Friday, July 31, 2009

The Naked Pandering to the Gun Lobby

HR 3200: the House Health Care Deform bill

by hipparchia

So the House's 815-page draft became a 1018-page bill -- optimistically named ''America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009'' -- , and the process isn't even finished yet. I see that lambert beat me to it, but since his HR 676 link is bad, I'll just point it out again anyway: HR 676, Medicare for All, is 30 pages, which itself looks positively prolix compared to the 13-page Canada Health Act.

So far I've only made it through the first 215 pages -- DIVISION A—AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE CHOICES -- which covers the Health Insurance Exchanges, the plans to be offered therein, "shared responsibility", and modifications to the IRS code to make all this possible.

Some random highlights...

The Public Option for me, but not for thee

As an uninsured person, I will be allowed to shop for my insurance through my local HIE, and one of my options will be the "public plan." Too bad for you though, if you've already got insurance through your employer, you have to keep it. You won't be allowed into the Exchange at all -- which is the only place the public plan will be offered -- and neither will your employer, unless your employer is a small business. And very small that business has to be too, with only 10 employees or fewer, and only if that business has an annual payroll up to $400,000 will they be able to qualify for a break in how much they have to pay into the Exchange.

So, just when are you going to get your new and improved insurance?

page 14:

(25) The terms ''Y1'', ''Y2'', ''Y3'', ''Y4'', ''Y5'', and similar subsequently numbered terms, mean 2013 and subsequent years, respectively.

[And Subtitle B, Public Health Insurance Option, starts in Y1; see Sec. 221 (a), page 16 -- lambert]

Heh, looks like health care deform isn't even going to kick in until after the 2012 Presidential election.

Please run please run please run...

Skype As We Know It May Not Exist Much Longer, eBay Says

EBay is working on software to replace the guts of Skype but is worried that it may not succeed, may lose a court battle with Skype's founders over rights to the core technology and may need to do something drastic in the next few years. The company said in a regulatory filing yesterday that if it fails in both the legal and technical avenues it's pursuing then "continued operation of Skype's business as currently conducted would likely not be possible."

Joltid, a company owned by Skype's founders, merely licensed some of the system's core technology to eBay when it sold Skype to the auction giant in 2005. Joltid now says that the license has been revoked and eBay is infringing on its rights by continuing to use the technology. The case is scheduled to go to court in June of 2010 but eBay is trying to replace the technology in the meantime. It may not succeed.

Joseph Galante at Bloomberg News cites Jayanth Angl, an analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, who argues that replacing the technology will not be easy. "It would be quite difficult to replace what they already have as the underlying component to their service," Angl told Bloomberg. "There are a number of barriers to that, not the least of which are legal barriers." The creation of another global P2P VOIP and video network that doesn't infringe on existing patents is no small task.

Boston cop calls Gates 'banana-eating jungle monkey' in mass e-mail

A Fox affiliate reports that the Massachusetts National Guard began probing the racist email sent by Capt. Justin Barrett, a Boston cop, a week ago.

"After a preliminary investigation, Capt. Barrett was suspended from his military duties on July 25, 2009 pending the outcome of further investigation," Boston's FOX25 reports.

The report adds that the "language contained in the e-mail violates policies of the Massachusetts National Guard and what it stands for in its commitment to uphold and protect the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Constitution of the United States."

The officer apologized last night for the email, claiming, "I am not a racist."

"It was a poor choice of words. I did not mean to offend anyone," Barrett told NewsCenter 5. "The words were being used to characterize behavior not describe anyone."

The officer said that he didn't mean to use words like 'banana eating jungle monkey' "in a racist way."

"It was a poor choice of words," Barrett said. I didn't mean it in a racist way. I treat everyone with dignity and respect.".

More from WCVB's report:

Barrett and his attorney said they will fight the charges brought both by the police department and the National Guard.

"People are making it about race. It is not about race," Barrett claimed.

Barrett will get only pro forma support from the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association which condemned the e-mail, but said it is contractually obligated to protect his rights at a disciplinary hearing.


The Fox affiliate in Boston has published the text of the email Boston police officer Justin Barrett sent in which he referred to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., as a "banana-eating jungle monkey."

It now appears Barrett's email was a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe, complaining of the Globe's coverage of the Gates arrest on July 16.

Of Gates, Barrett wrote: "He is a suspect and will always be a suspect."

"If I was the officer [Gates] verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC [pepper spray] deserving of his belligerent non-compliance."

Barrett then went on to berate the author of the Globe article to which he objected.

"You are a hot little bird with minimal experiences in a harsh field," Barrett wrote. "You are a fool. An infidel. You have no business writing for a US newspaper nevermind detailing and analyzing half-truths."

AP reported that "Barrett was trained in racial profiling prevention and had shown no signs of racial discrimination in the past."

Barrett's tirade has spawned an instant flurry of comments on blogs and talk shows.

"If this is what [police officers are] putting in emails, imagine what they're saying in private," blogged The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan.


The police officer who called Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a "jungle monkey" is a "cancer on the department," Boston Mayor Tom Menino said Wednesday.

A blog posting by Cindy Adams at also says Menino called for the officer to be fired immediately.

The Boston Globe reports that Barrett will be represented by the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, the local police union. The union is expected to make a statement on the case Wednesday evening.

The Health Care Debate

Selling stuff for free is a boom market, but at what cost?

By Scott Canon

First, a little confession.

While this story pretends to be about things becoming free, that's only in the sense of free samples; buy one, get one free; bare bones for free in hopes of selling the deluxe version; free but with advertising. You know the drill.

But now free is the new black — chic, essential, even sexy.

A few years into this young century, every mouse click makes clearer that some things will be free whether the folks who produce them want to give them away or not.

Music. Software. Books. Or, for instance, this article (at least on the Web).

Some marketplace analysts — most prominently

Chris Anderson
in his latest book, "Free: The Future of a Radical Price" — suggest that even as digital technology and the Internet shrink the price of many forms of work to free, free can also offer a new way to turn a buck.

"People are making lots of money charging nothing. Not nothing for everything, but nothing for enough that we have essentially created an economy as big as a good-sized country around the concept of $0.00," writes Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine.

"It's driven by an extraordinary new ability to lower the costs of goods and services close to zero," he writes. (The digital version of his book is free. The bound version will set you back $26.99.) "This new form of free is based on the economics of bits, not atoms. ... The bits economy is deflationary."

At the heart of his argument is one of the most reliable adages of the Digital Age: The time-tested Moore's Law that accurately predicted that the cost of computer processing will drop by half at least every two years.

That means computer processing, bandwidth, data storage and, Anderson argues, anything "made of ideas" becomes ever cheaper. So inexpensive—a single transistor in 1961 cost $10, enough to buy almost 2 million transistors today—that he thinks we might as well "round down to zero." Or free.

Google and Microsoft, the rival giants birthed by the computer processor, seem at war over who can give away the most: operating systems, Web browsers, office software, e-mail, Internet searches. The one that gets people to take the most freebies could dominate your desktop.

To be sure, free is to the digital universe what water is to restaurants.

The posting and viewing of YouTube videos. The operating system on your Android-based cell phone. Scores of apps for your iPhone. Software programs for slide shows, for your taxes, for your games, for Internet phone calls. Almost endless storage space for digital photographs, text documents or self-referential minutiae on Facebook.

"The notion behind free is that companies can create a demand for their product by giving it away," said Chris Kuehl, managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence in Kansas City, Kan.

Kuehl's business has done just that recently, giving away three market analyses it values at $5,000 to the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association.

"We'll do work for clients gratis on the assumption that they'll find it so helpful that they can't live without it," he said. And, in fact, he said the strategy landed Armada paying work with the association.

Anderson's book argues that free is rapidly becoming the default price of virtually anything that can be reduced to 1s and 0s in a computer and replicated endlessly on the Internet.

Old-school folks talk derisively of a mostly younger set that insists, in the words of "Whole Earth Catalog" creator Stewart Brand, "information wants to be free."

The right-to-free argument sometimes boils down to two points.

First, it would be undemocratic to let money determine who can read or listen to or play with the products of the mind.

Second, people are bound to pirate digital goods and services anyway, so better to use free to lure customers to things that you can coax them to pay for.

Green me up, Scotty: William Shatner targets Hewlett-Packard for toxic waste

Hewlett-Packard pledged to stop using dangerous plastics in its computers by 2009. It broke that promise. Will a company-wide voicemail from William Shatner make it change its mind?

William Shatner in Star TrekWilliam Shatner in Star TrekWhen the employees of Hewlett-Packard checked their messages yesterday, they got a bit of a shock. William Shatner (or Captain Kirk as most of us still like to call him) had left each and everyone of them a pre-recorded message, politely expressing his regret that the company had failed to keep its eco-promises.

"This is William Shatner speaking," he begins, with all the brisk efficiency that led us to follow him through galaxy after galaxy on the USS Enterprise. "You, HP, promised me a toxic-free computer by 2009. Now my friends at Greenpeace tell me that I'll have to wait till 2011. What's up with that?" He goes on, in his masterful yet diplomatic way, to suggest they ask their "leader" to make computers that are free of brominated flame retardants and PVC plastic, (as they promised) and gently reminds them that Apple seem to have managed it. He winds up, as polite and simultaneously authoritative as ever, by wishing them all "an enjoyable day". It is a bloomin' masterpiece.

The whole thing was set up by Greenpeace, which also climbed up onto the roof of the HP building and painted – in absolutely enormous writing which could certainly be read from the Enterprise – the words "Hazardous Products". Brominated flame retardants are chemicals added to products to stop them bursting into flame. Once in the waste stream they are potentially toxic for humans and animals, and are banned in some European countries. Alternatives are available and used by other computer manufacturers. PVC meanwhile has long been an environmental sore point and campaign issue for Greenpeace in particular.

Sketches of the Drug Czars

The United States spends nearly $50 billion each year on the war on drugs, to little avail: illegal drugs remain prevalent, and drug-funded groups continue to spread violence from Mexico to Afghanistan. The new White House drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, says he wants to end the drug war, but other men in his position have tried and failed to do just that. In this illustrated history, Ricardo Cortes shows how science, politics, ego, and scandal transformed a public-health initiative into a century-long military campaign.
Written and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes
President Richard Nixon took on drugs as part of his anti-crime platform. But even as he pushed through such tough measures as mandatory sentencing and "no-knock warrants," he also poured resources into drug-abuse prevention and treatment, which were funded at twice the level of law-enforcement efforts. In 1970, Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act, creating the U.S. drug-scheduling system. Marijuana was temporarily placed in Schedule I, the most restrictive, pending review by a commission to study its effects. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse consisted of 13 men—9 appointed by the president and 4 by Congress. In 1972, they offered their unanimous conclusion: "We believe that experimental or intermittent use of this drug carries minimal risk to the public health, and should not be given overzealous attention in terms of a public health response." The panel, along with the American Medical Association and the National Institute of Mental Health, recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use, and the American Bar Association called for reduced penalties. Nixon responded by rejecting the report, declaring "an all-out global war on the drug menace," and creating the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) by executive order in 1973.

44 Years Of Medicare Success

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, and Nate Carlile

On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Social Security Act, part of which included Medicare, a measure to provide low-cost health insurance for elderly Americans. At the time, Johnson called the bill "the most revolutionary and most beneficial measure for older Americans since we passed Social Security itself back in 1935." "They will no longer have to suffer from misery and neglect and depend upon their relatives because they themselves cannot afford the cost of modern treatment," Johnson said. He inaugurated the "Great Society" program at the White House signing ceremony by enrolling former President Harry Truman as the first beneficiary and presenting him with the first Medicare card. "I predict that 30 years from today, this bill will be a welcome and permanent part of our nation's heritage that no representative would ever dare repeal," Johnson said. "Why? Because it represents the moral principle that we just must not neglect in their age those who have given a lifetime of service to their country." Johnson was right. Forty-four years later, Medicare has dramatically improved access to quality health care for the nation's seniors, allowed them to live longer and healthier lives, and has become one of the country's most popular government programs.

MEDICARE'S SUCCESS: Since the advent of Medicare, "the health of the elderly population has improved, as measured by both longevity and functional status," said one study published in the journal Health Affairs. In fact, according to the study, "life expectancy at age 65 increased from 14.3 years in 1960 to 17.8 years in 1998 and the chronically disabled elderly population declined from 24.9 percent in 1982 to 21.3 percent in 1994." Leaders of the Commonwealth Fund wrote in May that, "compared to people with private insurance, Medicare enrollees have greater access to care [and] fewer problems with medical bills." The report added that this finding is significant when considering that those Americans on Medicare represent a demographic that is more likely to be in poor health and to have lower incomes. Prior to Medicare, "about one-half of America's seniors did not have hospital insurance," more than 25 percent "were estimated to go without medical care due to cost concerns," and one in three were living in poverty. Today, nearly all seniors have access to affordable health care and only about 14 percent of seniors are below the poverty line.

CUSTOMER SATISFACTION: A recent Commonwealth Fund survey found that "elderly Medicare beneficiaries reported greater overall satisfaction with their health coverage." Medicare is so popular that most Americans support expanding its coverage to Americans aged 55 to 64. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, "over half of Americans (53 percent) 'strongly' support such a proposal and an additional 26 percent say they support it somewhat, totaling 79 percent backing." Similarly, a Health and Human Services Department-commissioned study released in June found that "56 percent of enrollees in traditional fee-for-service Medicare give Medicare a rating of 9 or 10 on a 0-10 scale," while "only 40 percent of Americans enrolled in private health insurance gave their plans a 9 or 10 rating." "The higher scores for Medicare are based on perceptions of better access to care," the National Journal noted, commenting on the surveys, adding that "[m]ore than two thirds (70 percent) of traditional Medicare enrollees say they 'always' get access to needed care (appointments with specialists or other necessary tests and treatment), compared with 63 percent in Medicare managed care plans and only 51 percent of those with private insurance."

Why Obamacare Is Sinking

By Charles Krauthammer

What happened to Obamacare? Rhetoric met reality. As both candidate and president, the master rhetorician could conjure a world in which he bestows upon you health-care nirvana: more coverage, less cost.

But you can't fake it in legislation. Once you commit your fantasies to words and numbers, the Congressional Budget Office comes along and declares that the emperor has no clothes.

President Obama premised the need for reform on the claim that medical costs are destroying the economy. True. But now we learn -- surprise! -- that universal coverage increases costs. The congressional Democrats' health-care plans, says the CBO, increase costs on the order of $1 trillion plus.

In response, the president retreated to a demand that any bill he sign be revenue-neutral. But that's classic misdirection: If the fierce urgency of health-care reform is to radically reduce costs that are producing budget-destroying deficits, revenue neutrality (by definition) leaves us on precisely the same path to insolvency that Obama himself declares unsustainable.

The Democratic proposals are worse still. Because they do increase costs, revenue neutrality means countervailing tax increases. It's not just that it is crazily anti-stimulatory to saddle a deeply depressed economy with an income tax surcharge that falls squarely on small business and the investor class. It's that health-care reform ends up diverting for its own purposes a source of revenue that might otherwise be used to close the yawning structural budget deficit that is such a threat to the economy and to the dollar.

These blindingly obvious contradictions are why the Democratic health plans are collapsing under their own weight -- at the hands of Democrats. It's Max Baucus, Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who called Obama unhelpful for ruling out taxing employer-provided health insurance as a way to pay for expanded coverage. It's the Blue Dog Democrats in the House who wince at skyrocketing health-reform costs just weeks after having swallowed hemlock for Obama on a ruinous cap-and-trade carbon tax.

The president is therefore understandably eager to make this a contest between progressive Democrats and reactionary Republicans. He seized on Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's comment that stopping Obama on health care would break his presidency to protest, with perfect disingenuousness, that "this isn't about me. This isn't about politics."

It's all about him. Health care is his signature reform. And he knows that if he produces nothing, he forfeits the mystique that both propelled him to the presidency and has sustained him through a difficult first six months. Which is why Obama's red lines are constantly shifting. Universal coverage? Maybe not. No middle-class tax hit? Well, perhaps, but only if they don't "primarily" bear the burden. Because it's about him, Obama is quite prepared to sign anything as long as it is titled "health-care reform."

This is not about politics? Then why is it, to take but the most egregious example, that in this grand health-care debate we hear not a word about one of the worst sources of waste in American medicine: the insane cost and arbitrary rewards of our malpractice system?

When a neurosurgeon pays $200,000 a year for malpractice insurance before he even turns on the light in his office or hires his first nurse, who do you think pays? Patients, in higher doctor fees to cover the insurance.

And with jackpot justice that awards one claimant zillions while others get nothing -- and one-third of everything goes to the lawyers -- where do you think that money comes from? The insurance companies, which then pass it on to you in higher premiums.

But the greatest waste is the hidden cost of defensive medicine: tests and procedures that doctors order for no good reason other than to protect themselves from lawsuits. Every doctor knows, as I did when I practiced years ago, how much unnecessary medical cost is incurred with an eye not on medicine but on the law.

Tort reform would yield tens of billions in savings. Yet you cannot find it in the Democratic bills. And Obama breathed not a word about it in the full hour of his health-care news conference. Why? No mystery. The Democrats are parasitically dependent on huge donations from trial lawyers.


Eat your heart out, Godzilla. A massive menace from the sea seems poised to invade Japan anew this summer, experts predict.

In 2005 Japanese waters were inundated with swarms of Nomura's jellyfish--like the pair seen above cruising off the coast of Fukui Prefecture in November 2007. The giants clogged fishing nets and poisoned potential catches with their toxic stings, costing coastal fishers billions of yen.

Scientists have since been racing to unlock the mysteries of this giant jellyfish species in an attempt to forecast invasions and prevent damages.

Electric Vehicle Roundup: Best Buy and McDonald's


Pakistan in tree planting record

By Riaz Sohail
BBC Urdu service, Thatta

The trees were planted in a swampy mangrove region

A team of volunteers in Pakistan has set a new world record by planting more than half a million trees in one day.

Guinness World Records confirmed that 541,176 trees had been planted in the southern province of Sindh on 15 July.

Some 300 volunteers, working in groups, planted mangrove saplings in the 750 acres of the Indus river delta region.

They beat the previous team record for tree planting which was set in India just last month when 447,874 saplings were planted in Assam state.

Pakistan's tree-planting marathon was witnessed by representatives of Guinness World Records and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

We ain't stupid

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rat Racists

You're Appointing Who? Please Obama, Say It's Not So!

The person who may be responsible for more food-related illness and death than anyone in history has just been made the US food safety czar. This is no joke.

Here's the back story.

When FDA scientists were asked to weigh in on what was to become the most radical and potentially dangerous change in our food supply -- the introduction of genetically modified (GM) foods -- secret documents now reveal that the experts were very concerned. Memo after memo described toxins, new diseases, nutritional deficiencies, and hard-to-detect allergens. They were adamant that the technology carried "serious health hazards," and required careful, long-term research, including human studies, before any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could be safely released into the food supply.

But the biotech industry had rigged the game so that neither science nor scientists would stand in their way. They had placed their own man in charge of FDA policy and he wasn't going to be swayed by feeble arguments related to food safety. No, he was going to do what corporations had done for decades to get past these types of pesky concerns. He was going to lie.

Dangerous Food Safety Lies

When the FDA was constructing their GMO policy in 1991-2, their scientists were clear that gene-sliced foods were significantly different and could lead to "different risks" than conventional foods. But official policy declared the opposite, claiming that the FDA knew nothing of significant differences, and declared GMOs substantially equivalent.

This fiction became the rationale for allowing GM foods on the market without any required safety studies whatsoever! The determination of whether GM foods were safe to eat was placed entirely in the hands of the companies that made them -- companies like Monsanto, which told us that the PCBs, DDT, and Agent Orange were safe.

GMOs were rushed onto our plates in 1996. Over the next nine years, multiple chronic illnesses in the US nearly doubled -- from 7% to 13%. Allergy-related emergency room visits doubled between 1997 and 2002 while food allergies, especially among children, skyrocketed. We also witnessed a dramatic rise in asthma, autism, obesity, diabetes, digestive disorders, and certain cancers.

In January of this year, Dr. P. M. Bhargava, one of the world's top biologists, told me that after reviewing 600 scientific journals, he concluded that the GM foods in the US are largely responsible for the increase in many serious diseases.

In May, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine concluded that animal studies have demonstrated a causal relationship between GM foods and infertility, accelerated aging, dysfunctional insulin regulation, changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system, and immune problems such as asthma, allergies, and inflammation

In July, a report by eight international experts determined that the flimsy and superficial evaluations of GMOs by both regulators and GM companies "systematically overlook the side effects" and significantly underestimate "the initial signs of diseases like cancer and diseases of the hormonal, immune, nervous and reproductive systems, among others."

The Fox Guarding the Chickens

If GMOs are indeed responsible for massive sickness and death, then the individual who oversaw the FDA policy that facilitated their introduction holds a uniquely infamous role in human history. That person is Michael Taylor. He had been Monsanto's attorney before becoming policy chief at the FDA. Soon after, he became Monsanto's vice president and chief lobbyist.

This month Michael Taylor became the senior advisor to the commissioner of the FDA. He is now America's food safety czar. What have we done?

From planet Zardon

Chlorine in Your Baby Carrots

carrots, chlorineThe small cocktail or "baby" carrots you buy are made using the larger crooked or deformed carrots which are put through a machine which cuts and shapes them into cocktail carrots. You might have known that already. But what you might not know is that once the carrots are cut and shaped into cocktail carrots, they are dipped in a solution of water and chlorine in order to preserve them.

When a baby carrot turns white ("white blushing"), this causes the bags of carrots to be pulled from the shelf and thrown away. To prevent this consumer waste, the carrots are dipped in chlorine to prevent the white blushing from happening.

Chlorine is a very well-known carcinogen. Organic growers instead use a citrus based, nontoxic solution called Citrox.

Four Takes on Health Care


Peter Singer's recent New York Times Sunday Magazine piece on health care rationing – we already ration health care even though we prefer not to think of it that way – concludes:


It is common for opponents of health care rationing to point to Canada and Britain as examples of where we might end up if we get "socialized medicine."  On a blog on Fox News earlier this year, the conservative writer John Lott wrote, "Americans should ask Canadians and Brits — people who have long suffered from rationing — how happy they are with central government decisions on eliminating 'unnecessary' health care."  There is no particular reason that the United States should copy the British or Canadian forms of universal coverage, rather than one of the different arrangements that have developed in other industrialized nations, some of which may be better.  But as it happens, last year the Gallup organization did ask Canadians and Brits, and people in many different countries, if they have confidence in "health care or medical systems" in their country.  In Canada, 73 percent answered this question affirmatively.  Coincidentally, an identical percentage of Britons gave the same answer. In the United States, despite spending much more, per person, on health care, the figure was only 56 percent.


☞  We should have the Canadian system with a uniquely American twist – namely, the freedom to pay extra for "premium" care: a luxury room, "no-wait" elective surgery, house calls . . . anything the basic, decent plan won't cover. 



Ted Strange:  "I am distressed by the way the Republicans are portraying the Canadian health system.  They are unfairly distorting the truth:  We can walk in to a 'Walk-in Clinic' without an appointment any time during office hours.  (Free.)  We can go to the emergency room at a General Hospital any time 24 hours a day.  There we will be triaged immediately.  If it is acute, we will be looked after IMMEDIATELY.  (Free.)  If it is not acute, yes we may have to waitYour American system is an anomaly, as you are ordinarily noted for being efficient.  There was a documentary on TV a while back that compared a hospital in Seattle with a hospital in Vancouver, cities of comparable size.  The billing department in Vancouver took up one floor of a building.  The billing department in Seattle was a five-storey building.  Yes you do have to wait for elective surgery and that is sad.  But no one is bankrupted by major medical events."



Paul Krugman, in small part:  "There are no examples of successful health care based on the principles of the free market, for one simple reason: in health care, the free market just doesn't work. And people who say that the market is the answer are flying in the face of both theory and overwhelming evidence."



Here's an out-of-the-box idea.  Bill Press asks:  Why does Congress have to take an August recess?  Why not spend the time getting health insurance reform done and then take whatever might be left of August?  Hmmm?

Rural Medical Camp Tackles Health Care Gaps

It was a Third World scene with an American setting. Hundreds of tired and desperate people crowded around an aid worker with a bullhorn, straining to hear the instructions and worried they might be left out.

Some had arrived at the Wise County Fairgrounds in Wise, Va., two days before. They slept in cars, tents and the beds of pickup trucks, hoping to be among the first in line when the gate opened Friday before dawn. They drove in from 16 states, anxious to relieve pain, diagnose aches and see and hear better.

"I came here because of health care — being able to get things that we can't afford to have ordinarily," explained 52-year-old Otis Reece of Gate City, Va., as he waited in a wheelchair beside his red F-150 pickup. "Being on a fixed income, this is a fantastic situation to have things done we ordinarily would put off."

A photo gallery of the rural medical clinic in Wise, Va.For the past 10 years, during late weekends in July, the fairgrounds in Wise have been transformed into a mobile and makeshift field hospital providing free care for those in need. Sanitized horse stalls become draped examination rooms. A poultry barn is fixed with optometry equipment. And a vast, open-air pavilion is crammed with dozens of portable dental chairs and lamps.

A converted 18-wheeler with a mobile X-ray room makes chest X-rays possible. Technicians grind hundreds of lenses for new eyeglasses in two massive trailers. At a concession stand, dentures are molded and sculpted.

Desperate For Health Care

The 2009 Remote Area Medical (RAM) Expedition comes to the Virginia Appalachian mountains as Congress and President Obama wrestle with a health care overhaul. The event graphically illustrates gaps in the existing health care system.

See Portraits Of Patients And Providers At The Rural Area Medical Expedition."We're willing to sleep in pickup trucks or cars and deal with the elements to at least get some kind of health care," Reece adds. He earned a six-figure income working for an international industrial supply firm until an accident five years ago left him disabled. Joining him for dental, vision and medical checks are his wife, daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to see the doctor to get my ear and my nose fixed!" grandson Jacob shouts excitedly. His nose appears battered and his ear has an oozing scab.

Before the gate opened, Loretta Miller, 41, of Honaker, Va., got four hours' sleep behind the wheel of her parked minivan. She was No. 39 in line for her eighth RAM expedition. Her visit last year saved her life.

"They done an ultrasound and told me that my gallbladder was enlarged and was ready to burst and it could kill me," Miller recalls. "They told me if I hadn't got help when I did, literally I could have died."

Medical, dental and vision help is often elusive for the 2,700 people seeking treatment during the three-day RAM event. Just over half of the people attending this year have no insurance at all, according to a survey of the patients conducted by RAM. Forty-seven percent could be considered underinsured, given unaffordable copays or gaps in coverage provided by Medicare, Medicaid and conventional insurance plans. Only 11 patients have dental insurance, and just seven have vision coverage.

By The Numbers

A survey of RAM attendees by the event's organizers provides some insight into who is left out of conventional medical, dental and vision care.

What: Health care providers saw 2,715 patients and performed 2,671 medical exams, 1,088 eye tests and 1,850 dental exams. They extracted 3,857 teeth and put in 1,628 fillings.

Who: Patients came from 16 different states; 30 percent were repeat patients.

Of the patients, 51 percent are uninsured, 40.3 percent are on Medicaid or Medicare, and just 7.3 percent have employer or private insurance. Fewer than 1 percent of patients have dental or vision insurance.

Twenty-six percent of the people are employed, 40.6 are unemployed, 4.7 percent are retired and 4.8 percent are children.

Cost: The organizers paid about $250,000 out of pocket to run the event, and they provided an estimated $1.5 million worth of care.

"There's no doubt about it. There is a Third World right here in the United States," concludes Stan Brock, RAM's founder

How Leonard Peltier could leave prison by August 18

by Harvey Wasserman

For a formidable and growing global community of supporters, the prospect of Native American activist Leonard Peltier finally leaving prison inspires a longing that cuts to the depths of the soul.

So Peltier's first parole hearing of the Obama Era---on Tuesday, July 28---inspired hope of an intensity that will have a major impact on the new presidency. A decision must come from the Federal Parole Commission within three weeks. His attorney is calling for a surge of public support that would create an irresistible political climate for Leonard's release.

The relationship between Peltier and those who have followed his case over the decades can be intensely personal. His imprisonment has come to stand not only for five centuries of unjust violence waged against Native Americans, but also for the inhumane theft of the life of a man who has handled his 33 years in jail with epic dignity, effectiveness and grace.

Peltier's latest parole hearing convened at the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he is currently held. According to Eric Seitz, Peltier's Honolulu-based attorney, Peltier spoke for more than an hour "with great eloquence" about the nature of his case, his imprisonment and his plans for freedom. "The hearing officer seemed to listen carefully," said Seitz. "We thought it went very well."

The decision on Peltier's parole will be made by the four sitting members of the Federal Parole Commission ( ) whose offices are in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Commissioners Isaac Fulwood, Jr., Cranston Mitchell, Edward Reilly and Patricia Cushware are all Bush appointees. One seat is vacant; Fulwood was elevated to the Chairman's seat in May by President Obama.

According to Seitz, the hearing was taped by an officer charged with reporting to the Commissioners within 48 hours. The Commissioners are required to render a decision within 21 days---by August 18. Should they rule in his favor, Peltier could walk out of prison very soon after the decision is issued.

Nine More Go to Jail for Single Payer

By David Swanson

Following a pattern of civil resistance in Washington D.C. and around the country, citizens in Des Moines Iowa on Monday risked arrest to press for the creation of single-payer healthcare, the establishment of healthcare as a human right, and an end to the deadly practices of Iowa's largest health insurance company, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, who has herself gone to jail for single-payer in our nation's capital, was on hand to speak in Des Moines. She called me with this report. Nearly a month earlier, on June 19, 2009, Des Moines Catholic Workers had delivered a letter (PDF) to Wellmark addressed to its CEO John Forsyth requesting disclosure of Wellmark's profits, salaries, benefits, denials and restrictions on care. The letter had not been acknowledged by Monday, and the Catholic Workers and their allies decided to take action again.

Thirty people arrived in the Wellmark lobby in Des Moines and asked to see Forsyth or any of the members of the board of directors or the operating officers. They were told that none were available, and instead the police arrived. Nine of the 30 refused to leave and were arrested. Flowers did not yet know what the charges will be but suspected trespassing. The nine latest supporters of single-payer to go to jail for justice are:

Mona Shaw, Renee Espeland, Frankie Hughes (age 11), and Frank Cordaro, all from Des Moines Catholic Workers; Leonard Simmons from Massachusetts; Robert Cook; Eddie Blomer from Des Moines; Kirk Brown from Des Moines; and Chris Gaunt from Grinnell, Iowa.

These nine and others like them around the country represent, I think, the incredible potential to energize the American public on behalf of a struggle for the basic human right of healthcare, a potential being blocked by the work of activist organizations that reach out from Washington to tell the public that single-payer is not possible, rather than reaching into Washington from outside to tell our public servants what we demand.

Here's a blog from Digby acknowledging the reduction of the public option from where it started to next-to-nothing. It's not clear whether Digby thinks it would have been smarter to start with single-payer, in order to end up with a better compromise than what you get by initially proposing the weakest plan you'll settle for. But Digby argues that proposing single-payer from the start would not have given single-payer itself any chance of succeeding, and this is proven -- Digby says -- from the fact that the public option is having such a hard time succeeding.

I can't prove this is wrong. Everything Digby writes is smart and to the point. But this does omit an important factor or two. Namely: single-payer turns an obscure wonkish policy mush into a clear and comprehensible civil rights issue. Even with it blacked out and shunned by the White House and astroturfing activist groups, single-payer still has people sacrificing and going to jail for it. Nobody goes to jail for a public option.* Nobody even knows what it is. Nobody will even know whether they got it if a bill is passed until experts debate the point for them -- at which point it's too late. Making healthcare a right rather than a legislative policy energizes people, and that potential has hardly been tapped and should not be written out of consideration.

We shall overcompensate


By TBogg

John Hawkins struggles beneath the white man's burden


Calling people like Hawkins a racist is equal to:




I can't wait until conservatives start demanding reparations.

CFTC: Speculators caused 2008 oil price crisis


By Daniel Tencer

In a major U-turn from its claims during the Bush administration, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is now set to admit that speculation in oil markets — and not the forces of supply and demand — are behind last year's massive oil price spike.

In the summer of 2008, oil prices on the open market reached an unprecedented $147 per barrel. Many economists argue the spike helped push the US into an economic free-fall last autumn.

At the time, the CFTC — which is tasked with regulating commodity and financial futures — said that the huge price spike was a result of supply and demand. That explanation was met with ridicule from many market-watchers, who said it was impossible that demand for oil increased by such a huge margin even as the North American, European and Japanese economies were slowing down.

Now, according to a scoop in the Wall Street Journal, the CFTC is about to reverse its Bush-era position, and admit that market speculators — investors who bought oil futures on the expectation they would rise in value — "played a significant role" in the oil spike.

Bart Chilton, a CFTC commissioner, told the WSJ that the original assessment was based on "flawed data." He told the newspaper that the CFTC's report, which will be released next month, will acknowledge the role of speculators in oil markets.

Segregation and Friends

Jeffrey Feldman

by Jeffrey Feldman

Recently, Glenn Beck sat on the comfy couch of Fox's morning show Fox & Friends and declared that President Obama is a racist who hates white culture.   Of the three hosts who convened this broadcast gem, the one who disagreed with Beck -- Brian Kilmeade -- had recently declared on air that the white race in America had been weakened through interbreeding with non-whites, a statement for which he apologized after it sparked wide-scale outrage.  So on this particular morning, viewers who tuned into Fox & Friends watched a host who espouses white Aryan eugenics mix it up with a guest inciting white anger at blacks, followed by some tips on summertime grilling. 

The fact that brand management rules broadcast media -- particularly at Fox -- leads me to question whether the segregationist flavor of Fox's morning could possibly be accidental.  Is it possible that nobody at Fox had an inkling about Kilmeade's belief in racial purity prior to his blurting it out on air?  They had to know.  A man who gleefully turns to the camera and bemoans racial mixing is also a guy who spouts off eugenic theories at parties and office meetings.  Fox knew about Kilmeade's views and they kept him on air anyway. 

The same is true of Beck's foolish idea that President Obama hates white culture.  The only way the bookers and marketing folks at Fox & Friends could not know Beck plays to segregationist fears of blacks when talking about the president is if they have all been in a coma for the past year.  And yet they booked him anyway, putting him on set for a chat with a guy who thinks that white blood in America has been contaminated by miscegenation. 

A morning show that positions itself to appeal to whites uncomfortable with the idea of racial integration in America? So long as the numbers are solid, the media brand experts would say, why the heck not?

Mexico Builds Border Wall To Keep Out US Assholes

Limbaugh’s Syndicators Turn Up Their Noses at Sarah Palin

has declined to hire Palin even as a fill in, according Broadcasting & Cable's Paige Albiniak who writes:

My own sources say much what they said when asked about a TV show for Palin: Don't think so. While you might assume Palin would be a better fit for conservative radio than the less partisan world of syndicated broadcast TV, my sources say the country's biggest radio conglomerate, Clear Channel, has already passed on her.

The main objection to Palin as radio talk-show host is that she would have to hold forth for three hours a day. While some of her recent remarks may indicate a talent for improvisation, anyone who's listened to Rush Limbaugh or Thom Hartmann or Don Imus or Howard Stern or even Ryan Seacrest knows it's the rare personality who can blab extemporaneously for 15 hours a week.

There's always podcasts...and not hiring Palin could save radio!

Taliban field manual: A kinder, gentler militant?

Manual bans filming executions

The Taliban is mounting a public-relations campaign to try to win the hearts and minds of Afghans with their own version of a field manual that urges efforts to limit civilian casualties.

The little book with a blue cover, Rules for Mujahedeen, directs Taliban militants on how to behave while on deployment and how to deal with enemy combatants, treat prisoners of war and interact with civilians.

The manual, which has been given extensive coverage on Al Jazeera's Arabic service, appears aimed at renewing popular support among Afghans in the face of a U.S.-led offensive against the militants.

The directive also could be an attempt by Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader, to reassert himself as the uncontested chief of an entire flock of Taliban subgroups.

"This is part of their strategic thinking," said Yonah Alexander, a specialist on counterterrorism with the Potomac Institute in Washington. "This is an old trick to play both ends of the stick and to gain time."

The booklet was issued in May and is the first of its kind in the history of the Taliban, according to a State Department report on counterterrorism.

The report, which was made available to The Washington Times, said the emphasis is on "improving their image and winning over civilians."

The manual also aims to transform the group into a more disciplined and organized political force by centralizing decision-making and discouraging formation of unauthorized factions.

The Taliban, especially with its recent expansion in Afghanistan, has not been monolithic but an amalgam of splinter groups.

In keeping with its religious teachings, the Taliban stresses that the new rules are based on Islamic law. The manual admonishes fighters to:

Meanwhile, back in Crawford...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Denial of Reality Comics

Juan Cole, Empire's Paranoia About the Pashtuns

These days, it seems as though the United States is conducting its wars in places remarkably unfamiliar to most Americans. Its CIA-operated drone aircraft, for instance, have been regularly firing missiles into Waziristan, where, in one strike in June, an estimated 80 tribespeople were killed while at a funeral procession for the dead from a previous drone strike.

Waziristan? If you asked most Americans whether their safety depended on killing people in Waziristan, they might wonder what you were talking about. But not in Washington, where Waziristan, the Swat Valley, the Lower Dir district, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, also known as FATA, and the North-West Frontier Province, among other places you'd previously never heard of, are not only on the collective mind but evidently considered crucial to the well-being, and even existence, of the United States. Perhaps that's simply the new norm. After all, we now live in a thoroughly ramped-up atmosphere in which "American national security" -- defined to include just about anything unsettling that occurs anywhere on Earth -- is the eternal preoccupation of a vast national security bureaucracy whose bread and butter increasingly seems to be worst-case scenarios.

The ongoing hysteria about lightly settled, mountainous Pashtun tribal lands in Pakistan on or near the ill-defined Afghan border might seem unique to our imperial moment. So imagine my surprise when Juan Cole told me it actually has a history more than a century old. And there's nothing like a little history lesson, is there, to put the strange hysterias of our moment into perspective?

Cole has just written a whole book about America's "Islam Anxiety," Engaging the Muslim World, and his invaluable website Informed Comment is one of my first daily on-line stops -- so who better to offer a little history lesson in imperial delusions of grandeur and peril? If you feel like a more extensive lesson in what to make of the gamut of issues where the U.S. and the Muslim world meet, or rather collide, don't miss his book. It's a continual eye-opener. Tom

Armageddon at the Top of the World: Not!

A Century of Frenzy over the North-West Frontier
By Juan Cole

WHAT, what, what,
What's the news from Swat?
Sad news,
Bad news,
Comes by the cable led
Through the Indian Ocean's bed,
Through the Persian Gulf, the Red
Sea and the Med-
Iterranean -- he 's dead;
The Ahkoond is dead!

-- George Thomas Lanigan

Despite being among the poorest people in the world, the inhabitants of the craggy northwest of what is now Pakistan have managed to throw a series of frights into distant Western capitals for more than a century. That's certainly one for the record books.

And it hasn't ended yet. Not by a long shot. Not with the headlines in the U.S. papers about the depredations of the Pakistani Taliban, not with the CIA's drone aircraft striking gatherings in Waziristan and elsewhere near the Afghan border. This spring, for instance, one counter-terrorism analyst stridently (and wholly implausibly) warned that "in one to six months" we could "see the collapse of the Pakistani state," at the hands of the bloodthirsty Taliban, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation in Pakistan a "mortal danger" to global security.

What most observers don't realize is that the doomsday rhetoric about this region at the top of the world is hardly new. It's at least 100 years old. During their campaigns in the northwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British officers, journalists and editorialists sounded much like American strategists, analysts, and pundits of the present moment. They construed the Pashtun tribesmen who inhabited Waziristan as the new Normans, a dire menace to London that threatened to overturn the British Empire.

Barbra Streisand talks environmental urgency

Barbra Streisand. (Photo by Firooz Zahedi)
With multiple Academy Awards, Grammys, Emmys and a Special Tony Award to her credit, Barbra Streisand is inarguably among the world's most successful and renowned entertainers. Yet Streisand is also a noted environmental activist, having donated $1 million in 2006 to the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation in support of former President Bill Clinton's Climate Change Initiative. She answered questions from POLITICO Senior Editor David Mark about her environmental work.

When did you become convinced global warming was an urgent issue?

I was very frightened after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and I was committed to gaining a deeper understanding about environmental issues. At the time, global warming wasn't on the country's agenda. Outside of the work of some scientists and academics, global warming was a theory, not a mainstream issue. I spent months talking to experts who studied the effects of climate change, and I learned about the work of leading environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Defense Fund, among others.

It was during this time that I was introduced to Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, who was chief scientist and manager of the Climate and Air Program at the Environmental Defense Fund. I connected with Dr. Oppenheimer because he had a unique ability to synthesize his findings on climate change in a manner that was accessible and understandable to the general public. So, in 1989, I decided to create an endowed chair at the Environmental Defense Fund to support his work. This grant was one of the first major gifts of The Streisand Foundation.

From then on, my interest in trying to find workable solutions to help stop climate change only grew. During the '90s, in addition to making grants to support the work of leading environmental organizations, my foundation helped several U.S. scientists, experts and environmental leaders attend the Kyoto meeting on climate change. The meeting produced an international environmental treaty intended to achieve the reduction of greenhouse gases. (Of the 169 signatories, only the United States and Australia have yet to ratify the treaty.)

Most recently, I was one of three lead funders of the Clinton Foundation's Climate Change Initiative. Environmental protection, conservation and climate change will always be a top priority of my foundation.

What do you consider the most important conservation steps for individuals?

The awareness of global warming and the efforts at conservation have come a long way in the past 20 years. But clearly we are not moving at a quick enough pace. The U.S. contains 4 percent of the world's population but produces almost 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. A lot of time was lost over the past eight years to make the necessary drastic and critical changes in our behavior in order to curb climate change. Many Americans feel like the problem can only be solved with significant intervention by the federal government. That is true, but we also need the action of every American to help solve this problem.

It was fantastic that, during the 2008 presidential campaign, President [Barack] Obama highlighted ways in which everyday Americans can help in this fight. ... by filling up the air in their tires, replacing older light bulbs [with] newer, energy-saving ones, driving a hybrid vehicle, carpooling, bringing your own bags to the grocery store, installing low-flow showerheads, unplugging unused appliances and recycling.

These are not just energy-saving tips but cost-saving ones, as well.


As Lily Tomlin says, "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."

The truth of Tomlin's observation struck me when I read that lobbyists for America's charity hospitals are campaigning to kill reform legislation that would require charity-care hospitals to provide – get this – charity care. I sat there blinking for a while, thinking: you mean they don't?

As it turns out, no. Although they're called "charity hospitals," and although they are tax-exempt and they get some six-billon dollars a year worth of special tax breaks on the grounds that they provide free health care for low-income folks – they either don't, or provide very-little. In fact, it's hard today to tell the difference between these non-profit entities and your run-of-the-mill for-profit hospital chains. The charitable outfits often turn away the poor from the hospital doors, and when they do provide treatment, they're likely to use nasty, bullying tactics to try to collect money from the poor.

They've gotten away with this by claiming that they meet the charitable standard by holding some health fairs, offering occasional screening days for cholesterol, and doing medical research. A bipartisan proposal in Congress, however, says that tax-exempt hospitals could no longer refuse service to charity cases, and the bill also would rein in the hospital roughhouse bill collectors. In other words, this reform provision would require the non-profits to put the "charity" back in charity care – or lose their tax exemption.

Hospital lobbyists are squealing like stuck pigs. They recently sent an astonishingly-cynical call for charity hospital executives to "oppose charity care." To help battle this greed, join the email campaign by Community Catalyst. Contact the group by email at – or call 617-275-2896.

Tell the Gang of 6: Give back your dirty insurance money

Have you heard about the six senators who are out to kill health care reform?

Of course, that's not how they'd phrase it. Sens. Baucus, Bingaman, Conrad, Enzi, Grassley and Snowe say they're striving for "bi-partisan compromise." But what they're actually doing is working to make sure reform won't include a public option or mandatory employer-based insurance - two key policies needed for effective reform.

There are 100 members of the Senate, but these six, inexplicably, seem to be holding all the cards when it comes to health care.

So you probably won't be surprised to learn that all six have taken a huge amount of money from the health insurance industry and pharma. Take a look:

Senator Lifetime contributions from Insurance/Pharma
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) $1,203,205
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) $206,297
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) $442,165
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-NV) $342,228
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) $702,595
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) $161,706
TOTAL: $3,058,256

These six senators -- who, by the way, represent only 2.74% of Americans between them -- are writing bad policy, and they're doing it while they take money from the very companies who stand to benefit the most.

Sign this petition today to tell Sens. Baucus, Bingaman, Conrad, Enzi, Grassley and Snowe: Give back every dime you've ever received from health insurance companies and big pharma.