Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Found One

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall asked this rhetorical question today:

Rep. Alan Grayson delivered a speech last night in which he made some really over the top comments -- namely that the Republican plan for health care is a) don't get sick and b) if you do get sick, die quickly. I'm not going to defend that. But is this really a controversy when half the Republican elected [officials] in the country have been saying for the last couple months, as a statement of purported fact, that the Democrats want to institute 'death panels' that will euthanize or deny care to people who can't justify their lives on utilitarian grounds?


And what reporters are stupid enough not to point this out?

Gimme A Break
First of all, from my perspective the only thing "over the top" about Rep. Grayson's statement was that he implied that wasn't the Democratic plan.

Second, it didn't take Marcy Wheeler long to find a reporter stupid enough:

George Stephanopoulos, clutching his pearls, wants to know why it was necessary for Alan Grayson to call out Republicans on the floor of the House for their stubborn defense of the status quo failed health care in this country (note, in his post, Steph uses Eric Cantor's YouTube of this speech, which ought to tell you on whose behalf he decided to cover this).

George Steph Wrings His Hands
Grayson said nothing worse than I've written here, and countless other citizens have written as well. He gets it. Neither Josh Marshall nor George Stephanopolous appear to. That Stephanopolous doesn't is not too surprising, for reasons Marcy pointed out. That Marshall doesn't get it is.

So, let me just explain the obvious for the obtuse - these aren't equivalent statements. Republican charges about their being death panels were made up out of thin air. Grayson's comments are backed by the facts - more than 25,000 people die in this country every year because they don't have adequate health care. Those are real dead people.

The government covers health care costs of the third of this country that's at highest risk already: the military, the elderly, via Medicare, and the poor, via Medicaid. It also covers children via SCHIP. The insurance industry has failed miserably to cover the remaining population adequately, even though it is far more expensive than Medicare. It has let many of those 25,000 die, and it will continue to if the current intent of the President and Congress comes to fruition.

Caption: A young woman whose brother has a disease that's treatable, but potentially fatal if left untreated. Do you think she gives a shit whether a congressman said that some of his colleagues don't care about whether people like him can get health care?

Image credit: Screen shot of this MoveOn video by Cujo359

I'm tired of the gutlessness of the debate on this issue. Real people are dying real deaths because the prostitutes and con artists who are running things don't want to give up their campaign money. If that's not genteel enough an argument for you, then you clearly aren't suffering from the situation.

UPDATE: Just received an e-mail from Darcy Burner's mailing list:

Last night here in this chamber I gave a speech. I'm not going to recount every single thing that I said, but I will point out that immediately after that speech, several Republicans asked me to apologize.

Well, I would like to apologize. I would like to apologize to the dead. And here's why.

According to this study, "Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults" which was published two weeks ago, 44,789 Americans die every year because they have no health insurance. That's right, 44,789 Americans die every year, according to this Harvard study called "Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults." You can see it by going to our website,

That is more than ten times the number of Americans who have died in the war in Iraq. It's more than ten times the number of Americans who died in 9/11. But that was just once: this is every single year.

That's right: every single year.

Take a look at this. Read it and weep. And I mean that - read it and weep because of all these Americans who are dying because they don't have health insurance.

Now I think we should do something about that, and the Democratic healthcare plan does do something about that. It makes healthcare affordable for those who can't afford insurance, and it saves these peoples' lives.

Let's remember that we should care about people even after they're born.

So I call upon the Democratic members of the House, I call upon the Republican members of the House, I call upon all of us to do our jobs for the sake of America - for the sake of those dying people and their families.

I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven't voted sooner to end this holocaust in America.
Here's a YouTube of the speech. We need about 400 more of this guy in Congress.

The 25,000 dead I refer to is from a different study. Going from memory, I think it was the World Health Organization that came up with that one. I'll check later when I have time. Or, you can click on the health care keyword and see where I linked to that or a similar figure.

UPDATE 2 (Oct. 1): The study was produced by the Institute of Medicine. It said that 22,000 people had died in 2006, up from 18,000 in 2000. Projecting out would suggest that about 24,000 people will die this year from not being insured.

I use this study's numbers not because I think it's better, but because it's the more conservative number. If that estimate is wrong, it's probably too small, not too large.

Yes, I found that link on TPM.

(Also added the photo and caption.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Senate Finance Committee Kills Public Option Amendments

This doesn't strike me as too terribly surprising:

The Rockefeller Amendment

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) proposed a robust public option, with funding tied to Medicare rates. The final vote was not close -- every Republican on the panel voted against it, as did Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Tom Carper (Del.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), and Bill Nelson (Fla.). Of those, Carper's opposition came as something of a surprise, as did Nelson's vote.

The final vote, then, was eight to 15.

The Schumer Amendment

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was certainly on board with Rockefeller's proposal, offered a different plan, generally called the "level playing field" approach to the public option, similar to what the Senate HELP Committee already passed. Under this proposal, instead of tying the public option's rates to Medicare, HHS would negotiate with providers, just as private insurers do.
The committee just voted, and defeated Schumer's measure, 10 to 13. Two Dems who voted against the Rockefeller Amendment -- Bill Nelson and Tom Carper -- switched to support this approach, but Baucus, Conrad, and Lincoln still voted with the GOP.

Finance Committee Votes On Public Option

Any reasonable public option for the bill before the Senate Finance Committee was killed by these votes.

Blanche Lincoln, one of the targets of the vote like a Democrat campaign, does not appear to have been swayed by it. The time for recriminations is later, but this vote should have consequences for her down the line.

At this point the Finance Committee's bill (PDF), the one written by Max Baucus with input mostly from the people who shouldn't be writing a bill, will do more harm than good. This bill includes health insurance mandates for individuals:

Personal Responsibility Requirement. Beginning in 2013, all U.S. citizens and legal residents would be required to purchase coverage through (1) the individual market, a public program such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Children‘s Health Insurance Program, Veteran‘s Health Care Program, or TRICARE or through an employer (or as a dependent of a covered employee) in the small group market, meeting at least the requirements of a bronze plan, or (2) in the large group market, in a plan with first dollar coverage for prevention-related services as recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – except in cases where value-based insurance design is used and cannot have a maximum out-of-pocket limit greater than that provided by the standards established for HSA current law limit. Exemptions from the requirement to have health coverage would be allowed for religious objections that are consistent with those allowed under Medicare, and for undocumented aliens. An individual enrolled in a grandfathered plan would be deemed to have met the responsibility requirement.

America's Healthy Future Act (PDF)

[italics from original]

Employers are exempted under the current version of the bill. At the moment, I don't have an objection to that. Neither individuals nor employers should be required to buy bad insurance.

Relying on this government to regulate a well-heeled industry like the insurance industry is equivalent to having no real regulation. People who are sick, particularly if they have potentially fatal diseases or injuries, aren't in a position to fight for the money that health insurance companies should be providing for their care. The government won't do it, as it has proved in the case of the credit, banking, and securities industries.

I suggest that anyone who is interested in having health care when he really needs it should write his Senators today explaining why this is a bad bill.

Monday, September 28, 2009

We're Professional Elitist Bastards

Yes, it's the end of another month, and time for another cruise of the Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards. Here's a video you can use to warm up for your shift:

Dana Hunter has taken the helm this month, and if you want to hang with us, you'll need to be in tune. You'll also need to appreciate an education, I'm afraid. The pirate life is a challenging one.

Yours truly has contributed not one, but two bits of booty to this cruise.

We've Reached The End Of The Alphabet

Caption: Nigerian currency. Note that the column on the right starts with a 2,500,000 dollar note. Inflation has been a problem in Zimbabwe for some time. A year ago, that note would have bought a loaf of bread.

Image credit: Sokanele

Today, I received my first plea for assistance from a country that begins with the letter 'Z':

From: mariam_homond
Date: Sep 28, 2009 9:26 AM
Dear Sir

I am Mrs Mariam Homond of Zimbabwe, wife of late J. Homond a well known farmer and diamond merchant but my husband died of hearth attack after the seizure of all his life times investment in Zimbabwe by the Government of Robert Mugabeand.

And my husband lost nearly all to the Government of Robert Mogarbe but I Thank God my husband was able to transfer the sum of USD55.5million through a deplomatic channel means to one of the Finance Companies outside my country (Zimbabwe) before his death and the money is contained in two treasury boxes which we made the security Company to understand that the money belong to my late husband's customer in your country who will later contact them for onward transfer of the money to him.

Further to this as a matter of importance, please my reason of contacting you,is that I am honestly in need of your assistance to help me and my childrend to transfer the money to your country by standing as my late husband's business partner to whom the money is to be transfered to.

And please note that this following investment in your country for my children upbringing as we are finding a way to leave this country to settle down there in your country and continue our lives.

Kindly do every thing possible to reply this mail through my personal email address: so as to enable me give you the full contact details of the Finance Company where the money is for your immediate transfer to your country.

And be informed also that I have resolved to compensate you with 30% of the total fund for your assistance.

Thanks and God Bless as I urgently await your reply.
Mrs Mariam Homond.

So, I just have to let someone move a large portion of this country's GDP to my bank account, after having e-mailed my particulars to a different e-mail address than the one that sent this missive, and I'll be rolling in Zimbabwean dollars. Sounds easy enough.

While trying to find a picture of Zimbabwean money, I came across this article from May, 2008 on the issuance of a new 500,000,000 dollar note:

So the REAL figure associated with the new $500,000,000 cheque issued today is in fact $500,000,000,000.

Your eyes are not deceiving you - eleven zeros - $500,000,000,000.

The second thing to note is the price of bread. A new $500,000,000 cheque will buy two loaves of bread; but according to the government’s own campaign, one loaf cost a mere $85 in August 2006.

A 500mln bearer cheque (aka ‘bank note’) added to Gono’s portfolio of success

It goes on to say the the new currency had been initiated to divide all prices by a thousand. Unsurprisingly, it hasn't done much good.

Zimbabwe is one of those countries we don't hear very much about, thanks partly to a news blackout that was put in place by their government five years ago and just recently relaxed somewhat. It's also because, even for Africa, Zimbabwe is a place of depressing poverty and corruption. For an example of the latter, Sokanele offers this story from a few weeks ago:

Looking now at the ever-present corruption in Zimbabwe, villagers in the area under Chief Chundu in Hurungwe are being told that they face eviction from their homes after nearly three decades. This is to pave the way towards creating a game park for a safari operations partnership between a Chinese company and Chief Chundu. A local councillor confirmed the villagers' fears but said council had no plans to evict the villagers, many of whom are too old to start a new life. Efforts to talk with or get further information out of the Chief were met with complete indifference: he said that he is Chief and can do as he wants in "his" area.

ZIG Watch : Issue 8

At a time when we can barely help ourselves, it's tough to keep the plight of others in mind. We certainly have our own problems of government corruption and indifference. Still, it's good to bear in mind that other people in the world have their problems, too, and they can sometimes make ours look small in comparison.

UPDATE (Sep. 29): Just to be clear, this e-mail was a scam. That's why one of the keywords for this article is "scam artists". I also assume that none of the people named in it are real people. This is one in a series of such articles. Click the "scam artists" keyword to see others.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thoughts For The Day

No, I'm not here. You never saw me ...

A couple of thoughts for the day, courtesy of a couple of other blogs that are here today. The first is Barack Obama, speaking to the Congressional Black Caucus about health care:

"I was up at the G20 -- just a little aside -- I was up at the G20, and some of you saw those big flags and all the world leaders come in and Michelle and I are shaking hands with them," the president said. "One of the leaders -- I won't mention who it was -- he comes up to me. We take the picture, we go behind.

"He says, 'Barack, explain to me this health care debate.'

"He says, 'We don't understand it. You're trying to make sure everybody has health care and they're putting a Hitler mustache on you -- I don't -- that doesn't make sense to me. Explain that to me.'"

Our Politics Must Seem Strange Abroad ...

They don't make much sense when viewed from here, either.

The other thought is a bit more optimistic, courtesy of Just An Earthbound Misfit:

And so we progress. Within a few centuries, we have gone from being able to travel maybe fifteen miles a day across land (if the roads were tolerable and there was an inn to stop at) to being able to journey from a home in Boston to a relative's home in California in less than a day. We seem stalled at that speed, for the last fifty years, but that will eventually change, as it always does. After all, took nearly two thousand years to get to the point where overland travel was appreciably faster than it was in the height of the Roman Empire.

If we can keep our civilization intact over the following centuries, I do believe that humans will venture to the stars. The technology to do so will be as unimaginable to us today as the inner workings of an aircraft engine would have been to a Sumerian, but provided that we do not destroy ourselves or our habitat on this big blue marble of a planet, the technology will come and we will go to the stars.

The Sky Calls to Us. If We Do Not Destroy Ourselves, We Will, One Day, Venture to the Stars.

We will if we don't destroy ourselves through aggressiveness, stupidity, or indifference first. The title quote, of course, is from Carl Sagan. Comrade EBM has the video embedded in her article.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nothing To See Here

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

I'll be less visible around here the next couple of days. Have a great weekend.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bill Sparkman's Death Still A Mystery

On Wednesday, news reports emerged about Bill Sparkman, a U.S. census worker who died in Clay County, Kentucky under suspicious circumstances. At this moment, little has been determined about the death, as Talking Points Memo reports:

According to an AP report published yesterday, the FBI is working with state police to determine whether this was a homicide, as is believed, and if so, whether it was motivated by anti-government sentiment. An anonymous law enforcement official told the AP that the man was found hanging from a tree with the word "fed" written on his chest.
But the motivation behind the killing -- if indeed it was a killing -- is not clear at this point.
A spokesman for the Kentucky police told TPMmuckraker last night that police were still looking into death, that an autopsy has been scheduled, and no cause of death has yet been listed.

And the commander of the state police post handling the case told the Lexington Herald-Leader today that the police hadn't confirmed it was a homicide. "There are too many unanswered questions for us to lean one way or the other," she said. "Every scenario is still on the table. We have not ruled this is a hate crime against a federal employee."

Census Worker Found Dead In Kentucky -- What Do We Know?

At the moment, not enough has been determined about this case to merit assumptions about whether this is even a homicide, let alone a hate crime. For instance, Marcy Wheeler reminds us that there are other possible motives for murdering a federal worker whose work can affect things like voting:

Before we assume that this apparent homicide was a response solely to the attacks Michele Bachmann and others have made on the census, it's worth recalling how Clay County made news earlier this year, when a bunch of local officials were indicted for vote fraud.

Vote Fraud in Clay County and the Hanged Census Worker

Mainly, though, there's not enough evidence to draw any conclusions, and it's quite possible that details reported by the press aren't even accurate. Factual errors are typical of initial reports. Speculation about the influence of Michelle Bachmann or Rush Limbaugh in this case is a classic case of molestus hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning - i.e. it's annoying, therefore it has caused this to happen. I think that speculation about whether Republican or conservative rhetoric is responsible for this death is premature and not helpful.

UPDATE (Sept. 25): TPM Muckraker reports that the coroner confirms that the word "Fed" was written on Sparkman's chest. There is still no word that I can see (as of noon PDT) that this has been ruled a homicide.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Power Lines And Blackberries

Here are some pictures I took of the BPA Trail today. For those of you who don't recognize it, the BPA Trail is a trail through the city of Federal Way, WA. It runs along the route of some power transmission lines between Federal Way and Tacoma. "BPA" stands for the Bonneville Power Administration, the government utility that runs these lines.

[Click on the photos to see a larger version.]

Image credit for all photos: Cujo359

You may possibly notice some of the transmission lines in these photos...

This is a view from the top of a hill that isn't normally part of the trail, but my adventures this summer have taught me that I need to climb hills more often, and this hill has a lovely view of the transmission lines.

Here's another section of the trail, with some of the local vegetation on display. The area under the power lines is allowed to grow brush, but not trees. In that area, blackberries, scotch broom, and purple loosestrife battle for supremacy. I like the flowers on the loosestrife, so I suppose I'm pulling for them. The blackberries aren't bad, though.

This is where the trail meets 4th Ave. SW. Look, transmission lines! Not to mention a transmission tower with cell phone and microwave relay antennas.

The trail continues on the other side of the avenue, but we're not going that way today.

Instead, we head up 4th Ave. SW, toward the mini-mall. This is actually one of the more pleasant residential districts in Federal Way. It was apparently a planned community. There are apartments, houses, the mini-mall, and offices within walking distance of each other. Much of Federal Way is just tract housing. This little section is more like how it ought to be, I think.

That's where the tour ends today. Seeing too much of the BPA Trail has been known to cause drowsiness in lab rats, so we don't want to take the chance that you're on the road right now.

Ummm. Happy trails.

Please, Tell Me There's Video Of This

Not too long ago, I wrote that I was really starting to like Sen. Al Franken. It's still early in his career, of course. He could go off the rails and turn into a lefty Jim Bunning or a lefty Arlen Specter. But somehow, I don't think that's going to happen.

Today, while the Senate Judiciary Committee was interviewing a Department of Justice official about the Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment:

Franken, who opened by acknowledging that unlike most of his colleagues in the Senate, he’s not a lawyer, but according to his research “most Americans aren’t lawyers” either, said he’d also done research on the Patriot Act and in particular, the “roving wiretap” provision that allows the FBI to get a warrant to wiretap a an unnamed target and his or her various and changing cell phones, computers and other communication devices.


“That’s pretty explicit language,” noted Franken, asking [DoJ Assistant Attorney General David] Kris how the “roving wiretap” provision of the Patriot Act can meet that requirement if it doesn’t require the government to name its target.

Al Franken Reads the 4th Amendment to Justice Department Official

I'll get to the DoJ official's response in a moment, but first I should probably quote the amendment, which doesn't get mentioned often enough to suit me:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The part I emphasized is the part Franken emphasized, which explicitly says that the persons and things to be seized must be explicitly identified. The PATRIOT Act tries to make it legal to tap someone without identifying him by name. Incredibly, as the DoJ witness pointed out, this appears to be OK with the courts:

Kris looked flustered and mumbled that “this is surreal,” apparently referring to having to respond to Franken’s question. “I would defer to the other branch of government,” he said, referring to the courts, prompting Franken to interject: “I know what that is.”

Kris explained that the courts have held that the law’s requirements that the person be described, though not named, is sufficient to meet the demands of the Constitution. That did not appear to completely satisfy Franken’s concerns.

Al Franken Reads the 4th Amendment to Justice Department Official

Franken seems to be able to take nonsense with good humor, which is a good thing. He's going to hear a lot of it in his new job. Kris's answer, technically speaking, is correct, but it's yet another reason that I say the Obama Administration is effectively no different from the Bush Administration on this point.

As I say, it's early in Franken's career. Nevertheless, I wish we had about fifty more Al Frankens in the Democratic Senate Caucus right now.

(h/t Earthbound Misfit)

Limited Time Only

Updated at 7:10 PM PDT

Updated at 11:30 PM PDT, Sept. 24

Caption: Rachel Maddow models a Razorback hat for, oh, just watch the video.

Image credit: Screenshot of MSNBC program The Rachel Maddow Show by Cujo359

This campaign has reached its goal. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

FireDogLake is running another health care-related campaign, and there's a short suspense this time. I'll just quote the ActBlue page to explain the goal:

Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Rep. Mike Ross are doing the bidding of the insurance industry to block the public health insurance option. But a majority of all Arkansans, and 80% of Arkansas Democrats, support a public option. Lincoln and Ross are out of touch with their constituents, and out of touch with the Democratic Party.

We want to air this ad in Arkansas, where 60% of Arkansas Democrats statewide and nearly 100% of Democrats in Mike Ross's district will see it over and over again for two weeks on prime time network TV.

Tell Blanche Lincoln and Mike Ross to Act Like Democrats

Jane Hamsher explains why time is short:

Meanwhile, our Mike Ross/Blanche Lincoln "Act Like Democrats" ad (above) started running in Arkansas today, and will play this weekend at the start of the Razorback game. We need about $4500 to finish off paying for the 2 week buy that will be seen on network TV approximately 10 times by almost every Democrat in Ross's district.

CREW Files Complaint Against Mike Ross

Rep. Ross (AR-04) in particular is an example of the effect that corruption in Congress is having on the health care reform effort. Back in 2007, Ross sold the pharmacy he owned for far more than it was worth:

But the $420,000 that USA Drug paid for the pharmacy’s building and land was just the beginning of what Ross and his wife, Holly, made from the sale of Holly’s Health Mart. USA Drug owner Stephen L. LaFrance Sr. also paid the Rosses $500,000 to $1 million for the pharmacy’s assets and paid Holly Ross an additional $100,000 to $250,000 for signing a noncompete agreement. Those numbers, which Mike Ross listed on the financial disclosure reports he files as a member of Congress, bring the total value of the transaction to between $1 million and $1.67 million.

And that’s not counting the $2,300 campaign contribution Ross received from LaFrance two weeks after the sale closed.

Mike Ross Raises Eyebrows With Healthy Haul

As the Rachel Maddow video notes, Ross has been a big friend of the insurers and drug companies. That this all sounds rather suspicious is an understatement.

As of this writing, the campaign still needs about $4,100. I've explained the cultural significance of football before, and this Saturday, the University of Arkansas' team will be playing the University of Alabama, which is ranked Number 3. That apparently means they're good at that sort of thing, and lots of people will be inclined to watch them play. So if you happen to have a few bucks of mad money lying around, why not spend it on better health care?

Maybe you could use that money you saved by not buying your drugs at USA Drug. They clearly can't make good choices when they're buying real estate.

UPDATE: Added a lot of information, which thanks to an interruption I don't remember.

UPDATE 2 (Sep. 24): They're still $1,600 short of the goal, so I'll leave this up a little longer. I'll demote it back to its rightful place after the goal has been reached.

UPDATE 3 (Sep. 24): The campaign has reached its goal. Well, they're $50 short, out of $78,000. I'll count that as having made it. There will be other campaigns like this soon, so if you haven't contributed to this one yet, wait. This is not your last opportunity, I'm sure.

From Around The Internet

It's a slow day today. I'm trying to write a letter to one of my congresscritters. It's already far longer than anything she or her staff will probably read, and it's not done yet. So, meanwhile here are some cool things from around the net. That old joke "Sorry for the length of this letter, but I didn't have time to make it short" comes to mind.

First off, Suzanne at Two Ton Green Blog has a marvelous photo sequence up at her place. I'll give away the ending:

The rest of the story is definitely worth checking out.

At Coffee Stained Writer guest blogger Abi Wurdeman has some great advice for people who want to write for a living, especially if what you want to write is fiction:

This little discovery of mine started out as an excuse. I spent my young young adult years in total resistence of the notion of writing as a career path, largely because I was afraid my life would come to a screeching halt if I tried to make a living from writing. Yes, writing fills my soul and teaches me about myself and enables me to reach strangers on the other side of the country, blah, blah, blah. But I always had this image that if I wrote, I (who am already inclined toward excessive solitude) would end rotting away in a dank corner of some dark apartment, breaking myself away from my computer screen only long enough to make conversation with my own thoughts. Was that the life I wanted?
This is how my blog, Hollywood Back Roads, was born. I set a goal to visit a lesser-known area of Southern California every weekend and blog about it the following week. It was practical. I could get out and explore all in the name of gathering expertise in a specfic area. After all, a beginning writer cannot support herself on fiction alone, and if I was going to be an expert on something, it might as well be something that got me out of the house.

That was a good call, since getting out of the house changes everything.

Something Worth Writing

I'll just add a thought that you also want to get as much education as you can. Learn mathematics (and by that I mean calculus, statistics, and computer programming), physics, chemistry, biology. In short, learn as much as you possibly can about the world we live in and how we learn more about it. My friend and occasional blog adversary Dana Hunter lives that advice, as you can see from her last Sunday Science article:

One thing Arizona doesn't lack is rocks. We've got nearly every type of rock on earth, plus a big one from space. And they're not buried under a bunch of inconvenient vegetation. They're right out in plain sight. For the geologist, Arizona is utter paradise.

I did some rockhounding in my home state, and subjected you to the results in Arts & Cats I, II & III. You even got to see my horrible attempt at photographing the completed collection:

Now comes the science part, which is a hell of a lot more interesting than just looking at someone's random collection of rocks. We'll be discussing a select sampling, delving into deep time and discovering how little (well, mostly big) rocks are made.

And, yes, there will be a cat involved.

Arizona Rockhounding

Moonsets, writing, science, and cats - it's more than I've got at the moment, that's for sure.

I'm going outside for a while.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Profiles In Stupid: The Strange Case Of The Prince Of Pot

We don't have a pot to piss in, but the government has plenty of money to waste on this, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports:

The days of freedom are just about over for Marc Emery, the Vancouver, B.C., pot activist wanted for four years on U.S. drug charges.

Emery, who has described himself as the Prince of Pot, will surrender to Canadian authorities on Sept, 28, his wife says in her blog.

Then he will be shipped to Seattle, where he is expected to plead guilty as part of a deal with federal prosecutors and be sentenced to five years. He wants to be able to serve the time in Canada.

'Prince of Pot' About To Be Busted

This is unbelievable. Not only did they pay for all the back and forth paperwork for getting the guy here, but then the courtroom time, the lawyers, and five years of jail. All for selling marijuana seeds. This must be close to a million dollars here. All to put a guy away who is selling something less harmful than you can buy in a state-run liquor store.

It was interesting to read the comments on this article. There had to have been at least thirty, mostly from different people. Not one of them thought this was a good idea.

So, except for law enforcement, the jailhouse industry, and pandering politicians, who does?

Upcoming: "The Fund Boeing Act"

It's funny how you don't hear Rush Limbaugh denouncing these guys:

Going after ACORN may be like shooting fish in a barrel lately -- but jumpy lawmakers used a bazooka to do it last week and may have blown up some of their longtime allies in the process.

The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to "any organization" that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) picked up on the legislative overreach and asked the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to sift through its database to find which contractors might be caught in the ACORN net.

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Gumman both popped up quickly, with 20 fraud cases between them, and the longer list is a Who's Who of weapons manufacturers and defense contractors.

Whoops: Anti-ACORN Bill Ropes In Defense Contractors, Others Charged With Fraud

This would probably be a good time to disclose that I've worked for one of the companies mentioned, and have worked on contracts that involve several of the companies on the POGO list. The only thing I find surprising about it is that a congressman asked to have it drawn up.

I think it would be hard to find a major government contractor that wasn't guilty of some such infraction. When the prohibition applies to employees, that net is so wide that it could include any company with more employees than they can watch at once. Not surprisingly then, the list includes another former employer of mine, Boeing.

The act's official name is "The Defund ACORN Act". I wonder how long it will be before the "Fund Boeing Act" is passed.

Of course, that's not the only fun we can have with this. As Steve Benen notes:

The next question, of course, is why ACORN's problems with voter-registration materials are extremely important, while Lockheed Martin's and Northrop Gumman's bad habits are not only considered uninteresting -- to conservatives, to lawmakers, to news outlets -- but largely verboten as a topic of conversation.

Caught In The ACORN Net

Sadly, since one news network is owned by General Electric, who are also on that list, I doubt we'll be hearing about this much there. Fox "News" would seem to have no motivation to point this out. I'm thinking that we might not be hearing much about this on television.

Their reaction to this should demonstrate just how nakedly opportunistic, not to mention hypocritical, the Republican campaign against ACORN is, and how broken our broadcast news business has become.

Monday, September 21, 2009

So, Next Time They'll Do Better?

At a campaign fundraiser for a Democratic U.S. Representative today, Vice President Joe Biden laid out that familiar scary scenario that Democratic politicians always bring up, in one form or another, at fundraisers:

Vice President Biden warned that Republicans will try to "break the back of our effort" in the 2010 elections by trying to win 35 seats from traditionally Republican districts that are now held by Democrats.

Biden: If GOP Takes Back Traditionally Red Seats, It's 'End Of The Road'

What will happen if this dastardly plot succeeds?

"If they take them back, this the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do. This is their one shot," he went on. "If they don't break the back of our effort in this upcoming election, you're going to see the things we said we're for happen."

Biden: If GOP Takes Back Traditionally Red Seats, It's 'End Of The Road'

This will happen, he said, because if they fail this time they'll start being bipartisan.

Several questions occur to me after reading this:

- So, now they're going to do what they set out to do? Having a commanding majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate wasn't enough? They need more time?

- What is it Obama (and Biden) are aiming to do? So far, I haven't heard a damn thing I could write legislation to accomplish. Based on what's happened with the health care reform bills, Congress hasn't been hearing it, either.

- Obama could close Gitmo and the other black sites without any help or permission from Congress. Why aren't they closed yet?

- Republicans are bound to win back some seats in 2010, just based on the fact that the Democrats have accomplished so little and have looked bad doing it. There's also the mid-year curse to consider, when Republicans tend to do better due to their voters' tendency to go to the polls more reliably. What makes Biden think they won't claim victory and press on as they have been? It's only when people have hit rock bottom that they start to think of changing their ways, and not winning all of those seats back doesn't sound like rock bottom to me. What makes Biden so sure they're there yet?

Charlie Brown never did learn that Lucy would never hold the football for him, but most of us, sooner or later, notice when such a pattern is developing. The Democrats have now controlled Congress for almost three years. They haven't accomplished anything besides passing a wimpy stimulus bill, appointing a Supreme Court justice who is a corporate-friendly centrist, and a cap and trade bill for carbon emissions. While the latter is definitely a good thing, I'm really having a tough time reconciling the fact that Democrats comfortably control both houses of Congress and the White House with these paltry accomplishments.

All that's required to be skeptical of Biden's claims is to ask whether they've done what we sent them to Congress to do:

Is the Iraq War ending? No faster than it was planned by President Bush.

Has the rule of law been restored at CIA? Are war crimes, including the clear case of starting a war we had no justification for starting, being investigated? Not in the least.

Is government more open and accountable? Where are those photographs again?

Are the banks and securities industries, which nearly wrecked our economy, now being forced to change their ways? I kill me sometimes ...

Now these guys are hoping that a health care bill will save them, because they haven't accomplished any of the other things we've sent them there to do.

Under the circumstances, the Vice President will just have to excuse my skepticism.

So Long, Christy

Caption: Christy Hardin Smith at the Netroots Nation 2009 panel on the Supreme Court.

Image credit: Cropped from this Eli photo by Cujo359

Christy Hardin Smith, one of the folks I've loved to quote over the years, is calling it quits when it comes to blogging:

As you all know, the last year and a half have been tough on the Smith family. It has been beyond exhausting juggling everything that has been flung our way.

But when you try keeping eighty bazillion balls in the air at one time when you have lupus?

Apparently your body decides to get even with you. And, let's just say, mine is doing so at the moment.
I'm going to have to step away from blogging for a while, because I want to live to see the woman that The Peanut will become as she grows up. And I want to grow old with Mr. ReddHedd, who may just be the best husband on the planet and is most certainly the love of my life.

Pull Up A Chair...

While I don't know the specifics of her condition, it would take a lot of motivation to pull Christy away from the keyboard. I certainly agree with her priorities, not that it should matter what I think.

These last couple of years I haven't been able to read as much of her writing. Other parts of her life have taken priority, and I'm never up early enough to get to the "Pull Up A Chair" thread she moderated every Saturday. I've valued her insights when she could offer them, though, as she occasionally still did on Supreme Court decisions and torture. She also has a dry sense of humor, as this comment to that thread shows:

Morning everyone. I have the world’s loudest cardinal out on my feeder, and the world’s most obsessed cat staring at him…this will end with a head bonk on the glass, I’m certain.

Pull Up A Chair...

So, I'll miss her, and hope that she can find a way to come back and visit from time to time.

Late Change In Afghanistan Strategy

Caption: Construction Representative Robert L. Williams (far right) shows the Cadets a gate at the Ministry of Defense that has some foundation problems and asks them how they would design the foundation to resolve the issue. (Photo by Leslie J. Wright, Capacity Development Program Manager)

Image credit: Leslie J. Wright/U.S. Army

Spencer Ackerman discussed General Stanley McChrystal's operational philosophy for Afghanistan today at The Washington Independent:

That approach is familiar to anyone who read McChrystal’s counterinsurgency guidance or the “metrics” he set out with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. Protect the population. Give the population material reasons to support the Afghan government and NATO. “Prioritize responsive and accountable governance,” which appears like a pipe dream now that Hamid Karzai looks to have stolen an election. Reorganize the NATO command to better fit these missions. Reverse the Taliban’s momentum in the next year — or, he doesn’t say explicitly, mitigate failure. It’s also, as Josh Foust has observed, more of a quantitative change from McChrystal’s predecessor than a qualitative one.

It’s Not Just Resources: McChrystal’s Message to Obama, and to the Military

This strikes me as the proper strategy. In fact, it strikes me as the only strategy that ever plausibly could have worked in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, I just can't get over the feeling that it's about four years too late.

We passed on the "material reasons" idea by invading Iraq for no good reason. That diverted money and resources that could have been used, not only to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and the other Al Qaeda leaders, but to improve the country. As The Globalist's Stephen Richter observed last month:

[I]nstead of focusing its mission on Afghanistan and taking the opportunity to deal with neighboring Pakistan — and, in turn, improving its own tumultuous relations with India — the Bush Administration suffered from outright mission creep and utter delusion when instead it changed its focus to Iraq.

To this day, George Bush's successor, Barack Obama, still struggles with accepting the lesson that an opportunity missed can sadly mean an opportunity lost.

To succeed in the critical and extremely worthy Afghanistan-turnaround mission would have required relentless focus. By turning Afghanistan into a sideshow to the war in Iraq, the execution of that vital mission could not succeed.

Why Afghanistan Is Lost

I can't claim to know what the average citizen of Afghanistan is thinking, but I think if I were one I'd be wondering why the Americans and NATO are still there. I'd probably also be wondering why they don't seem to do anything but blow the place to smithereens.

That's because there's lots more water under the bridge than just a stolen election. The air strikes that Gen. McChrystal has rightly limited have killed wedding parties, our allies' soldiers, and a whole lot of other people. The lack of accountability has honked off Afghanistan's leaders:

A US spokesman said that if "innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologise and express our condolences". But the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, called on the US and its president-elect, Barack Obama, to stop civilian killings.

"Our demand is that there will be no civilian casualties in Afghanistan. We cannot win the fight against terrorism with airstrikes. This is my first demand of the new president of the United States."

US warplanes 'bomb Afghan wedding party'

Short of repeatedly bombing mosques while services are in session, I can't think of a better way to make new enemies than bombing wedding parties. But that isn't the first such incident, nor is it likely to be the last. It hasn't helped us with our allies, either.

It's astonishing that an army that went through a long, failed counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign has not learned this lesson yet, but this isn't like fighting the Wehrmacht. Civilian casualties will come back to haunt you here, and there are already a lot of ghosts in Afghanistan.

So, good strategy though it might be, it's a day late and a dollar short.

UPDATE: Added a (somewhat) expository link for "a lot of ghosts". More than one empire has reached its limits there. Maybe the real reason it's a "burial ground for empires" is that only an empire that had fallen so far that idiots or maniacs run it would try to conquer the place.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Photo

Here's a panorama I created from a couple of photographs of a bridge in the Mercer Slough in Bellevue, Washington:
Image credit: Cujo359

Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Joan Osborne

The other night over at Firedoglake, Suzanne posted a link to this YouTube of Joan Osborne singing "Don't Tell Me How It Ends". It's a decent rendition of the song, which is one of those Kris Kristofferson compositions that are probably best appreciated if they're not experienced too often. I'd heard of Joan Osborne before, but I couldn't have told you what she sang. Then, for some reason, I clicked on this YouTube:

Image credit: Screenshot of this video by Cujo359

All I can say is, wow. I'm a fan now.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Steve Harvey Is An Arrogant Bigot

There have been several times in the last couple of years when I've been moved to write that atheists are the one group in America that it's still OK to hate. Steve Harvey, a guy who is a standup comedian who thinks he is qualified to be a relationships counselor, provided a prime example of this on CNN recently:

BEHAR: Which reminds me, speaking of God, you say in the book that you wouldn't go out with a woman, I guess, a woman should not go out with a man that doesn't believe in God.

HARVEY: No, I mean, why would you?

BEHAR: Do you believe that only people who are religious are ethical and moral?

HARVEY: No. I just believe if you don't believe in God, then where is your moral barometer? That's just me talking. You can believe what you want to believe. But if you're an atheist, you're basing the goodness and morality on what? I mean, but what is an atheist? I don't really get into that. I've talked the people all the time. I'm an atheist. I just walk away. I don't know what to say to you. BEHAR: Well, an atheist is someone that doesn't quite believe that there is somebody out there, some God out there.

HARVEY: Well then to me you're an idiot.

BEHAR: OK. Well ...

HARVEY: I'm cool with that. Probably not the right politically correct thing to say but if you don't believe in God, I mean, really, you have to have an explanation for this. You can't just tell me it spun out of a gastrous (ph) ball and then all of a sudden we were evolved from monkeys. Why we still got monkeys? There is too much open. I just believe that and if you don't believe that, then I don't like talking to you.

BEHAR: I see. OK. Listen. Listen. It's fine with me.

HARVEY: Can you say that on Larry King?

BEHAR: You can say it on any show. It is a free country.

Larry King Show Transcript: May 29, 2009

Yes, he's free to say that. A good question would be why you're free to say that on CNN. He's been on at least once since then. He wouldn't be free to say that about an ethnic minority. He sure wouldn't be free to say that about Christians, but he can say it about atheists.

Steve Harvey is a bigot. Anyone who is willing to believe such things, particularly without having spoken to the people he's disparaging or having read any of their opinions qualifies as one. He must certainly be aware that some of the world's most prominent scientists, who are among the world's smartest people, are atheists. In fact, scientists are far more likely to be atheists than the general population. Yet Harvey, who has never demonstrated an actual mastery of any subject more complicated than a one-liner, dismisses them as "idiots".

I've known some bigots in my life. I've also known people who were not terribly thoughtful. Yet even they, when they are saying things like this, at least have had the grace to sound apologetic or somewhat ashamed of their view. Does Harvey sound apologetic, or embarrassed? The only thing he seemed concerned about is that he wasn't allowed to say what he did on that show. That takes some arrogance.

Normally, I wouldn't bother writing about this bigoted clown. This interview was three months ago, after all. He made the same assertion on Tyra Banks' show a couple of months earlier. I can't find any statement of contrition, apology, or reconsideration on his part. What's more, the sad fact is that a lot of people seem to believe the nonsense Harvey does. Here's a letter someone blessed the Des Moines Register with a few weeks ago, during the controversy about the atheist bus ads:

Having read Rekha Basu's Aug. 12 column, "Culver Sends Message of Unacceptance," I am perplexed by the logical inconsistencies atheists habitually live with. The aggrieved tone of the atheists' letter to Gov. Chet Culver indicates that they believe he did something wrong.

What does that even mean to an atheist? If there is no God and no absolute moral standards, then right and wrong, good and bad, mean nothing but "things I like" and "things I don't like."

A logically consistent atheist cannot make moral judgments of any kind about anything.

Atheists Can't Make Moral Judgments

By way of background, I covered Culver's comments last month. This writer, as you may have observed, has no problems with logic. He simply hasn't offered any.

What's more, it's clear that he's stumped as to why people would be offended when the governor of their state takes offense at their announcing that they exist.

I have a suggestion for this guy, Steve Harvey, and any other pig-ignorant bigot who wants to assert something like this without a shred of proof. Go to college. A lot. Study biology, physics, mathematics, and cosmology. When you know biology as well as this guy, know physics as well as this guy, mathematics as well as this fellow, or the cosmos as well as this man did, then maybe you'll have learned enough to show why there's a physical or mathematical reason why people can't learn morality without believing in your god. Maybe you can tell all those other "idiots" who missed it what they were doing wrong. Personally, I think you have about as much chance of that as you do of being struck by lightning with a winning Powerball ticket in your hand. Maybe less.

Why do I write that they're "pig-ignorant"? It's because you don't really have to resort to physical or mathematical proofs to show that morality can exist without believing in a Christian god. Societies all over the world have managed to develop prohibitions against murder, theft, lying, and adultery, which are most of the things covered by the Ten Commandments that don't have to do with how to worship. Yes, they don't get all the details right, like whether one is allowed to drink alcohol or eat sausages and cheeseburgers, but they got the basics down without believing in the god of Jews, Christians, or Muslims. In fact some don't believe in gods at all.

So, whether you accept that there is no physical reason why people can't have morality without gods, there's clear empirical evidence that it isn't necessary. Maybe there's some innate morality we all have. Maybe there's an evolutionary pressure on societies that makes the unstable ones disappear. Maybe people just figure out one day that stoning people for eating cheeseburgers isn't a cool way to run a society. Whatever the reason, it clearly isn't belief in Steve Harvey's bearded guy in the sky.

So, the man is ignorant as well as a bigot. That doesn't stop television people from putting him on the air. As long as that continues to be true, I suppose the best thing is for more of us to write about what a tiresome asshole he is until he learns better.

As arrogant and ignorant as he is, my guess is that it will be a long, long time.

(h/t Greg Laden)

Truer Words...

Frank Schaeffer on why the Republican Party and the Right need to stop pandering to fundamentalist Christians of the sort who think that President Obama is the anti-Christ:

You don't move them off this position. You move past them ... The village cannot reorganize village life to suit the village idiot.

When people are as unwilling as fundamentalist Christians have become to learn anything that doesn't conform to their narrow religious beliefs, you really do have to move past them. When one major party is in thrall to these idiots, and the other dares not offend them, you have a recipe for disaster. You cannot make policy to please the least informed and most incurious segment of your society.

UPDATE (Sep. 21): Finally fixed that link about Obama being the anti-christ. Apologies to anyone who tried to click on that link, ended up back at SnS, and wondered what the heck that was about.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In The Birthplace Of The American Print Industry

Image credit: The Franklin Institute

That rumbling you hear is Ben Franklin turning in his grave. The Free Library of Philadelphia, one of the oldest and biggest in the country, is closing its doors thanks to a budgetary crisis in Pennsylvania:

All Free Library of Philadelphia Customers,

We deeply regret to inform you that without the necessary budgetary legislation by the State Legislature in Harrisburg, the City of Philadelphia will not have the funds to operate our neighborhood branch libraries, regional libraries, or the Parkway Central Library after October 2, 2009.

FLP Closing

Philadelphia's most famous citizen almost started the print and news business in this country singlehandedly, by importing and then selling at rock-bottom prices the printing presses used to publish the colonies' first newspapers and handbills. Now, its public library is closing its doors, because politicians can't seem to do the right thing.

The supplemental budget for states and municipalities in the stimulus bill passed last April was, by any reasonable standard, wholly inadequate. But, as crankylitprof explains, that's not the only level of government that's failing:

Why is it closing? because the douchetards in Harrisburg, PA, led by their miserable, wretched, disingenuous, cheese steak-snarfling fat fuck of a “Governor,” Ed Rendell, can’t manage to pull a budget out of their gaping, wart-raddled, pecker-ridden asses.

Is Ben Franklin Gonna Have To Smack A Bitch?

For those not familiar with Pennsylvania dialects, allow me to interpret. The PA legislature has been avoiding passing a budget for some time. Thanks to their inaction, Philadelphia is having to close the library system, not to mention laying off police and firemen, and setting 1000 traffic signals to flashing (PDF) by mid-October. It can fairly be observed, as crankylitprof does, that the Philadelphia city council and mayor aren't depleting their staff very much, but there's plenty more blame to be spread at the state level.

These disputes nearly always come down to taxes, and this seems to be no exception. Tax revenues are down everywhere, and states have to balance their budgets. PA has a much lower tax rate than Delaware's (about 71% of Delaware's in 2005), New Jersey's (79%), New York's (82%), and Maryland's (92%). Of its neighbors, only Ohio has a (slightly) lower per capita state tax level. There has to be some wiggle room there. Yet the state legislature seems unwilling to bite the bullet.

This economic crisis has been largely due to the federal governments refusal to act when it would have made a difference, and refusing to do enough afterward. I suppose expecting a state legislature, particularly Pennsylvania's, to be any different is unrealistic.

(h/t Earthbound Misfit)

"No, Really. Who Did It?"

Caption: The astonishing genetic diversity of the Joe Wilson family on display.

Image credit: YouTube screenshot by Cujo359

Some bits of humor from here and there around the web:

Bloggess found a special mushroom and went from there on a wild stream-of-consciousness ride.

Jason Rosenbaum and the Billionaires for Wealth Care thank the people who are making the country safe for obscene health care profit.

But the funniest thing I've seen this morning was a new commercial that allegedly is coming out in support of congressional designated screamer Joe Wilson's re-election campaign:

"I said, 'Joe, who's the nut that hollered out, "You lie" or "You liar?" And he goes, 'It was me.', and I said 'No really. Who did it?'. I couldn't believe that Joe had said that."

Roxanne Wilson Is Proud To Stand With Joe (YouTube)

She goes on to say that her husband is very passionate, not to mention hard working, loves his family, all the stuff you'd expect from a guy who hollers nonsense in the middle of a joint session of Congress.

I'm not sure how much help that advertisement is going to be, but it's a needed shot of comic relief.

UPDATE: Image credit: YouTube screenshot by Cujo359

Getting back to intentional humor - Skeptic Society founder Michael Shermer tries to talk his way past Mr. Deity into heaven. Unfortunately, there's just one deadly sin he ... just watch the video.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Where Do They Find These People?

A blog called Look At This Teabagger has been collecting photos of teabaggers at various events. There are some real gems:

Considering that the USSR never had czars, that's a fairly trivial point there, Jethro.

Proof that Fox "News" keeps Americans better infromed than other cable news channels:

I can't wait to see the ad campaign this inspires...

Irrational America

Caption: A sign seen at the "Million50K Moron March" last weekend.

Image credit: Mule Breath

Just a couple of examples of how irrational political discourse is becoming in America.

The first is from David Sirota at Open Left:

Yes, last night I received a full-on death threat from a person promising to kill me if I dare discuss the racial undertones of the froth that Glenn Beck and other political terrorists are clearly encouraging. I went through the process of contacting the authorities, and the police responded very quickly, which was reassuring. The whole episode speaks to a post I did last week about the Nation of Assholes - and it is demoralizing.
Mind you, though, willful ignorance is not the exclusive purview of the right. Over the weekend, I received some very nasty email and Twitter messages from self-declared "progressives" insisting that the news of a UnitedHealth lobbyist holding a fundraiser with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is a conspiracy theory that I fabricated, not really connected to Pelosi or the Democratic Party, or some amalgamation of both. These people have no actual evidence to support their claims - their attacks on me come from a sick form of sycophancy that makes them absolutely unable to do anything other than deify Democratic poltiicians. Again, there are none so blind as those who cannot see.

On Racism, Death Threats, & The Blindness Of Those Who Will Not See

It's demoralizing alright, even more demoralizing than trying to post a comment at "Open" Left. I gave up after the tenth attempt. Their POS software is yet another reason they're not on the blogroll here. At least I can ignore them. Ignoring the loud-mouthed bigots who seem to be the ones monopolizing the debate on health care is another matter.

The national discourse really is coarsening. It's coarsening for any number of reasons, but I think one of the things you have to look at is what people are watching these days. Even news discussion shows tend to be shouting matches, and news shows themselves are remarkably uninformative. This is where most people get their information in America, and it's a lousy place to try to find any.

Our other example today comes courtesy of Rep. Eric Massa (NY-29). This is a letter he received recently from a constituent:

From: Dr. M. M., MD
Zip: 14618

President Obama is a liar. The face that Joe Wilson chose to state that fact during Obama's speech is irrelevant to me. It is a fact that illegal aliens receive free health care in emergency departments all across this country. There is a federal law mandating that anyone presenting to the emergency department MUST BE SEEN under penalty of law. No provision was made by the government to compensate Physicians or Hospitals for the care they are forced to provide. Forced labor without compensation is slavery and outlawed by the Constitution of the United States.

Before I quote Rep. Massa's reply, I'll just interject that if this is the definition of slavery, a lot of people in this country are in trouble. Lawyers are expected to do pro bono work. That means "free". In my profession, uncompensated overtime is a hazard just about anywhere. Even in medicine, there are times when a doctor will have to work for free. None of us likes to do this more than occasionally, but it's a fact of life for a professional.

Furthermore, if this doctor were on salary at a hospital, he'd probably be compensated for his time whether the patients could pay or not. Since he's apparently billing a hospital for his services, perhaps Dr. M.M. should consider that lawyer phrase "pro bono" and what it means to someone who is an independent contractor.

So, at a minimum, I'm thinking that all my past employers, most court systems, and a whole lot of professional organizations are in trouble if this guy's definition of slavery ever becomes law. And in case you're wondering, I don't want any of my former employers to go to jail.

Meanwhile, Rep. Massa responded with this:

From: Eric Massa

Dear Doctor,

It saddens me to hear educated people in this country, a country that I defended with my life for more than two decades, endorse and propagate emails like yours.

Let me be exceptionally clear, I disagree with you - and both you and Congressman Wilson are wrong.

The President, with whom I have many policy disagreements, did not lie. He stated that there was nothing in the current legislation that provided funding for health care for illegal residents of this country. He is right - there is not.

As you correctly stated, there is a long-standing law that requires that all persons receive some basic level of care at an emergency room. In many states that care is now a referral to an outpatient clinic or other less expensive facility. The fact that the emergency room is the only place for so many to go - legal residents and illegal residents - is one of the core problems that we have in this country today. Would you turn someone away following a broken arm suffered while working on a farm? Would you say "sorry" after an auto accident? Do you really think that those who toil in the shadows seek to appear in front of you to suffer your scorn and disdain? Since when did a physician become a social judge and jury in the emergency room?

Should we enforce our immigration laws so that millions are not here illegally - yes. Should we make the emergency room the point of enforcement - no. We clearly disagree on this and I doubt we will ever reconcile that difference.

I am frankly shocked that you, a medical doctor, would equate providing medical care to those who cannot afford it, to forced slavery. This is absolutely outrageous, and an insult to all who have suffered under the scourge of slavery.

I am proud to know dozens of doctors who have travel the United States and the World seeking out the destitute, the poor and yes, even those who are right here among us, harvesting our food in the shadows of our legal system in order to provide care for them. These doctors represent the best among us and are model to hold up to our youth.

You, based on the statements in your email, are not.

I took an oath to defend your right to make the statements you make, while you as a medical doctor took and oath "to do no harm". I uphold mine to the best of my ability, do you? Your comments only reinforce the debased and disgraced political forces that were so clearly illustrated by an indefensible outburst on the floor of the House by a Congressman who has already apologized.

I would offer the observation that one should be careful when calling another a liar ... especially when that accusation is not based on fact. Please know that if you are a constituent in the 29th Congressional District I hope you publicly campaign against me thus virtually guaranteeing my re-election.

Eric Massa

I love the closing. If we lived in a country of rational people, I suspect he'd be correct. Under the circumstances, though, I'm worried.

I'm sure we'll have more examples of irrational public discourse in the coming days. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Incidentally, Rep. Massa's correspondent is apparently a rare exception among doctors:

When polled, "nearly three-quarters of physicians supported some form of a public option, either alone or in combination with private insurance options," says Dr. Salomeh Keyhani. She and Dr. Alex Federman, both internists and researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, conducted a random survey, by mail and by phone, of 2,130 doctors. They surveyed them from June right up to early September.

Most doctors — 63 percent — say they favor giving patients a choice that would include both public and private insurance. That's the position of President Obama and of many congressional Democrats. In addition, another 10 percent of doctors say they favor a public option only; they'd like to see a single-payer health care system. Together, the two groups add up to 73 percent.

Poll Finds Most Doctors Support Public Option

What's not too shocking is that doctors prefer billing the government:

Keyhani says doctors already have experience with government-run health care, with Medicare. And she says the survey shows that, overall, they like it. "We've heard a lot about how the government is standing in between patients and their physician," Keyhani says. "And what we can see is that physicians support Medicare. So I think physicians have sort of signaled that a public option that's similar in design to Medicare would be a good way of ensuring patients get the care that they need."

Poll Finds Most Doctors Support Public Option

In other words, one of the more ridiculous of the many ridiculous charges from the anti-reform side of this debate is that a public option will put the government between us and our doctors. If anything, doctors agree there will be less interference than they get from private insurers.

(h/t Scarecrow at FireDogLake)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Widget Is Retired

After raising more than $415,000 dollars, it's time to take down the "Reward Those Who Stand Up For Health Care" widget. There are many reasons for this, but I think I can boil them down to two:

* No one else is contributing to this thing

* The people who sponsored it aren't even advertising on their sites anymore.

So, down it goes. Thank you to everyone who participated. I think that in the coming weeks there will be new ways to spend those extra bucks. For now, hold onto them.

What We're Not Getting: Redux

Updated Sept. 14

Yes, kids, you're privileged to be living in a time like this, when political giants roam the land, crafting legislation to make the country and the world a better place. Our leaders head vast departments of trained and capable uniformed and civil servants who explore the limits of knowledge and technology, defend the land, end racism, and reduce poverty.

Umm, sorry, I was dreaming about the 1960s again ...

Instead, what we're being treated to is another round of moral pygmies urinating on each other, and then doing whatever the pygmies with the most money decide. On Friday, two days after the President's speech on health care, the other shoe finally dropped on the chances of having a public option:

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate on Thursday signaled their willingness to drop a government run public health insurance option from a final health-care bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in comments at separate news conferences, said they would support any provision that increases competition and accessibility for health insurance –whether or not it is the public option favored by most Democrats.

They spoke the day after President Barack Obama called the public option a preferred but non-essential element of overhauling the nation's ailing health-care system. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday that the president's speech the night before to a joint session of Congress "reiterated the public option is not the be-all, end-all in health-care reform."

Pelosi, who said as recently as Tuesday that a public option was essential for passing a health-care bill in the House, on Thursday used language on the issue similar to Obama's speech.

Democratic Leaders In Congress Soften On Public Option

What changed Pelosi's mind from two days earlier, when there was no way that a bill would pass without a public option? David Sirota thinks he knows:

This announcement came just hours before Steve Elmendorf, a registered UnitedHealth lobbyist and the head of UnitedHealth's lobbying firm Elmendorf Strategies, blasted this email invitation throughout Washington, D.C. I just happened to get my hands on a copy of the invitation from a source[.]

Elmendorf is a registered lobbyist for UnitedHealth, and his firm's website brags about its work for UnitedHealth on its website (Elmendorf was also a chief of staff for Democratic Minority Leader Dick Gephardt).

The sequencing here is important: Pelosi makes her announcement and then just hours later, the fundraising invitation goes out. Coincidental? I'm guessing no - these things rarely ever are.

EXCLUSIVE: UnitedHealth Lobbyist Announces Pelosi Fundraiser As She Begins Backing Off Pub Option

Could it be that Pelosi sold us out for some big bucks from a health care provider? Maybe. Or maybe she thinks she sees writing on the wall and is just cashing in.

Nothing is as certain to happen soon as when Nancy Pelosi says it will never happen. Except maybe that she'll find a way to demonstrate her utter contempt for the public shortly thereafter.

Senator Reid added further confusion yesterday:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Thursday endorsed the concept of non-profit insurance cooperatives that are at the heart of a highly anticipated health care bill being negotiated in the Finance Committee.

The Nevada Democrat reiterated his support for a so-called public option, which would create a government-sponsored entity to compete along private insurers, but said that a public option is “in the eye of the beholder.” Reid said that a public option is intended to create competition and drive prices down and keep insurance companies from conspiring to drive up prices.

Harry Reid: Public Option In Eye Of Beholder

Now, just for those who might be confused here, let me just clarify something - co-ops are not a public option. A public option is publicly financed. Co-ops would be groups of insurance companies, probably for-profit insurance companies. That means that the overhead will be several times the overhead of a publicly-financed insurance program.

To give Reid credit, he's never been a strong proponent of the public option. Now, he seems to be relishing the role of trying to put lipstick on the co-ops pig. Let's hope reports that he's in danger of losing his office next year are true. I, for one, am not lifting a finger to stop that from happening.

It's only been three months since I predicted, in what I can only describe as a particularly drained and pessimistic state, that all this would happen. I hate it when I'm right, because I'm never right about things going well.

UPDATE: Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler has reached a similar conclusion about Nancy Pelosi's change of heart:

[N]ot two weeks ago, Pelosi insisted that a health care bill without a strong public option would not pass the House. That statement was of a piece with similar statements she'd made for weeks, which were based on the progressives' insistence that health care reform's passage depended on the public option.

In other words, since meeting with Obama--who's been notably solicitous of Senate moderates, and notably dismissive of House progressives--her public language has softened notably.

Today, Pelosi's Communication's Director Brendan Daly says "The Speaker remains firmly committed to the public option and will continue to fight for its inclusion."

There's a lot more wiggle room in there than there is in saying 'no public option, no bill.'

Does Pelosi's Softening Rhetoric Spell Doom for the Public Option?

This is how progressive causes are undermined in Congress - by the slow, almost imperceptible changes in rhetoric that encourage the opposition that they will prevail. It just happened, folks, and the only question is whether progressives will stand for it this time.