September 30, 2009

Sarah Palin Puts Her Name On A Book

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Big news, today, from the land of ghost writing and celebrity whoredom: former Alaska governor and podium finisher for worst vice presidential candidate in history, Sarah Palin, is "writing" a memoir. This weighty, 400-page tome - entitled Going Rogue - will be released in mid-November, just in time for one of your crazy relatives to ingest it and show up at Thanksgiving ready to quote choice passages from the people Mrs. Palin is employing to write things she'll pretend to have said.

And if that sounds like an unfair evaluation, I assure you, it's not. To give you a flavor of this exercise, contemplate the following quote from Jonathan Burnham, publisher of Harper (an imprint of HarperCollins, which is owned by Newscorp, which also owns Fox News - you get the idea):
Governor Palin has been unbelievably conscientious and hands-on at every stage, investing herself deeply and passionately in this project.
Notice anything about that sentence? How about the fact that no mention whatsoever is made of Mrs. Palin actually, you know, writing the book - or even teaming up to compose it? That would have been easy to convey with something along the lines of "The governor has been unbelievably dedicated and passionate about writing her memoirs," but instead we're apparently supposed to be impressed that Sarah Palin has been in the same room with the ghost writer(s) - or is at least taking their calls - regaling them with tales of all the things she should've said to Katie Couric. (See video, below.)

Of course, from a literary point of view, given Mrs. Palin's track record of rambling, grammar-torturing, reasoning-challenged speechifying, if left to her own devices, Going Rogue would be a wholly unreadable mess of meaningless aphorisms and analogies strained to the point of breaking.

Oh, yes - and let's not forget the lies and fear-mongering. For, no matter who actually assembles the prose, if history is any guide, we can be sure this "project" will include several outright lies, maybe even one in the same league as her most recent oeuvre, government health care "death panels". Good thing she ditched her responsibilities as chief executive of the 49th state, isn't it? She is clearly better serving Alaska by making speeches in Asia and pimping a new book.

It would be nice if Ruben Bolling is right, and that, like Ali G, Borat and BrĂ¼no , Sarah Palin is nothing more than another abusrdist comedic creation of Sacha Baron Cohen. That's obviously wishful thinking, but one thing is for certain: if John McCain's choice for vice president remains center stage for the Republicans, the GOP's plunge from national power to radical, regional party will only continue.

September 25, 2009

The End of the Modern Two-Party System?

For those unfamiliar with it, is a site founded by Kentuckian Drew Curtis that is justifiably famous for the category tags and often bitingly witty headlines its contributors assign news stories on topics ranging from "Not News" to "Sports" to "Business" to "Politics." (My own favorite tag, called simply "Florida," marks the consistently weird, head-shake-inducing news that often tumbles out of the Sunshine State.) FARK has a dedicated community of users who are not shy about expressing their opinions or mercilessly mocking the positions of others when they are poorly supported by facts or logic. While there is a fair amount rhetorical poo-flinging in the comment threads, veins of insightful thought are also often there to be gleaned.

Such was the case yesterday, in a thread headlined with "Conservative House Democrats say Nancy Pelosi isn't offering them protection against votes that could lose them their seats, which could lead to an electoral bloodbath in 2010." In the comments, a FARKer with the handle Magorn makes what I think are some excellent points about the shifting landscape of American political parties.

Magorn postulates that, if, as polls suggest, the Republican Party as we know it is devolving from a national power to merely a regional one, the so-called Blue Dog coalition of conservative Democrats may well represent the successor to the modern GOP, and be the future home for moderate Republicans. He puts it this way:
In the House of Representatives these days, we really have a three party system, not two. Blue Dogs really don't act, or vote much like "traditional" Democrats, and when you look closely, you realize that many of them come from districts once held by a now extinct species of politician called the "moderate Republican"...

They are the primary reason that, even though the Dems have a much bigger majority than the Republicans did last time around, the Dems haven't been nearly as effective as Republicans in getting things passed...

I wonder how long it will be before the Blue Dogs go full schism and form their own party, and whether, when that move comes, it will send the Republican party to wherever it is that discarded political parties like the Whigs or the Nativists or the Grangers end up...
While it is probably premature to sound the death knell for the GOP - the Democratic Party recovered from Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution in 1994 to recapture Congress after all - this viewpoint deserves consideration. For unlike the Democrats fifteen years ago, the Republicans haven't merely exhibited a predilection for self-entitlement and corruption, but led the country into two wars and trashed the economy in a way unseen in nearly a century.

History reveals that the majority party tends to lose seats in the midterm elections, and that may still happen in 2010. Such a respite for the GOP, however, might well be only temporary. Their wounds are deeper than those of the Democrats were when they were thrown out, and when an organization counts Sarah Palin, Michael Steele, and Glenn Beck among its leading lights, the idea that the political end of days for the GOP might be a span measured in a few short years, rather than decades, becomes harder to ignore.

September 19, 2009

The Demise of the Public Option Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

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Would it surprise you to know that the administration of George W. Bush believed passionately in the concept of health care as a right, and worked to enshrine it in foundational legal documents? It's true; just not in the United States. [h/t]

Deep within the Iraqi constitution - drafted by the Bush Administration in 2005 and ratified by the Iraqi people - can be found the following:
Article 31:

First: Every citizen has the right to health care. The state takes care of public health and provide the means of prevention and treatment by building different types of hospitals and medical institutions.

Second: Individuals and institutions may build hospitals or clinics or places for treatment with the supervision of the state and this shall be regulated by law.

In other words, American conservatives support the idea of universal health care as a full-blown, consitutional right for Iraqis, but decry even a public option for insurance as creeping socialism, a government takeover of medicine, and the first step on the road to ruin, when it comes to their fellow citizens.

Republicans have concentrated on whipping their supporters into a collective, raging freakout over the idea that a public option would create a nation of welfare queens, while conveniently ignoring the many ways government programs have improved their lives. While impossible to know for sure, it's a virtual certainty that the town hall shouters and tea party marchers aren't living the "socialism-free" life they'd like to believe.

I'm willing to bet that even Glenn Beck, the cretinous liar who has become the face of anti-Obamaism, claims a tax deduction for his mortgage, thereby asking the rest of us to effectively subsidize his house; and that, as a Mormon, he probably supports tax exemptions for the Church of Latter Day Saints, thus asking other Americans to support his religious beliefs. Effective government programs are everywhere, despite the paranoid delusions of the hardcore right wing. There are state university tuition rates subsidized by out-of-state students; tax breaks for new businesses; unemployment insurance; farm subsidies; support for museums; public education and transportation; health care for seniors; health care for veterans; etc., etc., etc., etc. The list goes on and on.

The convenient, ignorant blindness of those opposing health care reform through declarations of anti-socialism was perhaps most recently best illustrated by the man who told Republican Congressman Bob Inglis to "keep your government hands off my Medicare." That, however, may have been surpassed in the last few days by GOP Representative Kevin Brady, a staunch tea partier, who protested that the taxpayer-funded Washington, DC Metro didn’t prepare sufficiently for the anti-government rally held in the nation's capital on September 12th. The moronic irony is wondrous to behold.

All of this, of course, was the backdrop this week, as Senator Max Baucus finally unveiled the health care reform bill he and 5 other members of the Senate Finance Committee have been working on for months, and which has been touted as the best hope for a bipartisan solution to the current debate. Unsurprisingly to anyone who has observed Republican tactics over the past decade - which apparently doesn't include Senator Baucus - the GOP promptly ignored it, despite the fact that the bill was tailor-made to address alleged conservative concerns by, most notably, completely excluding a public option for health insurance.

Worse for Senator Baucus - but better for pretty much everyone else - was the fact that his legislation garnered almost zero support from the usually self-destructive Democrats. Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean, a doctor himself, even went out of his way to publicly shred the bill:

The Baucus bill is the worst piece of healthcare legislation I've seen in 30 years... In fact, it's a $60 billion giveaway to the health insurance industry every year... It was written by healthcare lobbyists, so that's not a surprise. It's an outrage.
Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated that the House version of any health care reform legislation will contain a public option. Of some comfort is the fact that and whatever bill comes from the Senate can be amended to contain it, too, during the reconciliation process.

Make no mistake: this is vital. The cost of health insurance has risen 131% over the last decade, while wages have risen only 38% and inflation just 28%, a relative pace that is clearly unsustainable if health care is to be available to anyone other than the very wealthy. Even more strikingly, a new study just published in the American Journal of Public Health concludes that nearly 45,000 people die every year in the United States because they are uninsured:
Lack of health insurance is associated with as many as 44,789 deaths per year in the United States. The increased risk of death attributable to uninsurance suggests that alternative measures of access to medical care for the uninsured, such as community health centers, do not provide the protection of private health insurance.

Encouragingly, another study released this week in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that almost three-quarters of physicians polled support either public-only or a mixture of public and private insurance, with just 27% backing private coverage exclusively. This, along with the commitment to reform President Obama exhibited in his speech to Congress last week, Mrs. Pelosi's statement, the general disapproval for Mr. Baucus' bill, and a new Senate effort to strip antitrust exemptions from the health insurance industry, is good news for those who believe that a public alternative is vital to forcing private insurance companies to compete and drive down prices.

Despite the best efforts of opponents to declare the public option dead, it very clearly is not. There is much more work to do in passing effective legislation that truly reforms health care, but momentum is rebounding, and there are some encouraging signs that one of the most intractable problems in American politics may finally be addressed in the near future.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has an excellent and succinct video about the public option:

September 13, 2009

Let's See Who Steps Up Now

Last November, voters in California approved Proposition 8, which enshrined descrimination against same-sex couples by making it illegal for them to marry. Prop 8 received massive backing from conservative religious and political organizations - many from out of state - and as has been the case whenever legalizing bigotry in the realm of matrimony is the goal, its supporters loudly claimed that their goal was to "protect marriage" as a "sacred institution."

What has always been striking about efforts to prevent gays from marrying, however, is how blatant and obvious the hypocrisy is when examined in an even cursory fashion. Backers of Proposition 8 and similiar measures are part of political and religious movement that has little to say about shotgun weddings, quickie Las Vegas nuptials, marriage for money, reality TV shows such as The Bachelor, and Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich who has been married three times, badgered his first wife about divorce while she was in the recovery room after cancer surgery, and wed his third spouse after carrying on an extramarital affair with her behind his second wife's back.

Earlier this month, however, a man in California named John Marcotte successfully executed the first step in what is a brilliant move to expose the hypocrisy of those who would deny others what they want for themselves. On September 1, he filed a petition with the office of the Secretary of State for a ballot initiative called the 2010 California Marriage Protection Act. The Act, which must still gain sufficient signatures to be added to the ballot says, very simply, the following:

No party to any marriage shall be restored to the state of an unmarried person during the lifetime of the other party...
There are some details surrounding "voidable" marriages such as those involving people younger than the age of consent and similar circumstances, but the California Marriage Protection Act is designed to do one thing: Make 99% of all marriages impossible to dissolve.

In all likelihood, Mr. Marcotte's initiative will never make it to the ballot without significant, organized assistance. Of course, if the people who would deny committed same-sex couples the opportunity to marry are truly acting because marriage is, in fact, sacred, one might suppose that we'll see strong backing from the supporters of Proposition 8. But you probably shouldn't hold your breath.

September 8, 2009

What A Real Indoctrination Effort Looks Like

For the past week, the airwaves, the internet and newspapers have all been aflame with conservative uproar about President Obama's planned speech to schoolchildren on Tuesday, with noted performance artists Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh screaming that the president sought to bypass the guidance of parents and directly "indoctrinate" their offspring with his "socialist agenda." Unfortunately for the right wing, it strongly appears that the White House played them for suckers, as the actual content of Mr. Obama's speech was both rigorously non-partisan and genuinely inspiring:
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

It's early yet, but it's likely the biggest outcome of this will be not only most people scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss was about in the short term, but increased skepticism toward GOP criticism of President Obama in general, going forward. Given the level of substanceless invective, outright lying and empty-headed shrillness that has been emblematic of Republican attack politics since Barack Obama was elected, that's probably a good thing.

Be that as it may, however, while this low political drama was playing out, two very real efforts to enshrine discrimination and religious bigotry into law - GENUINE indoctrination, if you will - were gaining ground in Maine and Washington state.

In the Pacific Northwest, a push to certify a ballot initiative called Referendum 71 that would prevent expansion of Washington's existing same-sex domestic partnership laws was successful, and the measure will go before voters in November. Meanwhile, across the continent in New England, a similar exercise has triggered a hold that prevents same-sex couples from marrying, despite the fact that the state legislature and the governor legalized homosexual matrimony back in May. Under Maine's "People's Veto" provisions, the Question 1 ballot initiative will demand the repeal of "An Act To End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom".

In Maine, so far, more than 99% of the financial backing for Question 1 has come from the National Organization for Marriage; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, ME; and the state chapter of James Dobson's Focus on the Family. In other words, to date, less than 1% of the money raised to foment this "people's veto" is actually coming from individual Mainers.

From where I sit, having large, (and predominantly non-local) political action organizations working to codify discrimination against a portion of a state's population - in other words, forcing their views on others - should be a lot more worrisome than a speech from the president urging children to stay in school and study hard in order to help themselves and their country.

But maybe that's just me.

September 4, 2009

Just How Socialist Is It?

With our execrable corporate media continuing to mire itself in he-said-she-said reporting - "Republicans claim that health reform legislation passed in the House contains provisions for "death panels" staffed by government bureaucrats who will decide whether or not senior citizens receive treatment or are allowed to expire; Democrats disagree" - instead of actually, you know, looking at the bill and refusing to report such nonsense, there is a desperate need for factual reporting and the journalistic spine to call a lie a lie.

Realizing that, it is worth taking a deep breath and re-focusing on the central question at the heart of this controversy, which, plainly asked, is this: Are private health insurance companies the best mechanism for providing health care coverage to all Americans?

As one looks at not only anecdotal evidence - like the woman who divorced her dementia-stricken husband in order to avoid bankrupting herself and her children when their health insurance ran out - as well as quantitative analysis - such as a new report that shows California's largest insurers reject 1 in every 5 claims, even when treatment is recommended by a physician - it becomes harder and harder to come to any answer other than "no." If the primary goal of an insurer is to make money rather than to insure patients, there is a fundamental conflict at the very heart of that relationship. It's not that private health insurance companies are evil; it's that their interests do not match those of the people they ostensibly cover.

If this, then, logically leads us to conclude that a public option that would compete against these companies - and whose sole interest is to insure rather than make money - is a good thing, it is easy to understand why those aligned with the private health insurance industry have resorted to outright lies. They lost the central argument a long time ago, and their only hope is to obfuscate, confuse and fear-monger.

Don't believe me? analyzed 48 claims about the House health care reform bill, HR 3200, currently making the rounds among those opposed to health care reform. They found that twenty-six of the claims were totally false, 18 were misleading, and only four were true. (If you've been listening to the debate at all, I practically guarantee you've heard some of them yourself.)

Even so, are those fighting reform right? Are there larger issues we should worry about, like creeping socialism? It's a potentially interesting question, so the editors of Miller-McCune thought it would be helpful to take a look at just how socialist different health care systems around the world - including the one proposed in HR 3200 - actually are. In an article published Wednesday, they devised the following guidelines:
The idea is to show (crudely) how much direct involvement the state has in health systems around the world and how the bills moving through Congress compare. The metric is over-simplified but for our purposes: Your health scheme is monolithic when the government 1) collects your money, 2) handles your insurance, and 3) administers the health care.
It's worth reading the short article that accompanies the graphic at right [click image to see at original size] to more fully understand how these criteria were applied, but the conclusion is pretty simple: Even with the inclusion of a public option, HR 3200 falls far short of systems like those in Canada, - and more starkly the United Kingdom - in terms of being "socialized medicine."

It is safe, then, to conclude that the provisions of HR 3200 are neither an attempt to insert the government between doctors and patients, nor to kill off the elderly. It is also safe to conclude that implementation of reform legislation is highly unlikely to fundamentally alter the character of the United States in any meaningful way.

If you're getting the sense, from this and other posts, that those protesting loudest and most theatrically against health care reform - and I'm looking at you, Glenn Beck - don't really have a fact-driven leg to stand on, I think you may be onto something. It might well be that there are very good reasons not to pursue a public option, but I've been listening - closely - and I'm still waiting to here them.