Tuesday, March 30, 2010

HEALTHCARE - The French View of New US Healthcare Bill

"Sarkozy lays into US health care debate in NYC" R i g h t a r d i a 3/30/2010

With a podium flown in from France and his fingers firmly entwined with those of his smiling wife, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made a splash even before he opened his mouth for a no-holds-barred speech at Colombia University.

"Welcome to the club of states who don't turn their back on the sick and the poor," Sarkozy said, referring to the US health care overhaul signed by President Barack Obama last week.

From the European perspective, he said, "when we look at the American debate on reforming health care, it's difficult to believe".

"The very fact that there should have been such a violent debate simply on the fact that the poorest of Americans should not be left out in the streets without a cent to look after them... is something astonishing to us."

Then to hearty applause, he added: "If you come to France and something happens to you, you won't be asked for your credit card before you're rushed to the hospital."

HEALTHCARE - A Different View

No, really, this is a different view....

"Healthcare! The topic of interest on the tip of everybody’s tongues" by Will O' The Wisp, Politics in the Zeros


Well, maybe on the tips of the tongues of those well-heeled, health-insured politicians. On the tips of the tongues of those whom health care reform is meant to assist? Food! Water! Shelter! Bills! Let’s go back to that first subject – Food. I admit, my friends, I have yet to read the full 2000-plus pages of the health care reform bill (But then, why should I be the first to read it?) but I am reasonably confident that there is not a discussion of food in it. Not in the availability sense, but rather in regards to how it should be consumed, and more importantly, subsidized.

There has been research (reach out to me if you want backup) that directly points back to our diet as the major factor in increased incidences of cancer, thyroid problems, diabetes, and other life threatening conditions. You, my friends, may know this already, but do you really think about all the chemicals and preservatives you consume with every bite of fast food and processed food that you take? If chemicals are used to preserve food, what do you think it does to your organs? And how does it effect your body function? And more importantly, why is the first response to illness or conditions such as acne to prescribe drugs? More chemicals? Is it possible that altering our diets to include more natural and organic foods could solve a majority of our problems? It is, my friends, it is.

But here’s the rub: The health care industry doesn’t want to promote those solutions because it hurts their bottom line, the whole health care ecosystem. Furthermore, it “hurts” our agricultural system, as it exists now.

WORLD - Reminder on Global Warming

Rachel Maddow
Global Warming isn't the Opposite of Snow

Monday, March 29, 2010

TERRORISM - Home Grown Verity?

REMINDER - Oklahoma City Bombing

"Ceci N’Est Pas Un Terrorist" by David Dayen, FireDogLake 3/29/2010

The multi-state arrest of members of the Hutaree and other Patriot militia groups, carried out by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, hasn’t yet resulted in the word “terrorist” being used in any of the stories about the raids.

Washington Post
NY Times
Associated Press

Funny how that word isn’t considered appropriate to describe an extremist group planning to kill police officers using weapons of mass destruction. In fact, the plan to kill a police officer and then attack his funeral using homemade bombs resembles nothing so much as the strategies of the Mahdi Army. But these are Christians, so they cannot be terrorists. Or something.

According to the indictment, Hutaree members view local, state and federal law enforcement authorities as the enemy and have been preparing to engage them in armed conflict.

The indictment alleges the Hutaree group planned to kill an unidentified law enforcement officer in Michigan and then attack officers who would gather for the funeral.

According to the plan, the indictment said, the Hutaree wanted to use improvised explosive devices to attack law enforcement vehicles during the funeral procession. The indictment said those explosive devices, commonly called IEDs, constitute weapons of mass destruction.

None dare call it terrorism.


"Kanye West is in Marjah" by Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy News

The word came over a scratchy comm at Bravo Company's combat outpost in Marjah:

"I just saw Kanye West in the market."

As fanciful as that might seem, it was true.

Kanye West was in the Marjah market. And he definitely was not supposed to be there.

Kanye West was the nickname the Bravo Company Marines from the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment gave to one of the Afghan soldiers who followed them into battle.

And, there he was, out in the Koru market when he was supposed to be on the base.

Nicknames abound out here.

Another Afghan soldier was known as Akon.

Why these guys were given these names wasn't quite clear. Or, at least, the connection seemed rather tenuous.

Other nicknames, though, were more apt.

One young Afghan interpreter has been branded, for unfortunate reasons, "No Good."

Another interpreter, known collectively as 'Terps, was known for spicing up his translations with an over-abundance of curse words. The Marines call him "Roadie."

Some 'Terps take on the dangerous job for the chance to get an American visa in a year or two. Others come from America for the money.

All of them face unenviable risks as they drop into battlefields with Marines, go out on foot patrols with soldiers, and camp out at isolated checkpoints with Afghan police.

Scores have been killed.

A couple of Afghan-American 'Terps that I met in Marjah were back in their native country for the first time in 20 or 30 years. Yet they can't go visit their families because of the dangers their relatives would face if word about their work with the US military got to the wrong people.

Just as "fixers" are an integral part of the success of most journalists who work in places where they don't speak the language, 'Terps are essential to the success of the US military in Afghanistan.

They can literally be the difference between life and death.

In one case, Reuters reported last year, a mistranslation led to fatal results when a 'Terp told an Afghan unit to "fire" instead of "cease-fire."

“Your interpreter is way more important than your weapon,” Cory Schulz, an Army major who led a tactical team embedded with Afghan troops, told Registan blogger Joshua Foust.

Bold emphasis mine

HEALTHCARE - Talking About Insurer Sleaze!

"Sadistic Insurers Take Aim at Children" by Jeffrey Feldman, Huffington Post 3/29/2010 - 01:38 PM


The New York Times reports, today, that health insurance companies have already started to rattle their legalistic sabres against the newly signed reform law -- claiming that they are under no obligation to provide coverage for children with pre-existing conditions.

Most human beings with a pulse will be sickened by this news -- physically disgusted to learn that one of the most powerful, profitable industries in all of history is threatening to deny children coverage in order to maximize their short term profits. For most people this kind of behavior is beyond comprehension. It is the definition of evil in our time. It is sadism -- moral rot.

Bold emphasis mine

From cited New York Times report: 3/28/2010

William G. Schiffbauer, a lawyer whose clients include employers and insurance companies, said: “The fine print differs from the larger political message. If a company sells insurance, it will have to cover pre-existing conditions for children covered by the policy. But it does not have to sell to somebody with a pre-existing condition. And the insurer could increase premiums to cover the additional cost.”


"Insurance Industry Agrees To Close Child Coverage Loophole" by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Huffington Post 03/29/2010 - 09:25 PM


After battling President Barack Obama's health care overhaul the better part of a year, the insurance industry said Monday it won't try to block his efforts to fix a potentially embarrassing glitch in the new law.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the industry's top lobbyist said insurers will accept new regulations to dispel uncertainty over a much-publicized guarantee that children with medical problems can get coverage starting this year.

Quick resolution of the doubts was a win for Obama – and a sign that the industry has no stomach for another war of words with a president who deftly used double-digit rate hikes by the companies to revive his sweeping health care legislation from near collapse in Congress.

"Health plans recognize the significant hardship that a family faces when they are unable to obtain coverage for a child with a pre-existing condition," Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, said in a letter to Sebelius. Ignagni said that the industry will "fully comply" with the regulations, expected within weeks.

ON THE LITE SIDE - (Well, Sorta) Conspiracy Theory

"The Latest Republican Conspiracy Theory" by Tina Dupuy, Huffington Post

It seems everybody gets their own pet conspiracy these days: Birthers, Birchers, Deathers, Truthers and whatever you call the people who won't get their kids inoculated. According to the theories, nothing is as it seems and everyone is in on it. Following this reasonable assumption, I've come up with my own. Here it is: former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, RNC Chairman Michael Steele and Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin are all Democratic plants.

It's true. I have proof. The signs are everywhere. It's so painfully obvious:

Who has been a bigger boon to the Democratic Party than Sarah Palin? There's no way that's for real. Come on, no one had ever heard of her and then suddenly she's tanking the GOP's presidential bid? That's not suspicious? The press called her behavior "going rogue," I call it taking orders from the opposition. So you're going to run for Vice President and you're not going to read up on the issues? Putin rearing his head? Wear a quarter of a million dollar donated wardrobe while giving speeches about fiscal conservatism? Use the catch-phrase "palling around with terrorists" while you're schtuping a secessionist? It's plain to see: she was working with David Axelrod and David Plouffe to get Obama into the White House.

Then with her help, Obama won (of course) by a huge margin. No one figured out that she was a double agent after losing the election? Then just to make the greenhorn Democrats seem more steady at the wheel she quit her job as a governor during one of the worst economic times since the Great Depression. Now she's out to sabotage the Tea Parties by speaking on their behalf while taking six figure speaking fees from them. How was she not pretending she couldn't remember a thing like "lift American's spirits." It's insultingly clear! She even stumped for Senator John McCain last week in Tucson and said "some may claim that John was there at that first Tea Party." Jokes about McCain being old? Really? Doesn't that sound like something a Democrat would say about him? Yes. Yes it does.

And RNC Chairman Michael Steele, are we really supposed to believe in this phony "Bizarro Obama" act? POLITICO stated he's spending twice as much as his predecessors on private planes, limos and flowers while trying to co-opt populist outrage. And now there are reports the FEC is investigating nearly two grand of RNC donor money being spent at a bondage theme club last February in West Hollywood. The same club Lindsay Lohan frequents just before she checks back into rehab. So far Steele is claiming it wasn't him, although it still accomplishes his goal as a Trojan Horse. How much more does he need to spell it out for us: he's in cahoots with the Democrats. He's been working hard at it too, "honest Injun." It's not like he's working on the shattered party - he's writing books and taking speaking fees while chairman. Who is going to come out against empathy when the economy is in freefall besides someone trying to make the DNC look better? "Crazy nonsense empathetic. I'll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind. Craziness," said Steele during the Sonia Sotomayor hearings. I wonder which of Obama's speechwriters gave him that gem.

Do I need to draw a map for you people? Where's my chalkboard? I don't want any of you to freak out since my conspiracy has nothing to do with Nazis or Chairman Mao. Of course, that's what they'd want you to think.

I brought up Congressman Ryan because he outed himself as an Obama plant last week. After health care reform was signed into law, he penned (allegedly) an op/ed in the New York Times. The title of the piece was "Fix Health Reform, Then Repeal It." Why would you need to fix something if you're just going to repeal it? Wasn't that the unbelievable plotline for the movie Wolverine?! It doesn't make any sense unless you're really in the tank for Obamacare. Clean up the house, demolish it, and then listen to us about government waste. He's clearly trying to make a mockery of Republicans.

Oh yes, we're through the looking glass here people.

HISTORY - When Altruism, Guts, Know-how, Inspired Our Country

"Remembering American Heroes" by Michael Roth, Huffington Post 3/29/2010

When we were kids, our aunt told us to "clean our plates, children are starving in Europe." In Europe? Where did she ever get that crazy idea, I wondered.

Halfway through Richard Reeves' excellent Daring Young Men, I learned that all across America in the late 1940s mothers were saying something similar to their children. Organizations and individuals were preparing care packages with food and toys to send to "those poor little children in Berlin." Remarkably, altruism in America was galvanized by concern for a city that only a few years before American soldiers had helped bomb into smithereens.

By the spring of 1948 tensions had increased dangerously between the Soviets and the other occupying forces of what had been Germany. France, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union had joint control of Berlin, but the former capital of the Reich was deep inside the sector controlled by the communists. The Allied Forces had an agreement to divide Germany to keep it weak, but this plan was quickly fading in importance before the ramifications of the mutual suspicion between the Soviets and the United States.

The Red Army was spreading Stalin's version of communism, and the dictator thought that with his vast troop superiority in Central Europe, he would eventually be able to control Berlin and much of the rest of what had been Germany. The United States had already demobilized, and few Americans had the stomach for returning to war. If Stalin wanted Berlin, Soviet leaders and most American generals agreed, there was little anyone could do to stop him.

In June 1948 the Soviets announced a blockade of the sectors of Berlin under Western control, and this seemed a prelude to a total Russian takeover. There wasn't nearly enough food, electricity or raw materials in the city, but its citizens were desperate to stay out of communist control. Against all advice, President Harry Truman made the decision not to abandon Berlin. The Americans had to find a way to keep the city fed and sheltered, despite the Soviet advantages on the ground. The solution was a massive airlift of coal, food, industrial materials and even candy - a lifeline extended by overused and underserviced transport planes.

The experts agreed it couldn't be done. There were just over 2 million people in Berlin living under Western control, and they needed everything. Officials pointed out that there weren't enough American pilots, that the British would be sending food when their own people were seriously undernourished, that the airports were in no shape to handle large numbers of heavy aircraft and that Central Europe's "General Winter" would defeat even the most intrepid airmen. Pilots could barely see the runway, and the communications networks initially were rudimentary.

Starting from expectations of landings every 20 minutes, the airlift put in place a system of bringing in planes at three-minute intervals. In the final months, groups of aviators were having contests to see how many tons could be brought in daily. Competition, ingenuity and bravery worked: The airlift delivered more than 2.3 million tons of food and materials, and the Soviets gave up on the blockade.

Reeves, a fine writer of accessible and thoughtful history, brings the relief operation to life. From memorable characterizations of the architects of policy to compelling anecdotes about the men loading and flying the planes, he illuminates what it was like for the U.S. military to embark on a rescue mission to a country with which it had been in brutal warfare a mere three years before.

Noah Thompson, for example, was called up from the family farm to go back to flying military missions. In 1945 he had dropped bombs on the same area he now flew over with coal. His buddy in the war had been shot down, then beaten to death on the ground by local farmers. Now Thompson's plane was likely to be serviced by former Luftwaffe mechanics hired to repair American C-54s.

The turnaround was dizzying, but airmen like Thompson never lost their focus and performed with enthusiasm and courage. It was dangerous work, and more than 70 men lost their lives. Despite the danger and the long odds, the mission had the vigorous support of Americans back home, who saw the Berlin airlift as a heroic refusal to give in to Stalin's tyrannical ambitions. Reeves quotes a young German boy: "Only three years ago they were fighting against my country, and now they were dying for us. The Americans are such strange people."

Reeves' book takes us back to a time when the American commitment to freedom was exemplified by its military in ways that aroused admiration at home and abroad. The "daring young men" were not perfect, but they were heroes, and we acknowledged them as such. Today, when the United States struggles with two wars only grudgingly supported by some of its citizens, Reeves' account is a welcome reminder of the importance of a military willing to take risks to preserve freedom. Daring Young Men brings to life a moment when altruism, guts and know-how inspired our country and saved a city.

POLITICS - The Democratic Party of 3/2010

"Sharp momentum shift back to the Democrats after passing health bill" by Alexander Bolton, The Hill 3/25/2010

Political momentum has shifted so fast over the last week that it has given Republicans whiplash.

Democrats are heading into the two-week Easter recess in high spirits after passing the most sweeping domestic policy reform since Medicare was enacted four decades ago.

President Barack Obama on Thursday dared Republicans to make healthcare reform a campaign issue.

“They’re actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November,” Obama said. “Well, I say go for it.”

But even as some Republicans talk of using healthcare as a cudgel, others are questioning the hard-line opposition strategy that limited their input on the substance of healthcare reform and may deny them any chance of shaping financial regulatory reform later this year.

Cracks emerged in the unified front Republicans held throughout most of the healthcare debate. At one point, they had threatened to drag out the final battle over changes to the bill with an endless stream of amendments and budget points of order. But by mid-week, Republicans seemed to lose their appetite for an extended and acrimonious fight. They backed off those threats and allowed the chamber to hold a final vote on Thursday.

“Our constituents expect us to stand up and fight the good fight, but there’s always a reasonableness factor that needs to come into place,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference. “Sometimes there’s a fine line between what is being an advocate for your cause and when you become obstreperous.

“We need to make sure that we’re always cognizant of that and we push appropriately so but recognize where that line is.”

Senators such as Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) had initially planned to offer scores of amendments to stall the healthcare reform fixes and stop Democrats from putting the finishing touches on the legislation.

By Wednesday, however, the political tone had changed.

“The leadership has asked us to focus on substantive amendments,” said DeMint on Wednesday. “I had 50 amendments, I still have them in my back pocket, but I’ll probably only offer two or three.”

The Senate eventually voted on only one DeMint amendment.

Doubts also spread to financial regulatory reform after Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) called off negotiations with Republicans. GOP lawmakers then pulled their amendments from the markup and the legislation passed out of his committee on a party-line vote.

“I just think we should have been engaged since October in trying to seek a compromise bill,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a member of the Banking panel, in reference to financial regulatory reform. “Once something comes out of committee, you lose a little leverage. It’s one more step along the way.”

For many, the healthcare fight may come to symbolize the tipping point. House passage of broad healthcare reform, which Obama signed on Tuesday, has raised doubts within Republican circles over whether the GOP leadership made a mistake by trying to kill the bill instead of shaping it more to their liking.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said GOP colleagues privately expressed weariness with the hardball political tactics that have heightened partisan tensions.

“There have been a couple of [Republican] senators who have said sometimes, like last night, that ‘this is pointless, I don’t know why we’re doing this,’ ” McCaskill said in reference to a voting session that lasted until the early morning hours Thursday to consider GOP amendments to healthcare reform.

Democrats have repeatedly blasted the GOP as the “Party of No” for blocking business in the Senate. At one point earlier this year, Democratic aides said the Senate was sitting on 290 House-passed bills.

Bold emphasis mine

WORLD - Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty Update

"Obama hails new nuke treaty with Russia" by David Jackson, USA Today 3/26/2010

President Obama hailed a new nuclear deal with Russia today as "the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades" and a major step toward his long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

"Since taking office, one of my highest national security priorities has been addressing the threat posed to the American people by nuclear weapons," Obama said at the White House.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would cut the countries' arsenals of nuclear weapons by about a third, Obama said. It also would cut the number of missiles and launchers.

Less than an hour after speaking with President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama said he and his Russian counterpart would sign the START on April 8 in Prague -- the same city where Obama gave a speech last year on nuclear non-proliferation.

Both the U.S. Senate and Russian Duma must ratify the agreement.

The president spoke while flanked by key members of his national security team: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mike Mullen.

All three said the agreement protects U.S. national security, and they are prepared to make that case as the Senate takes up ratification.

Gates said he and others have spoken with senators throughout the year-long negotiations with the Russians and two major concerns have been addressed. The agreement does not constrain U.S. missile defense, nor does it affect the safety of the American nuclear stockpile, the Defense secretary said.

Obama discussed the details of the treaty this week with Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In a statement, Kerry said he hopes the partisanship that infected the health care debate will not affect ratification of the number arms treaty. "We can't squander this opportunity to reset both our relations with Russia and our role as the world leader on nuclear non-proliferation," he said.

Lugar said he looks forward to hearings "to achieve ratification of the new treaty."

The agreement is another sign of a "reset" in Russian relations, Obama said. It helps build global objections to the nuclear development actions of nations such as Iran and North Korea.

Obama and Medvedev plan to sign what officials call the "New START" less than a week before the U.S. president hosts a summit on reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide.

Richard Burt, a former arms control negotiator and now U.S. chair of a pro-elimination group called Global Zero, said the treaty "will set the stage for further cuts in U.S. and Russian arsenals and multilateral negotiations for reductions by all nuclear weapons countries."

A nuclear-weapons-free world "will not be reached in the near future," Obama said, but he has an agenda to "stop the spread of these weapons, to secure vulnerable nuclear materials from terrorists and to reduce nuclear arsenals."

POLITICS - Notice to GOP

"'Go for it,' Obama tells GOP on health repeal" by DARLENE SUPERVILLE, AP

President Barack Obama mocked Republicans' campaign to repeal his new health care law, saying they should "Go for it" and see how well they fare with voters.

"Be my guest," Obama said Thursday in the first of many appearances around the country to sell the overhaul to voters before the fall congressional elections. "If they want to have that fight, we can have it. Because I don't believe the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver's seat."

With emotions raw around the nation over the party-line vote to approve the nearly $1 trillion, 10-year law, Obama took the opposition to task for "plenty of fear-mongering, plenty of overheated rhetoric."

"If you turn on the news, you'll see that those same folks are still shouting about how it's going to be the end of the world because this bill passed," said Obama, appearing before thousands in this college town where, as a presidential candidate three years ago, he first unveiled his health care proposals.

No Republican lawmakers voted for the overhaul, a sweeping package that will shape how almost every American will receive and pay for medical treatment. Many in the GOP are predicting it will prove devastating in November for the Democrats who voted for it.

But the president stressed the notion of a promise kept, saying the legislation he signed into law on Tuesday is evidence he will do as he said. As the crowd broke into a chant of "Yes we can!" Obama corrected them: "Yes we did!"

The White House suggests it has the upper hand against Republicans politically, arguing the GOP risks a voter backlash because a repeal would take away from small businesses and individuals the benefits provided to them immediately under the new law.

"We're not going back," Obama said.

Obama spoke as Democrats in Washington raced to complete the overhaul with a separate package of fixes to the main bill.

Senate leaders finished work Thursday on the fix-it legislation, already approved in the House. But Republican attempts to derail the process resulted in minor changes to the bill, which meant the House would have to vote on it again before it can go to Obama for his signature. The House vote was expected by evening.


"GOP unsure about push to repeal health care" by Charles Babington & Philip Elliott, AP 4/1/2010


Top Republicans are starting to worry about their health-care rallying cry "Repeal the bill." It just might singe GOP candidates in November's elections, they fear, if voters begin to see benefits from the new law.

Democrats, hoping the GOP is indeed positioning itself too far to the right for the elections, are taking note of every Republican who pledges to fight for repeal. Such a pledge might work well in conservative-dominated Republican primaries, they say, but it could backfire in the fall when more moderate voters turn out.

At least one Republican Senate candidate, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has eased back from his earlier, adamant repeal-the-law stance. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which fiercely opposed President Barack Obama's health legislation, now urges opponents to pursue a "more effective approach" of trying to "minimize its harmful impacts."

For Republicans, urging a full repeal of the law will energize conservative activists whose turnout is crucial this year. But it also carries risks, say strategists in both parties.

POLITICS - The Week of 3/21/2010

In view of what's happened in last week....

Obama's "Yes We Can" or John Boehner's "Hell No, You Can't"?

Friday, March 26, 2010

POLITICS - The Hijacking of the Republican Party

First a reminder; I was a Republican in 2000, see my bio in sidebar.

I present the following as evidence that the Republican Party has been hijacked by conservative fanatics (or conservative fascists, if you will).

"Political Tide Could Wash Away Utah Senator" by JEFF ZELENY, New York Times 3/25/2010


The dissatisfaction with Washington sweeping through politics is not only threatening the Democratic majority in Congress, it is also roiling Republican primaries. The Tea Party movement and advocacy groups on the right are demanding that candidates hew strictly to their ideological standards, and are moving aggressively to cast out those they deem to have strayed, even if only by participating in the compromises of legislating.

There is no bigger quarry in the eyes of many conservative activists than Mr. Bennett, who has drawn seven challengers and will not know for six weeks whether he will even qualify for the ballot. His fate is being watched not only by grass-roots conservatives testing their ability to shape the party, but also by many elected Republicans in Washington who are wondering, If Bob Bennett is not conservative enough, who is?

"Anger is Not a Solution" by by J.D. Hamel, FrumForum 3/25/2010


Since Obamacare’s passage, cries of “socialism” have only grown louder. Glen Beck used much of his Tuesday television show to focus on Obama’s Marxist roots, and all around the blogosphere, the hysteria is at an all-time high. However, the American middle class doesn’t care about political theory, it cares about results. As long as conservatives obsess over socialism, we won’t deliver results. If we don’t deliver results, we won’t win elections.

David Frum on GOP:

"Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

POLITICS - Even More GOP Obstructionist Sleaze

"Republicans Block Senate Committee Hearings, Including On National Security Matters, For Second Day In A Row" by Amanda Terke, Think Progress 3/24/2010


ThinkProgress yesterday reported that all of Tuesday’s Senate committee and subcommittee hearings had to stop after 2:00 p.m. because of Republican objections. There is a little-noticed Senate rule that says committees need permission to meet anytime after two hours after the Senate convenes. Without permission, even a committee already in session has to stop meeting. No committee meetings are allowed to occur after 2:00 p.m.

The Senate generally waives this rule by unanimous consent at the start of business each day. But to protest health care legislation, Republicans have refused to give their consent this week, bringing committee work in the Senate to a virtual standstill. Today, the Senate convened at 9:00 a.m., meaning that hearings after 11:00 a.m. were blocked. One hearing canceled today was a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee session on “Contracts for Afghan National Police Training.” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), chair of the subcommittee, went on the Senate floor and called out the GOP tactics:

McCASKILL: Mr. President, I’m just confused about why the hearing that we had scheduled this afternoon cannot go forward. The subject matter of this hearing is oversight of the contract that is engaged in police training in Afghanistan in the Contracting Oversight subcommittee. This is a hearing that is getting to the heart of the matter that we have a real problem with the mission part in Afghanistan on police training because of problems with these contracts, problems with oversight of the State Department.

We have now canceled the hearing because we can’t have it. The witness from the State Department has been canceled. The witness from the Defense Department has been canceled. The inspectors general that were coming to testify about a GAO report that just came out last week — that was damning in its criticism of the oversight of these contracts. … I don’t get it.

Also on the Senate floor, Carl Levin (D-MI) asked permission for the already-scheduled Senate Armed Services Committee to go forward — a request supported by ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Levin pointed out that a couple of the commanders had traveled long distances to attend today’s hearing, from as far away as Japan. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), speaking on behalf of Republicans, objected and blocked the request:

BURR: As a member of the committee — and I side myself with the chair and the ranking member — that I have no personal objection to continuing. There is objection on our side of the aisle. Therefore, I would have to object.

In response to the GOP maneuvers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) spokesman Jim Manley replied, “So let me get this straight: in retaliation for our efforts to have an up-or-down vote to improve health care reform, Republicans are blocking an Armed Services committee hearing to discuss critical national security issues among other committee meetings?”

Democratic sources on the Hill told ThinkProgress that they expect Republicans to continue this tactic all week. Republicans used this tactic as recently as June 2008, attempting to shut down at least two Judiciary Committee hearings on torture and how Supreme Court decisions had restricted protections of American workers and consumers.

GOP Scumbags!

POLITICS - More on the Healthcare Bill

"Game Changer: Dems' Health Care Success Blunts GOP Momentum" by Brian Beutler, TPM 3/23/2010


What a difference a day makes. And, you know, the signing of a sweeping health care bill.

Last week, the atmosphere in the Capitol--and indeed, all across political Washington--was tense, and ominous. Democrats hadn't rounded up all the votes they needed (and ultimately found) to pass health care reform, and Senate Republicans knew it. They kicked up as much dust as they could to scare House members into killing their own bill. Fixing the health care bill with reconciliation would fail, they warned over and over again, and Dems would be stuck having enacting an unpopular reform.

Today, that's all gone.

It started last night when Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin sided with the Democrats over the Republicans' first major objection to the reconciliation bill. Republicans tried to get a major tax amendment stripped from the package on the grounds that it violated the Byrd rule...and they failed.

Today, Democrats are more confident than they've been in months. And while the Republicans haven't completely surrendered, they're clearly not the hard charging health care kamikazes they were weeks ago, when Democrats were ready to wave the white flag.

And appearing on CNBC yesterday evening, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)--one of the Senate's fiercest opponents of reform--threw in the towel. "We'll put a few holes in it, but basically it's going to come through here because they've done a good job crafting it.... We're going to have a difficult time making changes to that reconciliation bill."

At least one Republican gets it. GOP, you LOST!

with Keith Olbermann

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

POLITICS - GOP Take Notice, Open Letter

"An Open Letter to Republicans From Michael Moore" Truthout 3/22/2010

To My Fellow Citizens, the Republicans:

Thanks to last night's vote, that child of yours who has had asthma since birth will now be covered after suffering for her first nine years as an American child with a pre-existing condition.

Thanks to last night's vote, that 23-year-old of yours who will be hit one day by a drunk driver and spend six months recovering in the hospital will now not go bankrupt because you will be able to keep him on your insurance policy.

Thanks to last night's vote, after your cancer returns for the third time -- racking up another $200,000 in costs to keep you alive -- your insurance company will have to commit a criminal act if they even think of dropping you from their rolls.

Yes, my Republican friends, even though you have opposed this health care bill, we've made sure it is going to cover you, too, in your time of need. I know you're upset right now. I know you probably think that if you did get wiped out by an illness, or thrown out of your home because of a medical bankruptcy, that you would somehow pull yourself up by your bootstraps and survive. I know that's a comforting story to tell yourself, and if John Wayne were still alive I'm sure he could make that into a movie for you.

But the reality is that these health insurance companies have only one mission: To take as much money from you as they can -- and then work like demons to deny you whatever coverage and help they can should you get sick.

So, when you find yourself suddenly broadsided by a life-threatening illness someday, perhaps you'll thank those pinko-socialist, Canadian-loving Democrats and independents for what they did Sunday evening.

If it's any consolation, the thieves who run the health insurance companies will still get to deny coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions for the next four years. They'll also get to cap an individual's annual health care reimbursements for the next four years. And if they break the pre-existing ban that was passed last night, they'll only be fined $100 a day! And, the best part? The law will require all citizens who aren't poor or old to write a check to a private insurance company. It's truly a banner day for these corporations.

So don't feel too bad. We're a long way from universal health care. Over 15 million Americans will still be uncovered -- and that means about 15,000 will still lose their lives each year because they won't be able to afford to see a doctor or get an operation. But another 30,000 will live. I hope that's OK with you.

If you don't mind, we're now going to get busy trying to improve upon this bill so that all Americans are covered and so the grubby health insurance companies will be put out of business -- because when it comes to helping the sick, no one should ever be allowed to ask the question, "How much money can we save by making this poor bastard suffer?"

Please, my Republican friends, if you can, take a quiet moment away from your AM radio and cable news network this morning and be happy for your country. We're doing better. And we're doing it for you, too.

Michael Moore

Sock-it-to-them Mike

ECONOMY - Mortgage Crisis, the Few Against the Pack

PBS Newshour

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

POLITICS - Healthcare Bill Vote, Another Opinion

"The health-care vote: One more step on a long, slow journey" by Richard Cohen, Washington Post

Mitch McConnell is right. The Republican Senate leader, a man whose vision is to deny others theirs, told the New York Times that President Obama's health-care proposal was part of an attempt to "turn us into a Western European country," which, the good Lord willing, is what will now happen. I, for one, could use a dash of Germany, where there are something like 200 private health insurance plans and where everyone is covered and no one goes broke on account of bad health. It's great to be healthy in America, but for too many Americans, it's better to be sick somewhere else.

I would also take France or Switzerland, but mostly I'd like Japan, which I move to Western Europe for the sake of argument, and where medical care is as good (or better) than it is here and much less expensive. What all these countries have in common is the recognition that health care is, like food or education, a universal right. The United States, to McConnell's evident chagrin, is now moving this way.

Do not underestimate the importance of Sunday's House vote. It was momentous, and it will not be repealed by the results of the November elections. Against the hopes and insistence of the GOP, America did not reverse Social Security (as late as the Eisenhower administration, that was the fervent wish of the party's right wing) or Medicaid. The worth of these programs became evident, and thus they became politically sacrosanct.

When Americans figure out that insurance companies can no longer deny them coverage because, as it happens, they urgently need it, and when they discover that their kids can remain covered until age 26 and when they can for the first time afford health insurance themselves, this law will become untouchable. Self-interest usually trumps ideology.

This battle was never entirely about health care. The fury of the opposition -- not a single Republican vote -- is as historically significant as the passage of the legislation itself. There is something cleaving this country, something represented by the election of Barack Obama -- the change he either promised or threatened, take your pick -- and the hyper-exaggeration of the ideological threat the man represented. Caricatured as a socialist, a radical, a hard-left liberal and even an alien, he is actually the very soul of center-left moderation, cautious to a fault.

It is the same with the health-care package itself. Whatever it is, it is not socialism. For all the fulminations about the American free enterprise system, private insurance companies are retained. The government will not do what governments all over the world do -- provide either health insurance or health care itself. Does the legislation provide for a government role? Yes. But there is a government role in virtually everything -- or haven't you noticed the tag on your pillow?

The reason this fight took so long is that the culture is about evenly divided. It's not that the political system is broken. On the contrary, it's not supposed to work without consensus. It did as designed -- marched in place and bided its time until Sunday, when it moved just a bit. Consider how long it has taken. Harry Truman wanted this bill.

Anger comes from fear. What was once a white Protestant nation is changing hue and religion. It is no accident that racial epithets were yelled at black lawmakers on Saturday in Washington and a kind of venom even gets exclaimed from the floor of the Congress: "You lie!" "Baby killer!" The protesters were protesting health-care legislation. But they feared they were losing their country.

Ever since the New Deal, the GOP has been the Party of the Past. It said no to the New Deal. It said no to Social Security. Important leaders -- Barry Goldwater, for instance -- said no to civil rights, as they now are saying no to gay rights. The party plays the role of the scold, the finger-wagger who warns of this or that dire outcome -- not all of it wrong -- and then gets bypassed by progress. The GOP then picks itself up and resumes its fight -- against the next innovation. Usually, it wins some battles; usually, it loses the war.

McConnell had his point. Europe is way ahead of us in compassion for the sick. Its systems, though, are hardly perfect, and government debt is always a concern. Still, we know which way we are going. The culture wars will continue, but the outcome, Mitch, is no longer in doubt.

Bold emphasis mine

POLITICS - Healthcare Reform Bill, Whose Waterloo?

What David Frum, a noted conservative intellectual and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, had to say...

"Waterloo" by David Frum, FrumForum 3/21/2010

Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:

(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.

(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.

So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

Bold emphasis mine

POLITICS - ....of The Healthcare Bill

"In Health Care Bill, Obama Attacks Wealth Inequality" by DAVID LEONHARDT, New York Times


For all the political and economic uncertainties about health reform, at least one thing seems clear: The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago.

Over most of that period, government policy and market forces have been moving in the same direction, both increasing inequality. The pretax incomes of the wealthy have soared since the late 1970s, while their tax rates have fallen more than rates for the middle class and poor.

Nearly every major aspect of the health bill pushes in the other direction. This fact helps explain why Mr. Obama was willing to spend so much political capital on the issue, even though it did not appear to be his top priority as a presidential candidate. Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan.

Speaking to an ebullient audience of Democratic legislators and White House aides at the bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday, Mr. Obama claimed that health reform would “mark a new season in America.” He added, “We have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.”

"Republicans face possible risk in healthcare repeal" by Thomas Ferraro, Reuters 3/23/2010


Republican lawmakers vowed on Tuesday to try to repeal President Barack Obama's landmark U.S. healthcare overhaul but a new poll suggested they may run the risk of a voter backlash in advance of the November election.

In fact, Democrats dared Republicans to move to rescind the measure that Obama signed into law earlier in the day.

"I don't see how they standup at a town-hall meeting and say they favor repeal of a law that prohibits insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions," said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden.

Gallup released a poll that found longtime opposition to the plan had turned to support, 49 percent to 40 percent. That may ease Democratic concerns as they near the November congressional elections.

"Passage of healthcare reform was a clear political victory for President Obama and his (Democratic) allies in Congress," Gallup wrote.

Earlier in the day, 12 Republican senators introduced legislation to rescind the healthcare law. "This fight isn't over yet," said Senator Jim DeMint, chief sponsor of effort.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell did not sign on to DeMint's bill but said the party would campaign to repeal.

"The slogan will be 'repeal and replace,'" McConnell said, acknowledging that the public has favored some of the new reforms, such as ones to make healthcare more accessible and the insurance industry more accountable.

There has been bipartisan agreement on some provisions, such as prohibiting insurance companies from dropping people from coverage when they get sick.

But there is opposition to others, such as tax hikes and cuts in the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly to help pay for it.

A repeal, however, would wipe out the entire law.

Yap. GOP on the wrong side again. Opposing this bill just like they opposed Social Security and Medicaid in the past. And by all means, lets keep the trend going; rich get richer, poor get poorer.

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

TECH-SIDE - High-Speed Rail Worldwide

"High-speed rail is all the rage: here, there and everywhere" NewsDesk.org (non-profit news)

High-speed rail seems to be top of mind among the world’s transportation wonks and policy makers, with action in the U.S., Europe and, most of all, China.

As California puts a $9.95 billion high-speed rail project on the fast track, China has begun exploring plans to link its high-speed train routes to Europe. Meanwhile, the U.S. federal government has set aside $8.8 billion in stimulus funds for 13 high-speed rail projects.

China and Japan also have jumped into the market for manufacturing bullet trains, including trains that would connect Tampa, Fla. to Orlando, with a possible stop at Walt Disney World. They are the latest players in the bullet train sweepstakes. France’s Alstom SA, Germany’s Siemens AG and Canada’s Bombardier Inc. also want to sell trains, tracks and operating equipment for the U.S. effort.

With the runaway success of Spain’s Alta Velocidad Española (AVE), connecting Madrid and Barcelona, the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) in France and the U.S. stimulus funds, high-speed rail has generated a considerable buzz. High-speed rail projects also are underway in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.

Bullet trains are generally considered to be those traveling faster than 180 miles an hour(290 kph). Japan built the world’s first “Shinkansen” and has the biggest high-speed network, carrying 308 million people last year.

China is catching up fast, though. According to a report in Business Week, China is eying two potential routes from Beijing, one passing through India, Pakistan and the Middle East, and another connecting Germany, through Russia. A third line would extend south from China to connect Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia.

(California High-Speed Rail Authority)

POLITICS - Reform, Student Loans

"House passes increased college aid for students in need; ends reliance on private lenders" by JIM KUHNHENN, AP 3/22/2010

Riding the coattails of a historic health care vote, the House on Sunday also passed a broad reorganization of college aid that affects millions of students and moves President Barack Obama closer to winning yet another of his top domestic policies.

The bill rewrites a four-decades-old student loan program, eliminating its reliance on private lenders and uses the savings to direct $36 billion in new spending to Pell Grants for students in financial need.

In the biggest piece of education legislation since No Child Left Behind nine years ago, the bill would also provide more than $4 billion to historically black colleges and community colleges.

The bill was paired with the expedited health care bill, a marriage of convenience that helped the prospects of each measure. That combined measure passed 220-211.

"We are pairing this historic health reform with another opportunity that cannot be missed — the chance to make the single largest investment in college affordability ever at no cost to the taxpayers," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

The Senate will take up the bill next week under the same expedited rules used for health care legislation. That means the Senate can pass the education measure by a simple majority, virtually guaranteeing its success despite qualms from some Democrats and opposition from Republicans.

House lawmakers passed the bill last year, but in the Senate it did not have 60 votes to overcome a near certain filibuster. By riding shotgun on the fast-track health care bill, the legislation now can avoid that obstacle.

Still, Obama won't get the Pell Grant expansion he initially sought. Congressional Democrats had to trim their original spending plans when the 10-year savings realized by switching to direct government loans dropped from $87 billion to $61 billion.

Private lenders have conducted an all-out lobbying effort against the bill, arguing it would cost thousands of jobs and unnecessarily put the program in the hands of the government.

America's Student Loan Providers, a trade group representing lenders, called for the Senate to reject the measure. "This is not the final chapter," the group said in a statement. "The Senate now has the historic opportunity to pass health reform — without eliminating thousands of jobs and critical student services."

Under the college lending program, financial institutions provide college loans at low interest rates, the government guarantees the loans in the event of default and subsidizes private lenders when necessary to keep rates low.

"By moving to the federal government's direct loan program, we will put the best interests of students first and make college loans more reliable and affordable," said Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, the chairman of a House higher education subcommittee.

In addition to using the $61 billion in savings from that change for Pell Grants and higher education institutions, the legislation would direct about $19 billion for deficit reduction and to offset expenses in the health care legislation.

Besides increasing Pell Grants, the bill provides $1.5 billion to make it easier for student borrowers to repay their loans. Beginning in 2014, borrowers would be allowed to devote no more than 10 percent of their monthly income to repay student loans. The current cap is 15 percent.

Still, the legislation is not as generous as the bill the House passed last year. The bill had anticipated far more spending on community colleges and had called for increasing the Pell Grants each year by the consumer price index plus 1 percent. Democrats had to scrap the additional 1 percent increase.

Instead, the bill proposes no increases in Pell Grants over the next two years and a modest increase over the five years that follow. The maximum Pell Grant, which a House-passed bill last year would have raised to $6,900 over 10 years, will now only increase to $5,900. The current maximum grant for the coming school year is $5,500.

What's more, a poor jobs market that has driven potential workers to colleges and technical schools has put a strain on the Pell Grant program. Of the $36 billion destined for Pell Grants, $13.5 billion would help fill a $19 billion Pell Grant shortfall.

Following Republican criticism, Democrats dropped a provision in the new bill that would have allowed the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to continue making federally financed student loans to students.

"That's out, end of the story," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.

POLITICS - More GOP Fear Mongering, Healthcare

"Fear Strikes Out" by Paul Krugman, New York Times 3/21/2010


The day before Sunday’s health care vote, President Obama gave an unscripted talk to House Democrats. Near the end, he spoke about why his party should pass reform: “Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made ... And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.”

And on the other side, here’s what Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House — a man celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader — had to say: If Democrats pass health reform, “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation. (NYT Editor: The quotation originally appeared in The Washington Post, which reported after the column went to press that Mr. Gingrich said it referred to Johnson’s Great Society policies, not to the 1964 Civil Rights Act)

I’d argue that Mr. Gingrich is wrong about that: proposals to guarantee health insurance are often controversial before they go into effect — Ronald Reagan famously argued that Medicare would mean the end of American freedom — but always popular once enacted.

But that’s not the point I want to make today. Instead, I want you to consider the contrast: on one side, the closing argument was an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers; on the other side, callous cynicism. Think about what it means to condemn health reform by comparing it to the Civil Rights Act. Who in modern America would say that L.B.J. did the wrong thing by pushing for racial equality? (Actually, we know who: the people at the Tea Party protest who hurled racial epithets at Democratic members of Congress on the eve of the vote.)

And that cynicism has been the hallmark of the whole campaign against reform.

Also, on this issue:

"Chamber Won’t Push for Health Repeal" by Elizabeth Williamson, Wall Street Journal 3/22/2010

Republicans in Congress shouldn’t look to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to support a repeal of the health-care overhaul, the group’s chief executive said today.

In an interview with Wall Street Journal reporters and editors, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue criticized the health care legislation as a “very, very expensive” and disruptive change to the nation’s health-care delivery system. A companion bill that completes the overhaul legislation cleared the House last night and is expected to cross the final hurdles in the Senate this week.

But Donohue made it clear the chamber won’t be spending any of its substantial war chest on a campaign, favored by Republicans, to repeal the legislation. The Washington-based chamber, which represents three million businesses of all sizes, spent heavily in an unsuccessful effort to kill the health bill. Minutes after Democrats won passage in the House Sunday night, the chamber issued a statement calling the vote “a wrong and unfortunate decision that ignores the will of the American people.”

But once the bill becomes law, Donohue said, “If people want to try and repeal, let them. We’re not going to spend any capital on that.” Instead, he said the chamber will push for changes to the bill when it enters the regulatory stage, always a key pressure point.

In the 2,800-page bill “you’ve probably got 15,000 pages of regulation before this is finished,” he said. “We have to see what we can do to deal with some of the issues that seem most egregious,” and mount challenges in Congress and potentially in the courts, he said.

“There’s never been a bill this size ever written on anything that doesn’t go back for adjustments and refinements,” Donohue said. He added that the chamber will make its views on the bill known in “the court of public opinion, and maybe…the elections.”

In the chamber statement last night, Donohue vowed that “Should the legislation passed by the House today become law, the Chamber will work through all available avenues—regulatory, legislative, legal, and political—to fix its flaws and minimize its potentially harmful impacts.”

The chamber already is laying plans for the election season. “Through the largest issue advocacy and voter education program in our history, we will encourage citizens to hold their elected officials accountable when they choose a new Congress this November,” Donohue said in the statement.

Monday, March 22, 2010

POLITICS - Healthcare, GOP Down In Flames

"Let the (Republican) finger-pointing begin!" by Jed Lewison, Daily Kos 3/21/2010

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum says that while he opposes the health care reform plan, its passage will represent a major defeat for the Republican Party. In his words, it will be the GOP’s "Waterloo."

Frum’s key point:

Those of us who said there was a deal to be done, that there are a lot of parts of this bill that look familiar, that look like Mitt Romney’s plan, that look like plans Republicans proposed in 1993 and 1994, they look like things that were drafted at the Heritage foundation in 1990 and 1991, we can work with this, there are things we don’t like, [but] President Obama will pay a lot maybe for 20 or 30 Republican votes, let’s deal — that was shut down, we went the radical way, looking for Waterloo, and it looks like we arrived at Waterloo.

...Some of the Republican leadership like Jim DeMint, I think did play a very hard-line role. Some of our leaders were trapped. They were trapped by voices in the media that revved the Republican base into a frenzy that made dealing impossible. I mean, you can’t negotiate with Adolf Hitler, and if the President is Adolf Hitler, then obviously you can’t negotiate with him. So some of the blame has has got to go to those who said, who got the psychology of the party to a point where a lot of good people, reasonable people were trapped.

...We are encouraging a mood of radicalism in the party that is not just uncivil, that’s not the problem, the problem is it makes you stupid. It makes you make bad decisions, it leads you to think that President Obama with 53% of the vote is as beatable in 2009 as President Clinton with 42% of the vote in 1993, and that’s obviously not true.

Frum points the finger squarely at "radical" Republicans like Jim DeMint who made the decision to not negotiate with President Obama, instead betting all their chips on a failed strategy of obstruction.

Frum says that within the bill there are many provisions that conservatives should be able to support, and that it was a huge mistake for them to say "no" instead of seeking common ground. As a result, Frum says, Democrats will be able to claim full credit for passing a bill with many popular provisions, leaving the GOP out in the cold.

Frum’s argument relies on a difficult juggling act, simultaneously saying he doesn’t like the bill and blaming blaming conservatives for having negotiated with Obama on it, but his basic argument was that Republicans never had a chance of defeating reform, and should have tried to get as much as they could given that it would pass. By standing on the sidelines, he says, Republicans missed an opportunity to at least achieve some conservative goals, and he places the blame for that squarely on the most extreme elements of the GOP.

Whether or not you agree with everything Frum has to say, it’s a very clear example of kind of self-examination and finger pointing that will dominate the discussion inside the GOP in the wake of their defeat on health care reform.

Article includes video of Frum interview.

HEALTHCARE - YES! American Citizens Win

Visit MSNBC.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

"Obama Hails Vote on Health Care as Answering ‘the Call of History’" by ROBERT PEAR and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, New York Times 3/21/2010


House Democrats approved a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s health system on Sunday, voting over unanimous Republican opposition to provide medical coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans after an epic political battle that could define the differences between the parties for years.

With the 219-to-212 vote, the House gave final approval to legislation passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve. Thirty-four Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the bill. The vote sent the measure to President Obama, whose yearlong push for the legislation has been the centerpiece of his agenda and a test of his political power.

After approving the bill, the House adopted a package of changes to it by a vote of 220 to 211. That package — agreed to in negotiations among House and Senate Democrats and the White House — now goes to the Senate for action as soon as this week. It would be the final step in a bitter legislative fight that has highlighted the nation’s deep partisan and ideological divisions.

On a sun-splashed day outside the Capitol, protesters, urged on by House Republicans, chanted “Kill the bill” and waved yellow flags declaring “Don’t Tread on Me.” They carried signs saying “Doctors, Not Dictators.”

Inside, Democrats hailed the votes as a historic advance in social justice, comparable to the establishment of Medicare and Social Security. They said the bill would also put pressure on rising health care costs and rein in federal budget deficits.

“This is the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House.

Friday, March 19, 2010

TECH-SIDE: When High-Tech Goes Awry

"Car owners stranded as U.S. hacker disables more than 100 vehicles over the internet" from Mail Foreign Service

A man fired from a Texas auto dealership took revenge through the internet by remotely disabling more than 100 cars sold at his old workplace, police said yesterday.

Car owners were left stranded at work or home, forced to call in tow trucks after Omar Ramos-Lopez, 20, allegedly used a former colleague's password to break into the system.

Austin police arrested him yesterday, charging him with felony breach of computer security.

'He caused these customers, now victims, to miss work,' Austin police spokeswoman Veneza Aguinaga said.

'They didn't get paid. They had to get tow trucks. They didn't know what was going on with their vehicles.'

The Texas Auto Center dealership in Austin installs GPS devices that can prevent cars from starting.

The system is used to repossess cars when buyers are overdue on payments, said Jeremy Norton, a controller at the dealership where Ramos-Lopez worked.

Car horns can be activated when repossession agents go to collect vehicles and believe the owners are hiding them.

'We are taking extra measures to make sure this never happens again,' Norton said.

Starting in mid-February, dealership employees noticed unusual changes to their business records. Someone was going into the system and changing customers' names, such as having dead rapper Tupac Shakur buying a 2009 vehicle, Norton said.

Soon, customers began calling saying their cars wouldn't start, or that their horns were going off incessantly, forcing them to disengage the battery. Norton said the dealership originally thought the cars had mechanical problems.

Then employees noticed someone had ordered $130,000 in parts and equipment from the company that makes the GPS devices.

Police said they were able to trace the sabotage to Ramos-Lopez's computer, leading to his arrest.

Norton said Ramos-Lopez didn't seem unusually upset about being fired.

'I think he thought what he was doing was a harmless prank,' Norton said. 'He didn't see the ramifications of it.'

ECONOMY - Better Banking?

"The Growing Movement for Publicly Owned Banks" by Ellen Brown, YES! Magazine


Michigan, which has an unemployment rate of 14 percent, has been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn. Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing, the state’s capital, and a leading Democratic candidate for governor, proposes to relieve the state’s economic ills by opening a state-owned bank. He says the bank could protect consumers by making low-interest loans to those most in need, including students and small businesses; it could also help community banks by buying mortgages off their books and working with them to fund development projects.

Bernero joins a growing list of candidates proposing this sensible solution to their states’ fiscal ills. Local economies have collapsed because of the Wall Street credit freeze. To reinvigorate local business, Main Street needs a heavy infusion of credit, and publicly-owned banks could fill that need.

In a recent article for YES! Magazine, I tracked candidates in five states running on a state bank platform and one state (Massachusetts) with a bill pending. Just one month later, there are now three more bills on the rolls—in Washington State, Illinois and Michigan—and two more candidates joining the list of proponents (joining Bernero is Gaelan Brown of Vermont). That brings the total to seven candidates in as many states (Florida, Oregon, Illinois, California, Washington State, Vermont, and Idaho) campaigning for state-owned banks, including three Democrats, two Greens, one Republican, and one Independent.

The Independent, Vermont’s Gaelan Brown, says on his website, “Washington, D.C. has lost all moral authority over Vermont.” He adds, "Vermont should explore creating a State-owned bank that would work with private VT-based banks, to insulate VT from Wall Street corruption, and to increase investment capital for VT businesses, modeled after the very successful state-owned Bank of North Dakota."

The Bank of North Dakota, currently the nation’s only state-owned bank, is the model (with variations) for all the other proposals on the table. The Bank of North Dakota acts as a “bankers’ bank,” partnering with other banks in “participation loans," which allow them to compete with larger banks. In a participation loan, the community bank originates the loan and takes responsibility for it, while the participating bank contributes funds and shares in the risk and profits. The Bank of North Dakota also makes low-interest loans to students, farmers and businesses; underwrites municipal bonds; and provides liquidity for more than 100 banks around the state.

Three New Bills Pending for Publicly Owned Banks

Proposals for publicly owned banks in other states have now progressed beyond the campaign talk of political hopefuls to be drafted into several bills.

The True Potential of Publicly-owned Banks

North Dakota broke new ground nearly a century ago, but the true potential of publicly owned banks remains to be explored. Nearly all of our money today is created by banks when they extend loans. (See the Chicago Federal Reserve’s “Modern Money Mechanics" (PDF), which begins, “The actual process of money creation takes place primarily in banks.”) We the people have given away our sovereign money-creating power to private, for-profit lending institutions, which have used it to siphon wealth from the productive economy. If we were to take that power back, we could generate the credit we need to underwrite a whole cornucopia of projects that we don’t even consider because we think we lack the “money.” We have the labor and we have the materials; we just lack the “liquidity” necessary to put them together to create products and services.

Money today is just a ticket, a receipt for work performed and goods delivered. We can fund the work we need done by creating our own credit. The real promise of publicly-owned banks is not that they can bail out subprime borrowers but that they can jumpstart the economy by creating real wealth. They can provide the liquidity to put labor and materials together, allowing the economy to build and grow. Our private, profit-driven banking sector has been bleeding wealth from the rest of the economy. Public-interest banks can transfuse the economy with the credit it needs to flourish and be productive once again.

The banks listed in the full article:

  • The Michigan Development Bank

  • The State Bank of Washington

  • The Community Bank of Illinois

  • Massachusetts-owned Bank

  • The Bank of North Dakota

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WAR - The Chairman Speaks

"The ‘Mullen Doctrine’ Takes Shape" by Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent (non-profit news)


It’s not the Mullen Doctrine — yet. But in a recent speech that’s attracted little notice outside the defense blogosphere, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered the first set of criteria for using military force since Gen. Colin Powell held Mullen’s job nearly 20 years ago. And Mullen’s inchoate offerings provide something of an update — and something of a refutation — to Powell’s advice.

Mullen’s speech, delivered to Kansas State University on March 3, was not intended to provide an inflexible blueprint for how the U.S. ought to use its military, aides to the chairman said. Instead, the speech meant to draw conclusions from Mullen’s three years as chairman advising two administrations about the scope — and, Mullen’s aides emphasize, the limitations — of military force in an era of stateless and unconventional threats after nine years of continuous warfare.

“This is his legacy,” said Patrick Cronin, a defense analyst with the Center for a New American Security. “He has articulated the Pentagon’s rediscovery of limited war theory.”

Perhaps Mullen’s most provocative “principle,” as he called it in the speech, is that military forces “should not – maybe cannot – be the last resort of the state.” On the surface, Mullen appeared to offer a profligate view of sending troops to battle, contradicting the Powell Doctrine’s warning that the military should only be used when all other options exhaust themselves. Powell’s warning has great appeal to a country exhausted by two costly, protracted wars, one of which was launched long before diplomatic options had run out.

But Mullen’s aides said the chairman was trying to make a subtler point, one that envisioned the deployment of military forces not as a sharp change in strategy from diplomacy but along a continuum of strategy alongside it. “The American people are used to thinking of war and peace as two very distinct activities,” said Air Force Col. Jim Baker, one of Mullen’s advisers for military strategy. “That is not always the case.” In the speech, Mullen focused his definition of military force on the forward deployment of troops or hardware to bolster diplomatic efforts or aid in humanitarian ones, rather than the invasions that the last decade saw.

WORLD - The Disappearing Tiger

"Official: 'We have failed the wild tiger'" NewsDesk.org (non-profit news) 3/16/2010

From the World Bank Group, pleas by actors Harrison Ford and Bo Derek

WORLD - Sierra Leone, Africa

"Women’s rights get boost in Sierra Leone" NewsDesk.org (non-profit news)

Women’s rights activists in northern Sierra Leone are cheering a recent court ruling that may open the door toward women becoming eligible for the posts of “Paramount Chiefs.”

The country’s High Court earlier this month lifted a ban on Iye Kendor Bandabla from becoming chief in Kissy Teng chiefdom in the country’s eastern Kailahun district.

It was viewed as a landmark decision, not only on political terms, but cultural as well.

Traditionalists oppose women becoming chiefs in most of the West African country, though they are accepted in the south.

Activists say they will use the High Court ruling to strengthen their case in the Supreme Court, where they are lobbying for the nationwide acceptance of female paramount chiefs.

Paramount chieftaincy is a tradition dating back to precolonial times when each chief ruled his kingdom. The role was associated with clearing forests or seizing power by conquests.

In the government of Sierra Leone, Paramount Chiefs are nonpartisan Members of Parliament. There are 11 District Chiefs representing every district besides the Freetown Districts.

The ruling comes months after courts refused to support another woman, Elizabeth Simbiwa Sogbo-Tortu, who was barred from becoming chief, which prompted the appeal to the Supreme Court.

In December, members of a Sierra Leone traditional group besieged her house and stopped her from going home after she launched a bid to become a chief.

Ms Sogbo-Tortu was protected by armed police, UN officials and women’s rights campaigners when she tried to return to her home in the eastern Kono district.

Members of the Poro secret society threw stones at the convoy in the town of Sewase , 25 miles from the district capital Koidu, despite the security forces.

Ms Sogbo-Tortu is from a family of chiefs and after her disqualification, her nephew was chosen to be the new chief of Niminyama.

The office of Paramount Chief in Sierra Leone was highlighted in 2007 when British Prime Minister Tony Blair was named “chief for life” of an impoverished village. He was presented with a heavy brown ceremonial robe and declared honorary Paramount Chief of Mahera, a settlement of 6,000 people near Lungi.

He was given the name Paramount Chief Matoh, Chief of Peace, and his wife, Cherie Blair, was named Ya-Bom-posseh—First Lady.

Publisher's Note: On occasion I will post interesting articles from around the world as a reminder that the USofA is not the whole world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

TECH-SIDE: Life, Where Life Should Not Be

"NASA discovers life hidden 600 feet below Antarctic ice" by Mallory Simon, CNN 'This Just In' Blog

Six hundred feet below the Antarctic ice, where no light can be found, NASA scientists made a startling discovery – a swimming shrimp-like creature that could challenge the idea of where and how forms of life can survive.

While the creature is small itself -– only about three inches long -– its impact could be tremendous.

A NASA team had lowered a small video camera to get the first-ever photograph of the underside of an ice shelf – and that’s when they saw the swimming creature, according to a NASA document.

The discovery could shake the very foundation of what kind of creatures can survive in certain atmospheres.

"We were operating on the presumption that nothing's there," NASA ice scientist Robert Bindschadler told the Associated Press. "It was a shrimp you'd enjoy having on your plate."

"We were just gaga over it," he told the AP.

The creature, a Lyssianasid amphipod, could lead the way for larger expeditions into harsher environments that scientists previously believed could not support life – both on the Earth and even frozen moons in outer space.

TECH-SIDE: View on Company Mottos

"Uh Oh. Not Another 'Don’t Be Evil' Company" by Michael Arrington, TechCrunch

Long ago Google unofficially abandoned the Don’t Be Evil mantra and replaced it with, no kidding, an “evil scale.” Sometimes you have to chose between the lesser of two weevils, as Patrick O’Brian would say. And frankly, just staying this side of decent is enough for most companies.

So when Twitter CEO Evan Williams said earlier today that one of Twitter’s operating principles was to “be a force for good” I cringed a little.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in business, and am still learning, is to never trust anyone who says “you can trust me.” That’s a big red flag that they’re planning something really messed up in the near future. And likewise, a company shouldn’t be out there saying “don’t be evil” or “be a force for good.”

First because it’s basically impossible to balance a profit motive with a goodness motive. And in fact the nice thing about capitalism is that everyone acting in their own self interest tends to be good for everyone else, too, if appropriate government forces are put in place to stop monopolies, pollution, etc. Being a socialist is a great way to get laid in college but it’s no way to run a society.

And second because when people, or governments, or companies start talking about being a force for good, there’s a good chance that a serious amount of self righteousness is brewing behind the scenes. Everyone who fights a war thinks they have God on their side. And some of the most atrocious moments in history were done in the name of good.

What I’d like best is if Twitter just focuses on keeping the lights on, and adds competitive features that keep Google, Facebook and others on their toes. Let others use Twitter to do good things. Twitter should stay goodness-neutral and self righteous free.

Or alternatively try to be a force for good. But just do it, don’t talk about it.

I have bolded the very BIG qualifier in the article. Remember, the greedy are serving self-interest, ME over everyone else. Enron fiasco ring a bell?