Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
NPR did a story today about the annual Wise Health Fair at the Wise County Fairgrounds in Fairfax Virginia. Last weekend, volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses, and technicians from the Remote Area Medical Foundation’s Remote America Program treated 2,700 patients, some of whom showed up days in advance to wait in line. (http://www.ramusa.org/) This less than 20 miles from Washington D.C, where healthcare industry lobbyists are spending two billion dollars this year on their friends in Congress.
Two weeks ago, Bill Moyers introduced us to Wendell Potter, former public relations head for Cigna HealthCare. Potter told how he had a ‘road to Damascus’ moment a few years ago when he left the rarified air of the Washington boardrooms and visited his father in flyover country. He happened to visit a health fair near his father’s home in Tennessee that offered free medical treatment to uninsured people, some of whom travelled hundreds of miles to wait in long lines to have medical and dental procedures performed under sun shades in an open parking lot. This was an eye opener for him, because in his life as a healthcare executive, he had no contact with people who lacked health coverage. He has since become an advocate of healthcare reform.
He spoke of the shrinking “medical loss ratio,” how in 1990 the insurance companies paid out 95 cents out of every healthcare dollar on care. That number is now down to eighty cents. The rest goes to shareholders, who like it that way; when the M.L.R. rises, the share price falls.
Potter spoke of the big players, Americas Health Insurance Plans, or A.H.I.P, the American Medical Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America,(PhRMA) being on a charm offensive that is bound to end, because “the status quo works for them.” They do support an individual mandate for health insurance, because it will mean more customers for them, but they will fight to protect their revenue stream, spending two billion dollars this year to lobby congress.
Phillips made a good point for Medicare for all when he pointed out that Medicare customers are happier with their coverage than customers of private health insurance companies.
Last week Bill Moyers had Dr. Marcia Angell on his show. She is a former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine and now is a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Medical School. She says that we make a grave mistake in the way we treat healthcare as a commodity, that market ideology is what makes our system so dreadful. She was pessimistic about the measures being considered in congress, but had a good idea for getting us to a single payer system.
“Make Medicare nonprofit, you could do it decade by decade, but extend it down to age 55, and age 45, and age 35. It would give the private insurance industry a chance to go into hurricanes, earthquakes, or something. To get out of the business.”
Amen to that.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
News that gets my goat..
-Texas Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison both voted to spend $1.75 billion to build more F-22 fighter planes, planes that the Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Pentagon don’t want. According to the Pentagon, the F-22 costs over $44,000 an hour to fly, and initially requires 30 hours of maintenance for each hour of flight; more with wear and tear. Although this wonder plane is unable to fly in the rain, it has yet to see duty in the arid Iraq or Afghan theatres of war. This raises the question of what is this plane for, other than as a make-work project for Lockheed Martin/Boeing, who has farmed-out the manufacturing process to so many Congressional districts that the spare parts are not interchangeable.
-I hope you’ve been following “The Family,” the C Street row house owned by a group variously known as “The Fellowship,” or “Youth With A Mission,” that serves as a low-rent boardinghouse for adulterous Republican authorities on family values Mark Sanford, John Ensign, and Chip Pickering, as well as nutcase Oklahoma Senator Dr. Tom Coburn. Apparently the owner of 133 C Street SE can offer budget accommodations because, as a religious organization, they pay no property tax on the 1.84 million-dollar row house. I guess these guys are all for a “wall of separation” in this case.
-Seventeen out of twenty Texas GOP Congressmen voted against putting Congress’ pay-as-you-go budget rules into permanent law and giving presidents power to sequester funds when congress breaks those rules. I’d say the Republicans ought to finally give up all pretense of being the party of fiscal conservatism. Furthermore, after hearing them bandy about the word “treason” all these years whenever somebody disagrees with them, I wonder if they’re actually practicing it, betraying this American republic in favor of plutocracy, a government of, by, and for the moneyed. And that goes for you too, Blue Dogs. Rather than standing with your constituents or for your principles, it appears that you're filling your campaign coffers.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Twenty-three Trillion Dollars?
Special inspector general Neil Barofsky, overseer of the Troubled Asset Relief Program reported to Congress yesterday that the federal government has shoveled $4.7 trillion into Wall Street, and that our maximum exposure could total $23.7 trillion, or $80,000 for every American.
Closest I can come to getting my mind around these figures is to think of the run on the Bailey Building and Loan, when George Bailey doled out his honeymoon bankroll to the panicked mob. The four trillion is what he passed out, against the twenty-three trillion the people saw in their passbooks.
All this while the Congress is in vapor-lock over the CBO- estimated cost of universal health insurance topping one trillion dollars over ten years time. In a country that has spent three trillion dollars so far making war in Iraq.
Last week I read that Goldman Sachs has earmarked $11 billion so far this year for bonuses. The same week that I read Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone saying that Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression, such as the oil futures market, whereby when you buy a tank of gasoline, the gas has been bought and sold eleven times already.
My eyes glaze over.
I liked Barney Franks’ take on the bonus story; that he took it to mean that Wall Street was asking Congress to act on executive compensation.
I remember George W. Bush saying that the economy was evidently in great shape because we were minting so many new billionaires. Makes me think “so that’s where all the money went.”
Starting to think that the solution to billionaires is to send in James Bond to blow up their island fortress and watch it sink into the sea.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Friedman Drinks Tea
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes from Afghanistan this week where he met with Admiral Mike Mullen and Greg Mortenson. Here’s some..
“PUSHGHAR, Afghanistan — I confess, I find it hard to come to Afghanistan and not ask: Why are we here? Who cares about the Taliban? Al-Qaida is gone. And if its leaders come back, well, that’s why God created cruise missiles.
But every time I start writing that column, something stills my hand.
"This week it was something very powerful. I watched Greg Mortenson, the famed author of Three Cups of Tea, open one of his schools for girls in this remote village in the Hindu Kush mountains. I must say, after seeing the faces of those little Afghan girls crowded three to a desk waiting to learn, I found it very hard to write, “Let’s just get out of here.”
“Indeed, Mortenson’s efforts remind us what the essence of the “war on terrorism” is about. It’s about the war of ideas within Islam — a war between religious zealots who glorify martyrdom and want to keep Islam untouched by modernity and isolated from other faiths, with its women disempowered, and those who want to embrace modernity, open Islam to new ideas and empower Muslim women as much as men.
"America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were, in part, an effort to create the space for the Muslim progressives to fight and win so that the real engine of change, something that takes nine months and 21 years to produce — a new generation — can be educated and raised differently.
“Which is why it was no accident that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — spent half a day in order to reach Mortenson’s newest school and cut the ribbon. Getting there was fun. Imagine a one-story school on the moon, and you’ll appreciate the rocky desolateness of this landscape.
“While the admiral passed out notebooks, Mortenson told me why he has devoted his life to building 131 secular schools for girls in Pakistan and another 48 in Afghanistan: “These are secular schools that will bring a new generation of kids that will have a broader view of the world. We focus on areas where there is no education. Religious extremism flourishes in areas of isolation and conflict.
“When a girl gets educated here and then becomes a mother, she will be much less likely to let her son become a militant or insurgent,” he added. “When a girl learns how to read and write, one of the first things she does is teach her own mother. The girls will bring home meat and veggies, wrapped in newspapers, and the mother will ask the girl to read the newspaper to her, and the mothers will learn about politics and about women who are exploited.”
“It is no accident, Mortenson noted, that since 2007, the Taliban and its allies have bombed, burned or shut down more than 640 schools in Afghanistan and 350 in Pakistan. This is the real war of ideas. The Taliban want public mosques, not public schools.
“This new school teaches grades one through six. I asked some girls through an interpreter what they wanted to be when they grow up: “Teacher!” shouted one. “Doctor!” shouted another. Those are the only two educated role models these girls encounter. Where were they going to school before Mortenson and the U.S. State Department joined with the village elders to get this school built? “The mosque,” the girls said.
“Mortenson said he was originally critical of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he’s changed his views: “The U.S. military has gone through a huge learning curve. They really get it. It’s all about building relationships from the ground up, listening more and serving the people of Afghanistan.”
“So there you have it. In grand strategic terms, I still don’t know if this Afghan war makes sense anymore.
“But when you see two little Afghan girls on the front steps of their new school, clutching the notebooks handed to them by a U.S. admiral — as if they were their first dolls — it’s hard to say: “Let’s just walk away.” Not yet.”
-Well, it would be hard to argue with Mortenson, who has put his life on the line with the Afghan people ever since one of them carried him out of a frozen mountain pass to safety in a remote village.
I have to wonder about the numbers though, when he builds 180 schools as the Taliban destroy 1000. Are we going to destroy the country in order to save it? And do we have the stomach to spend blood and treasure for however many years it takes? I don’t even think we have the attention span required to put our own affairs in order.
I hope our president knows what he’s getting in to: may he show us what world leadership is about.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The Incredible Shrinking Press
The Monday Chronicle felt so light I had to count the pages. Eight, ten, eight, eight; that’s thirty-four pages total. A one-page op-ed section.
Tuesday’s totaled thirty-eight pages. The Op-Ed section is one page again; one editorial, a Krugman column, a piece by Kay Bailey, (probably came at no charge, or did her campaign pay to place it?) five letters, and the daily Bible verse. (John 14:17)
Notice how they shuffle the remaining content so you can’t find anything. They must think that we won’t notice the missing features that way.
At least they still run the comics so I can get my Get Fuzzy and Pearls Before Swine on. If it weren’t for that and the grocery coupons, I’d cancel my subscription and take the Times; say what you will, they still employ reporters and print news.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
The Phone’s for You
Baytown fast-food manager tricked into pulling alarm
BAYTOWN — The manager of a Baytown fast-food restaurant was duped by a prank caller into pulling a lever triggering fire suppression equipment that soaked the eatery with foam.
BAYTOWN — The manager of a Baytown fast-food restaurant was duped by a prank caller into pulling a lever triggering fire suppression equipment that soaked the eatery with foam.
The caller told an Arby's general manager Sunday that he was from the fire department, and the lever had to be pulled for a test to be performed. Nothing happened the first time it was pulled, so the manager was instructed to pull the lever again, which prompted spray from the ceilings, The Baytown Sun reported.
The caller then told the manager to break the windows and evacuate the building. Workers evacuated, but did not break the windows.
The restaurant was shut down for cleanup. Police said several area businesses have received similar calls, and they are seeking the public's help
If caller says to trash your hotel room, think twice
Rebecca Beitsch and Amy L. Edwards Orlando Sentinel Staff Writers
Lisa Kantorski took the call from the person who claimed to be a front-desk clerk about a gas leak in their hotel room near Orlando International Airport.She frantically relayed the information to her husband, Mark, an Indian River County deputy. He followed the caller's instructions ... and smashed the window of his room with a toilet tank.
"When I broke the window, I got suspicious," Mark said. "It didn't seem right, but she [Lisa] was panicking, so I continued."
Just before 7 a.m. Monday, the Kantorskis had no idea they were the latest victims of a prankster — or pranksters — whose tricks are sweeping the nation. The unknown protagonists dupe otherwise rational people into doing outrageous things, including driving trucks through storefronts and breaking hotel windows to test fire alarms.
The Monday incident follows others from across the country:
•In Arkansas, a caller posing as a sprinkler-company employee persuaded a motel employee to do more than $50,000 in damage to a motel as part of a "test" of the motel's emergency alarms.
•At a Comfort Suites in Daphne, Ala., a caller ordered a guest to turn on the sprinklers for a fire that wasn't. The result: more than $10,000 in damage.
•In Nebraska, a Hampton Inn employee was convinced by a caller to pull the fire alarm, later telling him the only way to silence the alarm was by breaking the lobby windows. The employee enlisted the help of a nearby trucker, who drove his rig through the front door.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Alberto Gonzales Gets a Job
Texas Tech University Chancellor Kent Hance confirmed Tuesday that former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will teach a course at Tech next fall.
Anonymous sources in the Department of Neuroscience say that Gonzales will teach classes on the encoding, storage, and retrieval of memories.
This is a funny turnabout for long-time George W. Bush mouthpiece Gonzales as Kent Hance is the only man to ever successfully beat Bush in an election. He did it in 1978 in the Texas 19th Congressional District by telling voters that Bush was not a real Texan, and by plastering the windshields of tee totaling Texas churchgoers with phony invitations to a Bush campaign beer blast. Bush said afterwards that he wasn’t going to be out-Christianed or out-good-old-boyed again.
Hance switched to the Republican Party in 1985, after seeing Phil Gramm parlay his party-jump into a U.S. Senate seat in 1984. After running unsuccessfully several times for higher office, he was appointed to the Tech position by the Rick Perry appointed Board of Regents in 2006.
When I saw that the front page headline this morning was about a new sign ordinance in the City of Houston, I figured we must be into the dog days already. In the first week in July?
I got online later and found some real news. Watchdog group Common Cause reported last month that spending by the healthcare lobby is up to $1.4 million a week now that Congress is preparing legislation. They will spend half a billion dollars this year to defend the status quo, their gravy train.
They don’t have to kill the bill, they can get the sluts in Congress to pass whatever they like, and call it reform. Remember the Medicare Prescription Drug Act of 2003? What was supposed to be a benefit for seniors became a cash cow for the pharmaceutical industry. Five hundred billion dollars over ten years. The seniors got the donut hole.
Rep. Billy Tauzin, Republican from Louisiana, was Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees the pharmaceutical industry that year. The next year he gave up his seat to become the head of the PhARMA trade group, making over $2 million a year.
If this is the sort of reform you’re looking for, you’re in luck. Just sit back and watch American Idle. It’s a lock.
If you have something else in mind, now is the time to tell your Congressman about it. www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml Tell them that they’re gonna lose their health coverage if you vote them out of office next year.
Monday, July 06, 2009
Robert Strange McNamara 1916 - 2009
Robert McNamara died today at his home in Washington D.C. He was 93.
Born in Oakland California, McNamara took a BA in economics from Berkeley and an MBA from Harvard. He was a Harvard professor in 1943 when he joined the army and put his statistical analysis skills to work designing bombing missions for General Curtis E. LeMay.
LeMay was the original man from Mars, an innovator in the field of strategic bombing, the man who famously wanted to “bomb Viet Nam back into the stone age.” LeMay built and presided over the Strategic Air Command. For years he controlled the US nuclear arsenal, and was prevented by the executive branch from using it on numerous occasions. When McNamara became Secretary of Defense in 1961 General LeMay told him that he was not authorized to see the nuclear weapons plan.
In Errol Morris’s 2004 film “The Fog of War,” McNamara said that if the Japanese had won World War II that he and LeMay would have been tried as war criminals over the 100,000 civilians killed in the firebombing of Japanese cities.
After World War II, McNamara went to work at the Ford Motor Company, one of the “whiz kids” that re-organized the then-ailing company. McNamara helped kill the Edsel, and developed the Ford Falcon. (Lee Iacocca developed the Mustang) In 1960 he became the first non family member to run Ford. He soon left to become Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ.
McNamara was excoriated by many of the two million American Viet Nam veterans who considered him the architect of our hopeless war strategy, a liar who put their lives on the line behind his lies.
This view is substantiated in General H.R. McMaster’s book “Dereliction of Duty” in which the author maintains that McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff ill-served the country by going along with LBJ’s escalation of the war.
By 1967 McNamara became convinced that the Viet Nam War was unwinnable, and urged Johnson to find a way out. Johnson responded by awarding him the Medal of Freedom (sound familiar?) and either firing him or accepting his resignation, McNamara himself was unsure which.
In 1968, McNamara and McGeorge Bundy approached then-presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey and offered him support should he run on a platform of ending the war. Humphrey said that he would have to meet with LBJ first, and when Johnson kept him waiting for hours, Humphrey lost his nerve and declined the offer. Americans continued to fight and die in Viet Nam for seven more years.
Late in life McNamara said that he was proud of his accomplishments and sorry for his mistakes. When asked about the 58,000 Americans who died in Viet Nam he said that the question is what would we learn from it.
Errol Morris told NPR today that McNamara opposed the Iraq War too, but never went public with his misgivings. Apparently the lessons of Viet Nam were lost on him.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
I enjoy the Marketplace show on American Public Radio, but I’ve heard a couple of bits lately from David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute that are starting to get my goat. Frum is a conservative from Canada who has drawn paychecks from the Wall Street Journal and the Bush/Cheney White House. His latest patron is the A.E.I, a Washington think tank that employs Tory dimbulbs like Phil Gramm and Newt Gingrich, and has taken over a million dollars from Exxon Mobil to dispute Climate Change.
I heard Frum last month complaining about the lack of business experience on the Supreme Court, as if the court had been hostile to the corporate governance of this country. Six or seven Justices are millionaires, and most have sizable holdings in stocks and investment accounts, some have had occasion to recuse themselves from certain cases to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest. Does Frum think that we should seat Steve Forbes and Rupert Murdoch to quash the War on Capitol?
And just the other day I heard him go on about housing initiatives during the Clinton and Bush years bringing down the economy by selling houses to people that couldn’t afford them.
This is the meme we hear from Republicans explaining how the Bush Recession delivered a major hit to everybody’s net worth. John Boehner spouted it at the GOP Senate-House Dinner; that the crash happened because some people bought more house than they could afford, and because some people don’t pay their credit card bills on time.
Nothing about the unsustainable level of public and private debt built up since the Reagan administration, nothing about the Republican-led repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that reformed practices that brought on the great depression, or the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, that Phil Gramm or maybe Ken Lay wrote that commenced world-wide speculation in the modern equivalent of tulip bulbs. Nothing about the financial sector of the economy eclipsing the manufacturing sector in recent decades, of the infallible wisdom of “the market,” which nevertheless requires frequent bailouts from the taxpaying public.
If Republicans think that they have to lie about the causes of the Bush Recession, why don’t they stick with the “gay marriage killed the dinosaurs” line. Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern offers the "Oklahoma Citizen's Proclamation for Morality." It reads like something we might hear from Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps..
The proclamation states: "Whereas, we believe our economic woes are consequences of our greater national moral crisis; and Whereas, this nation has become a world leader in promoting abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse ,and many other forms of debauchery."
What a crock..
Friday, July 03, 2009
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
The House passed the Cap and Trade Energy Bill and sent it along to the Senate, where it will be further neutered, if the thousands of lobbyists for coal and oil interests have their way.
The Chron has a column from Thomas Friedman today saying that this bill, or what’s left of it, is still worth passing. See how he wraps up..
“And then there is We the People. Attention all young Americans: your climate future is being decided right now in the cloakrooms of the Capitol, where the coal lobby holds huge sway. You want to make a difference? Then get out of Facebook and into somebody’s face. Get a million people on the Washington Mall calling for a price on carbon. That will get the Senate’s attention. Play hardball or don’t play at all.”
I don’t usually bother with our troglodyte Senator John Cornyn, but Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson has been known to split from the know-nothing party line from time to time. Please drop her a line. http://hutchison.senate.gov/