Friday, August 21, 2009
(graphic from Dependable Renegade)
In the book, Ridge says he was never invited to attend National Security Council meetings, was “blindsided” by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him, his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster went ignored, and most shocking of all, Ridge says he was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush’s re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.
As with Colin Powell, John Ashcroft, and others, Ridge seems to be seeking some redemption for his sins, along with a big chunk of cash. Sorry, I'm not buying it. Nor am I willing to forgive you. If you had a shred of decency, you'd have done the honorable thing when it mattered and blown the whistle then. Admitting the truth five years (and many thousand deaths) later merely shows that you're a cheap corrupt tool. Unless you're on trial with the rest of the shrubies, I have no interest in anything you have to say.
Thursday, August 20, 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."
"the time for action has passed. now is the time for senseless bickering"
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
On the political side, the "public option" is back and forth like a tennis ball at Wimbledon. It's in, it's out, it's back in, or maybe it's out. It's going to be "bi-partisan", but one party will oppose anything at all. So the Dems will go it alone. Except if they don't. Even if you're paying close attention to the process, the picture is about as clear as mud.
The public debate is even more absurd. People with guns screaming about "death panels" get TV airtime as if they were credible. People on Medicare decrying "government run healthcare", proving we really need a better mental health system, seemingly have zero sense of irony. Never mind the "facts" (which are rather dull), let's focus on the absurd. The lobbyists are having a field day. It would be really entertaining if it weren't so tragic.
Somewhere in reality there is the main actual proposal, H.R. 3200. While it's certainly going to go through changes in the reconciliation process, this is what is actually currently "on the table". Good friend badtux the snarky penguin has put together the best summary analysis that I've read so far:
Well, basically, HR3200 is a strange amalgation of the German system -- which has publically owned nonprofit sickness funds and for-profit insurers largely funded by employer contributions with all citizens required to purchase insurance if not provided by employer (and all employers required to provide insurance for their employees) -- and the Swiss system, where individuals purchase insurance in a heavily regulated must-issue must-have individual insurance market (that is, insurers are required to issue insurance that meets minimum standards w/no pre-existing conditions exclusions, and individuals are required to purchase insurance). Subsidies are provided in both systems so that people who cannot afford to buy insurance on their own can afford to buy insurance, and HR3200 includes similar subsidies. One thing HR3200 does *not* do is force employers to provide insurers -- if employers refuse to provide insurance, instead HR3200 taxes them 8% of payroll
in order to fund subsidies so the employees themselves can afford to buy individual insurance.
There's no reason why HR3200 should not work as designed -- the public option in the German system keeps costs low, the 8% tax encourages employers to provide employer-provided insurance, while the various mandates and subsidies insure that all Americans can afford and obtain insurance that will cover all common health costs -- but of course it is nowhere near the most efficient way to provide health care. The system HR3200 sets up will provide universal healthcare, but at a cost much higher than a single-payer system. Still, it's a whole lot better than the current system, which is "let them eat cake" filled with rescissions, refusals to insure due to pre-existing conditions, discrimination against women, older Americans, and against families with young children, and far too many people who cannot afford to purchase health insurance and cannot obtain any subsidy for doing so.
So, it's not "bad", but it's also not all that good. It may be the best bill we can get passed in the current climate, but it's not a solution to the healthcare crisis.
Like most "liberals" ("socialists" in the current lexicon), I would really like a "single-payer" system. It's not even "on the table", but Thom Hartmann has a really simple, good proposal:
Dear President Obama,
I understand you're thinking of dumping your "public option" because of all the demagoguery by Sarah Palin and Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich and their crowd on right-wing radio and Fox. Fine. Good idea, in fact.
Instead, let's make it simple. Please let us buy into Medicare.
It would be so easy. You don't have to reinvent the wheel with this so-called "public option" that's a whole new program from the ground up. Medicare already exists. It works. Some people will like it, others won't - just like the Post Office versus FedEx analogy you're so comfortable with.
Just pass a simple bill - it could probably be just a few lines, like when Medicare was expanded to include disabled people - that says that any American citizen can buy into the program at a rate to be set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which reflects the actual cost for us to buy into it.
So it's revenue neutral!
To make it available to people of low income, raise the rates slightly for all currently non-eligible people (like me - under 65) to cover the cost of below-200%-of-poverty people. Revenue neutral again.
Most of us will do damn near anything to get out from under the thumbs of the multi-millionaire CEOs who are running our current insurance programs. Sign me up!
This lets you blow up all the rumors about death panels and grandma and everything else: everybody knows what Medicare is. Those who scorn it can go with Blue Cross. Those who like it can buy into it. Simplicity itself.
Of course, we'd like a few fixes, like letting Medicare negotiate drug prices and filling some of the holes Republicans and AARP and the big insurance lobbyists have drilled into Medicare so people have to buy "supplemental" insurance, but that can wait for the second round. Let's get this done first.
Simple stuff. Medicare for anybody who wants it. Private health insurance for those who don't. Easy message. Even Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley can understand it. Sarah Palin can buy into it, or ignore it. No death panels, no granny plugs, nothing. Just a few sentences.
Replace the "you must be disabled or 65" with "here's what it'll cost if you want to buy in, and here's the sliding scale of subsidies we'll give you if you're poor, paid for by everybody else who's buying in." (You could roll back the Reagan tax cuts and make it all free, but that's another rant.)
We elected you because we expected you to have the courage of your convictions. Here's how. Not the "single payer Medicare for all" that many of us would prefer, but a simple, "Medicare for anybody who wants to buy in."
Of course, this has a snowball's chance in Turlock of ever passing. Good ideas aren't allowed in the current dialogue. There is no army of lobbyists for "common sense".
My own personal healthcare is paid for by the state of Arizona. Because I was unemployed when I broke my shoulder, I'm enrolled in "AHCCCS", the "Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System" (the name makes clear their motivation), and as long as I remain below the poverty level I'll continue to receive basic health services on the taxpayers dime. I can't complain; the service has been adequate and my Dr.'s have been top-notch. The problem for me is that if I ever rise above the poverty level, I'm screwed. I'm uninsurable thanks to pre-existing conditions, and unless I got really, really rich there's no way I could afford the treatment I need out of pocket. And a lot of Americans are in even worse shape.
So that's where we stand: A huge problem, a number of vested interests in the status quo, weak political leaders without real solutions, a largely ignorant populace inflamed with rhetoric, and a dysfunctional legislative system determined to avoid real action. And I only say this because I'm trying to remain optimistic. Because if you watch too closely, you're likely to suffer whiplash.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
PHOENIX - About a dozen people carrying guns, including one with a military-style rifle, milled among protesters outside the convention center where President Barack Obama was giving a speech Monday - the latest incident in which protesters have openly displayed firearms near the president.
Gun-rights advocates say they're exercising their constitutional right to bear arms and protest, while those who argue for more gun control say it could be a disaster waiting to happen.
Phoenix police said the gun-toters at Monday's event, including the man carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, didn't need permits. No crimes were committed, and no one was arrested.
The man with the rifle declined to be identified but told The Arizona Republic that he was carrying the assault weapon because he could. ``In Arizona, I still have some freedoms,'' he said.
Phoenix police Detective J. Oliver, who monitored the man at the downtown protest, said police also wanted to make sure no one decided to harm him.
``Just by his presence and people seeing the rifle and people knowing the president was in town, it sparked a lot of emotions,'' Oliver said. ``We were keeping peace on both ends.''
``It's a political statement,'' he told The Boston Globe. ``If you don't use your rights, then you lose your rights.''
Police asked the man to move away from school property, but he was not arrested.
Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona University political scientist, said the incidents in New Hampshire and Arizona could signal the beginning of a disturbing trend.
``When you start to bring guns to political rallies, it does layer on another level of concern and significance,'' Solop said. ``It actually becomes quite scary for many people. It creates a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication.''
He said he's never heard of someone bringing an assault weapon near a presidential event. ``The larger the gun, the more menacing the situation,''
Arizona is an ``open-carry'' state, which means anyone legally allowed to have a firearm can carry it in public as long as it's visible. Only someone carrying a concealed weapon is required to have a permit.
Paul Helmke, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said people should not be allowed to bring guns to events where Obama is.
``To me, this is craziness,'' he said. ``When you bring a loaded gun, particularly a loaded assault rifle, to any political event, but particularly to one where the president is appearing, you're just making the situation dangerous for everyone.''
He said people who bring guns to presidential events are distracting the Secret Service and law enforcement from protecting the president. ``The more guns we see at more events like this, there's more potential for something tragic happening,'' he said.
I'm a liberal, but I own a couple of guns. But the idea of ever bringing a gun to a public event is beyond my comprehension. And the police were making sure that "no one decided to harm him"? The dude had an AR-15, and you're worried about his safety? This is not a good sign.
(Added) Steven D at Booman Tribune has it right:
Which brings me to my quote of the day by the Brady Campaign's President Paul Helmke:Bringing loaded firearms to any Presidential event endangers all in attendance. Even though our weak national and state gun laws may allow this dangerous behavior, we should use a little common sense. Individuals carrying loaded weapons at these events require constant attention from police and Secret Service officers, thus stretching their protective efforts even thinner. The possibility that these weapons might be grabbed or stolen or accidently mishandled increases the risks of serious injury or death to all in attendance.
The National Rifle Association and other 'gun rights' groups need to send a message about 'gun responsibilities' to their members and all gun owners. Loaded weapons at political forums endanger all involved, distract law enforcement, and end up stifling debate. Presidential protesters need to leave their firearms at home -- no exceptions."
I couldn't agree more. There is no need for to bring weapons to a political event unless your goal is to intimidate those with whom you disagree into silence, or unless you intend to use those weapons to assassinate a political figure. Neither of those is a legitimate exercise of one's right to bear arms.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Rock legend Bob Dylan was treated like a complete unknown by police in a New Jersey shore community when a resident called to report someone wandering around the neighborhood.
Dylan was in Long Branch, about a two-hour drive south of New York City, on July 23 as part of a tour with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp that was to play at a baseball stadium in nearby Lakewood.
A 24-year-old police officer apparently was unaware of who Dylan is and asked him for identification, Long Branch business administrator Howard Woolley said Friday.
"I don't think she was familiar with his entire body of work," Woolley said.
The incident began at 5 p.m. when a resident said a man was wandering around a low-income, predominantly minority neighborhood several blocks from the oceanfront looking at houses.
The police officer drove up to Dylan, who was wearing a blue jacket, and asked him his name. According to Woolley, the following exchange ensued:
"What is your name, sir?" the officer asked.
"Bob Dylan," Dylan said.
"OK, what are you doing here?" the officer asked.
"I'm on tour," the singer replied.
A second officer, also in his 20s, responded to assist the first officer. He, too, apparently was unfamiliar with Dylan, Woolley said.
The officers asked Dylan for identification. The singer of such classics as "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Blowin' in the Wind" said that he didn't have any ID with him, that he was just walking around looking at houses to pass some time before that night's show.
The officers asked Dylan, 68, to accompany them back to the Ocean Place Resort and Spa, where the performers were staying. Once there, tour staff vouched for Dylan.
The officers thanked him for his cooperation.
"He couldn't have been any nicer to them," Woolley added.
How did it feel? A Dylan publicist did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Friday.
Another story that makes me feel old. The cops were so young that they'd never heard of Bob Dylan? That's quite a generation gap. Of course, when you record an album of Christmas songs (see my earlier post) you're destined to slip into obscurity.