The EPA on Global Warming and Christine Todd Whitman on Barney the Dog’s Wisdom

George Bush might not believe in global warming, but apparently there are people in the EPA who do not share his views. It’s a good thing Bush can’t keep up with everything his govenment puts up on “the internets” or he might eliminate this page from the EPA which a reader just emailed me with. The page is on Climate Change–What You Can Do and starts with saying, “Students, educators and school administrators can all play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Seeing the EPA’s site reminded me that Christine Todd Whitman was on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me this morning on NPR. She told about how she gave Laura Bush their dog. When Barney the dog first met George Bush he ran around the room and then urinated on the carpet.

The Beach Impeach Project

Here’s something new to do at the beach–spell out impeach:

Over 1000 people gathered in Nancy Pelosi’s district, on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, to spell out the message “IMPEACH!” “America is a great country,” said event organizer Brad Newsham, a local cab driver and author. “But President Bush has betrayed our faith. He mislead us into a disastrous war, and is trampling on our Constitution. He has to go. Now. I hope Nancy Pelosi is listening today.”

A majority of Americans share Newsham’s sentiments. A 2006 Zogby poll found that 52% of Americans agreed with the statement: “If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment?”

Click on the picture for high-resolution version if you’re looking for a new Windows wallpaper.

The All Pharma Cheerleading Squad

The New York Times had a story over a year ago on pharmaceutical companies recruiting cheerleaders to be sales reps, believing that yourng entheusiastic girls would have more influence on male physicians. In response, we now have the All Pharma Cheerleading Squad. The the eDrugSearch Blog searched pro sports web sites to find the occupations of their cheerleaders to assemble the squad.




Military Expands Intelligence Role in US

The New York Times reports on another increase in government surveillance:

The Pentagon has been using a little-known power to obtain banking and credit records of hundreds of Americans and others suspected of terrorism or espionage inside the United States, part of an aggressive expansion by the military into domestic intelligence gathering.

The C.I.A. has also been issuing what are known as national security letters to gain access to financial records from American companies, though it has done so only rarely, intelligence officials say.

Banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions receiving the letters usually have turned over documents voluntarily, allowing investigators to examine the financial assets and transactions of American military personnel and civilians, officials say.

The F.B.I., the lead agency on domestic counterterrorism and espionage, has issued thousands of national security letters since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, provoking criticism and court challenges from civil liberties advocates who see them as unjustified intrusions into Americans’ private lives.

But it was not previously known, even to some senior counterterrorism officials, that the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency have been using their own “noncompulsory” versions of the letters. Congress has rejected several attempts by the two agencies since 2001 for authority to issue mandatory letters, in part because of concerns about the dangers of expanding their role in domestic spying.

Is the program finding lots of terrorists? Doesn’t look like it: (more…)

Medicare for Most: A New Healthcare Proposal

The question in reforming health care increasingly appears to be not whether to get the government involved but deciding on which plan to adopt. Jacob Hacker has written a proposal based upon expanding Medicare. The plan would allow all Americans to buy into Medicare and require employers to either provide coverage of equal quality or pay into a fund which would be used to cover the employees. I have posted a portion of the information on his plan below the fold.

Hacker is realistic in admitting that “Health Care for America is not single payer—a vision that, for both political and budgetary reasons, is unlikely to be achieved in the near future.”

Ezra Klein calls this “Medicare for Many” as opposed to Kennedy’s “Medicare for All.” He finds some virtues in the proposal:

You’ll notice that, unlike the other plans, Hacker’s took four sentences to explain. It’s a simple, elegant mechanism for coverage, requiring none of the complex market restructuring and odd coverage schemes of the plans that seek to preserve the private insurance market as a protected whole. Its secondary virtue is that it offers an easy, potential path to effective single-payer, allowing the government insurer to compete with private insurers, and possibly outcompete them as well.

Other liberal bloggers are not as happy. GoozNews fears the plan does not do enough for cost containment. MyDD calls this half a loaf and isn’t satisfied with anything short of single payer universal coverage:

Opposition to single-payer health care and muddled plans like this one or the Wyden one will be the same in intensity. And this one is weird and complicated, like every other plan that isn’t single-payer. This is an issue for the voters. We will have to go to the voters and basically ask them to vote to end the health insurance industry. Barring that, and you’re just not serious about universal health care.

This illustrates why, with all their problems, Republicans win so many elections. Regardless of the faults of any industry, Americans who have grown up under free enterprise are not going to go along with the idea of voting “to end the health insurance industry.” The reason is simple. Voters will substitute their industry for “health insurance” in this phrase and realize that any vote to end an industry has dangers.

The question is whether the goal is to solve problems or achieve ideological purity. Hillary Clinton convinced Bill to agree to veto any health care proposal that Congress passed which was not 100% universal coverage. This was a foolish use of the veto, which should be reserved to stop bad laws and not to prevent laws which simply they do not believe goes far enough. The consequence is that we got nothing, and this will be the result of continuing to demand 100% ideological purity in any proposed plans.

Before the 2004 election John Kerry proposed a plan that preserved choice while providing care for most Americans which The National Journal ranked as best health care proposal among the candidates. For a while I answered questions on health care in the campaign’s official forum. Obviously some who objected were conservatives who would not agree to any new government program, but many people were interested but had concerns. One of the most common questions people asked is whether they would be able to keep their current insurance or would be forced to join a new government program.

Opposition to new government health plans isn’t limited to those who might be harmed financially, but includes a large number of voters. Perhaps they would be better off in a single payer program that would be more cost-effective, but that is not what they currently desire. Ezra is on the right track when he sees such plans as an “easy, potential path to effective single-payer.” Allow people to buy into Medicare (and perhaps the programs now insuring Congress as Kerry proposed), and include ways to make it easier for individuals and small companies to pay for the coverage when necessary. If Medicare can really provide care more economically than the private plans it will evolve into something close to a single payer plan without forcing people to decide. Instead of being eliminated by law, insurance companies will only be eliminated if they cannot compete.

Update: More discussion at The Reality-Based Community

Interview with John Kerry has an interview with John Kerry. Here’s a portion:

Q: You served honorably in Vietnam. The men with whom you served were onstage with you when you accepted your party’s nomination. So how did the Republicans paint you as an enemy of the soldier?
A: Because they spent a huge amount of money lying. And we thought the truth was sufficiently out through the free media. That was one of the mistakes. You needed to put an enormous amount of money behind the truth to counter every lie. And there wasn’t sufficient . . . it wasn’t sufficient.

Q: But you were there in Vietnam. You held a gun.
A: Trust me, I know. But again, everybody believed that the truth was out there. The data indicated that it was. The data was wrong. And therefore, it was a mistake. It would never happen again, if I ever did anything again, I can assure you.

Q: I canvassed friends, and what I heard most was “Please tell me he’s not going to run again.”
A: You know, different people have different feelings. Some people react and say, “Oh, you lost. Why try again?” Well, John McCain ran and lost, and he’s trying again. Ronald Reagan ran four times. Richard Nixon lost the presidency, then ran for governor, lost the governorship, and then six years later, he was president. For six months in ’03, everything I read said I was dead. I felt I could win and would win, and I won the nomination. And I came within a hair of beating a wartime president with a pretty decent economy and a 50 percent approval rating. I think that’s a campaign to be proud of, not defensive about.

Q: You served honorably in Vietnam. The men with whom you served were onstage with you when you accepted your party’s nomination. So how did the Republicans paint you as an enemy of the soldier?
A: Because they spent a huge amount of money lying. And we thought the truth was sufficiently out through the free media. That was one of the mistakes. You needed to put an enormous amount of money behind the truth to counter every lie. And there wasn’t sufficient . . . it wasn’t sufficient.

Q: But you were there in Vietnam. You held a gun.
A: Trust me, I know. But again, everybody believed that the truth was out there. The data indicated that it was. The data was wrong. And therefore, it was a mistake. It would never happen again, if I ever did anything again, I can assure you. (more…)

Kerry Was Right on Terrorism

An Australian blog realizes why too few Americans do–that John Kerry was right on fighting terrorism from the start. Here’s the beginning of the blog entry at Club Troppo:

Militant Islam: Less soldiering, more policing

Posted by D W Griffiths on Friday, January 12, 2007

Back in 2002, then aspiring US presidential candidate John Kerry began arguing that “the war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering law enforcement operation”.

counter_iraq1.jpgTo my ear back then, this sounded like one of Kerry’s more thoughtful contributions. In the struggle against terrors of various sorts over many years, police-style actions of all sorts have usually trumped conventional military force. A series of 20th-century conflicts, not least Vietnam, demonstrates that armoured brigades or infantry platoons do their best work fighting conventional battles. They cannot successfully chase down loose-knit, decentralised networks of militants. Once militants decide to avoid fighting in the open, there are few hard targets for cruise missiles to pick out. Human targets prove even tougher to identify. Most targets are surrounded by civilians who do not react well to seeing Hellfires flying through their neighbours’ windows. You have to convince civilian populations in downtown Islamabad and Mogadishu to turn militants in – a task for which Private John Kryswicki from Duluth, Michigan is almost uniquely ill-equipped. So emphasising intelligence-gathering and law enforcement – “police work”, if you like – sounded the sensible option.

Yet Kerry’s phrase became an embarrassment to his campaign. Through 2004, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney relentlessly argued that September 11 gave the president not just the right but the duty to call out the troops. Declared Bush, to cheering audiences: “After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers”. (more…)

Conservative Confronts Reality

Conservative Rod Dreher had a recent commentary on All Things Considered which shows that conservative propaganda sometimes failes when confronted by reality. Glenn Greenwald discusses this and has portions of the text. Greenwald summarizes the beginning of the commentary:

Dreher, 40, recounts that his “first real political memory” was the 1979 failed rescue effort of the U.S. hostages in Iran. He says he “hated” Jimmy Carter for “shaming America before our enemies with weakness and incompetence.” When Reagan was elected, he believed “America was saved.” Reagan was “strong and confident.” Democrats were “weak and depressed.”

In particular, Dreher recounts how much, during the 1980s, he “disliked hippies – the blame America first liberals who were so hung up on Vietnam, who surrendered to Communists back then just like they want to do now.” In short, Republicans were “winners.” Democrats were “defeatists.”

On 9/11, Dreher’s first thought was : “Thank God we have a Republican in the White House.”

If this was Dreher’s first thought, my reaction to Bush and a crisis was the opposite. I recall watching Thirteen Days, the movie about the Cuban missile crisis, when it came out in December 2000, just before Bush took office. I remember questioning whether, should the country face a real crisis on George Bush’s watch, whether he was up to to task. Both 9/11 and Katrina proved that Bush clearly was capable of responding rationally to such problems.

Since 9/11 we’ve all heard the Republican propaganda that Democrats were unpatriotic, and even that Democrats supported the terrorists to deflect from the actual evidence that Bush’s policies were undermining our national security. Greenwald quoted from Dreher’s commentary showing how Dreher came to realize that it was the Republicans who were wrong: (more…)

Reich Doesn’t Go Far Enough In Criticizing Democratic Medicare D Proposals

Robert Reich writes that the bill promoted by House Democrats to revise the Medicare prescription drug plan does not go far enough since it does not provide for keeping medications off the formulary which do not provide a meaningful discount. There are two other areas where the Democrats should also go further in revising Bush’s Medicare changes–funding to Medicare HMO’s (Medicare Advantage) and the increases in the annual deductible.

While liberals have commonly criticized the Medicare D plan for the manner in which it provides financial windfalls to the pharmaceutical companies, many are unaware of how it also benefits the insurance industry by providing higher payments for treating patients in Medicare Advantage plans than in the government-run program. As I recently discussed, Medicare Advantage plans are a wasteful transfer of taxpayer’s money to the insurance companies.

The Commonwealth Fund recently published a study showing that the provisions in Bush’s Medicare plan to provide extra payment to Medicare HMO’s is costing 5.2 billion per year. Even though Medicare Advantage plans typically cherry pick the healthiest patients, it costs $922 more per year to treat those in Medicare Advantage plans than those in the traditional government-run program. The Commonwealth Fund commented that this money could be better spent on improving the drug benefit to eliminate the donut hole, eliminating the annual problem of the current formula calling for reductions in physician reimbursement, or to reduce the Medicare premium for beneficiaries by ten dollars per month.

While some claim that Medicare Advantage plans provides greater choice, insurance companies with Medicare Advantage programs engage in high pressure sales tactics on elderly Medicare patients who do not understand what is being pushed on them. I have had many patients wind up signing up for Medicare Advantage programs without really understanding what they were signing.

Another change Bush made was to increase the annual Medicare deductible, which had been set at $100 per year for several years. The deductible was initially increased to $110 after the bill was passed and was to be indexed to inflation. As of this January the deductible is up to $131 per year. At this rate it will quickly become a major burden for seniors on fixed incomes. While some duel eligible seniors have the deductible paid by Medicaid, and others have secondary insurances which cover it, many seniors either have no secondary covarage or have secondary insurances which do not cover the deductible.

Getting back to Reich’s arguments regarding the government negotiating lower drug prices, many conservatives fail to understand the economies of health care and argue that the market will set the best price. Prices in health care are not set by the normal rules of supply and demand. As many of the costs are paid by insurances which have a variety of maxium payments there is incentive to set prices above the highest price of who ever pays the most to guarantee that you never charge less than an insurance company will actually pay. This means that the uninsured wind up paying more than those with insurance as they are unable to have prices written down. The current law places Medicare beneficiaries in a comparable situation.

If conservatives don’t understand this, here’s an analogy which they perhaps will understand. Consider hotel rates. Hotels will have a listed price for its rooms, however they will offer lower rates to business travelers, people coming on a number of packages, or even those buying on line. Only suckers pay the full listed price of a room without seeking a discount. Under the present situation, Medicare is the sucker paying full price.