As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Living 21 Years In The Past

The SacBee reports that Tough On Crime types are trotting out the same symbols that Lee Atwater used in 1988 to sink a Democratic Presidential candidate.

Willie Horton's shadow haunts the Capitol as lawmakers wrestle with how to cut $1.2 billion from state prisons without endangering public safety.

More than two decades after Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush used televised ads of murderer Horton to paint presidential opponent Michael Dukakis as soft on crime, state GOP lawmakers are slapping Democrats with a similar charge over proposed prison cuts.

The politically explosive issue, coupled with opposition from some law enforcement groups, is making many Democrats jittery – especially those with aspirations for higher office.

I'm hearing that a lot of this nonsense is being pushed by astroturf front groups for the prison guard's union. And considering that Horton was the kind of violent offender who would be exempted from any changes in the law under the plan on offer, it's simply baseless. But this may be more about getting prison guard money and law enforcement support in future elections. But it has the effect of legitimizing the kind of nonsense that has destroyed our prison system, given us the highest recidivism rate in the nation, put the prison health care system in the hands of a federal receiver due to Constitutional violations, and drawn a demand from federal judges to reduce the population by 44,000.

And it's working, of course.

Bass proposes to eliminate a provision in the Senate-passed plan that has attracted the most intense opposition.

Known as "alternative custody," the controversial proposal would allow the release of up to 6,300 low-level, nonviolent inmates who are elderly, medically infirm, or have less than a year remaining on their sentences.

Inmates released under the plan would be subject to electronic monitoring under "house arrest," which could include placement in a residence, local program, hospital or treatment center.

Because blind people with one leg are dangers to society, and we should spend more money warehousing them than we do on the average higher education student. Makes perfect sense. Not to mention the fact that the judges will probably release these same offenders anyway, as part of the federal mandate.

The real fear is that the Assembly will water down the sentencing commission so that lawmakers will have to affirmatively pass their recommendations into law instead of having to pass legislation to prevent those recommendations from being enacted. Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, running for Attorney General, basically says in the piece that he wants such a change. It's a subtle but important difference; essentially the recommendations will be easier to kill under the weakened standard. And so we continue the endless Tough On Crime march that has put us into a ditch.

Meanwhile, as John Myers notes, intransigence on sensible prison reform will simply increase the eventual budget deficit:

Then there's the never-ending state budget blues. The original prison plan, when added to February's budget cuts and gubernatorial plans to reduce prison spending, was a $1.2 billion part of the deficit solution written into law; the original bill, alone, was estimated to save as much as $600 million. But that was with those alternatives to prison cell custody and fewer crimes resulting in felony one-way tickets to the joint. The 'Plan B' version, say staffers, may come up as much as $200 million short (and that's assuming all of the original savings estimated were valid).

In some years, a $200 million gap in the California state budget may not be the end of the world. But this is no ordinary year; cuts a fraction of that size are forcing all kinds of shutdowns of state services. And if this plan becomes the new way to go on prisons, it's going to leave a lot of budget watchers -- and Californians -- wondering what happens next.

Democrats are wrong if they think they can finesse the right into taking the charge that they are "coddling murderers" off the table. Just look at eMeg, claiming that a sentencing commission would reverse three strikes, about as factual a charge as Sarah Palin's "death panels." They'll always be smeared, so they might as well do the right thing for once.

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To Be Fair, The Gun May Have Not Been Loaded

Remember, as long as interrogators didn't cause organ failure or death everything's fine.

CIA interrogators used a handgun and an electric drill to try to frighten a captured al-Qaeda commander into giving up information, according to a long-concealed agency report due to be made public next week, former and current U.S. officials who have read the document said Friday.

The tactics -- which one official described Friday as a threatened execution -- were used on Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, according to the CIA's inspector general's report on the agency's interrogation program. Nashiri, who was captured in November 2002 and held for four years in one of the CIA's "black site" prisons, ultimately became one of three al-Qaeda chieftains subjected to a form of simulated drowning known as waterboarding.

The report also says that a mock execution was staged in a room next to one terrorism suspect, according to Newsweek magazine, citing two sources for its information. The magazine was the first to publish details from the report, which it did on its Web site late Friday.

A federal judge in New York has ordered a redacted version of the classified IG report to be publicly released Monday, in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. Since June, lawyers for the Justice Department and the CIA have been scrutinizing the document to determine how much of it can be made public. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has been weighing the report's findings as part of a broader probe into the CIA's use of harsh interrogation methods.

Got the Newsweek story right here. The interrogators of al-Nashiri clearly wanted him to think he would be shot, and in the other case, penetrated with a power drill, if he didn't give up the information they sought. The report also describes mock executions, in other words, gunshots going off in the rooms next door, making the prisoners believe they were killing others and they may be next. And look at this, "A federal law banning the use of torture expressly forbids threatening a detainee with imminent death."

Well, since when have federal laws amounted to anything in this crazy world? Especially if you can get some bureaucrat to sign off on it:

Three months before Nashiri's capture, the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel -- Jay S. Bybee, now a federal judge -- advised the CIA in an August 2002 memo that threats of "imminent death" were not illegal unless they deliberately produced prolonged mental harm. Independent legal experts have called that interpretation too hedged and thus too lax.

The CIA's excuse, of course, is that they didn't engage in any behavior that "went beyond formal guidance." Which isn't true, according to those familiar with the IG document - there's apparently an entire section listing violations by CIA interrogators. But the formal guidance, from hollowed-out souls like Bybee, was itself illegal. And we have documentary evidence of that beyond this IG report. Al-Nashiri was one of the suspects waterboarded by the CIA, as well as one of those who had his interrogation sessions taped. The CIA destroyed the torture tapes, but at a Netroots Nation panel an ACLU lawyer stated that there are written transcripts of these sessions which have been hidden from the public.

Not only will we get a chance to read all the gory details of this next week, but the "Cheney documents" will be on display as well:

At the same time the administration releases the inspector general's report, it is also expected to release other CIA documents that assert the agency collected valuable intelligence through the interrogation program. For months, former vice president Dick Cheney has called for these documents to be released. However, a person familiar with the contents of the documents says that they contain material that both opponents and supporters of Bush administration tactics can use to bolster their case. The Senate Committee on Intelligence is now conducting what is supposed to be a thorough investigation of the CIA's detention-and-interrogation program. The probe is intended not only to document everything that happened but also to assess whether on balance the program produced major breakthroughs or a deluge of false leads.

So we'll get a back and forth about whether torture saves lives, which each side cherry-picking their own set of facts (incidentally, the IG report concludes that the interrogations were "not effective"). But none of this strikes to the heart of the matter - we tortured. Torture is illegal. The ends don't justify the means in any legal sense. And those who authorized, directed and engaged in torture should be prosecuted. In fact, the current Administration violates the law with each day they fail to do so.

New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, told the Huffington Post that he believed that President Obama would be breaking the law if he decided to oppose launching investigation into the authorization of torture.

"If they follow the law they have no choice," Nadler said in an interview this past weekend.

The logic, for Nadler, is straightforward. As a signatory of the convention against torture, and as a result of the anti-torture act of 1996, the United States government is obligated to investigate accusations of torture when they occur in its jurisdiction.

The alternative, Nadler said, "would be violating the law. They would be not upholding the law; they would be violating it."

This will flare up every few weeks until justice is done. And with each passing day, trust in the President slips.

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Cracking Down On Tax Havens

A couple days old, but this is very interesting.

In the latest setback to Switzerland’s tradition of banking secrecy, UBS, one of the nation’s largest banks, agreed on Wednesday to turn over information on more than 4,400 American clients suspected by the Internal Revenue Service of using Swiss accounts for tax evasion.

The agreement is likely to unnerve American customers of UBS who do not know if their names will be divulged, and could deter others from opening Swiss accounts in the future.

Whether the deal will change the Swiss banking industry’s culture of secrecy remains to be seen. Smaller Swiss banks say they are confident that they can blunt its effects and continue to profit by finding new, more elaborate ways to protect the privacy of clients. But American authorities have made clear that their pursuit of tax evaders will not stop at UBS.

I would hope it does unnerve UBS customers from opening Swiss bank accounts, considering that those accounts violate US law. I would say that rich people ought to think twice before starting their own offshore tax havens.

By the way, if the President wants to recapture some of his liberal base, he could do worse than emphasizing this outcome. People are justifiably angry that the banks appear to have gotten away with almost destroying the global economy and taking hundreds of billions from the US Treasury. I know that class warfare is messy and all, but showing that a Democratic government does their job and ferrets out rich tax cheats would at least play against this hardening belief that all politicians funnel money to the wealthy. Foreign lobbyists are trying hard to get the DoJ to back off, but if the Administration remains vigilant in the face of that pressure, they can really announce this as a victory. I would like to see conservatives argue in favor of the uber-rich stashing away their cash in offshore tax havens. Really, go ahead.

...Apparently Switzerland knows when to get out of the tax cheat business: they're selling their stake in UBS.

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Fighting Baucus And Grassley From Within

The only way you can really get to a Max Baucus or a Charles Grassley is by threatening their job security. In particular, Grassley is up for re-election next year, in a state that went for Barack Obama by a fairly hefty margin. If I didn't know better, I'd say that Rep. Bruce Braley, chair of the Populist Caucus in the House, is setting himself up for a challenge to him.

Grassley used scare tactics last week at a town hall meeting in Iowa to convince voters that optional coverage for end-of-life counseling in the House health care reform bill would force people to "pull the plug on grandma" (even though he supported a nearly identical end-of-life counseling provision in a 2003). Earlier this week, Grassley told reporters that even if a health care plan included the changes he's been pushing for, he likely wouldn't support it if it didn't attract the support of more than a few of his GOP colleagues. Today, the Washington Post reported that Senator Grassley has begun calling for "scaled back" health care reform.

For someone who claims he wants to help forge a bipartisan health care plan, Senator Grassley sure isn't acting very bipartisan. In fact, he's been behaving like someone who wants to see meaningful health care reform defeated [...]

Senator Grassley is in a stronger position than just about anyone to bring Republicans on board with Democrats to achieve the health care reform we need. But when he uses the same rhetoric as pundits advising Republicans to "just kill it" and a Republican Senator who wants to make health care President Obama's "Waterloo," why would the President or Senator Baucus think he is their ally in achieving meaningful health care reform?

Sadly, it appears that Senator Grassley has decided to put his party before what's best for the people of this country.

The Des Moines Register has already floated the rumor about a "mystery" Democratic candidate willing to take on Grassley. Braley has certainly become more vocal in his criticisms. And the fact that Grassley immediately released a statement attacking Braley shows that he is sensitive to this rumor. I don't know if an announced challenge would put Grassley on the defensive, but it sure couldn't hurt.

As for Baucus, he doesn't come back up for re-election until 2014. But Montanans are split on his actions on health care to this point. 42% approve and 44% disapprove. Baucus has previously been fairly popular in the state, now a public option is more popular than he is, and if he helps to kill a health care reform bill, his numbers will plummet. The Montana Democratic Party is trying to cover for Baucus by sending around the Paul Begala article telling Democrats to accept half a loaf, but based on the polling, that's not working.

I'm not certain either of these two arrogant members of the House of Lords are reachable, but the road to reaching them runs through their home states.

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Establishment Coalescing

Here are a couple headlines that I didn't think I'd see. One, Tom Daschle saying that budget reconciliation may be the only way for health care reform to pass. Two, and this one is really a stretch, Terry McAuliffe saying health care reform is a failure without a public option:

Former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe is demanding his party take a stand on health care legislation that the president and many others aren't willing to take: Pass a bill with a public option for insurance coverage or don't pass anything at all.

The long-time adviser to the Clintons, striking an atypically progressive tone, urged the White House to get more assertive in its handling of health care reform and described a bill without a public plan as a "failure."

"If we don't have the public option, we are wasting our time," McAuliffe told the Huffington Post. "To chalk something up and get something that is not the right thing to do is morally wrong... To pass something just so you can go home and go into election saying we passed something is not why lawmakers are sent to Washington."

After a bit of silence following his loss in the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary, the former DNC chair has come out swinging on the year's most important legislative issue. On Thursday, McAuliffe agreed to host a fundraiser with the first Virginia pol who insisted that a public option be in the bill. The offer, he said, extends to Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner -- both of whom have been sour on the idea of a government-administered option for insurance coverage. He's also involved in whipping support in Congress for the public option.

McAuliffe is the first business-friendly Democrat making the business case for competition in health care, saying that the status quo is bankrupting individuals and companies. But more important, he's a figure with ties to the donor class and the Third Way wing of the party. That he's arguing so strongly for a public option suggests that he's placed a bet that the party would benefit from going that route, and more important, would suffer from failing to do so.

Now it's basically up to the leadership to decide which way to go. Nancy Pelosi has said that her chamber cannot pass a bill without a public option. Steny Hoyer cut her off at the knees yesterday, saying "I'm for a public option but I'm also for passing a bill." Of course, in the House, those two statements are not mutually exclusive, but Hoyer clearly counts on progressives caving. $361,614 says they won't.

As for the Senate, Harry Reid has a choice to make. He can include the public option in the elements of the bill to pass through the reconciliation process, or turn the screws on ConservaDems to invoke cloture on the bill, or he can continue to allow the Baucus caucus to hijack the process. Reid has the ability to bypass the Finance Committee completely, if he chooses, and bring a bill to the floor. And he can use reconciliation for the elements about which Baucus and his cronies feel squishy.

Reid can't do it alone, of course. The President would have to get involved behind the scenes. But Democrats who are losing their base had better think of something to get this through.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

The Plaintive Wail Of The Not-Quite-As-Obscenely-Rich

There's a new sub-genre in journalism, tracking the travails and hardships of the not-quite-as-obscenely-rich. Inequality is still at its highest level since the Gilded Age, mind you, and the top 1% still rakes in 35% of all compensation, but selected still-rich individuals lost a little of their fortunes. This is the stuff of front-page news.

Last year, the number of Americans with a net worth of at least $30 million dropped 24 percent, according to CapGemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. Monthly income from stock dividends, which is concentrated among the affluent, has fallen more than 20 percent since last summer, the biggest such decline since the government began keeping records in 1959.

Bill Gates, Warren E. Buffett, the heirs to the Wal-Mart Stores fortune and the founders of Google each lost billions last year, according to Forbes magazine. In one stark example, John McAfee, an entrepreneur who founded the antivirus software company that bears his name, is now worth about $4 million, from a peak of more than $100 million. Mr. McAfee will soon auction off his last big property because he needs cash to pay his bills after having been caught off guard by the simultaneous crash in real estate and stocks.

“I had no clue,” he said, “that there would be this tandem collapse.”

You really have to be kidding me with this. The stock market dropped 40%, so we're talking about paper value, not real but imagined wealth. And none of it was real anyway. That same stock market is now at a 52-week high at today's close, so the first thing to come back in this so-called recovery has been the fortunes of these same lamented rich people. The jobs for everyday Americans, not so much.

The ostensible premise of the article, that lesser yields for the rich may lead to a flattening of income distribution and maybe some relief for the middle and lower classes, is proven wrong by the middle of the article.

Few economists expect the country to return to the relatively flat income distribution of the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, they say that inequality is likely to remain significantly greater than it was for most of the 20th century. The Obama administration has not proposed completely rewriting the rules for Wall Street or raising the top income-tax rate to anywhere near 70 percent, its level as recently as 1980. Market forces that have increased inequality, like globalization, are also not going away.

No, the real reason for this article is so super-rich people can read about other super-rich people and not feel so bad about poor people dying in the streets because of their hoarded fortunes. For example, here's Mike Bloomberg, of all people, singing a dirge for the poor little rich people.

Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical companies and their chief executives on Friday, declaring that they "don't make a lot of money" and shouldn't be scapegoats in the health care debate.

The mayor – and wealthiest person in New York City with a fortune estimated at $16.5 billion – made the comments on his radio show Friday during a discussion about health care.

"You know, last time I checked, pharmaceutical companies don't make a lot of money, their executives don't make a lot of money – not that they couldn't be better," Bloomberg said.

Pharmaceutical CEOs are known to make millions, with generous salaries, stock options and other perks.

This is a guy who bought the Mayoralty in New York for $100 million dollars over two terms, talking about people who routinely make tens of millions of dollars and hold hundreds of millions more in stock options, telling the public that the plebes shouldn't revolt because things are tough all over and those pharmaceutical CEOs are barely scraping by.

Well, tell you what then. As long as CEOs from the insurance and drug industries are basically pikers, they should have no problem adhering to Henry Waxman's request and providing readouts of their salaries and perks, so they can prove to the world once and for all that they're in this for the saving of lives and not the filthy lucre. Surely they'll agree to that.

Maybe they'll even tell the New York Times what a bad year they're having.

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The Charge Of The Hack Brigade

If the Capitol Weekly is going to have a right-wing corporate shill on their editorial pages, the least they could do is get a good one. Because I don't know where anyone, even John Kabateck of the National Federation of Independent Business, gets the cajones, after the legislature just passed a cuts-only budget completely on the backs of poor people, to fret about the plight of possible taxes for the business community.

"Get the monkey off your back and relocate to Las Vegas", barks a new ad trying to lure hard-working small businesses away from California. If legislators don't listen, small businesses that have already been hit hard by the effects of a fragile economy and the billions in taxes that were passed earlier this year will go under.

Um, right, this "rich people and businesses are leaving California" Galt-ism is not true and has never been true. But do go on.

The Legislature is back and up to its old tricks. The budget that was passed in February and revised in July will need to be "fixed" again this fall. If history is our guide, we all know that it will be an uphill battle and an unpleasant environment for small businesses. There are currently $2 billion in tax hikes being proposed, including taxes on everything from gas, internet purchases and vehicle license fees.

Oh noes! Oil companies might have to pay for the natural resources they take out of California's ground for the first time in a century of drilling! Get the smelling salts! The vehicle license fee might return to still-well-below-the-average-percentage relative to every state in the nation! This is terrible!

You'll notice that Kabateck fails to mention the $2.5 billion annually in corporate tax cuts passed in the previous two budget agreements, which miraculously exceed the tax hikes - beaten back by the Yacht Party and the Governor in July - about which he is fretting so. These massive corporate tax cuts do nothing to keep the largest corporations in America doing business in California - they would hardly abandon a market of 38 million people. It's nothing more than a kickback for services rendered. And if that's a transaction of prostitution, then John Kabateck is the guy who cleans up the courtesan's antechamber afterward, eager to grab a buck for himself for the privilege of working for whores.

It's amazing how little the California office of the National Federation of Independent Business speaks for independent business. He could have written a nice little article about how corporate behemoths are screwing small businesses when it comes to state purchasing, which currently favors out-of-state multinationals. Instead, he offers the party line that the structural revenue gap is fine and leaving citizens out on the street to die is a small price to pay for protecting oil and cigarette companies. Kabateck doesn't seem to understand that this mentality is destroying the California economy, and with it all of those small businesses he claims to represent.

Hacktackular job, CapWeekly! With any luck, you'll get Jon Coupal or Joel Fox to offer a rebuttal.

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Glenn Beck Explains The Failure Of The For-Profit Health Care System

(This is part of my blogger fellowship for Brave New Films and its Sick For Profit campaign)

Bernie Sanders discussed health care today as part of his "Senator Sanders Unfiltered" series.

He brings up a very good point about what could happen in the absence of a strong public option or single payer system. You would generally have the federal government subsidizing private insurance companies without any cost containment. Individuals forced to buy insurance would only have the options among private companies, and they could raise their premium rates as much as they want every year, without being forced to compete with a more efficient alternative like a public option.

This is exactly what we're seeing in the market right now. And you don't have to believe me. Just believe none other than Glenn Beck.

Before leaving for his "vacation" this week, Beck taped a show about small businesses and the struggles they're having staying ahead. The show, aired August 17, got around to Beck asking some small businessmen about their health care costs. This extraordinary passage followed.

BECK: I just had a meeting with my staff, because I'm a small business owner, my company's called Mercury, and we're an entertainment company, we do all kinds of stuff. And I cover 100% health care. And we have the best that we could get for New York. This year, I think our health care went up 40% and then the next year it was up like 47%. And they keep taking away options. This year when we renewed, the health care provider came into my office and he said, "Are you really going to pick that?" And I said, "Well, yes, as long as I can." And he said, "You are the last person in the state of New York that is covering your employees like this." And I said, "Well, I just had a meeting with my employees and I said, 'I don't know how long I can do that, but we'll do it as long as we possibly can.'" But they're making it impossible. Does anybody else find it impossible? They make it impossible for you to do the right thing for your employees!

Beck doesn't want to fill in the "they" there, and I'm sure he figures his viewers will just substitute "government". But of course, the unnamed "they" is, clearly, the private insurance market and the health care industry in general. There has been no limit on their growth, no effort to control costs, and in fact the incentives go in the opposite direction. And it's crushing small businesses. Even GLENN BECK understands that. Without any need for competition, with regional monopolies across the country, with no meaningful checks on their power at the federal level, insurance companies can charge more and more for premiums and deny enough care to enough people to make exorbitant profits that allow them to pay CEOs hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation, stock options and perks.

And it's worse for the individual, who has no leverage, and often, no insurance. The health care market sees these people coming a mile away, and their eyes light up.

For example, one doctor billed $4,500 for an office visit when Medicare would have paid just $134. Another doctor billed $14,400 for removal of a gallbladder when Medicare would have paid $656. And a hip replacement cost $40,000 when Medicare would have paid $1,558.

....[Jeffrey] Rice said people should know they have a choice even when their insurance company is paying the bill. "Everyone knows you don't buy a car without knowing what the Blue Book value is. Well the same should be true in health care," he said.

....Previous research published in 2007 in the journal Health Affairs showed the "uninsured and other 'self-pay' patients for hospital services were often charged 2.5 times what most health insurers actually paid and more than three times the hospital's Medicare-allowable costs." The study by Gerard Anderson also found the "gaps between rates charged to self-pay patients and those charged to other payers are much wider than they were in the mid-1980s."

The lack of leverage in health care feeds the skyrocketing costs. Nobody should have to go broke because they get sick. Individuals empowered through collective action and purchasing power should be able to drive down those costs, without bankrupting health care providers. But the insurance companies would rather funnel that savings, the difference between what providers charge for the uninsured and the insured, into their own bank accounts. Without an incentive to make the product cheaper, the system will limp along and lots of people will get rich at the expense of tens of millions, who either have no insurance, or who find themselves denied coverage when they need it.

For all the talk of the insurance industry being a "constructive partner" in health care, they have not banned their own shameful practices of denying coverage and care, because even though they claim to support those changes, they will wait until the last possible moment to shut down their racket.

And things are going great for them at the moment. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average premium for a family plan in 1999 was $5,791. By 2008, the average premium was $12,680. So over a decade in which inflation increased prices by 29 percent, the price of family health insurance went up 119 percent. UnitedHealth, probably the most despicable of America's health insurers (look at any health-insurance industry scandal, and UnitedHealth is likely leading the way) just announced that in the second quarter of 2009, they made a profit of $859 million, every dollar squeezed from patient premiums and through the avoidance of what the industry calls "medical losses," meaning when they reluctantly pay for care [...]

So if the insurance industry really wants to demonstrate its good faith on health-care reform, here's what it could do: End these practices now. Don't wait to see what's in the final bill. Do it now. Stop denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. Stop rescinding the policies of people who get sick. Let people keep their coverage when they leave a job if they keep paying the premiums. Stop discriminating against pregnant women. You want to atone for your sins? Changing these policies would be a good place to start.

But they won't do that, most surely. They'd rather continue to profit off the pain and suffering of their customers. And until the politicians step in and change things, it will continue.

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My Gut Hatred Of People Who Use The Term "Gut Hatred" To Marginalize People

I'm glad that the Tom Ridge revelation about FEAR Unit is getting the pickup it deserves - we shouldn't forget the kind of place this country was after 9/11 and during the bulk of the Bush regime (By the way, Ridge has been hinting at this for years). Maybe if Democratic leaders understood that more they wouldn't be stubbing their toes right now. The facts are that the Republicans at that time were willing to politicize national security, and lie to terrorize the public, all to win elections. The fact that Ridge refused to raise the terror alert level one time (in response to the bin Laden message right before the 2004 vote) doesn't excuse him for doing Bush's bidding numerous times beforehand, like holding press conferences right after the Democratic National Convention raising fears of terrorism. And the spin from Frances Townsend, that they only discussed if raising threat levels would HURT Bush, makes no sense at all.

It was clear just by recognizing the pattern - that even election year came with a whole slew of terror alerts - that this was a coordinated effort to scare people into trusting Daddy Bush and the GOP with their lives. When Marc Ambinder tried to call those who recognize this pattern motivated by "gut hatred" of Bush and admitted that "journalists are going to give the government the benefit of some doubt," he really summed up the state of the modern media. Ambinder's apologized for the term "gut hatred," but not the underlying fallacy supporting his beliefs. Glennzilla:

Just as is still commonly said about opponents of the Iraq War (even though they were right, they were still wrong and unSerious because their motives were bad), Ambinder acknowledges that Bush critics were right that the terror alerts were being manipulated for political ends (he has no choice but to acknowledge that now that Ridge admits it), but still says journalists like himself were right to scorn such critics "because these folks based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence." As always: even when the dirty leftist hippies are proven right, they're still Shrill, unSerious Losers who every decent person and "journalist" scorns [...]

The reason journalists such as Ambinder saw no such evidence wasn't because it didn't exist. It existed in abundance; you had to suffer from some form of moral, intellectual or emotional blindness not to see it. It's because they didn't want to see it, because -- as Ambinder said -- they trusted the Bush administration as good and decent people who might err but would never do anything truly dishonest. It's because only loser Leftist ideologues distrusted Bush officials and the overriding goal of establishment journalists is to prove that they are not like them, that they're much more Serious and responsible and thus would never attribute bad motives to government leaders such as those who ran the Bush administration.

As Krugman says, "it’s really sad that those who missed the obvious, who failed to see what was right in front of their noses, still consider themselves superior to those who got it right." But then, they wouldn't be modern journalists if they didn't act that way.

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Those Who Fail To Learn History

It's hard to actually single out the dumbest conservative tripe you hear in a given day, but this is pushing it.

President Obama might not be aware of this but FDR passed Social Security with massive Republican support -- 81 Republicans voted in favor of the measure in the House and only 15 against while 16 Republicans voted in favor in the Senate and just 5 against. Johnson's Medicare package was only marginally more contentious. Just 13 Republicans voted in favor of Medicare in the Senate to 17 against, but in the House, more Republicans (70) voted for Johnson's Medicare plan than against (68).

Scott Lemieux' Shorter version might suffice, but just to expand a bit. In the 1930s and 1960s there were progressive Republicans and Dixiecrats. The same Southerners yelling that Obama is a Birther would probably be Democrats 40 years ago. Mississippi's James Eastland was far crazier than anyone serving in Congress today, and he was a Democrat. You can take African-American Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, a Republican, or John Lindsay or Mark Hatfield, as the example on the Republican side.

The parties did not experience much ideological purity until post-Nixon's Southern strategy. Hell, even in 2004 Zell Miller was still a Democrat. It took a long, long time, but this has pretty much finally shaken out, and now you have an arch-conservative Republican Party. Finding votes among them is an impossible task for any Democrat. Meanwhile, not only has political polarization increased over time, but Republican moderates have been purged from their party:

It’s also worth noting that if you look specifically at, say, Barack Obama’s success in wooing moderate Republicans from New England he’s doing a great job. His stimulus bill secured the support of literally 100 percent of the GOP congressional New England caucus. And the odds that his health care bill will secure the support of 50 or 100 percent of New England Republicans remains good. The issue is that there are only two of them. And this is no coincidence—very recently there were a lot more. I think it’s quite plausible to speculate that had Robert Simmons and Chris Shays spent their time swearing up and down Connecticut that they were eager to vote for universal health care and a tough cap and trade bill and were just chomping at the bit to find a President they could work with that those two gentlemen would still be serving in the United States House of Representatives.

By the way, Matt Y. also offers the lesson of James Eastland, who was the Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1960s:

Another moral of the story is that Eastland’s chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee obviously made passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 impossible. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and President Lyndon Johnson dealt with this by just . . . not letting the bill get bottled up in committee and bringing it to the floor instead. The sky didn’t fall! Leading politicians decided that justice was more important that the dead hand of Senate procedure and they brought the bill to the floor where it was voted on.

Somehow, this leads me to think about Max Baucus and the Senate Finance Commitee...

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Whaddya Know, They Found An Asshole To Run AIG

You'd think we weren't paying this guy $7 million dollars to do his job.

(Robert) Benmosche told employees that he “had the luxury to say to the government, I’m not going to rush to do this. I’m appalled at how much pressure has been put on all of you to just sell it no matter what, because the Fed wants out, or the Treasury wants out. If they want out in a hurry, they shouldn’t have come in in the first place.”

He's not being rushed at all, actually. He's starting his tenure with a two-week vacation to his Croatian villa.

Also, the government "came in" because AIG was hundreds of billions in the hole and begging for a rescue. These Masters of the Universe have still deluded themselves into thinking that the big bad government intruded on their party, and everything was going just fine until the crippling weight of socialism came to bear. In fact, we have socialism for the rich, and scraps for everyone else. And guys like Benmosche aren't even satisfied with that.

Yves says:

The government owns 79.9% of AIG. Any private sector owner who had an overwhelming majority interest and got that kind of attitude from a CEO would fire him immediately. But no, we live in a world where arrogant members of the financial services industry engage in looting, dictate terms to the government, and try to rewrite history to make baldfaced lies seem plausible. Why shoudn't the government pressure AIG? The idea that owners don't pressure companies (the subtext of this remark) is an absurd misrepresentation. Go talk to the management of any underperforming company owned by a PE or venture capital firm. For the most part, they do not play nice, and would never tolerate Benmoshe's posturing, and he knows that. He is simply playing the media and the public for fools.

Matt Taibbi details the web of lies that Benmosche has thus far subscribed to in his public statements. It's absolutely stunning that anyone would try to peddle a fiction that AIG was a super-awesome business and their only problem was that their regulator failed to rein them in. That's actually what the argument is.

One, let’s not forget that AIG went out of its way to cherry-pick the weak and understaffed OTS as its primary regulator by chartering an S&L called the AIG Federal Savings Bank in Wilmington, Delaware back in 1999. By this little maneuver AIG got itself declared a thrift holding company, which made the OTS, which only had one insurance expert on its staff, the primary regulator for the world’s largest insurance company.

Two, the notion that AIGFP was AIG’s only problem is bananas. It may not even have been AIG’s biggest problem. This legend obscures the fact that playing a nearly equal role in the demise of AIG was AIG’s securities-lending business, headed by yet another bombastic narcissist (AIG must lead the world in the hiring of these to senior management) named Win Neuger. Neuger back in the earlier part of this decade issued a clarion call to his subordinates, announcing a plan he called “10 cubed” — securing 1000 million (i.e. $1 billion) dollars a year in profits. Back in 2005 he told his staff that anyone who wasn’t on board with the plan to make a billion in profits a year could hit the road, literally, saying, “If you do not want to be on this bus, it’s a good time to step off.” [...]

This was a company that was tired of the boring, safe insurance business and decided not only to take its assets and bet them on the residential housing market, but to borrow massively and double and triple down on those bets. This was a systemic, company-wide insanity. So for Benmosche to blame all of this on the OTS is… well, it’s characteristic of what these people are like. On some level they really believe that if the government is not kicking their doors in and wrapping them all up in hoods and zip-ties, then whatever they are doing is not only okay but good business.

And we, the taxpayer, just hired this guy. Unbelievable.

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Draining Their Money

One thing Jon Stewart failed to mention yesterday is that Betsy McCaughey is the director of Cantel Medical Corp., a medical device company. So when she argues against comparative effectiveness research, she's doing so because she wants her device company to keep selling its wares to doctors without having to prove whether or not the stuff actually works. It's a total conflict of interest and it should lead all reports on her.

Until now, because McCaughey just resigned.

LITTLE FALLS, N.J., Aug. 21 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- CANTEL MEDICAL CORP. (NYSE: CMN) announced that on August 20, 2009 it received a letter of resignation from Ms. Elizabeth McCaughey as a director of the Company. Ms. McCaughey, who had served as a director since 2005, stated that she was resigning to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest during the national debate over healthcare reform.

McCaughey probably gets enough wingnut welfare elsewhere that she'll be fine. I don't think she'll have to worry about using her own $2,000 debit card to pay for a $5,000 health care plan.

But you have to chip away at these liars. And McCaughey's performance last night, complete with the Jeanine Pirro "I can't find page 10!" stunt, was so abominable that Cantel couldn't risk being tied to her anymore. And replicate this thousands of times, and the world gets a little bit better.

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A California Economy In Free Fall

Whether it's the continued foreclosure crisis, the impact of state budget cuts or the cumulative effect of depressed consumer spending, it's now extremely clear that the state's employment picture shows no sign of bottoming out, reaching an all-time high in the post-war period.

California's unemployment rate took an unexpected leap in July, reaching a post-Word War II high of 11.9%. The increase contrasts with the national rate, which declined slightly over the same period, and reflects ongoing weakness in the state's battered construction and financial services industries.

The state lost a net 35,800 jobs last month, more than any other state, the U.S. Labor Department said today. It has lost 760,200 jobs over the last year.

Every category of nonfarm jobs in the state except education and health services experienced year-over-year losses. The construction sector was the hardest hit, shedding 18.6% of its jobs. Manufacturing jobs fell 8.7% from the same time last year.

Job loss did slow relative to the previous two months. But I don't think anybody believes that 11.9% is a floor. Los Angeles, where the jobless rate jumped 0.7% in just a month, is one of the worst big cities to find a job in America. The city has 15,000 homeless veterans. And areas of the Central Valley and the Inland Empire are in far worse shape. It's basically a depression in those parts.

And we are just starting to add a round of painful state budget cuts to increase the economic shortfall. Whether it's closing parks that provide economic benefits, or dropping or cutting aid to 100,000 IHSS recipients, or wiping out the entire domestic violence budget, the cuts will not only force the poor and infirm to slip through the cracks and cause mass suffering and even death, but the economic impact will be profound. Caregivers will lose their jobs. Relatives will shift their schedules to care for their families. Productivity will reduce. It's just a plain fact that lowering public spending during a deep recession will negatively impact the economy. Consumers aren't spending, companies aren't trading and businesses aren't investing. Government is the spender of last resort. And that spending has been slashed.

I honestly don't know where the bottom is.

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Baucus Caucus: Less Health Care For America NOW

The six-headed Presidential hydra, also known as the sub-group in the Senate Finance Committee, has decided to ignore everybody and keep working diligently to do absolutely nothing on the health care bill.

Senate health-care negotiators agreed late Thursday to ignore the increasingly strident rhetoric from Republican and Democratic leaders and to keep working toward a bill that can win broad support from the rank-and-file in both parties, according to sources familiar with the talks.

In a conference call, the three Democratic and three Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee agreed to redouble their efforts to craft a less costly alternative to the trillion-dollar initiatives so far put forward in Congress. They discussed the possibility of also reining in the scope of their package, the sources said.

The senators rejected the idea of imposing a deadline on their negotiations, and they agreed to talk again Sept. 4 -- four days before lawmakers are scheduled to return to Washington from their August break. The consensus, one participant said, was "to take your time to get it right." [...]

Before leaving for the month-long recess, Baucus had pegged the cost of the negotiators' ideas at less than $900 billion over the next decade. Thursday's discussions focused on driving that cost lower, the sources said.

Their draft bill was already woefully short in terms of subsidies for those who can't afford insurance. The Gang of Six wants to drive them even lower.

I'm sure the people most enamored of themselves did reject having a timeline on their circle jerk. But look who is making these decisions. Chuck Grassley has basically said he'd vote against his own bill, even if he gets everything he wants, if he cannot get more than 80 Senators total on board. The #2 ranking Republican in the Senate has already said that votes for reform aren't coming. So Grassley, one of the key negotiators here, has admitted that he won't support anything the Gang of Six does. Mike Enzi is probably stronger in that direction. Olympia Snowe admitted today that the public option was never on the table in this Gang of Six, and that co-ops are worth exploring, even though two months ago she called them worthless. Kent Conrad has been ideologically opposed to the public option for as long as anyone can remember, and came up with co-ops, in all likelihood, as a way to steal seed money for the "non-profit" Blue Cross of North Dakota, which has captured 90% of the market in his home state. Max Baucus admitted as far back as March that the public option was nothing but a bargaining chip. Jeff Bingaman hasn't been getting nearly enough heat for being part of this charade, but he has talked the talk on co-ops as well.

These six Senators, who come from states representing 2-3% of the population, have proposed ideas out of step with 77% of the public, and think they're entitled to hijack the entire process in Congress to serve those ends.

The question is what to do about this. 270,000 people listened to the President's strategy session yesterday, and over 5,600 supporters have contributed almost $350,000 to lawmakers standing up for the public option. These six lawmakers, most of whom probably want no bill at all, know that the longer they hold up the process the harder it becomes to pass anything. Harry Reid needs to use whatever means necessary to force a bill out of the Senate - discharge petitions, going around the committee of jurisdiction, whatever. At that point, we're talking about a conference committee. Which is what Obama has asked for all along. The problem is a matter of trust, as Paul Krugman put it today.

...Chris Bowers is right that this is the worst part about it - the Senate Finance Committee has decided to take two additional weeks off before meeting again. They are so bound and determined to get health care right that they'll do nothing for weeks, presumably in the hopes that health care reform will die on the vine and they won't have to do anything at all.

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Meanwhile In The Real Economy

We could deliver health care and add a second stimulus and do a host of other things to improve the economy, but if numbers like this continue to be the norm, we're not going to get very far in fixing things.

The delinquency rate for mortgage loans on one-to-four-unit residential properties rose to a seasonally adjusted rate of 9.24 percent of all loans outstanding as of the end of the second quarter of 2009, up 12 basis points from the first quarter of 2009, and up 283 basis points from one year ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) National Delinquency Survey.
The delinquency rate breaks the record set last quarter. The records are based on MBA data dating back to 1972.

The delinquency rate includes loans that are at least one payment past due but does not include loans somewhere in the process of foreclosure. The percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of the second quarter was 4.30 percent, an increase of 45 basis points from the first quarter of 2009 and 155 basis points from one year ago. The combined percentage of loans in foreclosure and at least one payment past due was 13.16 percent on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, the highest ever recorded in the MBA delinquency survey.

What's more, a separate report says that foreclosures will peak at the end of 2010. That's when a certain set of midterm elections will be held.

Foreclosures hurt the economy really badly. But banks and lenders have made the calculation that it costs them less to foreclose than it does to modify terms of loans. Because if they reduce principal on the loans, their solvency would once again come into question. I know that the government's smiling because they didn't have to dip into an expected $250 billion earmarked in the budget to cover bank losses further, but that's only because reality has been papered over. The Federal Reserve and the FDIC and other government entities have basically covered the banks. But mass loan mods would expose them.

Which is why it isn't happening. And as a result, people suffer. And so does the real economy. As long as foreclosures continue, which leads eventually to higher unemployment and more foreclosures ina kind of death spiral, the American consumer will simply not have the wherewithal to spend at the rates necessary for recovery.

When you look at Obama's poll numbers, think in the context of the economy. It's always been the greatest predictor of national political performance. He inherited a mess, but if he cannot work it out over four years or give people a credible reason to believe he's acting in their interests, he'll be gone.

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Who Runs The Death Panels, Again?

It's been clear for a long time that insurance companies make their money off of denying care to those who need it. Under any reasonable standard, that would be credibly seen as insurance company bureaucrats making decisions over a patient's life and death. But we live in America, where any old Alaskan can come up with a phrase and have it repeated endlessly by corporate media, to make the argument that a government-run insurance choice, not the for-profit insurance companies, engage in such behavior.

My friends at Americans United For Change have the evidence on who has created the REAL "death panels".

This Linda Peeno clip comes from Michael Moore's movie Sicko, and so we've known about how insurance companies profit from denying care and allowing people to die for some time. I guess it's impolite for Democrats to actually make this point; Republicans don't have the same respect for decorum.

The truth is that you do not have health insurance, even if you think you're covered. You have a premium that you pay every month, but that does not guarantee that you will be covered if you get sick. It does not guarantee that you can get new coverage if you lose your insurance. It's more a fantasy of coverage than the actuality. Everyone under 65 assumes that their insurance will be there for them when they need it, but ask Linda Peeno - your insurer makes their money on not being reliable.

And if that doesn't convince you, consider the curious truism that most people living under a system of guaranteed care really like it and zealously guard it. There are anecdotal stories, like Harry Shearer's tale of a friend in America versus a friend in Britain, or veteran Jon Soltz, who sings the praises of TRICARE and the VA and has voluminous polling and quality studies to back him up.

But I prefer to look at the case of David Cameron, the would-be Prime Minister of Britain and the head of the conservative Tories. Viewed through the left-right lens in this country, one would assume that the conservatives in Britain, suffering under the National Health Service, would want to dismantle it and return to a private market. There's just one problem; Cameron wants to get elected, and his countrymen, having lived under the NHS for decades, actually appreciate it. At least, that's what you have to conclude from Cameron's words this week:

David Cameron will today face down the Tory right when he pledges to deliver real-terms increases in NHS spending and casts the Conservatives as the party best placed to intensify Labour's "good" reforms.

In an attempt to regain the initiative on health after Tory MEP Daniel Hannan dismissed the NHS as a "60-year mistake" on US television, Cameron will disregard calls from the right for a freeze in spending as a step backwards.

Cameron, who was alarmed by Hannan's intervention during last week's transatlantic row over health reform, will say that only the Tories are offering the NHS a funding guarantee.

"Spending on the NHS cannot stand still, because standing still would be taking a step backwards," Cameron will say in a speech in the north-west of England before visiting an NHS hospital. "That is why we have pledged real-terms increases in NHS spending – unlike Labour – a fact which, to put it mildly, takes the wind out of their point-scoring sails."

You cannot win office in Britain, be you Margaret Thatcher or Tony Benn, without promising to protect and even expand the NHS. That's a measure of customer satisfaction, to borrow a phrase from the business world. I don't see a similar enthusiasm in this country to expand the private insurance market, to take over Medicare, or the VA, or any of the other public programs. At least nowhere this side of Tom DeLay, a disgraced politician who will never have to face voters again. I notice DeLay didn't move to do anything of the sort when he had control of the House and conservatives were firmly in charge of all three branches of government.

The lived experience of Americans who've actually used the health care system is one where insurance companies profit off denial of care, and government-run programs actually work pretty well. Absurd statements like "Get your government hands off my Medicare" only works as a scare tactic because of Democratic weakness in arguing loudly for government that can expand opportunity and access and deliver health care cheaper and with better quality. The rest of the industrialized world has figured this out. They don't like insurance company CEOs having to choose between obscene profits or caring for their customers, because they'll always pick the former. They'll resort to the Limbaugh rule, named after the head of the GOP, who this week told a caller struggling to afford $6,000 to treat a broken wrist: "Well, you shouldn't have broken your wrist."

We can either have that kind of "compassionate conservatism," complete with insurance company death panels, or real compassion. That's the choice in health care reform.

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Wildly Successful Government Program To End Monday

The Cash For Clunkers program will wrap up on Monday, a couple weeks ahead of schedule, after fueling a buying boom worth close to $15 billion dollars in sales during late July and August, and leveraging a 5:1 stimulus effect into industrial and local economies, so much so that GM has started to hire back workers. Dealers are complaining that they haven't received their money yet, but that's simply a testament to an unexpectedly successful program.

Critics have complained of administrative confusion and haste in committing the money, and some dealers have expressed concern that they were not being reimbursed quickly enough.

But the White House argued that the speed with which the money has been committed is a measure of the program's popularity.

"This is actually a high-class problem to have -- that we're selling too many cars too quickly and there's some backlog in the application process," President Barack Obama said Thursday during an interview on a nationally syndicated radio show.

I'm sure the dealers liked it better when they went a week without anyone coming on their lots. I'm sure they were thrilled with the status quo of playing Minesweeper for 8 hours a day while trying to figure out how to pay the rent. Manufacturing actually rose in July, thanks to this program.

Government stimulus works. It's as simple as that.

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Don't Expect A Broken Government To Yield An Unbroken Result

So the modest prison reform deal between legislative leaders and the Governor stalled out in the Assembly last night, and the chamber adjourned for the weekend. Not enough Democrats could be convinced to support the deal, particularly the ones with designs on statewide office or in perceived swing districts.

Let's explain right away what this says about the broken legislative process in Sacramento. It's infuriating that the bill was rushed to the floor without the votes on the Assembly side and without any kind of education campaign to explain the stakes to the public. Federal judges will release 44,000 prisoners. We can either do it smartly or stupidly. There is no other choice.

We knew that $1.2 billion in prison budget cuts had to be allocated for a month. This plan was, in fact, pretty much in place for a month. Did anyone in leadership say a word about it? Did they whip their caucus? Did they explain that without this, a federal judge will use a potentially haphazard process to release prisoners without any reforms, and even if the legislature tries to shift the blame, THEY WILL BE BLAMED ANYWAY because citizens habitually view the legislature as the source of most of the state's troubles?

Instead, the debate gets ruled by Yacht Party misinformation:

Sen. John Benoit, R-Palm Desert, spoke in favor of shutting down some juvenile jails instead of freeing inmates since the population of younger offenders has dropped. "It's a shame we're doing this in such a hurry," he said.

And Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, spoke out for cutting rehabilitation money rather than letting prisoners out. "The immediate safety of the public must take precedence," she said.

Not only does it do that (overcrowding has led to the lack of space for rehabilitation and treatment programs and the nation's highest recidivism rate, which leads to additional needless crime), but the package put together by the legislature WOULD do that. Schwarzenegger's line-item reductions as part of this deal would cut $180 million in rehab and treatment programs, which is completely insane. That said, the sentencing commission that would come to fruition in this bill is quite important, and those Democrats in the Assembly holding it up are rank cowards who don't have no belief in the value of their own ideas. Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod does:

Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod said, "Do you all live in a parallel world?" She said federal authorities that have found California prisons too overcrowded are going to use their power to release prisoners and that it would be preferable for the state to have control over that process.

"I trump each and everyone of you with children and grandchildren. And you know what? I'm not scared," she said, referring to several GOP senators' references to how they feared for their children's safety.

Still, in the end this is a process problem. The backroom dealmaking made by legislative leaders who have no sway over their caucuses leads to embarrassing results like this. The power of special interests leads to calculations that changes must be made in the dead of night, and the power of money in politics means that fear can rule over hope. Individual cowardly lawmakers in thrall to Tough On Crime thinking led us down this road, but a broken government certainly keeps us there. And it's not, as this shows, just about 2/3.

...I'm hearing that "Crime Victims United," a front group for the prison guard's union which has never received one donation from anyone else, claimed sex offenders would get early release despite being exempted specifically in the bill. They out and out lied, and would have done so in ads in lawmakers' districts. Crime Victims United should be investigated by the FPPC and disbanded. They're an astroturf group using fear and falsehoods to shield a protected class from having to give back their largesse from the state treasury. Ultimately, this is about cowardice on the part of lawmakers, but the influence of money plays a big role.

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Dumping The Astroturf

Ed Markey keeps finding forged letters sent to members of Congress, sent to moderate Dems and made to look like citizen groups opposed the climate and energy bill that passed the House. So the clean coal front group who hired the astroturfers just had to fire them.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is dumping Bonner & Associates, the Astroturf firm that forged letters to Congress attacking clean energy legislation on its behalf. Bonner, an organization with a long record of deceptive practices, sent letters this June purporting to be from black, Hispanic, women’s and senior citizen’s groups to several members of Congress telling them to vote against the American Clean Energy and Security Act. ACCCE spokesman Joe Lucas told National Journal that his organization “did nothing wrong”:

"We will not be working with Mr. Bonner again. ACCCE did nothing wrong. Looking back, there would be many things we would do differently."

ACCCE did plenty wrong. They hired a known astroturf group with a history of this behavior and tried to keep quiet about it when they were informed of the forging.

I hope this doesn't stop the ongoing investigation into Bonner and Associates, nor should it stop criminal investigations (is this mail fraud?). Can't Bonner have their lobbyist registration stripped at this point?

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Professional Liar Called Out On Her Crap

Jon Stewart went easy on Betsy McCaughey. He eventually got around to the meat of the issue after letting her hang for a while, but you can see how she gets away with this. She walks in with a big binder to try and connote authority, but it's a prop... by the end she's just flipping through it when asked for evidence, as if she's never read it before. Stewart says "you should put Yellow Post-Its in there to mark your place," which would never occur to McCaughey because people are just supposed to expect her to have possession of the facts. She cashes checks off nobody ever challenging her. And when Stewart finally does, it's delicious to watch.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Betsy McCaughey Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

The tsunami of lies is too big, and a substantial part of the country on McCaughey's side of the tribe would believe her over Stewart even after this embarrassing performance. But the antidote to most of this comes in two words - "Prove it." And they never can.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Public Option On The March

Turns out that the polls still show the same robust support for a public option, as long as the question is asked consistently.

More than three out of every four Americans feel it is important to have a "choice" between a government-run health care insurance option and private coverage, according to a public opinion poll released on Thursday.

A new study by SurveyUSA puts support for a public option at a robust 77 percent, one percentage point higher than where it stood in June [...]

Earlier in the week, after pollsters for NBC dropped the word "choice" from their question on a public option, they found that only 43 percent of the public were in favor of "creating a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would compete directly with private health insurance companies."

Opponents of the president's agenda jumped on the findings as evidence that backing for the public option was dropping. Proponents responded by arguing that NBC's tinkering with the language of the question (which it had also done in its July survey) had contributed to the drop in favorability for a public plan.

SurveyUSA's poll, which was commissioned by the progressive group, a proponent of the public plan, gives credence to those critiques. While arguments about what type of language best describe the public option persist --"choice" is considered a trigger word that everyone naturally supports -- it seems clear that the framing of the provision goes a long way toward determining its popularity.

"Choice" may be a trigger word, but it also accurately describes the policy - under the plan individuals seeking insurance would have a choice of a range of options in the insurance exchange, including a public plan. And people like that. A lot.

Jacob Hacker, the progenitor of the structure of the public plan, is out today with a study showing that the types of plans in the initial House bill, the ones that progressives are fighting for, are the only ones likely to work (I'd personally like to see the firewall removed and allow individuals the same choice as well, but baby steps).

Progressives have raised $264,000 and counting for the 64 lawmakers who have said they will vote for nothing unless it contains a public plan. Nancy Pelosi is saying no plan will pass the House without that element included.

"There is no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option," she said to a crowd in California, noting that regional health care co-ops won't get the job done. "If they want to have [co-ops] for their state, perhaps that could be included in the legislation. But it is not a substitute for a public option."

And we're up to 45 Senators willing to support it as well, with the final five directly in the sights of activists. If 50 go definitively for a public option in the Senate, given the option of reconciliation for the more contentious bits there's absolutely no reason to leave it on the table.

Heck, when you have Terry McAuliffe vowing to hold a fundraiser in Virginia for the first lawmaker to pledge to support a public option (yes you read that right, Terry McAuliffe), something has shifted.

Terry McAuliffe thinks it is time to "insist" on the public option. We couldn't agree more. Terry's agreed to host a fundraiser with Virginia and national bloggers who are insisting on a public option for the first Virginia Congressman who will take our pledge! This will be an awesome event to highlight and honor any Virginia Congressman who shows leadership on this issue [...]

Will the fundraiser be for Bobby Scott? Jim Moran? Gerry Connolly? Tom Perriello? Any of them can get a night with national and local bloggers honoring them featuring T-Mac... but first they have to do the right thing.

All the energy and excitement on the Democratic side is around this element of reform. If it's bargained away, all the energy goes away. And so does any chance at a health care bill.

Figure it out, Rahm.

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The Stupid, It Burns!!!

Michele Bachmann wants you to know that she doesn't want the government controlling her body.

"That's why people need to continue to go to the town halls, continue to melt the phone lines of their liberal members of Congress," said Bachmann, "and let them know, under no certain circumstances will I give the government control over my body and my health care decisions."

Can we get that in writing, Congresswoman? So you can vote strongly against efforts to weaken a women's right to choose, which gives government control over women's bodies? So you can vote for access to family planning and allowing legal medical services to be offered within Medicaid? So you can vote for end-of-life counseling benefits so the government doesn't make laws based on keeping one woman alive when her husband wants to choose to let her rest in peace?

Can we get the government to stop controlling our bodies in THAT respect?

The saddest thing is that this hack is actually a prime speaker for the corporate front group Americans for Prosperity. Republicans have actually put their eggs in her basket.

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State Senate Passes Modest Prison Reform

By the bare minimum, with 21 votes for, 19 against. We move to the Assembly now, and the Governor supports it, so if 41 votes can be found, we will have a real sentencing commission that can begin to roll back the Tough On Crime nonsense that has failed California's prison system and made us less safe.

It's going to be close in the Assembly. Word is that Democrats are balking at some of the provisions, because they don't think their constituents are adults who would understand how horribly broken the status quo has become. And serial liar and Yacht Party regular George Runner has vowed to put the legislation on the ballot if it passes, to overturn it (maybe he'll get the same convicted felon to fund it who did so for Prop. 9). This is just the beginning of the fight no matter what happens in the Assembly. But we have to get this through there. If we cannot bring an even modest reform across the line, there's really no hope.

I will reiterate what I said yesterday:

If you're in the districts of any of these lawmakers, contact them NOW and tell them to vote Yes on [ABX3 14].

Alyson Huber (AD-10) (Calitics raised a fair bit of money for her)
Joan Buchanan (AD-15) (Does she want to win a liberal primary for Congress?)
Marty Block (AD-78)
Manuel Perez (AD-80) (Calitics raised a fair bit of money for him)
Ted Lieu (AD-53)
Pedro Nava (AD-35)
Alberto Torrico (AD-20)
Cathleen Galgiani (AD-17)
Anna Caballero (AD-28)

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"Now, I Hate The Left, Believe Me. But..."

I just listened to a good bit of Barack Obama's OFA session, and I think I can now pinpoint what has been irking me lately. He got up there and tried to rebut all the misinformation about what the bill would do. In fact, he said exactly what Matt Yglesias pre-butted this morning:

I think that if someone gets sick in the United States, that person ought to be treated without being subject to a citizenship test. I think that abortion is a legitimate medical procedure. And ultimately I think health insurance should be directly provided by the government. Interestingly, the one thing that doesn’t get a majority is the thing that’s actually a bad idea—killing grandma.

This reminds me of something that’s bothered me throughout the health care debate. The president’s only real allies and advocates are, you know, serious liberals. People who think that people born in Mexico are human beings but fetuses are not. And most of all, people who believe in government-provided health insurance. But when we man the barricades for the president’s plan, we’re in a weird situation. Obama gets accused of wanting a single-payer system. Then I have to say “no! no! he doesn’t! that’s a slander . . . not there’s anything wrong with single-payer.” It’s a damn dirty lie to say that the government will fund abortion services, but really the government should fund abortion services.

This just deflates a lot of people, the same people who could be counted on to rally for a policy they support. We knew all along that the right would fearmonger and scare people and make up whatever lies served their purpose regardless of the reality. Pre-compromising bills to shield oneself from those charges makes absolutely no sense.

There's this inherent, reflexive self-loathing among establishment "liberals" that turns off people who unabashedly call themselves liberal. Take a look at this article by Joe Klein, an article whose subject is that Republicans have become a nihilist party, and how long he takes punching hippies before getting to his point:

Given the heinous dust that's been raised, it seems likely that end-of-life counseling will be dropped from the health-reform legislation. But that's a small point, compared with the larger issue that has clouded this summer: How can you sustain a democracy if one of the two major political parties has been overrun by nihilists? And another question: How can you maintain the illusion of journalistic impartiality when one of the political parties has jumped the shark?

I'm not going to try. I've written countless "Democrats in Disarray" stories over the years and been critical of the left on numerous issues in the past. This year, the liberal insistence on a marginally relevant public option has been a tactical mistake that has enabled the right's "government takeover" disinformation jihad. There have been times when Democrats have run demagogic scare campaigns on issues like Social Security and Medicare. There are more than a few Democrats who believe, in practice, that government should be run for the benefit of government employees' unions. There are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection. There are others who mistrust the use of military power under almost any circumstances. But these are policy differences, matters of substance. The most liberal members of the Democratic caucus — Senator Russ Feingold in the Senate, Representative Dennis Kucinich in the House, to name two — are honorable public servants who make their arguments based on facts. They don't retail outright lies. Hyperbole and distortion certainly exist on the left, but they are a minor chord in the Democratic Party.

It is a very different story among Republicans.

He goes on, of course, but Klein clearly felt he could not get away with a strident article about Republican insanity without saying "Hey, look, I think liberals are the scum of the earth too, don't get me wrong, but..." It's like a facial tic.

I saw the President today call those who believe government should not be involved in anything at all "reasonable people" with whom we could have a principled argument. Unless we're arguing about whether or not they should use roads, police, fire departments, libraries, and the judicial system, then no, that is not a reasonable line of argument. Here's a reasonable line of argument, from Jesse Jackson Jr., and it's so bitterly partisan, I know, but in the absence of this argument you have the President of the United States giving anti-government cranks a legitimacy they simply don't deserve.

Reverend Jackson and I were talking this morning about health insurance reform. He said ‘“Jesse, sum up this public option thing for me.’ I heard the President give an analysis that I think appropriate: Federal Express, UPS, DHL, the private option. The public option: email, the post office. If you want to pay your bill, sending it overnight for $30, choose the private option. But if you want to mail your mail like most of us do, WITH A STAMP (applause and laughter) use the public option…. The post office offers competitive overnight mail options. And those of us who are not interested in overnight mail can go the slow route, 2-3 days. That’s just fine for me. The post office is universal. It reaches the rural areas. It reaches the urban areas. It reaches where DHL, and UPS, and Fedex will not go. And so in the barrios and the ghettos and the trailor parks of our nation, for the uninsured in our nation, in order for us to save our health care system, we need a legitimate, real public option! (Cheering and applause.)

Instead of this message, we have a President talking about working constructively with people who have said out loud they want to deny any health care bill.

Now some would say that the nation as a whole is not all that liberal, and we have to find common ground because legislation is the art of the compromise, etc., etc. ad nauseum. What never gets discussed is the role of long-term messaging. People are falling for right-wing lies about government-run health care because they're been told for decades that government is evil, with no countervailing message from the other side. Those who resist these lies, the most strident supporters of a health care overhaul in the abstract, are being told to accept half a loaf, that doing reasonable things, like allowing a public option to provide the same medical services that 90% of all private insurance companies provide, is a damn dirty lie, are told to compromise and compromise, are actually told that we cannot have a government insurance option because it would be too popular. You really don't have to get very far from that to a statement like "You don't matter, go away, we don't want you." It's happened before.

And don't you dare, ever, add anything like morality into the individual actions of lawmakers.

It would be, for instance, very uncouth to say that a coal-state senator who opposed climate change legislation was literally consigning thousands of people to death in order to protect hometown interests. That's a very mean thing to say. Senator so-and-so doesn't want to kill people, he just wants to be reelected. But that's what he's doing. He has constituents and polls and pressures. Similarly, a lot of the congressmen who are opposing health-care reform are, again, ensuring that tens of thousands of people will die from inadequate access to health care. But you're not supposed to say that [...] one ever has to make those arguments directly because these debates take place at a high level of abstraction. That's how you get weird situations wherein a congressman who has spent two decades enriching industry and voting to cut Medicaid and welfare can be run out of office because he crossed an ethical line and had an affair or took a kickback. The moral dimension is entirely absent in discussions of policy, as if we've all signed some agreement admitting that the cost to civility would be too great if we took the implications of each vote seriously.

Apparently Obama made something of a moral argument yesterday, calling health care "a a core ethical and moral obligation," saying that “These struggles always boil down to a contest between hope and fear,” and likening back to when FDR was called a socialist, and JFK and LBJ the same for trying to pass Medicare. But that's coming a bit late, and little of that was on display today.

The bottom line is that, until progressives rallied behind the public option this week, the air was out of the balloon. The base of supporters are energizing this debate, and they will reward any lawmaker that reflects their values and actually seeks to follow through on their promises. They now represent the last, best hope for real health care reform. And they won't cotton to being kicked around, dragged through the mud, or played as pawns any longer. 2012 lies in the balance.

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The Value Of My Bad Offline Reading Habits

I was browsing Twitter and I saw him reference Jonathan Alter talking about how "the left" was off-kilter and had "lost their moral core" because of their demands for a public option in health care.

I have bad offline reading habits. I drop books and magazines and leave them sitting around the house all the time. In fact, right by my bed is a copy of Newsweek from June, opened to an article by Jonathan Alter which included this:

That takes us back to a public option, which would force insurers to redraw their business models and accept lower profits. The House bill will include it, but the Senate's almost certainly won't. Instead, moderates there are pushing health-care "cooperatives." Nobody has a clue what that means. Would the co-ops be like utilities? Farm cooperatives? Starting fresh with a quasi-public/quasi-private organization might bring some much-needed creativity to health-care financing. But without a federal charter and some seed money to help them enroll millions, co-ops will get swamped by the private-insurance lobby, which has become expert at marginalizing state-run experiments.

When it comes time to hammer out the final plan in the House-Senate conference committee, Obama and Rahm Emanuel will likely make the House accept a reduction in the deductibility of employer-based plans and make the Senate accept some kind of public option or co-op with teeth. Anything less means the president didn't get the sucker.

So I tweeted that back to Atrios, and he made everyone else in the world aware.

It's quite hilarious to see the DC establishment completely turn on the hippies en masse in the name of being "serious."

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