Archive for June 8th, 2009
For most of you, this is the big one. The inclusion of a strong public insurance option has become, for most observers I know, the single most recognizable marker for victory. If the public plan exists, liberals have won. If it’s eliminated, or neutered, then conservatives have triumphed.
The public plan has a very particular political lineage: The lesson liberals took from the 1994 health reform fight was that you couldn’t threaten the insurance coverage individuals already had. For many policy wonks, the central problem in health care was the existence of private insurance coverage. For most Americans, however, the central problem was that they could lose their private insurance coverage, and be left with something they didn’t like, or nothing at all. This effectively ruled out something like single-payer, or even Bill Clinton’s managed-care-within-managed-competition model. It ruled out anything that began by changing the health care coverage of those who wanted to keep their current policies.
But that political insight didn’t cancel out the policy insight: The private insurance market is a mess. It’s supposed to cover the sick and instead competes to insure the well. It employs platoons of adjusters whose sole job is to get out of paying for needed health care services that members thought were covered.
Moreover, public insurance is simply more efficient. Medicare holds costs down better than private health insurance. The substantially public systems employed by every other industrialized nation cost less and cover more than the American model. So the question became how to marry the policy need for public insurance with the political need to preserve the status quo.
Enter the public insurance option. It doesn’t replace the insurance individuals already rely on. But it provides an alternative. It lets them make the decision. It’s the health care equivalent of being pro-choice. And it thus serves two purposes. The first is to act as a public insurer. To use market share to bargain down the prices of services, much as Medicare does. To lower administrative costs. To operate outside the need for profit, and quarterly results. The Commonwealth Fund estimated that this would result in savings of 20%-30% over traditional private insurance: …
Just found red Fresno peppers at Whole Foods. I bought 1.5 lbs for pepper sauce, along with a handful of habaneros.
Enough, it turns out, for two batches. The first batch was Fresnos, the habaneros, and 4 dried chipotles, along with salt and wine vingegar (and a little apple cider vinegar when I ran out of wine vinegar) and a splash of olive oil.
Second batch was Fresnos, 6 dried chipotles, 6 large strawberries, apple cider vinegar, a good splash of balsamic vinegar, a splash of olive oil, and salt.
I used oil in the recipe because I speculated that some flavor components are oil-soluble rather than water-soluble. The oil does separate at the bottom of the jar, but one should shake the sauce before each use anyway.
Have two grandsons, I found this article quite interesting:
Both boys and girls have issues, but boys seem to be the ones getting the raw deal. According to Judith Kleinfeld, professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the US, issues affecting boys are more serious than those affecting girls, but they have been neglected by policy makers. Her review (1) of issues characterizing American boyhood, how they compare to those affecting girls, and the lack of initiatives in place to address them has just been published in the June issue of Springer’s journal Gender Issues. Professor Kleinfeld’s paper reviews the different viewpoints surrounding the debated existence of a so-called ‘boy crisis’. She then looks at gender differences in measures of educational achievement including literacy levels, college entrance tests, school grades, engagement in schools, dropout rates, as well as psychological issues affecting young people including mental health, suicide, depression and conduct disorders. Lastly, she shows how boys and girls compare in terms of premature death and injuries and rates of delinquency and arrests.
According to Judith Kleinfeld, boys get the raw deal. Compared with girls, American boys have lower rates of literacy, lower grades and engagement in school, higher drop-out from school, and dramatically higher rates of suicide, premature death, injuries, and arrests. Boys are also placed more often in special education. Girls on the other hand are more likely to have different problems including depression, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders.
Big Meat is less than pleased with the food safety bill currently moving through Congress, summarizes Tom Laskawy. Despite the facts that food safety breaches — and voluntary, useless after-the-fact recalls — are still common, the industry thinks the proposed new fees are too high, and the government shouldn’t have mandatory recall power, and inspecting farms and livestock operations is unnecessary. But what really freaks them out is that a more powerful FDA might get regulatory authority over the industry, versus the currently toothless USDA. (Grist)
Steve Benen of Political Animal has a very good post:
The New York Times had an item over the weekend on the inclusion of a public option in a health care reform. The piece was primarily about the existence of state-based plans in which employees are given a choice "between government-backed insurance options and a menu of commercial policies." Though the comparisons are imprecise, as the New America Foundation’s Len Nichols noted, the state plans are "proof of concept" that governments can maintain fair competition.
But the article also noted the principal criticism of a public option.
[C]ritics argue that with low administrative costs and no need to produce profits, a public plan will start with an unfair pricing advantage. They say that if a public plan is allowed to pay doctors and hospitals at levels comparable to Medicare’s, which are substantially below commercial insurance rates, it could set premiums so low it would quickly consume the market.
Yeah, don’t throw us in that brairpatch.
Josh Marshall added, "As [Jon] Taplin suggests, these ‘problems’ sound remarkably like ‘the point’ of the whole exercise. Most of the argument here is that a big government plan would just provide the insurance ‘service’ much more efficiently and cheaply than private carriers. And that the private carriers wouldn’t be able to make any money off selling the service any more. But this is the argument that single payer advocates routinely make — namely, that a lot of the money that goes into private health insurance goes to paperwork, much of which is tied to finding ways to deny people coverage. That, and the need to earn profits on providing the service."
For a while, it seemed the right tried to argue that a public option would be awful because no one would want to sign up for it. Such a system, they said, would force Americans to accept rationing, long wait times, a labyrinthine government bureaucracy, etc. Except, that never made any sense — Americans who are already in such a system tend to like it (the VA system, for example), and for that matter, there’s no reason to think consumers would voluntarily sign up for an awful system.
So, now the right is arguing that a public option would be too popular. Insurance companies want consumers to think that private coverage is already so inadequate, Americans will flee, if given half a chance, to a public system that’s more efficient and costs less. If there’s a competition, conservatives and the industry expect the public option to win.
In turn, they want government to, above all else, protect the insurance industry’s flawed business model. It’s not exactly a persuasive pitch.
All those who say that torture is justified in some instances: is this one of those instances? If not, why not?
I encourage you to read the entire column, but note these points (emphasis added):
(3) If Boumediene has been shipped from Bosnia to Bagram rather than to Guantanamo, then — according to the Obama administration — he would not have had any rights at all to any judicial review. As disgraceful as his plight is — 7 1/2 years in a cage for no reason — his case is actually one of the better ones when compared to those who have been shipped from far away places to be imprisoned in Afghanistan, where the Obama administration continues to argue they have no habeas rights of any kind.
(4) Those who are defending Obama’s proposal for "preventive detention" are, by definition, risking further Boumedienes — enabling the imprisonment of those who have clearly done nothing wrong but who are nonetheless deemed "dangerous" by the Government.
(5) In his interview with Tapper, Boumediene talks about his desire to obtain some compensation for the 7 1/2 years of his life that were obliterated at Guantanamo. Thus far, however, he has been blocked from doing so — first by the Bush administration and now by the Obama administration, which continues to claim that "state secrets" would be jeopardized if the victims of our torture and wrongful detention such as Boumediene are permitted to have their claims heard in an American court.
I’m very disappointed by Obama in this context.
Spencer Ackerman makes a good point:
Over the weekend, The Washington Post had this telling account about how Philip Mudd’s nomination to be Homeland Security undersecretary for intelligence unraveled:
Over the Memorial Day recess, Mudd met with senior staff members of the Homeland Security panel whose interest was primarily how he would handle issues of intelligence sharing with state and local police units. When, near the end of a two-hour session, they went over Mudd’s CIA positions from 2001 to 2005, it became apparent that questions about harsh interrogations, renditions and allegations that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda would have to be explored, according to a person at the session who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.
“Since he was deputy director of the counterterrorism center, he was going to be asked whether interrogation produced useful intelligence, and if it didn’t, why didn’t he stop it?” the source said.
Yeah! Why didn’t some completely anonymous CIA official march into Dick Cheney’s office and force the vice president of the United States and all his acolytes to completely abandon their cherished torture program — something they feel so strongly about that they continue to defend it out of office? And why didn’t he do that while Porter Goss was firing CIA officials for insufficient loyalty to the Bush administration? Clearly Phil Mudd was the problem here.
Many careers will be collateral damage from the Bush Administration’s decision to embrace torture as a policy.
Daphne Eviatar reporting in the Washington Independent:
In an exclusive interview with Jake Tapper of ABC News, Lakhmar Boumediene said he was “tortured” while wrongly imprisoned for seven and a half years at Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial, deprived of sleep for 16 days at a time and physically abused. He eventually went on a hunger strike and was physically force-fed.
While former Bush administration lawyers might argue his treatment wasn’t actually torture, Boumediene — an Algerian working for the Red Crescent in Bosnia where he lived with his wife and two daughters when he was arrested in 2001 — was unequivocal. “I don’t think,” he said when asked if it was torture. “I’m sure.”
The United States responded to ABC that it’s not U.S. policy to torture prisoners. But the Boumediene case cries out for not just an investigation, but prosecution and accountability for those responsible — as well as compensation for the victims of U.S. abuse.
Boumediene is just one of about 700 men swept up by the U.S. military after Sept. 11, 2001 based on little or no evidence. Originally arrested by Bosnian police in October 2001, he was charged with conspiracy to blow up the U.S. and British embassies in that country. When the Bosnians found no evidence to support the charges — charges Boumediene consistently vehemently denied — the charges were dropped.
But the Bush administration pressured the Bosnian government not to release him, and instead to turn him over to the U.S. military, which sent him to Guantanamo Bay.
As ABC News recounts, two weeks later, …
UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald also devotes a column to Boumediene today. Well worth reading.
Well, when revenue is counted as the greatest good,… Still, it’s an odd position to endorse. ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhauser:
When West Virginia coal overlord Don Blankenship’s company lost a $50 million verdict to one of its competitors, Blankenship set out to buy a judge. Rather than appeal his case to a fair tribunal, Blankenship spent $3 million to elect a friendly lawyer to the West Virginia Supreme Court, even running ads accusing the lawyer’s opponent of voting to free an incarcerated child rapist, and of allowing that rapist to work in a public school. Once elected by a Blankenship-funded campaign, the newly-minted justice cast the deciding vote overturning the verdict against Blankenship’s company.
Today, the Supreme Court held that this kind of justice-for-sale bribery has no place under the United States Constitution. But all four of the Court’s most conservative members voted that there is no problem when a wealthy businessman literally buys a judge. In a dissent joined by conservative justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that this decision — on a case so egregious that John Grisham turned it into a legal thriller — would encourage “groundless” charges that other “judges are biased”:
The Court’s new “rule” provides no guidance to judges and litigants about when recusal will be constitutionally required. This will inevitably lead to an increase in allegations that judges are biased, however groundless those charges may be. The end result will do far more to erode public confidence in judicial impartiality than an isolated failure to recuse in a particular case.
Although the result in this narrowly-decided case hinges on the vote of retiring Justice David Souter, it appears that Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor agrees with Souter that judges cannot be for sale. In a 1996 speech, Sotomayor argued that “[w]e would never condone private gifts to judges about to decide a case implicating the gift-givers’ interests,” yet “our system of election financing permits extensive private, including corporate, financing of candidates’ campaigns, raising again and again the question what the difference is between contributions and bribes.”
Thanks to PBS, you can watch online Ian McKellen starring in King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s finest tragedies. McKellen performed the play first in England (2007), then on a worldwide tour, before filming the production for public television. You can watch it all right here, and if you want to follow the original text, you can get it from MIT’s Shakespeare web site, which houses Shakespeare’s complete works online.
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that elected judges must step aside from cases when large campaign contributions from interested parties create the appearance of bias.
By a 5-4 vote in a case from West Virginia, the court said that a judge who remained involved in a lawsuit filed against the company of the most generous supporter of his election deprived the other side of the constitutional right to a fair trial.
”Just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, similar fears of bias can arise when — without the consent of the other parties — a man chooses the judge in his own cause,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said for the court.
With multimillion-dollar judicial election campaigns on the rise, the court’s decision Monday could have widespread significance. Justice at Stake, which tracks campaign spending in judicial elections, says judges are elected in 39 states and that candidates for the highest state courts have raised more than $168 million since 2000.
The West Virginia case involved more than $3 million spent by the chief executive of Massey Energy Co. to help elect state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin…
Too much incompetence, I would have to say. Look at this story from the Associated Press:
The Defense Department has failed to provide adequate oversight over tens of billions of dollars in contracts to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, says a new report by an independent commission investigating waste and fraud in wartime spending.
U.S. reliance on private sector employees has grown to "unprecedented proportions," yet the government has no central database of who all these contractors are, what they do or how much they’re paid, the bipartisan commission found.
In its first report to Congress, the Wartime Contracting Commission presents a bleak assessment of how taxpayer dollars have been spent since 2001. The 111-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, documents poor management, weak oversight, and a failure to learn from past mistakes as recurring themes in wartime contracting.
The commission’s report is scheduled to be made public Wednesday at a hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform’s national security subcommittee.
One example of wasted money cited by the commission involves construction of a $30 million dining facility at a U.S. base in Iraq scheduled to be completed Dec. 25. The decision to build it was based on bad planning and botched paperwork. Yet the project is too far along to stop, making the mess hall a future monument to the waste and inefficiency plaguing the war effort…
From the Center for American Progress:
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is circulating draft legislation designed to overhaul the nation’s health care system. This so-called "draft of a draft" is the first piece of concrete health reform legislation to emerge from Democrats in Congress. As the Washington Post notes, "[A]t least five congressional chairmen are working on health-care reform bills," and Kennedy’s draft represents the Democrats’ first attempt at "a partial road map for how the nation might address health coverage gaps and problems such as rising costs and inferior quality." The legislation, called the "American Health Choices Act," would provide affordable coverage to all Americans, require businesses to provide and individuals to obtain coverage, and establish a new public health care plan to compete alongside private insurers.
EVERYBODY IN, NOBODY OUT: Kennedy’s bill aims to improve access to coverage by regulating insurers, expanding Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and building state-sponsored insurance Gateways (or exchanges) to help Americans find affordable coverage. Americans who like the insurance they have can keep it, but those who are dissatisfied with the porous policies of the individual market — and those who are uninsured — would be able to purchase affordable and adequate coverage. Under the legislation, "a group or individual health insurance plan may not impose preexisting condition exclusions." In fact, "rates cannot vary by health status, gender, class of business, or claims experience." Insurers must accept every employer and individual that applies" for coverage and must also renew their policies. The bill eliminates lifetime or annual limits on benefits and limits the cost sharing for certain preventive services and immunizations. Individuals and employers would be required to purchase insurance, but families earning up to 500 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL) — $110,000 for a family of four — could "buy insurance on a sliding scale with government subsidies." Anyone with incomes up to 150 percent of the FPL — $33,000 for a family of four — would also be eligible for Medicaid, and people up to age 26 would be able to participate in SCHIP. The new state-based insurance Gateways — where individuals and small employers could compare plans side by side, find options with a minimum benefits package, and buy coverage — would help applicants find and enroll in comprehensive and portable coverage and certify qualified health plans to ensure they "provide a level of standard benefits."
Maybe DADT will end soon. From the Center for American Progress:
A Gallup poll released late last week found that conservatives are now in favor of allowing gay Americans serve openly in the military. Majorities of "weekly churchgoers (60%), conservatives (58%), and Republicans (58%) now favor what essentially equates to repealing the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy."
Obama inexplicably continues to oppose this step.
Please call key members of Congress and ask them to vote against H.R. 2346, the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act. It includes funding for the war in Afghanistan and the IMF, as well as the Graham-Lieberman Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009, which allows the administration to block the release of detainee photos.
More information at the link. I strongly object to the Graham-Lieberman bill and I don’t think a war is necessarily the best approach in Afghanistan—particularly as it’s fought now, with drones killing dozens of civilians for every terrorist, and thus creating dozens of new terrorists.
UPDATE: I did call, and I do love the Skype Firefox extension that allows me simply to click a phone number to place a call via Skype.
Alice in Jamesland: The Story of Alice Howe Gibbens James
by Susan E Gunter
A review by Colm Toibin
At the end of R.W.B. Lewis’s The Jameses: A Family Narrative there is an appendix, entitled " The Later Jameses," which is a godsend for novelists, geneticists, and anthropologists, to name just three groups who might take an interest in what happened to the James family between the death of Henry in 1916 and 1991, the year the book was published. Readers of Susan E. Gunter’s Alice in Jamesland, a fascinating new biography of the formidable wife of William James, which ends in 1922 with her death, will be eager to know, for example, what happened to Alice’s youngest son, Aleck, born in 1890, of whom Gunter paints a tender portrait. Of all of the family, he seemed the most vulnerable and the most sweetly indifferent to the legacy of the name he had inherited. Despite his father’s strict views, Aleck seemed to remain a free spirit.
In Lewis’s book we discover that he became a painter, which was what he wanted to be, and that he remained happily married to the woman of his choice, despite his mother’s early disapproval of her, and that, while his brother Harry "made money" and the next brother Billy "married money," Aleck devoted his life to his art. Knowing about him is like knowing about the fate of the characters in Middlemarch. Slowly, with these books, the life of each member of the James family is being charted and, by implication, the history of many human types as they circle each other, nourish each other, and damage each other is being written.
Alice in Jamesland matches Jean Strouse’s masterly biography of the other Alice James, William and Henry’s sister — the one who stayed in bed — and Jane Maher’s A Biography of Broken Fortunes, the story of the two younger siblings, Wilkie and Bob, who fought in the American Civil War. Gunter’s book offers an ingeniously plotted microhistory of the period and its domestic life, and throws light on the personalities of two American geniuses. So, also, House of Wits: An Intimate Portrait of the James Family adds to and enriches what we already know from R.W.B. Lewis’s history of the family; from Alfred Habegger’s The Father, a life of Henry James Senior; and from the several biographies of William James and Henry James the novelist, including Leon Edel’s five-volume work. Slowly, the Jameses are matching the Bonapartes and the Kennedys. Every scrap of paper they left unburned is being studied for its significance.
R.W.B. Lewis wrote also, toward the end of his book, of the continued presence of Jameses in Bailieborough in County Cavan, Ireland, until …
Good article by Robert Reich in Salon today on the response of the pharmaceutical and insurance companies (and their lobbyists) to the possibility of a public option, something they feel must be killed at all costs. In their view, not only would a public health insurance plan be perfectly awful for the consumers, but consumers would also overwhelmingly prefer it. The article begins:
I poked around Washington Friday, talking with friends on the Hill who confirmed the worst: Big Pharma and Big Insurance are gaining ground in their campaign to kill the public option in the emerging healthcare bill.
You know why, of course. They don’t want a public option that would compete with private insurers and use its bargaining power to negotiate better rates with drug companies. They argue that would be unfair. Unfair? Unfair to give more people better healthcare at lower cost? To Pharma and Insurance, “unfair” is anything that undermines their profits.
So they’re pulling out all the stops — pushing Democrats and a handful of so-called moderate Republicans who say they’re in favor of a public option to support legislation that would include it in name only. One of their proposals is to break up the public option into small pieces under multiple regional third-party administrators that would have little or no bargaining leverage. A second is to give the public option to states where Big Pharma and Big Insurance can easily buy off legislators and officials, as they’ve been doing for years. A third is to bind the public plan to the same rules that private insurers have already wangled, thereby making it impossible for the public plan to put competitive pressure on the insurers.
Max Baucus, chair of Senate Finance (now exactly why does the Senate Finance Committee have so much say over healthcare?) hasn’t shown his cards, but staffers tell me he’s more than happy to sign on to any one of those. But Baucus is waiting for …
Continue reading. The bottom line:
Let your representative and senators know you want a public option without conditions or triggers — one that gives the public insurer bargaining leverage over drug companies and that pushes insurers to do what they’ve promised to do.
And do it now!
UPDATE: I just followed my own advice. Rep. Sam Farr and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein each got this message:
I—and all my family—want a public option in the national healthcare program, one without conditions or triggers — one that gives the public insurer bargaining leverage over drug companies and that pushes insurers to do what they’ve promised to do.
Please do all you can to ensure that we get this.