29 October 2009

My letter to Joe Lieberman today

Dear Senator Lieberman,
I am writing to you, as a national constituent (since Senators represent all Americans as well as their own state constituents), to urge and implore you in the strongest possible terms to reconsider and reverse your unwarranted threat -- for that is what it is -- to derail the most important element of the Democratic political agenda this year: meaningful health care reform.

As you must know, 68% of your own state's voters favor a public insurance option. The majority of all voters nationwide... about 55%... favor this policy. The VAST majority of Democrats, the party with whom you caucus and which welcomed you to keep your committee positions even after you supported the Republican presidential nominee against the election of our president, favor this policy. There is some point at which the people's representatives, even in the more deliberative body, must, to legitimately fulfill their duties, accede to the wishes of the people, and not substitute for it their own more narrowly construed interests. That point is at hand. Please, sir, for once, respect the wishes of the voters and not those of special interests.

You have stated that you intend to block a straight vote on a bill which contains this public insurance provision. Not just vote against it, but use the arcane rules of the Senate to foil majority rule and block it. This, even after you went on record on numerous occasions in the past deploring the use of the filibuster except in the most dire circumstances. You even joined with Republicans to circumvent its use to the advantage of President Bush's efforts to stack the courts with Rightist judges.

I appeal to the Democrat in you. You once worked for Senator Kennedy... John F. Kennedy, yet here you stand poised to destroy the life work of his brother, the "Lion of the Senate," Edward Kennedy, by foiling the clear will of the majority of Americans, to finally, at long last, achieve comprehensive health care reform. Our country needs this reform desperately. We cannot wait years. 45,000 Americans die each year due to lack of health care, and 22,000 are forced into bankruptcy because of medical bills, something which happens in no other advanced nation. Not France. Not Germany. Not South Korea or Taiwan. Not Israel. Not Canada. Only the United States. This is a legacy of shame which we must end, and it would be tragic if it were Joe Lieberman who stood in the way.

Vote against this bill if you feel you must, but please do not, for once, impose your personal views, against the better judgment of more than two thirds of your own constitutents, to prevent democratic government from working to enact the will of the people. Do not, sir, I implore you, prevent this legislation from being considered for passage by the majority of the Senate, and if it passes, then it should be accepted as the will of the people, a sacred trust.

Sir, do you REALLY, in the end, want your legacy to be "Say No, Joe, who killed health care reform"? Is that what you really want?

Thank you.

There must be consequences

Let me say this again, as clearly as I can:


If you don't agree with that, you're not really a Democrat. Sorry, but that's just the bottom line for me.


The Republicans use this very method of Party Discipline all the time. I HATE the Senate Rules. I'd like to see a Constitutional Amendment to require proportional representation in the Senate, and mandating fairer procedures. But this is the system we have. So Democrats must use all the tools in the toolbox to accomplish the reform the people who elected Barack Obama president DEMAND. If they don't, the only possible conclusion is they're just toying with us, and they don't really want reform.


Frankly, that one is self-evident. Politicians are held responsible for their failures. Period.

E-mail to White House: rein in Lieberman, for crying out loud

I'm really starting to feel like a tape loop. Anyway, here's today's e-mail to the White House.

I am so intensely frustrated with the lack of real energy on health reform coming from the White House.

It is totally clear that Sen. Lieberman has reneged on his assurances not to block the Democratic Agenda, but where is the opprobrium? Where is the fire in the belly in favor of the reform that at least 55% of the American people, and the VAST MAJORITY of the people who elected this president, DEMAND?

The White House didn't hesitate to threaten congressional representatives with outer darkness over military funding, but here this horrible ex-Democrat, whose own state favors a public insurance option by 68%, a 47% margin, is being treated with kid gloves when he OVERTLY threatens to sink reform?

Lieberman needs to be told he will be expelled from all his chairmanships and treated like the Republican he is if he does this.

The President is NOT living up to his promises to bring real change, and the people who put him in office are getting more and more disaffected.

Listen to this. Don't ignore it. Because the Democratic coalition that elected President Obama is unraveling. If that happens, it will be RIGHTLY laid at the door of the president.

The president must condemn Lieberman by name, and demand both publicly and privately that all Democrats unite behind the reform the people demand, including the public insurance option, NOW.

Thank you.

28 October 2009

Paleoclimate and Paleobotany and implication for global warming

Something a little different from my usual political commentary.

I've been reading Emerald Planet, How Plants Changed Earth's History (David Beerling, Oxford), which is a popular treatment of interesting topics in paleobotany and paleoecology.

One of the most interesting things the author discusses is the role of plants in regulating atmospheric composition. Some things I didn't know and I'm quite sure are not common knowledge: 

Apart from a deep and pervasive global glaciation in the 800-600 million years ago range (i.e., before the emergence of complex multicellular life) (during which the planet may possibly have been entirely covered with ice for a time), and a severe glacial epoch probably resulting from cataclysmic volcanic events in roughly Permian time (i.e., before the great age of dinosaurs), the Earth has been mostly ice free. In fact, most of the time the temperature gradients between the polar regions and the equatorial regions have been much less than at present. During the Carboniferous and again during the Eocene (periods of major global warming caused by very high levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases), the poles were subtropical, with palm trees and vast forests stretching from pole to pole.

Indeed, it is only with the end of the Eocene, roughly 40 million years ago, (possibly triggered by the massive sequestration of carbon by aquatic ferns being buried without releasing their carbon for long periods of time in a stagnant Arctic sea), that a long term global cooling trend, culminating in the Pleistocene glaciations, began. (the changed configuration of the continents and resulting changes in oceanic currents undoubtedly play a major role in this as well). (Check out the Azolla Event in Wikipedia, if you're interested. It's an amazing story).

Generally, through most of the history of multicellular life on Earth, the planet has been significantly warmer than in the last few million years, and in fact, ice caps at both poles have been decidedly rare. During most of their history, Arctic regions and Antarctica have been the sites of forests comparable to the Pacific Northwest today, or even subtropical forests, in warmer eras. And this is not accounted for by their having been in different locations; both the circumpolar lands of the North and Antarctica have been in approximately their current locations since shortly after the breakup of Gondwana and the comparable breakup of Laurasia, roughly 200+ million years ago.

Beerling points out that attempts to model exactly what happened during the Eocene warm period, in particular, in terms of currents, atmospheric circulation, and, especially, the effects of greenhouse gases, particularly methane and CO2, have failed to adequately account for the paleoclimate. (It was warmer than modeling of all these factors can account for, especially at very high latitudes). He concludes, almost as an aside from this, that our understanding of likely effects of significant changes now underway in greenhouse gas composition (including the potential for release of methane in large quantities from ocean floor clathrates), is not adequate to make predictions, but that the effects are likely to be more extreme, not less, than modeling currently available suggests.

This should induce even greater caution, but something tells me that the politicians of the world will remain blissfully unaware of such considerations.

27 October 2009

Lieberman should be threatened with loss of all caucus privileges; and if he follows through on HIS threat, this should actually happen

My letter to Sen. Reid today:
Dear Sen. Reid,

I commend you for returning a bill to the Senate floor containing essential provisions including at least a form of the public option so vital to controlling costs and actually providing people with meaningful choices.

Sen. Schumer says you've counted the votes and not to count out the chances for passage.

Let me be clear. If the Obstructionist Republican except in name Joe Lieberman follows through with his threat today to join the Republicans in filibustering this historic reform, it is LONG PAST TIME to expel him from the Democratic caucus, strip him of all committee responsibilities, and basically cast him into the outer darkness. Hopefully if the Democratic leadership makes clear to this horrible man that this is what awaits him, he will cling to his beloved power and toe the line. If not, the threat must be carried out. Enough is enough, and Americans will not tolerate further coddling of this never-really-was former Democrat.

Thank you.

David Studhalter

Lieberman may try to singlehandedly kill health care reform.

If Just Say No Joe Lieberman, whom I regard as the single worst example of a bought and paid for politician in the entire Senate, gets his way and manages to single-handedly kill health care reform, I will write to Reid and other Senators continually until they strip him of all committee responsibilities and declare him not a member of the Democratic caucus. See this.

Or, to put it a bit more bluntly, what a complete asshole.

26 October 2009

Progressive Pressure

"Undoubtedly progressives will see today's development as a validation of their intense activism--pressure that wasn't always appreciated by Democratic party elders."  --Brian Beutler, TPM 

Damn right we do. Better get used to it, 'cause we have no intention of letting up. If you resent pressure from your constituency, then get the hell out of the way and let somebody do your job who actually will do your job... which is to deliver what your constituents want.

Sen. Alexander: no opt out because option too popular..... wha' the...?

How can people say shit like this with a straight face?

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican leader from Tennessee, said on the Senate floor Monday, in advance of Reid's announcement, that the opt-out provision isn't to be taken seriously. Medicaid, he noted, has an opt-out provision, but not one state has opted out. Public health insurance, in other words, is too popular for states to opt out. (Read more here).  
Let's get that straight, now. It's a bad idea, because it's too popular. Right. So much for even pretending we have democratic government in this country.

Depressing Report Card

It's kinda depressing that the historic "change we can believe in" seems to be coming down to being tossed the meatless bone of an opt out public option (what a piece of newspeak that is!) and told to stop barking. Meanwhile, Financial Reregulation is being touted, but the actual proposals are virtually worthless. The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue and threaten still more "no end in sight." Climate Change reform looks to be in serious danger of being derailed or so watered down as to accomplish little. The administration doesn't have any kind of plan to restore our economy to a production footing. Guess that was just words. Wall Street types and unreconstructed neocons have the President's ear, and Congress is bought and paid for by special interests in almost everything that matters. Even restoration of civil protections under the constitution is a half-baked affair at best.

In all, a pretty much unsatisfactory situation, across the board, for us progressives.

In truth, Obama never ran as a Progressive. We just hoped, and took some of what he said a little too optimistically. He received lots of Wall Street money, so I suppose it's not that surprising that he really has no intention to force real changes in the economic system... or the military industrial system...or, even the medical racketeering system....that have brought us to this pass.

23 October 2009

Fax to Obama to get off the dime and SUPPORT Public Insurance Reform

In response to reports that Sen. Reid has 60 votes lined up for at least the "opt out" version of the Public Insurance Option for a final Senate Bill, and now it's the WHITE HOUSE that's throwing up a roadblock, I wrote the fax below.

I am incredulous that the President and his main advisers on this issue STILL don't get it that this issue is crucial to the majority of the people who got him elected. I am sick and tired of Washington knowitalls deciding what they think is best, when their constituents already made that decision for them. The polling is clear, and for once, we demand that these people do what we tell them. I've absolutely had it. No one who votes against this or fails to support it will ever receive one penny of support from me again, directly or indirectly. I will support only progressive candidates until this cabal of special interests is defeated once and for all. The hell with the Republicans, we have to fight for the most basic progressive policy WITHIN our party.

President Barack Obama
The White House
Via FAX only: 202-456-2461

Dear Mr. President:

I am urgently writing to DEMAND that your administration support a robust Public Option in the Senate Bill. It is time for the administration to stand firm and support what the people who elected you want by large majorities, and what our country unquestionably needs (as you yourself has said on several occasions).

To paraphrase Representative Alan Grayson: America does not care about Olympia Snowe’s vote. Olympia Snowe was not elected president last year.

No, you were, and it’s time you stood up for the interests of the constituency that put you in the White House. It is clear that at least an “opt out” public insurance option is now a viable reality, apart from incomprehensible lack of leadership and support for it from your administration.

This is totally unacceptable. The people demand this reform NOW.

Thank you.


David Studhalter

22 October 2009

Rethink Afghanistan

Please see www.rethinkafghanistan.com, Filmmaker Robert Greenwald's site making the case for opposition to the Afghanistan war. Portions of the film may be viewed online. Check out this blog piece on Alan Grayson's comments on Afghan policy.

21 October 2009


I've been somewhat out of commission for a few days; I'm in Day 4 of what I'm pretty sure is H1N1 flu. The second day was the worst; now I'm just exhausted and coughing a painful and raspy cough. Some people apparently get REALLY sick, but for most, it's brief but fairly nasty, mostly respiratory. Whoever  is reading this, I hope you don't get it, and get the shot if you can!

My e-mail to Sen. Reid today

Dear Sen. Reid,

I implore you, sir, to stop beating around the bush about the public insurance option. It is now beyond doubt that the so-called Health Insurance Industry has declared war on the American people and is determined to kill meaningful reform, which a strong majority demand and this country obviously needs. A robust and meaningful public insurance option, actually available as a choice to working people, is a key component of controlling costs and affording coverage to the vast bulk of the currently uninsured.

Sen. Baucus claims to be for it. You have said you're for it. Sen. Dodd is obviously for it. A majority of the Senate and House is for it. The American people, by 57% majority, demand it.

What's more, if the unified Senate bill has a public insurance option, THERE CANNOT BE 60 VOTES to REMOVE IT, so the momentum will be there for it to remain in the legislation all the way to the President's desk.

A great deal of responsibility has been place on your shoulders, sir. The President arguably has failed to take a strong leadership position on this issue. ALL THE MORE REASON YOU MUST DO SO.

The American people are counting on you, Sen. Reid. Please do the right thing and make sure a robust public option is in the Final Senate Bill.

Thank you.

David Studhalter

15 October 2009

Smash the "Health" Racket cartel!

It's war! The Sickness Profiteering Rackets (aka Health Insurers) have pretty much delcared war on reform, not satisfied with the 90% of what they wanted that they got in the Baucus bill.

So a movement is afoot in Congress now to remove the totally unjustifiable anti-Trust exemption that this Racketeering Cartel has enjoyed since 1946, either as part of pending reform or separately.

High time.

Political Suicide

Democrats need to think this through, because I'm convinced it's true:

An individual insurance mandate that requires currently uninsured working people to buy health insurance from for-profit Health Rackets (aka "Insurers") without a strong public insurance option with the ability to negotiate pricing, will be political suicide for Democrats in 2010. 

If there is one thing that will alienate younger, economically distressed Democratic voters, it's having to pay high prices for for-profit health plans without good cost control mechanisms in place, and without the option to choose a public insurance plan instead. Illogical as it may seem, these voters will walk with their feet, straight to the Republicans, whose faux populist message, deceptive though it is, will have wide appeal.

This is another reason why I strongly urge all Congressional Democrats to unite behind a robust bill, with real regulation and cost control, and a REAL public insurance option. 

I sent essentially the above to Sen. Reid.

An example of Right Wing Propaganda designed to fool progressive sense of fairness

I got this from a progressive correspondent who in turn had received it from another at least moderately progressive person. It's stealth propaganda, designed to appeal to a populist sense of fairness:

    Send it everyone you know.

    Please pass this on!!

    On Tuesday, the Senate health committee voted 12-11 in favor of a two-page amendment courtesy of Republican Tom Coburn that would require all Members and their staffs to enroll in any new government-run health plan. It took me less than a minute to sign up to require our congressmen and senators to drink at the same trough!

    Three cheers for Congressman John Fleming of Louisiana !
    Congressman John Fleming ( Louisiana physician) has proposed an amendment that would require congressmen and senators to take the same healthcare plan they force on us (under proposed legislation they are curiously exempt).

    Congressman Fleming is encouraging people to go on his Website and sign his petition (very simple - just first, last and email). I have immediately done just that at: . Please urge as many people as you can to do the same!

    If Congress forces this on the American people, the Congressmen should have to accept the same level of health care for themselves and their families. 

It bugs me that clever propagandists can twist everything so effectively, and fool people who are a little too busy to really think things through. I'm sure the original author of this e-mail was some kind of Sickness Profiteering Company or Republican Party operative (I refuse to call them "health insurers"). It's not overt; it's insinuative, but if you read this carefully you'll realize that what it's really saying is, if you wanna "force" health care reform on us, you Congresscritters should have to take the same public option as you're proposing for the uninsured (not the options available to the 4/5 of Americans who are insured, including most likely me, never mind about that)....so, [implicitly], don't pass health care reform!

(Fleming and Coburn are particularly nasty Right-Wing Republicans, so that should be a clue). 

I'm quite sure that a tallyer at the Congressional office would tick off "another anti-reform e-mail". But it's cleverly worded and appeals to a sense of injustice, so it can easily fool people who are actually pro-reform. This kind of duplicity is typical Rovian tactics nowadays, and I just deplore it.

I've heard Democrats with a populist streak harping on this point (that Congress has good insurance, so they should have to take the worst option that health care reform will be making available to the currently uninsured (even though that's not what most employed people will get). There's no logic to this at all, and the reality is that it's hardly surprising that Congresspeople have good insurance. So do corporate executives. Of course it isn't totally fair (what is), but the insurance that 535 people, who are undeniably well off and privileged have
is really pretty irrelevant to what we as a nation should be doing about health care reimbursement and regulation. After all, they are so privileged, in part, by reason of their having been elected by the people to hold important office. 

14 October 2009

Public Option up to Reid?

In reaction to reports that Rahm Emmanuel is meeting with Baucus, Dodd, and Reid (why not Schumer, Rockefeller, and Harkin?), and that Schumer is saying whether a public insurance option emerges in a final Senate bill depends mostly on Reid, I wrote the following to Reid's contact site today:

Dear Senator Reid:

It is being reported today that you, Sen. Baucus, and Sen. Dodd will meet today with Rahm Emmanuel to work on what a combined health care bill will contain.

I am writing to you to STRONGLY URGE the inclusion of a real, cost-saving public insurance option as an essential element. The American people by large majorities demand a public insurance option.

Other factors ARE IMPORTANT, and will need further work, including cost controls both at the provider and insurer level that are not adequately addressed in any of the bills. But please note that ALL the house bills and the HELP bill ALL call for the public insurance option that the majority in almost all states have demanded. The final Senate bill MUST contain this provision.

Thank you.

13 October 2009

AHIP doublespeak talking points: why should we care about preserving their rapacious profits? Are they nuts?

TPM has posted anti-reform talking points from AHIP ("America's Health Insurance Sickness Profiteering Plans" [ASPP]). Just an example of their incredible doublespeak: 
Dismantling Employer-based Coverage: More than 165 million Americans rely on employer-provided health care coverage. The Lewin Group projects that up to 120 million people would move from private health insurance into a government run plan that pays medicare rates and as many as 97 million would shift to a government run plan if it paid Medicare rates plus ten percent. This violates the shared commitment to ensure that those who like their coverage can keep it. [Emphasis added].

Huh? How the hell can they say that giving people additional options, including an option to purchase cheaper and better insurance from a public plan, "violates" a commitment to allow people to keep their current insurance if they like it? 

Essentially, they are admitting that their product adds no value, and they don't want to have to compete with a non-profit plan. So, exactly why should the public care about preserving their profits, again? I missed that part.

My E-mail to "Backward Joe" Lieberman on Health Reform

Dear Senator Lieberman:

I read with alarm reports that you are not supporting even the watered-down Finance Committee Bill on health care reform. I hope this is not true, because I seem to recall that you were once a Democrat and still "caucus" with the Democrats. Please, sir, as Rep. Grayson so aptly put it, the American people know which party supports health care reform and which stands in the way; and the American people by large majorities want real reform, including real regulation of insurers, and a public insurance option. RESPONSIBLE analysis shows that a real public option and real regulation of the insurers would reduce costs, not increase them. The AHIP report and other industry sponsored disinformation is not a valid basis to conclude otherwise.

If you "caucus" with the Democrats, then, please, sir, VOTE like a Democrat. As Rep. Grayson also said, you can lead, you can follow, or you can get out of the way. History is on the side of genuine and meaningful health reform, and if you fail to support it you will be clearly siding with the retrograde faction, finally and completely.

I urge your support.

In exactly what sense Joe Lieberman is or ever has been a Democrat, I am at a loss to think.

Let's see. Supports the Democratic nominee for President. Nope. Supports Democratic foreign policy agenda. Nope. Supports Democratic social reform agenda. Nope. Supports Republican nominee for President. Check. Supports Republican foreign policy ideas. Check. Stands in the way of reform, with the Republicans. Check. Conclusion: Republican pretending to caucus with Democrats. I say, this time enough's enough. If he fails to vote for the final health reform bill, he should be tossed out of all committee leadership posts, and the party should start working on ensuring a viable primary challenger who can win the State next time around.

12 October 2009

Health Care Reform Points, beyond Public Option • What's Not Being Included in Current Bills

Although I am and continue to be a strong supporter of a viable and robust public insurance option as a key component of health care reform, I think it's important to bear in mind that other components are equally if not more important, and many of them are unfortunately not included or not adequate in most of the versions of health care reform legislation pending before Congress right now.

To really work, a public/private reform must:
  • Prevent discrimination by age or state of health;
  • Really regulate what insurance companies can charge, (e.g., by setting a floor for so-called medical loss-ratio for adequate standard health insurance, of approximately 90% minimum);
  • Even better, All insurers could be mandated to be non-profit, at least for the "adequate standard health care" component of health coverage (ideally, health providers should be non-profit too, but that's less critical);
  • Require health carriers to cover standardized adequate health care; they can compete for add-ons (this is the system in Germany, France, Holland, Switzerland, etc.). There need to be standard reimbursements and no open-ended patient liabilities; within this system, insurers will have no right to deny claims, and costs are controlled because the costs of all routine medical procedures are regulated;
  • Provide for continuation of coverage in the event of unemployment and retirement;
  • Public Insurance Option with the ability to negotiate discounts on prescription drugs;
  • Prohibit pre-existing condition exclusion and all rescission;
  • Truly universal affordable coverage; subsidies for the poor, including the working poor, paid for by taxes, (or "fees," it doesn't matter what they're called).
I think one way to achieve a good deal of savings in the critical 50-64 age group (to which in full disclosure, I belong), is to set up a Medicare Buy-In option for this age group. Medicare, with the cost-per-patient as calculated by the Congressional Budget Office amortized to a monthly premium. (In other words, the patient, not the government, pays the premium). Again, subject to partial-to-complete subsidy for the poor and working poor. This could replace Medicaid for people in this cohort; and eventually I would like to see this option available to everyone. (One necessary reform would be to allow Medicare to negotiate Pharma prices across the board).

UPDATE:  Now we have the AHIP report, which was dumped late last night with no warning to the White House, despite the fact that the White House was having good faith discussions with their representative over the weekend. It's high time Democrats in Congress not only stop trying to negotiate with Republicans, they must stop trying to placate the "Insurance Industry" as well. These voracious predators have said that even though the Finance Committee Bill, and the other bills for the most part as well, leave their precious profits and price-fixing abilities pretty well alone, they will spike rates if reform passes. So, I say, the hell with 'em. Regulate them to the hilt, set their prices and force them to provide standard coverage on a non-profit basis, and if they don't like it, they can go try to write health insurance in Bolivia.

09 October 2009

Obama Nobel Prize and the Hypocritical Right

Right-wingers are so dumbfoundingly hypocritical. Can't they hear the slightest echo of what they would have said had any left-of-center commentators or politicians said one less-than-enthusiastic word had their favorite president received the Nobel Peace Prize or comparable award?  (However ridiculous that might seem, given the fact that he spent his presidency promoting conflict).

Doesn't it send just a hint of shame through their stony little hearts to be griping about a major international award to the President of their country, which they claim to love so exclusively? These people, like Limbaugh, John Bolton, and Michael Steele, to name just three, are awful, nasty, small-minded and stupid. To which we now have to add unpatriotic. There, that's not mincing words.

UPDATE:  The ever despicable Rush Limbaugh kind of said it all, echoing Ahmadinejad and Taliban spokespersons condemning the award: "We all agree with the Taliban and Iran."  There's a voice of patriotism, for sure.

I'd say "what a pig," but pig is too good a term for Rush. 

08 October 2009

Optional Public Option ?? And a Comment on the possibility that Progressives could flee the Democratic Party

Part of me is very suspicious of the Schumer/Carper "Optional Public Option" proposal, but Howard Dean is supporting it. It seems to me that if we get a real public option that states can opt out of, and it is seen after a few years to work (by providing genuine cost savings over the 20% administrative/profits waste of for-profit private insurers), then eventually no states will opt out anyway. But, as always, the devil's in the details.

UPDATE:  (10/9) I am now even more suspicious of this move, which I'm now thinking is intended as a distraction, to derail a real public option and ensure that only a watered-down version is actually enacted.

Apropos, Democrats who fail to act like real Democrats are driving this party to schism. Increasingly, people who consider themselves progressive feel alienated in the Democratic party and are casting their gaze afield wondering if somewhere, somehow, there might be a really progressive political movement in this country that actually stood a chance of electing people who would vote for what a majority of the people demonstrably favor. Populism isn't an ideology, and it is not impossible that much of the ignorant populist rage on the Right, which right now looks like it will materialize as votes for Republicans, could be harnessed by a Populist Party on the left. It hasn't happened in a long, long time, but if the predictions of a double dip recession and institutionalized unemployment lasting decades turn out to be correct, I wouldn't rule it out.

Please E-mail Senators to Support Cloture and Meaningful Public Option

I sent the message below to several Senators whose support to end debate and vote for a bill including public option may be critical. PLEASE JOIN ME in this effort. It's VERY EASY to e-mail Senators. Just go here, select the state or Senator by name, and click on the link directly to their contact site.

I sent the message to Ben Nelson (Neb), Kent Conrad (ND), Sens. Pryor and Lincoln (Ark), Sen. Reid (NV), Sen. Landrieu (LA), Sen Snowe (Maine-Rep.) and Sen. Hagan. (NC)

Ideally, a message something like this should go out from every concerned citizen to every Democratic Senator, so if you have the time, please make the effort.

And please support Keith Olbermann's free clinic project. (In process; I will post a link later).

Thank you for your support.

Dear Senator  *:

As your constituent (Senators represent all the American people as well as residents of their own state), I am writing to strongly urge you to vote to allow a floor vote on health care bill(s), and to support a meaningful public option. Regardless of special interests which may have your ear, you must know the public insurance option has majority public support in your home state. All polling has shown this. For once, it is a moral imperative on this issue for all members of the Senate to act in the interest of the people, not special interests.

Moreover, if this bill ultimately must be passed through reconciliation, please keep in mind BOTH of Pres. Bush's tax cut bills, which the Republicans passed through this process, the second time breaking a tie with Vice-Pres. Cheney's vote. Please support what the people want, MEANINGFUL HEALTH CARE REFORM WITH PUBLIC OPTION.

Thank you.

07 October 2009

Baucus Bill to reduce deficit

So the Congressional Budget Office says that the Baucus (pron. "bogus") Finance Committee Bill would save $81B over some or other period of time. I guess is marginally good news, but one has to wonder, how much more would/will a robust public option that requires real cost savings reduce the deficit? And if we really got real about opening up a plausible scheme for developing revenues to pay for the public sector part of health care (including medicare and VA), we could easily arrange things so that Medicare is stabilized and health care does not add anything to the deficit. Easily, that is, except politically. The idea of actually paying for public services is virtually anathema in this crazy country of ours, even though every other advanced nation in the world just accepts this as a fact of life, like gravity.

Moribund Body Politic, an Encouragement (?)

I agree with Robert Borosage, writing in the Huffington Post today:

    The president has called on the Congress to act on fundamental reforms that cannot be avoided. Our broken health care system is unaffordable and must be fixed. Moving to new energy policy is a national security, economic and environmental imperative, not a choice. Fundamental financial reform is necessary if we are to avoid a worse crisis in the near future.

    Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the Republicans in Congress oppose these reforms. They want, as Limbaugh proclaimed, the president to fail. But they aren't the major roadblocks to the change we need. What stands in the way is the organized power of the entrenched lobbies that have a direct stake in limiting change, and are willing to spend hundreds of millions to obstruct it. Their legions are less angry citizens, than sophisticated lobbyists, increasingly Democrats, many of them retired legislators. They deliver campaign contributions, not votes. They threaten negative campaign ads, not authentic citizen uprisings. 

    Read more here.

As I see it, this fundamental problem, the lack of responsiveness to the public, but only to organized corporate money, is one of the two main reasons it has become virtually impossible to pass reform legislation without debilitating amendments in this country. The other is the unsupportable anachronism of the way the Senate works. Senators from (disproportionately Republican) smaller states have disproportionate power, and, not surprisingly, since these Senators have a harder time raising money from constituents, they tend to be even more beholden to moneyed interests than Senators from larger Northeastern and West Coast states. Then, there are the totally unworkable cloture/filibuster rules, which give way too much power to the minority, especially when the minority opposes change, as the Republicans generally do. Thus, there is an institutional bias in favor of the Republicans, who in recent decades favor pretty much only two things: lowering taxes and starting wars, both of which enough Democrats fear to vote against that they sometimes get them passed. Since other than these things they seldom try to do much of anything, the rules and structure of the Senate give them disproportionate power.

What to do? Oh, that's simple enough. Campaign finance reform to take the money out of politics (except the Right Wing Supreme Court has already virtually guaranteed with its ridiculous rulings equating money with speech that that can't happen).

And, a constitutional amendment to make the Senate elected by proportional representation and mandate fairer procedural rules. (Ha, ha. That has a real good chance of passing through the convoluted process of getting a constitutional amendment approved, in which process the smaller states tending to be Republican have even more disproportionate power, since it takes three quarters of them to approve an amendment).

So, we're in the soup, my friends. Our government is dysfunctional to the point of being moribund, and there is no cure in sight. I suppose we can take encouragement that no political system, no matter how good or bad, lasts forever.

06 October 2009

Shepard Smith of Fox News on Public Option

And, wunderra wonders! Shepard Smith, Fox News Commentator (!) said the following about Public Option today:

Over the last ten years health care costs in America have skyrocketed. Regular folks cannot afford it. So, they tax the system by not getting preventative medicine. They go to the emergency room in the last case and we all wind up paying for it. As the costs have gone up, the insurance industry's profits, on average, have gone up more than 350%. And it is the insurance companies which have paid, and who have contributed to Senators and Congressmen on both sides of the aisle to the point where now we cannot get what all concerned on Capitol Hill seem to believe and more 60% of Americans say they would support, which is a public option. This has been an enormous win for the health-care industry, that is an unquestioned fact. But I wonder, what happens to the American people when we come out with legislation now which requires everyone to have health care insurance -- or many more people -- but does not give a public option? Therefore millions more people will have to buy insurance from the very corporations that are overcharging us, and whose profits have gone up 350 percent in the last ten years. It seems like we the people are the ones getting the shaft here.

"Governator" supports health care legislation

Although exactly what is being supported is not clear, and if it's the Finance Committee Bill in its present form, I can't get too excited about it, it is notable that Gov. Schwarzenegger today announced his call for "bipartisan support" for health care reform.

SNL skit pretty pointed, but too true

Fred Armisen's devastating spoof of Obama's lack of accomplishments on last Saturday's Saturday Night Live was really pointed, even brutal, but, in point of fact, there was too much truth in it to dismiss. This president needs to really, really ramp up the effort to get major portions of his agenda passed, or he risks being seen as essentially ineffectual. Which is a real shame, because our country has more problems needing major legislative action right now than it has for a long, long time.

Keith Olbermann Wednesday, entire program on Health Care Reform

Keith Olbermann's style isn't to everyone's taste, but you really can't fault him for being a serious moderate-Progressive television commentator; on cable/network (i.e., other than Bill Moyers and Amy Goodman), you'd be hard pressed to name others, excepting his colleague Rachel Maddow, who are serious and smart enough to really carry this water.

So, I hope everyone who can tunes in on Wednesday when he devotes his entire program to a special commentary on health care reform.

Republican Gomorrah

I recommend Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah. An excellent insight into what makes the fanatic religious right work.

05 October 2009

McChrystal should go

Here. This is simple. General McChrystal should be ordered to resign. (Cf. Truman vis-a-vis Douglas MacArthur). This isn't an issue of whether you agree with McChrystal (I don't), or whether Obama will eventually order more troops in Afghanistan (I hope he doesn't; there's no plausible U.S. interest there any longer). It's that a general doesn't make policy, and doesn't go around making speeches contradicting the president or vice-president. He's not a private citizen. He's the president's general officer. Any general who does this should fully expect to be fired.

A Minor Health Care Travesty, a Personal Story with a Larger Meaning

I'm in the midst of a dispute with my health care insurer, which, although it is over a fairly minor amount for a blood test, is indicative of a much larger problem, and is one of the very many reasons why sweeping health care reimbursement reform is absolutely necessary in this country.

I have a family history of prostate cancer and am over 50. Thus, by almost all reasonable medical standards, the PSA test (Prostate Specific Antigen, info here), is indicated annually, to test for signs of the disease. My doctor has told me of patients of his whose potentially life threatening cancer was detected by this test. I have had this test every year since I was 50, and have had the same health insurance all that time. The insurance has always paid for it.

Now, all of a sudden, I get a confusing "Explanation of Benefits" with a code that when you look up the fine print means "Denied due to lack of medical necessity." That's all. The same day, a bill from the lab arrives for the full, "Cadillac", uninsured-patient price of $115, just for this one test. If the insurer had paid it, they would have paid $30 or so, and the lab would have taken that, because that's their negotiated price, but if the insurer denies payment, they expect you to pay the "gouge" price, which is actually about 130% of the market price for the test if you walk into an independent lab and pay for it out of pocket (I checked).

I truly believe this practice is racketeering, pure and simple. I would so love it if a State AG or the US AG would prosecute (or sue) some of these people under RICO, but I guess that's a vain hope.

I won't go into all the hoops you have to jump through just to get the insurer to deign to reconsider (no guarantee they'll pay even then). They lie to you and say they told the doctor they need more documentation and a letter of why it's necessary, but it isn't true, they just deny it and it's up to the patient to initiate and follow through with all the convoluted steps in the process to try to get the bill paid.

Meanwhile, the option of negotiating with the lab gets you nowhere. They stonewall: "We don't negotiate." Bullshit. They negotiate all the time, with those who have leverage. But as a mere patient, you have none, and they threaten you, on the very first call, with sending their bill to collections to ruin your credit.

You have to be extremely proactive to get affordable health care in America, and not get cheated, even if you have (supposedly) decent employer-based health insurance.

Check out T. R. Reid's The Healing of America, the Quest for Better, Fairer and Cheaper Health Care. I'd send my copy to everyone I know if I could afford it. It's already spoken for by about five people.

Reid happens to mention the very test that I'm disputing, PSA. The truth is, the National Health Service in Britain, as an example of an alternative system, doesn't pay for this test. They pay for a lot of preventive care but they've concluded this one isn't reliable enough. (Most countries' health systems do pay for it). But the difference is, when you go to the doctor in Britain and say, "I seem to remember there's a blood test for prostate cancer," the doctor will tell you, "sure, mate, but the NHS won't pay. You can pay for it yourself, for £10." (Because the doctors depend on this kind of uninsured service to make extra income, and they compete fairly for it).

Here, you and your doctor think it's covered, till you find out it isn't, then you find out you've agreed in the fine print of the lab form, sight unseen, to an outrageous gouging amount (undisclosed in advance, of course), which if you don't pay in full you're officially a deadbeat, even though the amount may in some cases be as much as ten times what the insurer would have paid for the same item. And these kinds of discrepancies in what insurance will pay and what health vendors expect uninsured and underinsured patients to pay out of pocket don't just apply to labs. These problems exist across the board in American health care. No wonder Americans more and more hate health insurance and everything about it!

As I said, this particular personal instance is a minor matter. The $115, if I just paid it, wouldn't kill me. They count on that. Most people just pay, to avoid the hassle. But what if it were a $100,000 surgery? Because don't think it doesn't happen. And the scenario unfolds in much the same way. Employer Health Care Advocates (now there's a job that shouldn't be necessary. I'd rather see people employed as elevator operators to push the buttons for you). Countless letters, phone calls, and faxes back and forth, all a tremendous waste of time and mental energy. And then, like as not, they deny it anyway. And if you can't afford it, it ruins your credit. Some file bankruptcy. Some lose their homes.

This stinks. It really, really stinks, and it's time to put an end to it. 45,000 people die every year in this country because they can't afford medical care or insurance. That's the worst. But another 700,000 file bankruptcy, which doesn't happen in any other advanced country. Can't. In countries with private health insurers, the cost of everything, and what's covered and what's not, is public record. No one has to just pray their insurance carrier will pay for something and that the medical bills they get stuck with won't .... literally.... bankrupt them. It's illegal not to pay claims in every other country that has private insurance. Health cost related bankruptcies are unheard of. (Because, of course, no one is uninsured, even in advanced countries with purely private systems, like Switzerland and Germany). But not here. In America, our health care delivery is very good, overall, if you have insurance (not so good on preventive care), but our system of paying for health care just plain sucks and must, must be changed.

Please join with me in making our politicians make that happen, for real, and soon.

01 October 2009

Brouhaha over Rep. Grayson saying Repub Health Plan is "Die Quickly"

Reliable statistics now show that 45,000 Americans die each year from treatable illness or injury because they can't afford health care or health insurance. It's a simple fact that by far the majority of Republicans in Congress are either living up to their moniker of the "Party of No" by supporting nothing in the way of health care reform other than trying to delay and ultimately kill any efforts from the other side of the aisle to accomplish anything. There are NO serious Republican health care reform initiatives on the agenda. Ergo, Rep. Alan Grayson's using hyperbole to make a point by saying the Republican health care plan is "1. Don't get sick, 2. And if you do get sick... 3. Die Quickly"... was maybe a bit rude, but actually pretty much true.

Should he have apologized? I have to say I can't really see what he should have apologized for. What he said was not nice, but it wasn't inaccurate. Whereas Sen. Grassley saying the Obama plan would allow the government to "pull the plug on Grandma" was inaccurate. Ex-Gov. (and unemployed blogger) Sarah Palin saying the health plans advocated by Democrats would force her to justify treatment for her Downs' syndrome child was inaccurate. In fact, both statements are entirely baseless and ridiculous. I'm frankly quite sure both these lovely people knew perfectly well that what they were saying was not factual. Most of the pending health reform proposals allow for funding of end-of-life counseling, just as almost all private health insurance does. So it's a total non-issue, except as despicable propaganda.

Video here.

The fact is, this number of preventable deaths (45,000) is by far the worst of any developed country. Moreover, when T. R. Reid (The Healing of America) asked health ministers in England, France, Germany, Denmark, and Japan how many health-care related bankruptcies occurred in their countries each year, as he put it, they all looked at him liked he'd just asked them how many alien spacecraft had landed on top of their building in the past week, because the answer (the same for every single advanced nation other than USA, without exception)... is zero. In the US, it's 700,000. No other advanced country allows its citizens to lose everything because they can't afford to go to the doctor but can't go without health care. If that doesn't bother you just a bit, I really don't know what to say to you. I love my country and want the best for it, but that is not something we can be proud of; quite the contrary.

UPDATE:  (10/12) In retrospect, I don't even think what Grayson said about Republicans was even rude. As he later said, the American people don't care about their feelings. And, in any case, what he said was essentially true, so how is that rude? If you can't stand plain talk, get the hell out of the way. When you try to compare what he said with the duplicity and conniving of Republicans to deny the up to 20% of Americans who are without health insurance their right to health care, there is no comparison.