Friday, October 16, 2009

Gitmo High School

The S-Word and Dr. Kevorkian's Accountant


by Greg Palast

Wendell Potter tells Greg Palast health insurers' dirty secret.
Wendell Potter tells Greg Palast health insurers' dirty secret. (Photo: Fighting Bob Fest)

 Health care Rx from my socialist fire department.

    Tell me where it hurts, Mr. President.

    What's killing you, Barack, is what's killing us all: an evil germ called "Medical Loss Ratio."

    "Medical Loss Ratio" [MLR] is the fancy term used by health insurance companies for their slice, their take-out, their pound of flesh, their gross - very gross - profit.

    The "MLR" is the difference between what you pay an insurance company and what that insurer pays out to doctors, hospitals and pharmacists for your medical care.

    I've totted it up from the raw stats: The "MLR," insurance companies' margins, is about to top - holy mama! - a quarter trillion dollars a year. That's $2.7 trillion over the next decade.

    Until the 1990's, insurers skimmed only about a nickel on the dollar for their "service," Wendell Potter told me. Potter is the CIGNA insurance company PR man who came in from the cold to tell us about what goes down inside the health insurance gold mine. Today, Potter notes (and I've checked his accuracy), porky operators like AIG have kicked up their Loss Ratio by nearly 500 percent.

    The industries' slice is growing to nearly a quarter of your insurance bill. All of it just paperwork and profiteering.

    President Obama is never going to pull the insurance company piggies from a trough this big, especially when the industry has made room for Congressional snouts.

    So what's the Rx? Easy: Kill the pigs and call the fire department.

    The only solution to Loss Ratio piggery is to kill the pigs: eliminate health insurers from the health industry entirely.

    We can't cure our ills, as our president has attempted, by attacking the problem ass-backwards. No, Mr. Obama, we don't need HEALTH INSURANCE for everyone, we need HEALTH CARE for everyone. There's a giant difference. Instead of concentrating on PAYMENT, we need to focus solely on providing the health SERVICE.

    From my London days writing for The Guardian, I can tell you the British do NOT have national health insurance. They have a National Health Service.

   The government builds hospitals, hires doctors and, when you need the service, you just go and get it. It's kind of like the fire department. When your house is on fire, you don't call your fire insurance company, you call THE FIRE DEPARTMENT. We care first about the service, not the payment.

    The British government hires the doctors, like firemen, and Brits use them, like firemen, as they need them.

    It works. My mother-in-law, a nurse, on a visit to England, was stunned at the speed, quality and absence of mad paperwork to fix her broken arm.

    But, you might say, that's, that's SOCIALISM! Well, yes, it is. And I'm not afraid to use the S-word: Socialized Medicine. Just like America's Socialized Fire Departments. (Fun fact: socialized, i.e. publicly funded, fire departments were 'invented' by the revolutionary Ben Franklin.)

Grayson calls on American public to ‘Unmask the Fed’

By Kathleen Miller

Florida Democrat U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson wants Americans to help him block Congress from confirming the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to his second term unless he hands over documents relating to the bailouts of financial institutions, including the rescue of Bear Stearns.

In the "Unmask the Fed" campaign, Grayson calls on constituents to sign petitions demanding that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke "come clean" before senators re-confirm his appointment to the helm of the Federal Reserve.

Grayson wants access to the Bear Stearns rescue paperwork as well as the details of which financial institutions received $1.2 trillion in bailout money, how much each institution received, and what was promised in return.  He's also seeking Fed documents that discuss the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch merger, transcripts of Open Market Meeting minutes, and the terms and conditions of Fed transactions not reflected in balance sheets from the past three years.

"[T]he Senate should know who got the $2 trillion the Federal Reserve has lent out over the last two years," the petition reads.  "Only then will the Senate be able to judge whether he should keep his job."

The $800 Billion Deception

Conservatives claim the stimulus has already failed. But it has barely started.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.From the moment it passed, the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the stimulus bill—has been the subject of controversy. Many critics have deemed it a debacle, since unemployment has continued to rise in the months since its passage. The Republican Party declared the bill a failure over the summer, and House Minority Leader John Boehner recently deemed it a waste: "You can't spend $800 billion of taxpayer money and not create jobs when you say that's what the goal was." At a dinner several weeks ago, I heard a cable news reporter, one whose job is to report numbers accurately, declare that "we've already spent $800 billion and it was a waste." I suppose it's too much to ask political hacks and TV reporters to get the size and timing of the stimulus package right. But I expect better from my colleagues at the Washington Post editorial page, which on Sunday argued against further stimulus measures because they would add to the scary national debt and because "the government still hasn't run through half of the $787 billion in tax cuts and spending increases enacted this year."

Some things about the stimulus are indeed complicated. How precisely do you measure the number of jobs "saved" when the federal government cuts checks to states, thus allowing them to avoid budget cuts? But some things about the stimulus are quite simple, including its size and the amount of it that has been spent so far.

To begin with, the stimulus was $787 billion, not $800 billion. (Those of you who think there isn't much of a difference, please make out a check for the difference to Daniel M. Gross.) The more egregious error has to do with the timing. Many critics act as if the entire amount has already been spent. They're completely wrong. Even to argue that it's been half-spent, as the Post, does, is only half-right.

As was planned from the start, in fact, only a small portion of the $787 billion has been spent. The Council of Economic Advisers recently issued a comprehensive report on the impact of the stimulus. "As of the end of August, $151.4 billion of the original $787 billion has been outlaid or has gone to American taxpayers and businesses in the form of tax reductions," the CEA reports. That's 19 percent. If projections made for September expenditures are right, "between one-fifth and one-quarter of the total $787 billion" was spent by the beginning of October.

This is not surprising. The ARRA is divided into six different types of components, from tax cuts to infrastructure investments. Some can be done quickly (cutting and mailing tax rebate checks) while others (building bridges) take longer. "The areas where stimulus has been largest in the first six months are individual tax cuts, state fiscal relief, and aid to those most directly hurt by the recession," the CEA reported. Through the end of August, in fact, tax cuts accounted for $62.6 billion of expenditures, and government investment outlays accounted for only $16.5 billion.

In other words, nearly eight months after its passage, a large majority of the stimulus has yet to start impacting the economy—as was the plan.

Testosterone drives men to buy fast cars

Men's testosterone levels rose when they drove a Porsche.Testosterone is what drives men's desire to own fast cars, according to a study published in the journal Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes.

Researchers at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business in Montreal took 39 willing young men and let them take a cruise in a $150,000 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet.

The men were then asked to drive a 16-year-old Toyota Camry.

They drove each vehicle once on a busy street where they would be seen by women, and then again on a quiet road.

After one hour, the men's saliva was tested for testosterone.

The researchers found that in the sedan, the men's hormone levels remained low, but in the sports car, testosterone levels stayed high — with or without an audience.

"In other words, just put a guy in a Porsche, and his testosterone levels shoot up, whether people watch or not," said marketing professor Gad Saad, the study's lead researcher.

Speculated anatomy of a homie

Reform-killing, Oligarchic Senate Still 'Treasonous' After All These Years

Smirking Chimp

Where are gutsy muckrakers of yesteryear? In a stunning 1906 Cosmopolitan expose, journalist David Graham Phillips made history with his headline, "The Treason of the Senate." He then justified his condemnation of mercenary senators, then cherrypicked by states and owned by nefarious Trusts:

Treason is a strong word, but not too strong, rather too weak, to characterize the situation in which the Senate is the eager, resourceful, indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be.

By 1914, the 17th Amendment mandated senators be popularly elected but, judging by today's unevolved results, we have not yet salvaged one of the Founders' worst blunders. This American replica of the House of Lords, our least democratic, least representative organ, lives on, still the blockage after all these years.

You'd think franchising ex-slave descendants, non-land-owning men and wise women would save us? Yet our pretend elections, especially when counting votes tests southern I.Q.'s, only obscure contemporary 1906-style corruption. We pay senators from, say, Oklahoma as dumb as posts, as willfully ignorant about science and economics as history, hence easy pickings for modern "trusts" run by smarter executives. Beyond the energy, mining, banking and endless war cartels, robber barons of health will spend $400 million fighting reform just this year, on top of $50 million channeled to Senate Finance committee members. None dare call that treason, just good business.

This senate, literally "council of old men"

Modern misconduct invokes not just 1906 but Roman history and root meanings for "senate" - from the Latin, "senex," old man, as in senior, seniority, and senility. Toadying to tyrannical authority, and including only handpicked, aged patricians enlisted for life, early Roman senates did the bidding of kings. 2500 years later, our least enlightened senators honor this history, as feckless, impregnable lifers beholden to masters of the economic universe.

Until we reform the Senate, via election, outrage and amendment, forget strong systemic reform that reverses our hastening slide. Pogo aside, the enemy is "them" - "indefatigable," moneyed interests "hostile" to America's future. The log jam is not public opinion, the House, the White House, not deranged rightwingers gushing sound and fury - not even Senate Republican blowhards, despite bad faith fictions that poison debate. The current enemy, treasonous to good government and rationality, are Senate DINOs - Democrats In Name Only.

Just what our Bush-bludgeoned republic needs: mercenary, intellectually senile "councils of old men" who shudder at the tamest "public option" reforms - thus holding all hostage. That's only Democrats: throw in GOP primitives - Inhofe (OK), DeMint (SC), Burning (KY), Sessions (AL), Shelby (AL), and Cornyn (TX) - and voila! reactionary Lords who demagogue against heresies: a duly-elected, "colored" president, evolution, stem cell research, democratic health care, global warming, or negotiation with unconquerable foes.

Morals Without God

by Frans de Waal

Without God, we will live like animals!

After listening to the debate between Bill O'Reilly and Richard Dawkins, it struck me again that the resistance to evolutionary theory largely stems from the illusion that without God there can be no morality. Some believers feel threatened by evolutionary theory not because the theory is right or wrong -- the evidence doesn't seem to matter much to them -- but because accepting it would mean accepting that we have been created by natural processes including our morality. The final part is what bothers them the most.

O'Reilly exclaimed that at least Jesus had "advanced the human condition in a moralistic way" and another believer, Reverend Al Sharpton, expressed the same sentiment in a 2007 debate in the New York Public Library:

"If there is no order to the universe, and therefore some being, some force that ordered it, then who determines what is right or wrong? There is nothing immoral if there's nothing in charge."

Similarly, I have heard people literally echo Dostoevsky's Ivan Karamazov, exclaiming that "If there is no God, I am free to rape my neighbor!"

Perhaps it is just me, but I'd be wary of anyone whose belief system is the only thing standing between them and repulsive behavior. Why not assume that our humanity, including the self-control needed for a livable society, is built into us? Does anyone truly believe that our ancestors lacked rules of right and wrong before they had religion? Did they never assist others in need, or complain about an unfair deal?

Human morality must be quite a bit older than religion and civilization. It may, in fact, be older than humanity itself. Other primates live in highly structured social groups in which rules and inhibitions apply and mutual aid is a daily occurrence. Acts of genuine kindness do occur in animals as they do in humans. Altruistic behavior serves a cooperative group life, which benefits the actors of such behavior, yet the behavior is fueled by its own autonomous motivations, which vary from self-serving to other-regarding.

The animal kingdom offers so many examples that I surely cannot summarize them here (see my new book, The Age of Empathy), but the interesting part is not so much whether animals have empathy and compassion, but how it works.

In one experiment, we placed two capuchin monkeys side by side: separate, but in full view. One of them needed to barter with us with small plastic tokens. The critical test came when we offered a choice between two differently colored tokens with different meaning: one token was "selfish," the other "prosocial." If the bartering monkey picked the selfish token, it received a small piece of apple for returning it, but its partner got nothing. The prosocial token, on the other hand, rewarded both monkeys equally at the same time. The monkeys gradually began to prefer the prosocial token. The procedures were repeated many times with different pairs of monkeys and different sets of tokens, and the monkeys kept picking the prosocial option showing how much they care about each other's welfare.

Read more at:

The science of scams

Why Your Idea to Save Journalism Won't Work (a checklist)

Oh, how I love fightorflight from Metafilter's checklist on why your plan to save journalism won't work. Top marks!

Your post advocates a

( ) technical ( ) legislative (X) market-based ( ) crowd-sourced

approach to saving journalism. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws owing to the avaraciousness of modern publishers.)

( ) It does not provide an income stream to the working journalist
( ) Nobody will spend eight hours sitting in a dull council meeting to do it
( ) No one will be able to find the guy
(X) It is defenseless against copy-and-paste
(X) It tries to prop up a fundamentally broken business model
(X) Users of the web will not put up with it
( ) Print readers will not put up with it
( ) Good journalists will not put up with it
( ) Requires too much cooperation from unwilling sources
( ) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
(X) Many publishers cannot afford to lose what little business they have left
( ) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else's career or business
( ) Even papers run by trusts and charities are already going bankrupt

Specifically, your plan fails to account for

(X) Readers' unwillingness to pay for just news
( ) The existence and popularity of the BBC
(X) Unavoidable availability of free alternatives
( ) Sources' proven unwillingness to "go direct"
( ) The difficulty of investigative journalism
( ) The massive tedium of investigative journalism
(X) The high cost of investigative journalism
( ) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
(X) Editorial departments small enough to be profitable are too small to do real reporting
( ) Legal liability of "citizen journalism"
( ) The training required to be even an rubbish journalist
(X) What readers want, in the main, is celebrity and football
( ) The necessity of the editing process
(X) Americans' huge distrust of professional journalism
( ) Reluctance of governments and corporations to be held to account by two guys with a blog
( ) Inability of two guys with a blog to demand anything
( ) How easy it is for subjects to manipulate two guys with no income
( ) Rupert Murdoch
( ) The inextricably local nature of much newsgathering
( ) The dependence of all other forms of news media on print reporting
( ) The dependence of national press on local press reporting
( ) Technically illiterate politicians
( ) The tragedy of the commons
( ) The classified-driven business model of much print publishing
(X) The tiny amounts of money to be made from online ads for small sites

Problem with your plan to save media: the checklist (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

To prove Muslim ’spying,’ right-wing authors planted spy

By Daniel Tencer

The pre-eminent Muslim advocacy group in Washington, DC, has greeted four Republicans' accusations that it is trying to plant "spies" disguised as interns on Capitol Hill with outrage, derision and ridicule.

US House Reps. Paul Broun (R-GA), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Sue Myrick (R-NC) and John Shadegg (R-AZ) announced Wednesday morning that they want the House's sergeant-at-arms to investigate claims made in a new book that the Council on American-Islamic Relations has a plan to infiltrate Congress with interns who would spy for the group.

CAIR says the evidence for the allegations made in the book is nothing more than documents showing the group is engaged in typical lobbying efforts in Congress. It also says the allegations made against them could be fuel for hate groups.

The Republican quartet's claims are based on a book published by the conservative news site WorldNetDaily, entitled Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That's Conspiring to Islamize America. The book was written by Paul Sperry and Dave Gaubatz. According to Politico, Gaubatz, an anti-Muslim activist, wrote last year that "a vote for Hussein Obama is a vote for Sharia law."

CAIR denounced Sperry and Gaubatz's claims as "racist" and "insidious," reports Politico, but the group's communications director, Ibrahim Hooper, took a sarcastic tone when responding to the allegations.

"We would love to help people find jobs on Capitol Hill," he said. "There's a Muslim Staffer Association. Should they be investigated?"

Who's spying now?

As WorldNetDaily described, to make its argument that CAIR is "infiltrating" Congress, the authors planted an infiltrator in CAIR -- specifically, Dave Gaubatz's son, Chris, who posed as "Dave Marshall," a "bearded Muslim convert," to land an internship at CAIR's Washington office.

It was that deception that seemed to raise the most outrage from CAIR's Hooper, who told TalkingPointsMemo's Justin Elliott that Gaubatz had taken numerous documents from the organization's offices.

"We treated him so well," an "angry" Hooper told TPM. "I jokingly offered to help him get married. ... They lied to us about their background. They falsely claimed to be Muslim. They would stand next to us and pray during prayers."

Hooper told TPM that Gaubatz's "evidence" amounts to little more than documents showing that CAIR engaged in standard lobbying efforts. "This guy spied on us for months, and the most they can come up with is that we're doing ordinary lobbying work on Capitol Hill?"

25 Awesome Dirty Car Window Drawings

These were all done by an artist named Scott Wade. The rest of his work can be seen here. Hey Scott, we wish our girlfriends were this dirty! Hi-Yo!

The US Consumes 1500 Plastic Water Bottles Every Second, a fact by Watershed

by Petz Scholtus

MSLK Watershed Art Installation

MSLK, a New York based graphic design firm, uses art to raise awareness on the consumption of plastics. Their most recent project, Watershed, has been touring New York City during Climate Week and set the scene for benefit performances by Moby, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and a speech by Kofi Annan during the world premiere of "The Age of Stupid". Guess what the 1500 plastic water bottles used to construct this eco-installation represent? (see video and more images below)

1500 is the number of plastic water bottles consumed in 1 second in the US!

MSLK Watershed Art Installation in NY

Here a few more shocking statistics from MSLK's Watershed installation:

Out of the 50 billion bottles of water being bought each year, 80% end up in a landfill, even though recycling programs exist.

17 million barrels of oil are used in producing bottled water each year.

Bottled water costs 1,000 times more than tap water. Drinking 2 Litres of tap water a day only costs 50 cents per year.

Plastic leaches toxins into the water, which have been linked to health problems such as reproductive issues and cancer.

New York City tap water surpasses all federal and state health standards.

Most people agree that getting rid of plastic water bottles by switching to tap water instead has a huge impact on the environment as well as our wallet, and is also much more practical. To put a stop to our habits of careless over-consumption requires individual action, which is why the graphic design studio MSLK uses art to create awareness.

"American Idiot" at the Berkeley Rep

by Purple Gene

Back in the late 80's I was looking for some live music to thrash to and I heard about a pithy little punk palace over on the industrial side of Berkeley called 924 Gilman Street…there was this new local band (from Vallejo) playing called "Sweet Children" ….they were a trio and kinda fit the bill as young, angry, obnoxious and anarchical assholes bangin' loud shit to a crazy crowd…it was a small venue with a lot of leather and chains (and eye make-up)…I remembered these guys not for their songs but for their spirit….I heard later that they changed their name to "Green Day"!

"Time of Your Life"

A number of years later…and after heavy MTV exposure and an infamous "Woodstock 1994" mud fight, they came out with a single called "Good Riddance (Time of your Life)"…

This song absolutely blew me away and I became re-hooked on "Green Day".

Then they went back to their 3 crashing chords with the hit "Holiday"

"American Idiot"

"Green Day" just kept getting better and better and like everyone in the mid 2000's were angry and upset over the political situation in our country…so they wrote, recorded and performed in Las Vegas their new concept album (and song) "American Idiot".. then in 2006 they won a Grammy for their recording of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"..

Pop Punk Play

Just recently, Director Michael Mayer contacted "Green Day" about turning their concept album "American Idiot" into a Broadway Musical…initially Billy and the Boys were sort of stunned but warmed to the new challenge…after seeing Mayer's "Spring Awakening" production in New York. The play opened at the Berkeley Rep in early September

"American Idiot" the Musical

It's 6:45 PM on a Wednesday night and we are finding our places in the newly appointed ($10 million) Berkeley Rep Theater…..after being seated, turning off our cell phones and looking around at the other people…the curtain went up and we were blasted with a live drummer laying out the rhythm for "American Idiot"…the stage set was remarkable…maybe 80 feet high with newspaper articles, TV screens, hanging cars, graffiti and scaffolding…magnificent lighting…then the guitar player started blasting the chords at us…the base player bumped in…then suddenly this young thrasher named "Johnny" started singing…"don't wanna be an American Idiot…." And pretty soon the stage started filling up 20 something characters chiming in the chorus…then the story line of American Idiot begins….It turns out that "Johnny" (the main persona) is an angry confused shiftless young man with 2 similar friends…Tunny and Will….this is the story of their journey through a "21st Century Breakdown"…temptation and trouble with "Jesus of Suburbia" and ultimate reunion and "Redemption" all to the original tunes of "Green Day"

I really loved the whole concept, choreography, stage sets and the music….the players were adequately energetic and sufficiently talented (Tony Vincent as "St. Jimmy was outstanding). The action was frenetic and non stop and kept my head spinning….I had a little trouble following the story line and I wasn't thrilled with the final song…it wasn't catchy and sing a longy…..I would have preferred the play ending with "Time of your Life"! But……..

Broadway here they come…it's that good

Purple Gene gives "American Idiot: the Play"… 9 "West Side Story"…."Tommy" …."Hair"….."Jesus Christ…Superstar"….."Bohemian Rhapsody" …and "The Wall" kind of kudos out of 10 for being quite an original and amazing Rock Opera!

PS…..if high schools are ever gonna put on productions of "American Idiot" they will have to modify the 50 or more "fuck you's" in the story for the parents and teachers to approve!

Palin's bookcase