I’ve had several posts recently about two of the “scandals” surrounding the Obama administration. In one case, Benghazi, there is no real scandal–just another case of Republicans distorting the facts. In the case of the IRS, we have the rare case of Republicans being right about wrong-doing, but wrong in trying to tie this to Obama. The subpoena of AP records regarding sources on a story about a planned terrorist attack is more difficult to characterize. In this case, Republicans aren’t attacking Obama because they have no qualms about infringing upon First Amendment liberties, but many liberals are concerned.
Jack Shafer of Reuters has an excellent review of this case and his entire post should be read. He began:
Journalists gasp and growl whenever prosecutors issue lawful subpoenas ordering them to divulge their confidential sources or to turn over potential evidence, such as notes, video outtakes or other records. It’s an attack on the First Amendment, It’s an attack on the First Amendment, It’s an attack on the First Amendment, journalists and their lawyers chant. Those chants were heard this week, as it was revealed that Department of Justice prosecutors had seized two months’ worth of records from 20 office, home and cell phone lines used by Associated Press journalists in their investigation into the Yemen underwear-bomber leaks.
First Amendment radicals — I count myself among them — resist any and all such intrusions: You can’t very well have a free press if every unpublished act of journalism can be co-opted by cops, prosecutors and defense attorneys. First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams speaks for most journalists when he denounces the “breathtaking scope” of the AP subpoenas. But the press’s reflexive protests can prevent it from seeing the story in full, which I think is the case in the current leaks investigation.
See the full article for the specifics, but the gist of this is that the Obama administration’s concern here was not with preventing the press from publishing their reports but uncovering a leak. Also, this is not a case of someone leaking information which we necessarily wanted to get out, but the fact that an al Qaeda plot to bomb an airplane bound for the United States was stopped due to having an informant recruited by British intelligence inside of al Qaeda.
To begin with, the perpetrators of a successful double-agent operation against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would not want to brag about their coup for years. Presumably, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will now use the press reports to walk the dog back to determine whose misplaced trust allowed the agent to penetrate it. That will make the next operation more difficult. Other intelligence operations — and we can assume they are up and running — may also become compromised as the press reports give al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula new clues.
Likewise, the next time the CIA or foreign intelligence agency tries to recruit a double agent, the candidate will judge his handlers wretched secret keepers, regard the assignment a death mission and seek employment elsewhere.
Last, the leaks of information — including those from the lips of Brennan, Clarke and King — signal to potential allies that America can’t be trusted with secrets. “Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” as Obama put it today in a news conference.
The ultimate audience for the leaks investigation may not be domestic but foreign. Obviously, the government wants to root out the secretspillers. But a country can’t expect foreign intelligence agencies to cooperate if it blows cover of such an operation. I’d wager that the investigations have only begun.
Since 9/11 there have been many situations where the government has gone overboard in placing security (and sometimes false claims of security) over civil liberties. The answer on this one is certainly not clear.
We learned earlier this week from CNN that the supposedly incriminating emails about the Benghazi talking points were altered to give the false impression of a cover up. But who would do such a thing? CBS News reports that the Republicans misquoted the content of the emails to give the false impression of wrong doing on the part of the White House.
This is no surprise. It is common for Republicans to misquote Democrats when they have no coherent argument against what the Democrats actually said
What is surprising is the news media is pointing out the the claims made by Republicans are false. More often the media will quote both sides as if they have equivalent validity and fail to point out the facts.
This is a promising change which I hope continues.
So this is what conservatives mean by family values?
Responding to a question from a viewer, Robertson said that married men “have a tendency to wander” and it is the spurned wife’s job to focus on the positive and make sure the home is so enticing, he doesn’t want to stray.
“I’ve been trying to forgive my husband for cheating on me,” the viewer writes. “We have gone to counseling, but I just can’t seem to forgive, nor can I trust. How do you let go of the anger? How do you trust again?”
While Robertson’s co-host hedged on the question, calling forgiveness “difficult” and spousal infidelity “one of the ultimate betrayals,” Robertson got right to the point.
“Here’s the secret,” the famous evangelical said. “Stop talking the cheating. He cheated on you, well, he’s a man.”
The wife needs to focus on the reasons she married her spouse, he continued.
“Does he provide a home for you to live in,” Robertson said. ‘Does he provide food for you to eat? Does he provide clothes for you to wear? Is he nice to the children… Is he handsome?”
And some people were surprised that Mark Sanford was reelected in a Republican district.
In related news, The Hill reports that John Edwards is hitting the speaking circuit, although they only mention one event. He will address PMP Marketing’s annual client retreat in Orlando. I doubt liberals will have much interest in hearing more form him, but perhaps he can start speaking to evangelicals. The religious right probably would have no problem forgiving Edwards for cheating on his wife, but they would have difficulty forgiving him for running with John Kerry.
The investigations are far from over (especially as the Republicans will continue to milk this as long as they can) but evidence so far shows that improper things were done by IRS agents with no evidence of any involvement by the Obama administration.
USA Today reports that the IRS did approve tax-except status for some liberal groups while holding up applications from conservative groups
As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like “Progress” or “Progressive,” the liberal groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.
Reports so far do suggest that there was a clear tendency to place more scrutiny on conservative groups but the same article does report that the IRS didn’t exclusively target conservative groups:
Some liberal groups did get additional scrutiny, although they still got their tax-exempt status while the Tea Party moratorium was in effect. For the “independent progressive” group Action for a Progressive Future, which runs the Rootsaction.org web site, the tax-exempt process took 18 months and also involved intrusive questions.
Bloomberg also found that some liberal groups were treated as the conservative groups were:
The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status.
One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.
Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries.
I wonder whether any of these political groups should really be receiving special tax treatment, but if tax exemptions are being given the same criteria should apply regardless of whether the organization is liberal or conservative.
CNN reports that two rogue IRS employees were primarily responsible for the extra scrutiny of conservative groups:
The Internal Revenue Service has identified two “rogue” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office as being principally responsible for “overly aggressive” handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status, a congressional source told CNN.
In a meeting on Capitol Hill, acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller described the employees as being “off the reservation,” according to the source. It was not clear precisely what the alleged behavior involved.
Miller said the staffers have already been disciplined, according to another source familiar with Miller’s discussions with congressional investigators. The second source said Miller emphasized that the problem with IRS handling of tax-exempt status for tea party groups was not limited to these two employees.
While the misconduct at the IRS demands investigation, the politics provides a story which is just as interesting. Conservative groups tended to ignore direct abuses of power by the Bush administration, but both liberals and conservatives are condemning the targeting of conservative groups. There is a long history of liberals defending civil liberties regardless of the victim while conservatives have typically been more selective in taking sides on civil liberties issues.
Conservatives would love to tie this scandal to President Obama, who has condemned the misbehavior at the IRS. It is unlikely that any connection between the White House and this scandal will be uncovered. Most positions at the IRS are held by civil servants and the IRS Commissioner at the time was Doug Shulman, a Republican who had been appointed by George W. Bush.
While there is no sign of a Watergate-style scandal here, we can expect Republicans to continue to make noise about this. Unlike most of the scandals they scream about which are almost entirely fictitious, there was real wrong-doing here, even if not by the Obama administration. Generally Republicans have resorted to fear, greed, racism, and xenophobia in their appeals to the base. This gives the Republicans a scandal which they can use to fire up the base, and use for fund raising, which will not alienate people outside of their bubble. This also allows Republican leaders to align themselves with the Tea Party without necessarily embracing their nuttier views.
There was very little to the Benghazi scandal which the Republicans were trying to promote when I wrote about it yesterday. They have even less today now that it has been exposed that the email the Republicans have been so excited about had been altered according to a report from Jake Tapper.
CNN has obtained an e-mail sent by a top aide to President Barack Obama about White House reaction to the deadly attack last September 11 on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that apparently differs from how sources characterized it to two different media organizations.
The actual e-mail from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes appears to show that whomever leaked it did so in a way that made it appear that the White House was primarily concerned with the State Department’s desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department…
So, let me get this straight. Someone — we don’t know who — leaked misleading information to ABC and the Weekly Standard, they ran it, other news organizations embraced it, we’ve had several days of “scandal” based on it, and the information wasn’t true?
Tapper put it this way: “Whoever provided those quotes seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed.”
In other words, we’re not dealing with a mistake, so much as we’re dealing with a political actor deliberately misrepresenting key details to journalists, who in turn misled other journalists, who in turn created a controversy where none existed.
This would seem to do still more damage to the notion that there was any kind of cover up here…. It’s increasingly clear that this was merely a bureaucratic turf war at work, in which State wanted to get rid of the CIA’s efforts to insert into the talking points stuff that preempts blame against the agency. This new revelation from Tapper takes this even further — it suggests the administration didn’t even prioritize State’s demands and was simply looking to get agencies on the same page to prevent the spreading of misinformation.
Indeed, the email explicitly cites worry about the “significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.” That suggests, again, that this internal debate was mainly about not getting out too far ahead of what was actually known — which could actually be a desirable thing under such circumstances.
Indeed, if this report bears out, it weakens the underpinning of this supposed scandal considerably.
Andrew Sullivan concluded: “Just an early, failing attempt to smear Hillary for 2016. Because the GOP has no relevant policies for our times, just politics.”
We finally might have a real scandal here, but the scandal is over who is altering email to fabricate right wing attacks.
Here’s a few quick links in case you are getting lost in all the Republican noise on Benghazi, such as Darrel Issa attacking Barack Obama for describing the killing of Americans in Libya as an “act of terror” rather than a “terrorist attack.” Here’s a partial run down of people who are not very impressed with the Republican arguments:
The military isn’t impressed. A National Security column in Foreign Policy argues that military force would not have been successful in response to the attack.
Don’t want to believe a columnist who might be a Democrat? How about a Republican who has been Secretary of Defense:
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates forcefully defended the Obama administration on Sunday against charges that it did not do enough to prevent the tragedy in Benghazi, telling CBS’ “Face the Nation” that some critics of the administration have a “cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces.”
Gates, a Republican who was appointed by then-President George W. Bush in 2006 and agreed to stay through more than two years of President Obama’s first term, repeatedly declined to criticize the policymakers who devised a response to the September 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
“Frankly, had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were,” said Gates, now the chancellor of the College of William and Mary.
“We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, and so getting somebody there in a timely way would have been very difficult, if not impossible.” he explained.
Suggestions that we could have flown a fighter jet over the attackers to “scare them with the noise or something,” Gates said, ignored the “number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from [former Libyan leader] Qaddafi’s arsenals.”
“I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances,” he said.
Another suggestion posed by some critics of the administration, to, as Gates said, “send some small number of special forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, would have been very dangerous.”
“It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces,” he said. “The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm’s way, and there just wasn’t time to do that.”
Gates said he could not speak to allegations that the State Department refused requests for additional security in the months prior to the attack. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been increasingly targeted for criticism by Republicans for her handling of the crisis and the government’s response, with some even raising the possibility that the State Department engineered a coverup to protect her political future.
But when Gates was asked whether he thought that might be a possibility, he replied flatly, “No.”
“I worked with Secretary Clinton pretty closely for two and a half years, and I wouldn’t want to try and be somebody…trying to convince her to say something she did not think was true,” he said, adding that he has not spoken with Clinton about the events in Benghazi.
The public is also unimpressed by these transparently political attacks. Republicans believe they can harm Hillary Clinton politically over Benghazi, but so far there is no evidence of this . Public Policy Polling found that more people trust Clinton than the Republican Congress:
PPP’s newest national poll finds that Republicans aren’t getting much traction with their focus on Benghazi over the last week. Voters trust Hillary Clinton over Congressional Republicans on the issue of Benghazi by a 49/39 margin and Clinton’s +8 net favorability rating at 52/44 is identical to what it was on our last national poll in late March. Meanwhile Congressional Republicans remain very unpopular with a 36/57 favorability rating.
Voters think Congress should be more focused on other major issues right now rather than Benghazi. By a 56/38 margin they say passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill is more important than continuing to focus on Benghazi, and by a 52/43 spread they think passing a bill requiring background checks for all gun sales should be a higher priority.
This part sounds like a Sarah Palin joke:
One interesting thing about the voters who think Benghazi is the biggest political scandal in American history is that 39% of them don’t actually know where it is. 10% think it’s in Egypt, 9% in Iran, 6% in Cuba, 5% in Syria, 4% in Iraq, and 1% each in North Korea and Liberia with 4% not willing to venture a guess.
Neil Gaiman’s second episode of Doctor Who, Nightmare in Silver, was weaker than his first episode, The Doctor’s Wife. Like so many episodes this half-season, it wasn’t bad but came up short of what it might have been. The good thing about the episode is that Gaiman updated the backstory for the Cybermen which might be used in future episodes. He had less to say about the Doctor’s history than in The Doctor’s Wife except to reveal that it is foolish to try to beat the Doctor at Chess as The Timelords invented chess.
Gaiman accelerated the trend of making the Cybermen more like the Borg. (There has also been speculation that the Borg were originally based upon the Cybermen but I have never seen confirmation of this). Instead of assimilation, they upgrade. They upgrade humans, and now other species, with cybermites, and upgrade themselves to counter attacks. One problem with the episode was that upgrades were only used for dramatic effect in limited circumstances. The Cybermen upgraded to be faster, but in most scenes they continued to move slowly.
These Cybermen were shown to be far more dangerous. They are so dangerous that the standard reaction to finding one a a planet is to destroy the entire planet. Even an entire galaxy was destroyed to prevent the Cybermen from advancing. The problem with making an enemy this powerful is that ending each episode by imploding the planet would be tedious, and having the Doctor repeatedly defeat them in under an hour would be unrealistic–sort of how the Borg gradually changed from an unbeatable force when introduced on Star Trek The Next Generation to a race easily defeated by a lone starship on Voyager.
Warwick Davies stole the show as Porridge, later revealed to be Emperor Ludins Nimrod Kendrick Cord Longstaff the 41st. It was unrealistic for the Emperor to just happen to be hiding on this planet, but now that the Doctor has met him it would be a shame for the two not to meet up again.
The episode has the obligatory (this season) homage to past Doctors with images of them displayed. There’s more to come next week, including a scene with Bessie driving by. There were not any obvious clues to the Clara mystery but Clara did learn that the Doctor considers her to be the impossible girl. We should be getting the answers next week, with this prequel released leading into The Name of the Doctor:
A Radio Times interview with Neil Gaiman is posted here. Gaiman’s interview with the official Doctor Who site is here. Blastr has the story of how Steven Moffat got Neil Gaiman to update the Cybermen and make them scary.
Doctor Who is to be honoured with a special tribute to be shown at Sunday’s BAFTA television award ceremony.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts will be marking the programme’s 50th Anniversary year by showing a video montage celebrating the long history of the show.
Current companion Jenna-Louise Coleman will also attend the ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London and will present one of the night’s awards.
Amanda Berry OBE, Chief Executive of BAFTA, said:
There are only a handful of programmes that have the quality and longevity of Doctor Who and the ability to put the nation on their sofas – or indeed behind them – year after year. BAFTA raises a toast to Doctor Who on its 50th birthday this year.
Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s Lead Writer and Executive Producer, said the production team would be sending Daleks to patrol the red carpet:
This is a massive and exciting year for Doctor Who, so I’m thrilled that BAFTA are including a special tribute to the show. So thrilled, in fact, we’re sending the Doctor’s best friend, Jenna Coleman, to present an award. We’re also sending the Doctor’s worst enemy, the Daleks, to exterminate lots of innocent people. Sorry, it’s just what they do. Let us know if it’s a Health and Safety issue.
Doctor Who won the main BAFTA award for Best Drama Series in 2006 and has won many BAFTA Craft Awards since the series returned in 2005.
Watch out for spoilers this week. An error was made and some Blu-Ray sets with The Name of the Doctor has been shipped early and some copies of the episode are starting to appear on line. Some people are intentionally spoiling the show on Twitter so be careful in reading messages in response to mentioning Doctor Who.
Speaking of spoilers, John Hurt may have revealed his role in the 50th Anniversary episode:
Mr Hurt, who lives near Cromer, earlier told the EDP he had just finished shooting a Dr Who 3D special in which he plays “part of the Doctor” in a “kind of trinity” which includes David Tennant.
Not surprisingly, ABC has picked up Agents of SHIELD, along with additional genre shows for next season. More on the cast of Agents of SHIELDhere. Defianceand Revolution have both been renewed. In the overkill department, Once Upon A Time is both returning and getting a spin-off. Blastr has a run down of eleven new genre shows.24 might return as a 12 or 13 episode mini-series. Does this mean that the story will take place in real time over a shorter period of time or that the show will move faster than real time?
Community was also picked up for a fifth season and there are some rumors that Dan Harmon might return. (I’m not holding my breath, but hope it is true.) Chevy Chase is gone, and he was not missed in the episodes where he did not appear at all or only had minor roles. The finale showed once again that show runners David Guarascio and Moses Port may be sincere in their desire to continue the creative ideas of Dan Harmon but just do not understand how to carry this out.
Compare the season finale, Advanced Introduction to Finality, with Basic Human Anatomy, the episode written by Jim Rash which most critics consider the best of the season. The finale brought back The Darkest Timeline with a story which was ridiculous on so many levels. It centered around the impossible situation of people crossing over from The Darkest Timeline with the use of paint ball in a story which didn’t make much sense even if you accept this. Then it ended by revealing it all to be Jeff’s daydream. A daydream (if the story was good) would be fine as part of a story. It might have even worked earlier in the season, but the finale should not be almost entirely a day dream (especially when the dream storyline wasn’t all that good).
Dan Harmon would have been more subtle with the use of an alternative time line, as with Jim Rash with the body swaps in Basic Human Anatomy. If there were true body swaps, or if it was all a dream, I doubt the story would have worked. Instead Rash had characters behave as if they had swapped bodies to reveal more about the characters. Troy acted as Abed because he couldn’t cope with a relationship he is too immature to handle. Abed reciprocated by acting as if he was Troy to end the relationship. Of course we know why the Dean pretended to change bodies with Jeff. The flashing lights weren’t magic but just someone flipping the switches. While not plausible, it was all possible.
Next season is expected to pick up with the remaining members of the study group in their final semester. Jeff and Pierce have graduated. Presumably Pierce is gone forever, but they now have a more difficult job of getting Jeff into the episodes when he should no longer be at the study group’s table. Perhaps they will come up with another reason why Jeff needs another class, but that would make last season appear even lamer in retrospect.
Person of Interest concluded the season with a strong two-part episode which more firmly establishes the show as science fiction. In earlier episodes the machine was simply a gimmick to set up a more conventional crime show of the week, but now the machine is an integral part of the show. Plus Amy Acker was back and Sarah Shahi is an excellent addition to the show. In some ways the show reminds me of Fringe, which gradually set up its mythology in earlier stand-alone episodes.
Aaron Sorkin’s show, The Newsroom, returns on July 14, with changes made to hopefully fix some of the problems from the first season. A promo video is below:
“It’s no secret that our nation may very well be experiencing the hand of judgment. It’s no secret that we all are concerned that our nation may be in a time of decline. If that is in fact so, what is the answer? The answer is what we are doing here today: humbling ourselves before an almighty God, crying out to an almighty God, saying not of ourselves but you, would you save us oh God? We repent of our sins, we turn away from them, we seek you, we seek your ways. That’s something that we’re doing today, that we did on the National Day of Prayer, it’s something that we have chosen to do as well on another landmark day later this year on September 11. Our nation has seen judgment not once but twice on September 11. That’s why we’re going to have ‘9/11 Pray’ on that day. Is there anything better that we can do on that day rather than to humble ourselves and to pray to an almighty God?” –Michele Bachmann
With conservatives loving to play the part of the victim and inventing all sorts of outrageous transgressions in their imaginations, it is often hard to take anything they say seriously. Today it was revealed that their claims of being targeted by the IRS are true:
The Internal Revenue Service on Friday apologized for targeting groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, confirming long-standing accusations by some conservatives that their applications for tax-exempt status were being improperly delayed and scrutinized.
Lois Lerner, the IRS official who oversees tax-exempt groups, said the “absolutely inappropriate” actions by “front-line people” were not driven by partisan motives.
Rather, Lerner said, they were a misguided effort to come up with an efficient means of dealing with a flood of applications from organizations seeking tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012.
During that period, about 75 groups were selected for extra inquiry — including burdensome questionnaires and, in some cases, improper requests for the names of their donors — simply because of the words in their names, she said in a conference call with reporters.
Lerner is also sure to regret admitting “I’m not good at math” even if she is an attorney.
It is difficult to understand how she can say that they were not driven by partisan motives when the victims were of a specific political philosophy. While only speculation, I wonder if some people at the IRS believed that groups which have a philosophical opposition to taxation are more likely to violate tax laws. In the absence of any evidence against these specific groups, that would be wrong. Criticizing the IRS and our tax system should be protected speech under the First Amendment. Advocating change in laws which a group disagrees with is allowed under our system of government and is not evidence in itself that they are violating the laws they want changed.
I might also be over thinking this. It might have been a more visceral and petty reaction, retaliating against those who criticize their organization. That would also be wrong. We do need a full investigation as opposed to speculation as to their motives.
The IRS says that this came from lower level people and was stopped by those higher up. While there is no evidence to question this so far, this also needs to be investigated.
Reaction to this is varied. Mitch McConnell is calling for an investigation, and he is right to do so, even if there is no evidence of a comparison to the Nixon White House. . Hopefully this remains a proper investigation and doesn’t turn it into yet another politicized witch-hunt which Republicans have spent so much time (and tax payer money) conducting.
Portions of the conservative blogosphere are, as would be expected, showing that they are out of touch with reality even on an issue where conservative groups are right. American Thinker writes:
And who are these “low-level” employees in Cincinnati who started the reviews? Are we seriously to believe that a couple of minor bureaucrats could alter IRS policy so easily? If that’s the case, what other abuses isn’t the IRS telling us about?
To be part of a government run by a Democratic president and then investigate opposition groups, harassing them, trying to discourage their political activities is the sort of thing we find in Russia.
There is absolutely no evidence that we have a Democratic president exercising autocratic powers against their enemies. Historically this has more often been a Republican practice. And how are liberal bloggers responding? Are they lining up along ideological grounds, cheering on these abuses against the right. No, not at all. Liberal response has been that this is wrong and warrants a full investigation. Steve Benen wrote:
The boys who cried wolf may have dubious credibility, but to mix metaphors, even a broken clock is right twice a day.I suppose one might argue that Tea Party groups were inherently partisan, and their claims for tax-exempt status were suspect given the movement’s larger purpose, but it’s a tough sell. The IRS is supposed to be even-handed, and in several cases, it seems clear that the agency was not.
This is the sort of thing that costs officials their jobs…
For a change, all of these complaints are legitimate. There really was wrongdoing. Groups really were treated unfairly. It’d be wrong to dismiss the complaints, assuming the right is just manufacturing some new pseudo-scandal; this really does deserve to be taken seriously.
Also see responses from Think Progress, Kevin Drum and Greg Sargent. The left has stuck with principle (and is concerned with uncovering the actual facts) as opposed to following the right’s usual logic of support or opposition based upon partisan lines, while ignoring the facts.
Great deal at Amazon today–the entire series of Friday Night Lights on DVD for only $40. If you haven’t seen the series, it is one of the best written network shows in years. (In later years it survived due to a deal in which it was first on DirectTV and later broadcast on NBC).
I have been concerned that the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board posed a potential risk to Medicare. Recommendations from the board to cut costs would be very difficult for Congress to override, requiring a 60 percent vote, giving excessive power to unelected officials. I would hate to see a Republican president and Congress pack the board with conservatives who would recommend changes to reduce costs which would be harmful to the program. In the long run this remains a concern, but short term we might not have to worry about Republicans on the Board. The president selects three member and the leaders of each party from each chamber of Congress also nominate three members. In a letter to President Obama, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell said that they would not make any appointments to the Independent Payment Advisory Board.
The IPPB can still function without the full fifteen members and any decisions in which the Republicans don’t take part might be preferable. As all fifteen members must be confirmed by the Senate, it will be interesting to see if the Republicans filibuster all appointments. They certainly have demonstrated a willingness to block Obama’s appointments just for the sake of blocking them. If the IPPB fails to make recommendations, the Secretary of Health and Human Services could make the recommendations instead. The end result of Boehner and McConnell’s actions would then be to give more power to the Obama administration initially.
CMS released data on what hospitals are charging today with many noticing, and questioning, vast differences in charges from one hospital to another. There are a few things you must know to make any sense out of this data.
Charges to Medicare have no bearing on what Medicare will pay. Medicare has a fee schedule for services, and will pay based upon this. Inpatient services are paid under a DRG (Diagnosis Related Group) system where Medicare pays a fixed amount regardless of what individual charges are present. This starts with the diagnosis, but the amount can be adjusted based upon factors such as severity and additional problems as obviously not every case admitted to the hospital for the same diagnosis is exactly the same. A hospital might charge $10 for a Tylenol tablet, but that doesn’t mean Medicare or an insurance company will pay it.
Some insurance companies pay the same way under a DRG system. I don’t know if this is true nation wide, but in Michigan Blue Cross also pays under a DRG system. Other insurers will pay based upon their fee schedule and not approve the full amount charged. Hospital charges mean very little except for the uninsured. It is people without insurance who wind up being charged these ridiculously high rates. This means two things if you are without insurance and wind up in a hospital. First, it is often better to have a high deductible policy which never pays a cent than no insurance if the hospital has agreed to accept the plan’s rates. That way you will only have to pay what the insurance allows as opposed to the hospital’s charge, which might be considerably higher. Of course make sure any insurance purchased this way really does have agreements with medical providers to accept their fees. Secondly, if you have a big bill and no insurance, keep in mind that the hospital would not receive the full amount if you had insurance. It is worth trying to negotiate and offering to pay a lower amount closer to what the hospital would expect to receive.
One consequence of this system of each insurance company approving different amounts for different services is that each hospital wants to be certain that they charge at least the maximum amount the best paying insurance company will pay. It is simpler to charge well above this amount to be certain of maximizing income.
This doesn’t necessarily mean they are evil and trying to rip off the system. The system makes this necessary for survival when each insurance company pays differently. While a simplification, imagine that someone is provided services A, B, and C when hospitalized. Some insurance companies might pay a fair amount for all three. Other insurance companies might pay extremely well for A, but poorly for B, and possibly not pay for C at all. Another insurance company might pay for B or C, but not for A. Health care providers must charge high amounts for all three, or risk not receiving enough to cover expenses. This means that the total charged for A, B, and C will be well beyond what they actually receive from any specific payer. Besides covering the actual costs to a particular patient, money must also be received for the tremendous overhead costs of hospitals and other health care facilities.
Yes, the system is screwed up, but it is often the system itself which is at fault, and comparing charges from different hospitals doesn’t provide all that meaningful information–except for the uninsured who will be charged more than Medicare or insurance companies will pay.
The Minnesota House will vote on a proposal to allow same-sex marriage on Thursday.
Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the Judiciary Committee has filed an amendment to an immigration bill that would allow same sex couples to sponsor their partners for a visa.
There is some division among Republicans on this issue, but support for marriage equality remains a minority viewpoint. Pat Brady has resigned as chairman of the Illinois Republican Party because his support for same-sex marriage is out of line with the view of other Republicans.
Rush Limbaugh received a lot of criticism for calling Sandra Fluke a slut and many advertisers dropped his show. I hadn’t heard anything about this in a while and thought that over time the issue might have been forgotten. According to Medialite, major advertisers are still avoiding Rush Limbaugh:
As we reported earlier this morning, Rush Limbaugh is allegedly in the midst of a battle with Cumulus Media, the distributor of his radio show. The company’s CEO has blamed ad revenue losses on the conservative talkers’ controversial 2012 “slut” comments about Georgetown student Sandra Fluke.
Mediaite’s own sources confirm that the ad troubles in connection with Limbaugh’s show are, indeed, severe. In fact, one source within the radio advertising world with direct knowledge of the ad buys on Limbaugh’s show confirms the extent of the problem: “The vast majority of national advertisers now refuse to air their ads during Rush Limbaugh’s show,” our source tells us.
Limbaugh’s contract with Cumulus runs through 2013. Will he suffer the same fate as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin at Fox? If Limbaugh leaves Cumulus he presumably will have other opportunities, but driving away advertisers would reduce his appeal to other radio outlets.