Republican Newspeak and “Supporting” The Troops

How much evidence is needed to show that the Bush administration does not “support the troops” but instead is shamelessly talking advantage of them? AP reports on how they are being denied educational benefits which they anticipated for their service in Iraq. (Hat tip to Steve Benen).

Nearly half the members of one of the longest serving U.S. military units in Iraq are not eligible for a more generous military educational benefit, with some falling one day short of eligibility. . . All 2,600 of the soldiers, who returned this year from Iraq, are eligible for money for school under the GI Bill. But nearly half discovered they weren’t eligible for a more generous package of benefits available to other soldiers. . .

Under the GI Bill, two categories of educational benefits are available to Guard soldiers: one for those who have served less than two years and another for those who have put in more time. Among other things, the latter benefit provides as much as $800 per month for full-time training while the former provides $282.

In order to be eligible for the higher category of benefits it is necessary to  server for 730 days in Iraq. They were brought home after 729 days. Needless to say, many agree with Juan Cole that they were deliberately brought home one day earlier to avoid providing the benefits.

I guess we will have to consider the word “support” as in “support the troops” as another word where it means something different from how we previously used the word. We already know that under Republican newspeak “patriotism” means “blind support for authority”, “capitalism” means “using government to transfer more wealth to the wealthy and big corporations” “science” means “a set of information which we can ignore whenever politically inconvenient” and “freedom” means “living your life as we believe you should.” In this case, whenever listening to Republicans and you hear “support” simply substitute “screw” and you will know what they really mean.

Audits Verify Problems With New Medicare Plans

The New York Times reviewed 91 audit reports which show problems in the plans created by George Bush’s Medicare plan:

Tens of thousands of Medicare recipients have been victims of deceptive sales tactics and had claims improperly denied by private insurers that run the system’s huge new drug benefit program and offer other private insurance options encouraged by the Bush administration, a review of scores of federal audits has found.

The problems, described in 91 audit reports reviewed by The New York Times, include the improper termination of coverage for people with H.I.V. and AIDS, huge backlogs of claims and complaints, and a failure to answer telephone calls from consumers, doctors and drugstores.

Medicare officials have required insurance companies of all sizes to fix the violations by adopting “corrective action plans.” Since March, Medicare has imposed fines of more than $770,000 on 11 companies for marketing violations and failure to provide timely notice to beneficiaries about changes in costs and benefits.

The companies include three of the largest participants in the Medicare market, UnitedHealth, Humana and WellPoint.

The audits document widespread violations of patients’ rights and consumer protection standards. Some violations could directly affect the health of patients — for example, by delaying access to urgently needed medications.

The more serious problem I’ve seen has come from dishonest marketing of Medicare Advantage plans. Under these programs private insurance companies receive huge subsidies to care for Medicare patients at a higher cost than under the government’s Medicare program despite cherry picking the healthier patients. Rather than being used to provide benefits to beneficiaries, the money is largely used to increase corporate profits at the taxpayers’ expense. This provides considerable motivation to deceive seniors into joining the plans:

The same insurance companies that offer stand-alone drug plans also sell Medicare Advantage plans, which provide a full range of benefits including coverage of doctor’s visits and hospital care. Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has grown rapidly, to more than 8 million, from 4.7 million in 2003. Federal auditors found the same types of violations in both parts of the program.

Of the audits conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, 39 focused on drug benefits, 44 focused on managed care plans and 8 examined other types of private plans.

Medicare officials said that compliance problems occurred most often in two areas: marketing, and the handling of appeals and grievances related to the quality of care.

I have found it to be quite common for patients to be signed up in Medicare Advantage plans with no understanding that they have changed their coverage from Medicare to a private plan. Many wind up with less coverage than they had under Medicare and higher out of pocket expenses. They commonly say they were told that the plans were simply things to add to their Medicare coverage, as opposed to replacing it, which would save them money. The investigations have verified that such dishonest sales tactics are widespread.

Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he had “verified countless stories of deceptive sales practices by insurance agents who prey upon the elderly and disabled to sell them expensive and inappropriate private Medicare plans.”

Kathleen Healey, a lawyer at the Alabama Department of Senior Services, said: “Despite the prohibition of door-to-door marketing, agents arrive on residents’ doorsteps stating that the president sent them, or that they represent Medicare. Some telemarketers insist they are calling from Medicare, and they tell beneficiaries that they will lose their Medicare if they do not sign up for the telemarketer’s plan.”

Torture and American Values

The New York Times has an excellent editorial which summarizes the case against torture based upon American values. I might have made similar arguments base upon “liberal values” but the Times is correct in arguing that these truly are American Values.

Once upon a time, it was the United States that urged all nations to obey the letter and the spirit of international treaties and protect human rights and liberties. American leaders denounced secret prisons where people were held without charges, tortured and killed. And the people in much of the world, if not their governments, respected the United States for its values.

The Bush administration has dishonored that history and squandered that respect. As an article on this newspaper’s front page last week laid out in disturbing detail, President Bush and his aides have not only condoned torture and abuse at secret prisons, but they have conducted a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.

After further discussion of the misconduct of the Bush administration, the editorial returns to areas of principle.

For the rest of the nation, there is an immediate question: Is this really who we are?

Is this the country whose president declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and then managed the collapse of Communism with minimum bloodshed and maximum dignity in the twilight of the 20th century? Or is this a nation that tortures human beings and then concocts legal sophistries to confuse the world and avoid accountability before American voters?

Truly banning the use of torture would not jeopardize American lives; experts in these matters generally agree that torture produces false confessions. Restoring the rule of law to Guantánamo Bay would not set terrorists free; the truly guilty could be tried for their crimes in a way that does not mock American values.

Clinging to the administration’s policies will only cause further harm to America’s global image and to our legal system. It also will add immeasurably to the risk facing any man or woman captured while wearing America’s uniform or serving in its intelligence forces.

Beyond the many other arguments which show that torture does not work, the ultimate question is what type of nation we will be. This in itself is reason enough for those who share both liberal and American values to be repulsed by the conduct of the Bush administration. The type of nation we are is also a factor which impacts pragmatic considerations of our national interest. To a certain degree the cold war was a matter of winning hearts and minds, and this is even more the case in the current struggle against the extremism which fuels terrorism.