Monday, August 31, 2009


Bob Cesca
Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog
August 31, 2009

Without falling into the "Obama should do X" trap and at the risk of joining the cacophony of theories about the recent polls, I think it's pretty clear why the president's numbers are sagging.
While Americans tend to say to pollsters that they're sick of partisan bickering and the like, they actually kind of dig it from the perspective of wanting someone -- anyone -- to stand up and take strong leadership role. (Americans, despite what they say, also like fighting and competitions. See also the ratings of various reality shows.)
And on healthcare reform we're essentially being told, and thousands per day are experiencing first hand with great pain, the life and death nature of healthcare reform. Yet we're also told that such life and death matters can be compromised, and that compromise ought to be negotiated with a group of politicians who want to crush reform. In other words: here's the life-saving solution, but the solution needs to be weakened for some reason.
If a patient is having a massive heart attack, this is not unlike negotiating away one of the defib paddles. Well, maybe one paddle will do the trick because Dr. Wingnut McGooper doesn't agree that the patient is dying and, in fact, thinks saving the patient's life is a secret plot to kill the patient.
It's absurd and it has to stop. Now.
This is a matter of life and death. The equivalent of 9/11 casualties every two months due to our broken system. No more compromise. No more bipartisanship porn. Save this patient.
Copyright 2009 Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Bob Cesca
Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog
August 28, 2009

Something struck me while watching Bill Maher tonight. Not because of anything Maher, Moyers or Jay-Z said specifically. It was just a thought that occurred to me while watching.
When Republicans are in power, liberals attack the Republicans with ferocity. When Democrats are in power, liberals attack Democrats with the same ferocity.
Honestly, I don't know if this is good for the nation or good for liberalism or what. Seriously. As near as I can tell, attacking Democratic leaders from their left flank is a major aspect of the liberal/progressive style, especially since the Democratic Party now spans such a broad stretch of the ideological spectrum and many of our party leaders are still closer to the middle than they are to the left (the Republicans, on the other hand occupy a rapidly shrinking and crazy part of the spectrum).
So how do we adequately influence Democratic leadership to pay more attention to the left without blowing up the whole thing in the process -- a chain reaction that has, in the past, contributed in some way to the rise of despotic Republican administrations (Examples: LBJ disillusionment leading to Nixon, Clinton disillusionment leading to Bush)?
I suspect there's a sweet spot in the space between necessary influence and self-defeat that we haven't quite locked onto yet. I hope we find it.
Copyright 2009 Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

BocaGuy: We're going to miss you Ted - 'Lion of the Senate' .

"This is the cause of my life. For four decades I have carried this cause — from the floor of the United States Senate to every part of this country. It has never been merely a question of policy; it goes to the heart of my belief in a just society." —Ted Kennedy on healthcare reform
Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

Copyright 2009 Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Guns of August

Frank Rich
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
August 22, 2009

“IT is time to water the tree of liberty” said the sign carried by a gun-toting protester milling outside President Obama’s town-hall meeting in New Hampshire two weeks ago. The Thomas Jefferson quote that inspired this message, of course, said nothing about water: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” That’s the beauty of a gun — you don’t have to spell out the “blood.”

The protester was a nut. America has never had a shortage of them. But what’s Tom Coburn’s excuse? Coburn is a Republican senator from Oklahoma, where 168 people were murdered by right-wing psychopaths who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Their leader, Timothy McVeigh, had the Jefferson quote on his T-shirt when he committed this act of mass murder. Yet last Sunday, when asked by David Gregory on “Meet the Press” if he was troubled by current threats of “violence against the government,” Coburn blamed not the nuts but the government.

“Well, I’m troubled any time when we stop having confidence in our government,” the senator said, “but we’ve earned it.”

Coburn is nothing if not consistent. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, he was part of a House contingent that helped delay and soften an antiterrorism bill. This cohort even tried to strip out a provision blocking domestic fund-raising by foreign terrorist organizations like Hamas. Why? The far right, in league with the National Rifle Association, was angry at the federal government for aggressively policing America’s self-appointed militias. In a 1996 floor speech, Coburn conceded that “terrorism obviously poses a serious threat,” but then went on to explain that the nation had worse threats to worry about: “There is a far greater fear that is present in this country, and that is fear of our own government.” As his remarks on “Meet the Press” last week demonstrated, the subsequent intervention of 9/11 has not changed his worldview.
I have been writing about the simmering undertone of violence in our politics since October, when Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential candidate of a major political party, said nothing to condemn Obama haters shrieking “Treason!,” “Terrorist!” and “Off with his head!” at her rallies. As vacation beckons, I’d like to drop the subject, but the atmosphere keeps getting darker.

Coburn’s implicit rationalization for far-right fanatics bearing arms at presidential events — the government makes them do it! — cannot stand. He’s not a radio or Fox News bloviator paid a fortune to be outrageous; he’s a card-carrying member of the United States Senate. On Monday — the day after he gave a pass to those threatening violence — a dozen provocateurs with guns, at least two of them bearing assault weapons, showed up for Obama’s V.F.W. speech in Phoenix. Within hours, another member of Congress — Phil Gingrey of Georgia — was telling Chris Matthews on MSNBC that as long as brandishing guns is legal, he, too, saw no reason to discourage Americans from showing up armed at public meetings.

In April the Department of Homeland Security issued a report, originally commissioned by the Bush administration, on the rising threat of violent right-wing extremism. It was ridiculed by conservatives, including the Republican chairman, Michael Steele, who called it “the height of insult.” Since then, a neo-Nazi who subscribed to the anti-Obama “birther” movement has murdered a guard at the Holocaust museum in Washington, and an anti-abortion zealot has gunned down a doctor in a church in Wichita, Kan.

This month the Southern Poverty Law Center, the same organization that warned of the alarming rise in extremist groups before the Oklahoma City bombing, issued its own report. A federal law enforcement agent told the center that he hadn’t seen growth this steep among such groups in 10 to 12 years. “All it’s lacking is a spark,” he said.

This uptick in the radical right predates the health care debate that is supposedly inspiring all the gun waving. Nor can this movement be attributed to a stepped-up attack by Democrats on this crowd’s holy Second Amendment. Since taking office, Obama has disappointed gun-control advocates by relegating his campaign pledge to reinstate the ban on assault weapons to the down-low.

No, the biggest contributor to this resurgence of radicalism remains panic in some precincts about a new era of cultural and demographic change. As the sociologist Daniel Bell put it, “What the right as a whole fears is the erosion of its own social position, the collapse of its power, the increasing incomprehensibility of a world — now overwhelmingly technical and complex — that has changed so drastically within a lifetime.”
Bell’s analysis appeared in his essay “The Dispossessed,” published in 1962, between John Kennedy’s election and assassination. J.F.K., no more a leftist than Obama, was the first Roman Catholic in the White House and the tribune of a new liberal order. Bell could have also written his diagnosis in 1992, between Bill Clinton’s election and the Oklahoma City bombing. Clinton, like Kennedy and Obama, brought liberals back into power after a conservative reign and represented a generational turnover that stoked the fears of the dispossessed.

While Bell’s essay remains relevant in 2009, he could not have imagined in 1962 that major politicians, from a vice-presidential candidate down, would either enable or endorse a radical and armed fringe. Nor could he have imagined that so many conservative intellectuals would remain silent. William F. Buckley did make an effort to distance National Review from the John Birch Society. The only major conservative writer to repeatedly and forthrightly take on the radical right this year is David Frum. He ended a recent column for The Week, titled “The Reckless Right Courts Violence,” with a plea that the president “be met and bested on the field of reason,” not with guns.

Those on the right who defend the reckless radicals inevitably argue “The left does it too!” It’s certainly true that both the left and the right traffic in bogus, Holocaust-trivializing Hitler analogies, and, yes, the protesters of the antiwar group Code Pink have disrupted Congressional hearings. But this is a false equivalence. Code Pink doesn’t show up on Capitol Hill with firearms. And, as the 1960s historian Rick Perlstein pointed out on the Washington Post Web site last week, not a single Democratic politician endorsed the Weathermen in the Vietnam era.

This week the journalist Ronald Kessler’s new behind-the-scenes account of presidential security, “In the President’s Secret Service,” rose to No. 3 on The Times nonfiction best-seller list. No wonder there’s a lot of interest in the subject. We have no reason to believe that these hugely dedicated agents will fail us this time, even as threats against Obama, according to Kessler, are up 400 percent from those against his White House predecessor.

But as we learned in Oklahoma City 14 years ago — or at the well-protected Holocaust museum just over two months ago — this kind of irrational radicalism has a myriad of targets. And it is impervious to reason. Much as Coburn fought an antiterrorism bill after the carnage of Oklahoma City, so three men from Bagdad, Ariz., drove 2,500 miles in 1964 to testify against a bill tightening federal controls on firearms after the Kennedy assassination. As the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote in his own famous Kennedy-era essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” these Arizona gun enthusiasts were convinced that the American government was being taken over by a “subversive power.” Sound familiar?

Even now the radicals are taking a nonviolent toll on the Obama presidency. Obama complains, not without reason, that the news media, led by cable television, exaggerate the ruckus at health care events. But why does he exaggerate the legitimacy and clout of opposition members of Congress who, whether through silence or outright endorsement, are surrendering to the nuts? Even Charles Grassley, the supposedly adult Iowa Republican who is the Senate point man for his party on health care, has now capitulated to the armed fringe by publicly parroting their “pull the plug on grandma” fear-mongering.

For all the talk of Obama’s declining poll numbers this summer, he towers over his opponents. In last week’s Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, only 21 percent approve of how Republicans in Congress are handling health care reform (as opposed to the president’s 41 percent). Should Obama fail to deliver serious reform because his administration treats the pharmaceutical and insurance industries as deferentially as it has the banks, that would be shameful. Should he fail because he in any way catered to a decimated opposition party that has sunk and shrunk to its craziest common denominator, that would be ludicrous.

The G.O.P., whose ranks have now dwindled largely to whites in Dixie and the less-populated West, is not even a paper tiger — it’s a paper muskrat. James Carville is correct when he says that if Republicans actually carried out their filibuster threats on health care, it would be a political bonanza for the Democrats.
In last year’s campaign debates, Obama liked to cite his unlikely Senate friendship with Tom Coburn, of all people, as proof that he could work with his adversaries. If the president insists that enemies like this are his friends — and that the nuts they represent can be placated by reason — he will waste his opportunity to effect real change and have no one to blame but himself.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stating The Obvious

BocaGuy: It's time to get tough!

distributorcap NY


Here is the obvious - the Health Care Reform debate has gotten away from President Obama. It is as if he opened Pandora's box, but instead of only the ills of the world's escaping - he let the lunatics out of their padded cells and completely take over the asylum.

I don't know if it was hubris, arrogance, laziness or just plain ignorance that allowed Obama - who proved during the campaign that he understood clarity of message and control of the data flow better than any politician in a generation - to let one of the most crucial piece of his platform fall into such disarray.

The mistakes have been so numerous and so damaging (egged along by a media that enjoyed watching this twist in the wind), I don't think it can be rescusitated into anything other than a Pyrrhic victory - a victory his team can celebrate and the rest of the country will eventually end up regretting.

So Mr. Obama, my ideas - I think it might be too late - but you might want to consider. Remember this is a country that buys bottled tap water.
  1. Finally get into your skulls that the combination of Republican crook Richard Nixon and Republican moron Ronald Reagan really made a lot of people - including some people considered liberal/progressive - not trust hate the government. 35 years after Nixon and 20 years after Reagan, the country has not forgotten the criminal activity of 37th President and the disdain shown to federal activity by the 40th. Hating the government is a whole cottage industry.
  2. Job #1 - assume your audience is stupid. Never indicate they are, but assume they are. Explain and give examples. Never get mad at them, but allow yourself to actually get mad at the opposition. But always assume the public really doesn't understand what you are trying to do.
  3. Hold the party to one message. It seems every leading Democrat said something different, then would change their minds and then would disagree with another Democrat. Even someone like myself, who supports this reform, found the whole message process ridiculously confusing and extremely inconsistent. Again egged on by the media - the spokesmen for reform fell right into the "media loves theater" trap and let the media call the shots. As bad as Bush was in everything he did, the one thing his administration mastered was staying on message - an evil and vile message, but a consistent one.
  4. The message HAS to be something along the lines of "you need this," not "We want to do this for you." There is a big difference. That is how Bush/Rove sold the war - "we have to go to war," not "we want to go to war."
  5. There are way too many spokespeople, way too many egos, and way too many chiefs. Obama, Conrad, Baucus, Sibelius etc. Then as the message got muddled more people spoke out - Wiener, Feingold, Blue Dogs, etc. One or two people should have been the point people - appearing on every media outlet and being the voice and brains of the plan. Let the opposition have too many voices. Obama should have picked his messengers and said to the rest of the party - defer to them and say nothing else. The perfect two would have been Howard Dean and Kathleen Sibelius. Everyone else would just say, "Mr. Dean will comment on that, or Ms. Sibelius has the details." or they would say nothing. Problem is Rahm Emanuel hates Dean and the rest of the Democrats just love air time too much.
  6. You should have thought about the title, you would be surprised how critical this is. From day one it should have been calledHealth Finance Reform. Never say Health care reform - sounds too much like actual medical procedures would be subject to legislative fiat, when it really is just about the money side - finance, payments and costs. And once they started with the right title - NO Democrat should ever call it anything other than Health Finance Reform. This one small step would have saved an incredible amount of tsoris.
  7. Make the plan simple and short - just like a resume - one page only. Make a plan that is easy to describe to the millions of brain damaged folks in this country - you know the ones that would actually vote for Sarah Palin or actually believe there would be forced euthanasia. Anyone who believes that these Death Panels were on the 'docket' belongs in asylum. When you have a portion of the population that fails to understand their own stupidity - you need to not only make the message clear, but simple and short. The 1,000 page (or so) bill that appeared only made matters worse - it makes even the smarter people suspicious of hidden and buried "treasures." As awful as the "Contract of America" was in its content, it was brilliant it is simplicity and terseness. That is exactly what Obama should have rolled out - a plan even a Sarah Palin lover could understand.
  8. Stop making everything that comes out of the White House look like it is a campaign for 2012. This sure did to me.
  9. Never stop talking about Medicare and Veteran's health care being government programs. Force the Republicans who do not want government run health financing to state what they would do with Medicare and the VA. Do not relent on this. Exposing hypocrisy is probably the most valuable tool in the arsenal - and for some reason the Democrats are just loath (or don't know how) to use it.
  10. Understand that the entire media is NOT on your side and proceed from there. Even the "liberal" media would rather have fights and battles for good theater, rather than an honest and open (and boring) conversation for good legislation. From what I see - virtually every politician would rather participate in Battle of the Network Politicians than actually make policy.
  11. Never stop taking about how that Joe the Plumber and Jane the Ignorant Slut would save money with a low overhead and less expensive public option. Whether you get the public option is almost irrelevant - it more important that the people not hate the public option that actually have one. It is all about perception.
  12. Not only make the plan simple and have a clear message - but how about having real conversations. The amount of sidestepping and euphemistic language that was used would make George Orwell proud. I actually think Obama was afraid to broach some subjects - for fear of offending potential 2012 voters (see above). As stupid as I think many Americans are, there are millions who are intelligent and actually appreciate more plain and honest language. For example - instead of letting the Death Panel accusations take a life on of its own - the Dean/Sibelius team could have educated those same people about the true cost of keeping people alive in the final months.
  13. Understand that Americans really hate change and really like to be entertained. The media made this a circus because they need to sell soap. Americans made this a fiasco because any change to them means disruption. Even if the disruption will actually benefit them, it means disruption.
  14. It is actually OK to have some policies that might seem socialist - and you shouldn't be embarrassed by that. Remind people that - Medicare, the police, the fire dept, the highways, the military, the sewers, FEMA, the National Institute of Health, their free Swine Flu shots, etc. are all socialist.
  15. And finally please stop thinking the Republicans will work with you - they won't - even if it is to the country's advantage. The GOP is Butch to your Spanky and Alfalfa. The Republicans have only one point in their entire playbook or platform - defeat Democrats at all costs. They simply could give a rat's ass about anything else. Stop taking their dangling carrot. If you walk away from them once - they might actually come running to you for some cover.

Copyright 2009 distributorcap NY

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Bob Cesca
Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

August 18, 2009

Lesson in Republican politics.

You give up the voluntary end-of-life reimbursements and they come for the public option. You cave and give up the public option, and they come for the co-ops. (Another item here.)

When does it end?

Unless the bill privatizes Medicare, abolishes Social Security and replaces Secretary Sebelius with Kelly Prejean, Republicans will vote against any healthcare reform bill.

I don't agree that the White House and the Democrats need to employ the crazy, illegal tactics of the Bush administration. But crumbling and capitulating every time the Republicans make a loud noise is disgraceful.

Copyright 2009 Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

Monday, August 17, 2009


Bob Cesca
Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

August 17, 2009

Yes, the president would do well to make a much stronger push for the public option. But it's really not up to him. Congress writes the law. And the following might be the most effective argument in support of the public option when it comes down to attacking the Republicans and the Blue Dogs who are threatening to kill the plan:

The CBO estimates that the public option would save about $150 billion over the next ten years -- that's roughly $1,100 for every taxpayer. I'm certainly not thrilled to have to pay an additional $1,100 in taxes because some Blue Dog Democrats want to placate their friends in the insurance industry.

Why do the Blue Dogs and Republicans want to raise my taxes? This is a terrific argument and we should be repeating this to everyone who will listen. Especially the lawmakers on our contact list.

Adding... Of course I understand and embrace the moral reasons for the public option. This is about hitting the Republicans and Blue Dogs from their right flank on something that resonates with voters: taxes.

Copyright 2009 Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The "death panels" are already here

Sorry, Sarah Palin -- rationing of care? Private companies are already doing it, with sometimes fatal results

Mike Madden
Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009

The future of healthcare in America, according to Sarah Palin, might look something like this: A sick 17-year-old girl needs a liver transplant. Doctors find an available organ, and they're ready to operate, but the bureaucracy -- or as Palin would put it, the "death panel" -- steps in and says it won't pay for the surgery. Despite protests from the girl's family and her doctors, the heartless hacks hold their ground for a critical 10 days. Eventually, under massive public pressure, they relent -- but the patient dies before the operation can proceed.

It certainly sounds scary enough to make you want to go show up at a town hall meeting and yell about how misguided President Obama's healthcare reform plans are. Except that's not the future of healthcare -- it's the present. Long before anyone started talking about government "death panels" or warning that Obama would have the government ration care, 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan, a leukemia patient from Glendale, Calif., died in December 2007, after her parents battled their insurance company, Cigna, over the surgery. Cigna initially refused to pay for it because the company's analysis showed Sarkisyan was already too sick from her leukemia; the liver transplant wouldn't have saved her life.

That kind of utilitarian rationing, of course, is exactly what Palin and other opponents of the healthcare reform proposals pending before Congress say they want to protect the country from. "Such a system is downright evil," Palin wrote, in the same message posted on Facebook where she raised the "death panel" specter. "Health care by definition involves life and death decisions."

Coverage of Palin's remarks, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's defense of them, over the weekend did point out that the idea that the reform plans would encourage government-sponsored euthanasia is one of a handful of deliberate falsehoods being peddled by opponents of the legislation. But the idea that only if reform passes would the government start setting up rationing and interfering with care goes beyond just the bogus euthanasia claim.

Opponents of reform often seem to skip right past any problems with the current system -- but it's rife with them. A study by the American Medical Association found the biggest insurance companies in the country denied between 2 and 5 percent of claims put in by doctors last year (though the AMA noted that not all the denials were improper). There is no national database of insurance claim denials, though, because private insurance companies aren't required to disclose such stats. Meanwhile, a House Energy and Commerce Committee report in June found that just three insurance companies kicked at least 20,000 people off their rolls between 2003 and 2007 for such reasons as typos on their application paperwork, a preexisting condition or a family member's medical history. People who buy insurance under individual policies, about 6 percent of adults, may be especially vulnerable, but the 63 percent of adults covered by employer-provided insurance aren't immune to difficulty.

"You're asking us to decide that the government is to be trusted," Gingrich -- who may, like Palin, be running for the GOP's presidential nomination in 2012 -- told ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday. But as even a quick glance through news coverage of the last few years shows, private insurers are already doing what reform opponents say they want to save us from. (The insurance industry, pushing back against charges that they're part of the problem, said last month that "healthcare reform is far too important to be dragged down by divisive political rhetoric." The industry has long maintained that its decisions on what to cover are the result of careful investigations of each claim.) Here is a look at a handful of healthcare horror stories, brought to you by the current system. It took Salon staff less than an hour to round these up -- which might indicate how many other such stories are out there.

-- In June 2008, Robin Beaton, a retired nurse from Waxahachie, Texas, found out she had breast cancer and needed a double mastectomy. Two days before her surgery, her insurance company, Blue Cross, flagged her chart and told the hospital they wouldn't allow the procedure to go forward until they finished an examination of five years of her medical history -- which could take three months. It turned out that a month before the cancer diagnosis, Beaton had gone to a dermatologist for acne treatment, and Blue Cross incorrectly interpreted a word on her chart to mean that the acne was precancerous.

Not long into the investigation, the insurer canceled her policy. Beaton, they said, had listed her weight incorrectly when she bought it, and had also failed to disclose that she'd once taken medicine for a heart condition -- which she hadn't been taking at the time she filled out the application. By October, thanks to an intervention from her member of Congress, Blue Cross reinstated Beaton's insurance coverage. But the tumor she had removed had grown 2 centimeters in the meantime, and she had to have her lymph nodes removed as well as her breasts amputated because of the delay.

-- In October 2008, Michael Napientak, a doorman from Clarendon Hills, Ill., went to the hospital for surgery to relieve agonizing back pain. His wife's employer's insurance provider, a subsidiary of UnitedHealthCare, had issued a pre-authorization for the operation. The operation went well. But in April, the insurer started sending notices that it wouldn't pay for the surgery, after all; the family, not the insurance provider, would be on the hook for the $148,000 the hospital charged for the procedure. Pre-authorization, the insurance company explained, didn't necessarily guarantee payment on a claim would be forthcoming. The company offered shifting explanations for why it wouldn't pay -- first, demanding proof that Napientak had tried less expensive measures to relieve his pain, and then, when he provided it, insisting that it lacked documentation for why the surgery was medically necessary. Napientak's wife, Sandie, asked her boss to help out, but with no luck. Fortunately for the Napientaks, they were able to attract the attention of a Chicago Tribune columnist before they had to figure out how to pay the six-figure bill -- once the newspaper started asking questions, the insurer suddenly decided, "based on additional information submitted," to cover the tab, after all.

-- David Denney was less than a year old when he was diagnosed in 1995 with glutaric acidemia Type 1, a rare blood disorder that left him severely brain damaged and unable to eat, walk or speak without assistance. For more than a decade, Blue Cross of California -- his parents' insurance company -- paid the $1,200 weekly cost to have a nurse care for him, giving him exercise and administering anti-seizure medication.

But in March 2006, Blue Cross told the Denney family their claims had exceeded the annual cost limit for his care. When they wrote back, objecting and pointing out that their annual limit was higher, the company changed its mind -- about the reason for the denial. The nurse's services weren't medically necessary, the insurers said. His family sued, and the case went to arbitration, as their policy allowed. California taxpayers, meanwhile, got stuck with the bill -- after years of paying their own premiums, the Denney family went on Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid system.

-- Patricia Reilling opened an art gallery in Louisville, Ky., in 1987, and three years later took out an insurance policy for herself and her employees. Her insurance provider, Anthem Health Plans of Kentucky, wrote to her this June, telling her it was canceling her coverage -- a few days after it sent her a different letter detailing the rates to renew for another year and billing her for July.

Reilling thinks she knows the reason for the cutoff, though -- she was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2008. That kicked off a year-long battle with Anthem. First the company refused to pay for an MRI to locate the tumors, saying her family medical history didn't indicate she was likely to have cancer. Eventually, it approved the MRI, but only after she'd undergone an additional, painful biopsy. Her doctor removed both of her breasts in April 2008. In December, she went in for reconstructive plastic surgery -- and contracted a case of MRSA, an invasive infection. In January of this year, Reilling underwent two more surgeries to deal with the MRSA infection, and she's likely to require another operation to help fix all the damage. The monthly bill for her prescription medicines -- which she says are mostly generics -- is $2,000; the doctors treating her for the MRSA infection want $280 for each appointment, now that she's lost her insurance coverage. When she appealed the decision to cancel her policy, asking if she could keep paying the premium and continue coverage until her current course of treatment ends, the insurers wrote back with yet another denial. But they did say they hoped her health improved.

-- Additional reporting by Tim Bella

Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Liberal 'Circular Firing Squad' is Back

Bob Cesca
Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

August 10, 2009

At no other time in this debate over healthcare reform has there been a more obvious set of enemies.

The Republicans, talk radio and Fox News are fabricating off-the-wall lies practically on a daily basis. The Healther crazies are mobilized by corporate lobbyists. Blue Dogs are holding up progress. The corporate press is all but signing the death sentence for Healthcare Reform 2009. And the public option? Jesus H, I long for the days when we were just fighting for that -- now it looks like we'll be lucky to get any sort of healthcare reform in general.

So what do we do when these enemies are so well defined and screaming out for razor-sharp counterattacks?

Why, we're liberals and progressives. We attack each other, of course!

For example, four of the eight Recommended Diaries on Daily Kos are screeds attacking the administration. I don't know quite what to make of this dynamic, but the overall narrative seems skewed and misguided right now. I can say for certain that, whether justified or not, there's a time and a place for everything, and, right now, there are a clear set of opposition targets and they're ripe for the picking.

Copyright 2009 Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Is Obama Punking Us?

Frank Rich
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
August 8, 2009

“AUGUST is a challenging time to be president,” said Andrew Card, the former Bush White House chief of staff, as he offered unsolicited advice to his successors in a television interview last week. “I think you have to expect the unexpected.”

He should know. Thursday was the eighth anniversary of “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” the President’s Daily Brief that his boss ignored while on vacation in Crawford. Aug. 29 marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s strike on the Louisiana coast, which his boss also ignored while on vacation in Crawford.

So do have a blast in Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama.

Even as we wait for some unexpected disaster to strike, Beltway omens for the current White House are grim. Obama’s poll numbers are approaching free fall, we are told. If he fails on health care, he’s toast. Indeed, many of the bloviators who spot a fatal swoon in the Obama presidency are the same doomsayers who in August 2008 were predicting his Election Day defeat because he couldn’t “close the deal” and clear the 50 percent mark in matchups with John McCain.

Here are two not very daring predictions: Obama will get some kind of health care reform done come fall. His poll numbers will not crater any time soon.

Yet there is real reason for longer-term worry in the form of a persistent, anecdotal drift toward disillusionment among some of the president’s supporters. And not merely those on the left. This concern was perhaps best articulated by an Obama voter, a real estate agent in Virginia, featured on the front page of The Washington Post last week. “Nothing’s changed for the common guy,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been punked.” She cited in particular the billions of dollars in bailouts given to banks that still “act like they’re broke.”

But this mood isn’t just about the banks, Public Enemy No. 1. What the Great Recession has crystallized is a larger syndrome that Obama tapped into during the campaign. It’s the sinking sensation that the American game is rigged — that, as the president typically put it a month after his inauguration, the system is in hock to “the interests of powerful lobbyists or the wealthiest few” who have “run Washington far too long.” He promised to smite them.

No president can do that alone, let alone in six months. To make Obama’s goal more quixotic, the ailment that he diagnosed is far bigger than Washington and often beyond politics’ domain. What disturbs Americans of all ideological persuasions is the fear that almost everything, not just government, is fixed or manipulated by some powerful hidden hand, from commercial transactions as trivial as the sales of prime concert tickets to cultural forces as pervasive as the news media.

It’s a cynicism confirmed almost daily by events. Last week Brian Stelter of The Times reported that the corporate bosses of MSNBC and Fox News, Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric and Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation, had sanctioned their lieutenants to broker what a G.E. spokesman called a new “level of civility” between their brawling cable stars, Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. A Fox spokesman later confirmed to Howard Kurtz of The Post that “there was an agreement” at least at the corporate level. Olbermann said he was a “party to no deal,” and in any event what looked like a temporary truce ended after The Times article was published. But the whole scrape only fed legitimate suspicions on the right and left alike that even their loudest public voices can be silenced if the business interests of the real American elite decree it.

You might wonder whether networks could some day cut out the middlemen — anchors — and just put covert lobbyists and publicists on the air to deliver the news. Actually, that has already happened. The most notorious example was the flock of retired military officers who served as television “news analysts” during the Iraq war while clandestinely lobbying for defense contractors eager to sell their costly wares to the Pentagon.

The revelation of that scandal did not end the practice. Last week MSNBC had to apologizefor deploying the former Newsweek writer Richard Wolffe as a substitute host for Olbermann without mentioning his new career as a corporate flack. Wolffe might still be anchoring on MSNBC if the blogger Glenn Greenwald hadn’t called attention to his day job. MSNBC assured its viewers that there were no conflicts of interest, but we must take that on faith, since we still don’t know which clients Wolffe represents as a senior strategist for his firm, Public Strategies, whose chief executive is the former Bush White House spin artist, Dan Bartlett.

Let’s presume that Wolffe’s clients do not include the corporate interests with billions at stake in MSNBC and Washington’s Topic A, the health care debate. If so, he’s about the only player in the political-corporate culture who’s not riding that gravy train.

As Democrats have pointed out, the angry hecklers disrupting town-hall meetings convened by members of Congress are not always ordinary citizens engaging in spontaneous grass-roots protests or even G.O.P. operatives, but proxies for corporate lobbyists. One group facilitating the screamers is FreedomWorks, which is run by the former Congressman Dick Armey, now a lobbyist at the DLA Piper law firm. Medicines Company, a global pharmaceutical business, has paid DLA Piper more than $6 million in lobbying fees in the five years Armey has worked there.

But the Democratic members of Congress those hecklers assailed can hardly claim the moral high ground. Their ties to health care interests are merely more discreet and insidious. As Congressional Quarterly reported last week, industry groups contributed almost $1.8 million in the first six months of 2009 alone to the 18 House members of both parties supervising health care reform, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer among them.

Then there are the 52 conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who have balked at the public option for health insurance. Their cash intake from insurers and drug companies outpaces their Democratic peers by an average of 25 percent, according to The Post. And let’s not forget the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which has raked in nearly $500,000 from a single doctor-owned hospital in McAllen, Tex. — the very one that Obama has cited as a symbol of runaway medical costs ever since it was profiled in The New Yorker this spring.

In this maze of powerful moneyed interests, it’s not clear who any American in either party should or could root for. The bipartisan nature of the beast can be encapsulated by the remarkable progress of Billy Tauzin, the former Louisiana congressman. Tauzin was a founding member of the Blue Dog Democrats in 1994. A year later, he bolted to the Republicans. Now he is chief of PhRMA, the biggest pharmaceutical trade group. In the 2008 campaign, Obama ran a television ad pillorying Tauzin for his role in preventing Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices. Last week The Los Angeles Times reported — and The New York Times confirmed — that Tauzin, an active player in White House health care negotiations, had secured a behind-closed-doors flip-flop, enlisting the administration to push for continued protection of drug prices. Now we know why the president has ducked his campaign pledge to broadcast such negotiations on C-Span.

The making of legislative sausage is never pretty. The White House has to give to get. But the cynicism being whipped up among voters is justified. Unlike Hillary Clinton, whose chief presidential campaign strategist unapologetically did double duty as a high-powered corporate flack, Obama promised change we could actually believe in.

His first questionable post-victory step was to assemble an old boys’ club of Robert Rubin protégés and Goldman-Citi alumni as the White House economic team, including a Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, who failed in his watchdog role at the New York Fed as Wall Street’s latest bubble first inflated and then burst. The questions about Geithner’s role in adjudicating the subsequent bailouts aren’t going away, and neither is the angry public sense that the fix is still in. We just learned that nine of those bailed-out banks — which in total received $175 billion of taxpayers’ money, but as yet have repaid only $50 billion — are awarding a total of $32.6 billion in bonuses for 2009.

It’s in this context that Obama can’t afford a defeat on health care. A bill will pass in a Democrat-controlled Congress. What matters is what’s in it. The final result will be a CAT scan of those powerful Washington interests he campaigned against, revealing which have been removed from the body politic (or at least reduced) and which continue to metastasize. The Wall Street regulatory reform package Obama pushes through, or doesn’t, may render even more of a verdict on his success in changing the system he sought the White House to reform.

The best political news for the president remains the Republicans. It’s a measure of how out of touch G.O.P. leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are that they keep trying to scare voters by calling Obama a socialist. They have it backward. The larger fear is that Obama might be just another corporatist, punking voters much as the Republicans do when they claim to be all for the common guy. If anything, the most unexpected — and challenging — event that could rock the White House this August would be if the opposition actually woke up.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company