has compared the scenes at health care town halls to the “Brooks Brothers riot” in 2000 — the demonstration that disrupted the vote count in Miami and arguably helped send George W. Bush to the White House. Portrayed at the time as local protesters, many of the rioters were actually G.O.P. staffers flown in from Washington.
But Mr. Gibbs is probably only half right. Yes, well-heeled interest groups are helping to organize the town hall mobs. Key organizers include two Astroturf (fake grass-roots) organizations: FreedomWorks, run by the former House majority leader Dick Armey, and a new organization called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights. The latter group, by the way, is run by Rick Scott, the former head of Columbia/HCA, a for-profit hospital chain. Mr. Scott was forced out of that job amid a fraud investigation....
There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.
Now, people who don’t know that Medicare is a government program probably aren’t reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.) But they’re probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is.
That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.
And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers. Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.
Obama's Secret Deal With Drug Industry Nixes Price Negotiations (August 6, 2009) , NYT
Drug industry lobbyists reacted with alarm this week to a House health care overhaul measure that would allow the government to negotiate drug prices and demand additional rebates from drug manufacturers....Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House was not bound by any industry deals with the Senate or the White House.... In response, the industry successfully demanded that the White House explicitly acknowledge for the first time that it had committed to protect drug makers from bearing further costs in the overhaul. The Obama administration had never spelled out the details of the agreement....As for the administration’s recent break with the insurance industry, [lobbyist Billy] Tauzin said, “The insurers never made any deal.”...
The new attention to the agreement could prove embarrassing to the White House, which has sought to keep lobbyists at a distance, including by refusing to hire them to work in the administration. The White House commitment to the deal with the drug industry may also irk some of the administration’s Congressional allies who have an eye on drug companies’ profits as they search for ways to pay for the $1 trillion cost of the health legislation.
But failing to publicly confirm Mr. Tauzin’s descriptions of the deal risked alienating a powerful industry ally currently helping to bankroll millions in television commercials in favor of Mr. Obama’s reforms. The pressure from Mr. Tauzin to affirm the deal offers a window on the secretive and potentially risky game the Obama administration has played as it tries to line up support from industry groups typically hostile to government health care initiatives, even as their lobbyists pushed to influence the health measure for their benefit.
Drug Program: Bush--not Obama--Pioneered Socialized Medicine in U.S. (August 6, 2009) , The Hill
A PROUD DAY FOR AMERICA: OUR FIRST NON-AMERICAN PRESIDENT! (August 3, 2009) , Jerry Politex, JoeBama Watch
Thanks to commentator Lou Dobbs, lawyer, dentist, and real estate agent Orly Taitz, who lists the GOP's Alan Keyes as one of her clients, and many, many others, Austria's Arnold Schwarzenegger will now be a able to run for President on the GOP ticket. That's because ocular documentation has been provided, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that President Obama was born in Kenya. What a great day for diversity in America!
While the Kenyan document includes some geographic and historical discrepancies that have been pointed out by critics of the document's authenticity, it's coincidental that the registrar, E.F. Lavender, was named after a brand of Kenyan laundry soap, and the document's number is 47, O44. President Obama is our 44th President, his last name begins with the letter "O", and he was 47 years old when he became President. Such details are irrelevant and should be left to the nit-picking of those who claim that George W. Bush's presidency was illegitimate because he was selected by a conservative Supreme Court, rather than the people of the United States, who cast more votes for Mr. Gore than Mr. Bush.
Previous Big Stories:
>Competition Lacking Among Health Insurance Companies (8/23/09)
Last Month's Stories:
Update: Baucus' Senate Finance Committee to Drop Gvt. Insurance, Employer Coverage, Wealthy Surtax
Health Care Winners and Losers (7/27/09), Editorial
Bush, Paulson, and Greenspan, The Three Stooges Of The Economic Meltdown (7/21/09), Michiko Kakutani, book reviewer
Obama's a Wuss (7/21/09), Politex, Brooks
Palin's Independence Day (7/4/09), Politex
2008: Obama Campaign and Victory...
2009: January...February...March... April-May... June... July... August... ...
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