Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Rage Is Not About Health Care

Frank Rich
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
March 27, 2010

THERE were times when last Sunday’s great G.O.P. health care implosion threatened to bring the thrill back to reality television. On ABC’s “This Week,” a frothing and filibustering Karl Rove all but lost it in a debate with the Obama strategist David Plouffe. A few hours later, the perennially copper-faced Republican leader John Boehner revved up his “Hell no, you can’t!” incantation in the House chamber — instant fodder for a new viral video remixing his rap with’s “Yes, we can!” classic from the campaign. Boehner, having previously likened the health care bill to Armageddon, was now so apoplectic you had to wonder if he had just discovered one of its more obscure revenue-generating provisions, a tax on indoor tanning salons.

But the laughs evaporated soon enough. There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.
How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

No less curious is how disproportionate this red-hot anger is to its proximate cause. The historic Obama-Pelosi health care victory is a big deal, all right, so much so it doesn’t need Joe Biden’s adjective to hype it. But the bill does not erect a huge New Deal-Great Society-style government program. In lieu of a public option, it delivers 32 million newly insured Americans to private insurers. As no less a conservative authority than The Wall Street Journal editorial page observed last week, the bill’s prototype is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It contains what used to be considered Republican ideas.

Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

When Social Security was passed by Congress in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, there was indeed heated opposition. As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, Alf Landon built his catastrophic 1936 presidential campaign on a call for repealing Social Security. (Democrats can only pray that the G.O.P. will “go for it” again in 2010, as Obama goaded them on Thursday, and keep demanding repeal of a bill that by September will shower benefits on the elderly and children alike.) When L.B.J. scored his Medicare coup, there were the inevitable cries of “socialism” along with ultimately empty rumblings of a boycott from the American Medical Association.

But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype for the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance.

The apocalyptic predictions then, like those about health care now, were all framed in constitutional pieties, of course. Barry Goldwater, running for president in ’64, drew on the counsel of two young legal allies, William Rehnquist and Robert Bork, to characterize the bill as a “threat to the very essence of our basic system” and a “usurpation” of states’ rights that “would force you to admit drunks, a known murderer or an insane person into your place of business.” Richard Russell, the segregationist Democratic senator from Georgia, said the bill “would destroy the free enterprise system.” David Lawrence, a widely syndicated conservative columnist, bemoaned the establishment of “a federal dictatorship.” Meanwhile, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss.

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

If Congressional Republicans want to maintain a politburo-like homogeneity in opposition to the Democrats, that’s their right. If they want to replay the petulant Gingrich government shutdown of 1995 by boycotting hearings and, as John McCain has vowed, refusing to cooperate on any legislation, that’s their right too (and a political gift to the Democrats). But they can’t emulate the 1995 G.O.P. by remaining silent as mass hysteria, some of it encompassing armed militias, runs amok in their own precincts. We know the end of that story. And they can’t pretend that we’re talking about “isolated incidents” or a “fringe” utterly divorced from the G.O.P. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 74 percent of Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, while only 16 percent are aligned with Democrats.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, some responsible leaders in both parties spoke out to try to put a lid on the resistance and violence. The arch-segregationist Russell of Georgia, concerned about what might happen in his own backyard, declared flatly that the law is “now on the books.” Yet no Republican or conservative leader of stature has taken on Palin, Perry, Boehner or any of the others who have been stoking these fires for a good 17 months now. Last week McCain even endorsed Palin’s “reload” rhetoric.

Are these politicians so frightened of offending anyone in the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base that they would rather fall silent than call out its extremist elements and their enablers? Seemingly so, and if G.O.P. leaders of all stripes, from Romney to Mitch McConnell to Olympia Snowe to Lindsey Graham, are afraid of these forces, that’s the strongest possible indicator that the rest of us have reason to fear them too.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Rule: You Can't Use "There Will Be No Cooperation for the Rest of the Year" as a Threat If There Was No Cooperation in the First Half of the Year

Bill Maher
The Huffington Post
March 26, 2010 

New Rule: You can't use the statement "there will be no cooperation for the rest of the year" as a threat if there was no cooperation in the first half of the year. Here's a word the president should take out of his teleprompter: bipartisanship. People only care about that in theory, not in practice. The best thing that's happened this year is when President Obama finally realized this and said, "Kiss my black ass, we're going it alone, George W. Bush style."
Two months ago, conservative Fred Barnes wrote, "The health care bill is dead with not the slightest prospect of resurrection." Well, if it's dead, you just got your ass kicked by a zombie named Nancy Pelosi. Seriously, the last time a Democrat showed balls like that John Edwards' girlfriend was filming it. Make all the botox jokes and she-shops-too-much jokes you want, but this is the biggest political victory a woman has ever achieved in America. Yes, Nancy Pelosi likes nice clothes. So does Sarah Palin. The difference is Nancy Pelosi pays for hers.
But even before the Democrats got to take a single victory lap they were already being warned not to get used to the feeling, and not to get drunk with power. I disagree. All you Democrats: do a shot, and then do another. Get drunk on this feeling of not backing down and doing what you came to Washington to do.
Democrats should not listen to the people who are now saying they shouldn't attempt anything else big for a while because health care was such a bruising battle. Wrong -- because I learned something watching the lying bullies of the Right lose this one: when they're losing, they squeal like a pig. They kept saying things like, the bill was being "shoved down our throats" or the Democrats were "ramming it through." The bill was so big they couldn't take it all at once!
And I realized listening to this rhetoric that it reminded me of something: Tiger Woods' text messages to his mistress that were made public last week, where he said, and I quote, "I want to treat you rough, throw you around, spank and slap you and make you sore. I want to hold you down and choke you while I fuck that ass that I own. Then I'm going to tell you to shut the fuck up while I slap your face and pull your hair for making noise." Unquote.
And this, I believe, perfectly represents the attitude Democrats should now have in their dealings with the Republican Party: "Shut the fuck up while I slap your face for making noise -- now pass a cap-and-trade law, you stupid bitch, and repeat after me: 'global warming is real!'"
The Democrats need to push the rest of their agenda while their boot is on the neck of the greedy, poisonous old reptile. Who cares if a cap-and-trade bill isn't popular, neither was health care. Your poll numbers may have descended a bit, but so did your testicles.
So don't stop: we need to regulate the banks, we need to overhaul immigration, we need to end corporate welfare including at the Pentagon, we need to bring troops home from... everywhere, we need to end the drug war, and we need to put terrorists and other human rights violators on trial in civilian courts, starting with Dick Cheney.
Democrats in America were put on earth to do one thing: drag the ignorant hillbilly half of this country into the next century, which in their case is the 19th -- and by passing health care, the Democrats saved their brand. A few months ago, Sarah Palin mockingly asked them, "How's that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?" Great, actually. Thanks for asking. And how's that whole Hooked on Phonics thing working out for you?
Host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher"

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Too much tea party racism

As protesters call Dem leaders "nigger" and "faggot," it's time for Republicans to denounce them. So far, none have

Joan Walsh
SATURDAY, MAR 20, 2010 

When the tea party movement began last year I saw it as right-wing reaction, but given the economic turmoil across the country, I tried to understand it. Maybe there was populism within the movement that the left needed to recognize. I attended a local tea party last April 15, tax day, and while I didn't find folks whose minds seemed mutable by liberal populism, at least it seemed possible to have a conversation. I wrote about a former banker and a Democrat who made common cause with some of the protesters around the bank bailout and Goldman Sachs's overall influence on government. She had some good conversations. I saw closed minds, but I didn't see violence or overt racism. Of course I was in San Francisco, so it probably wasn't representative of the tea party movement, but I still think the effort to understand the economic anxiety that's part of what's motivating the tea partiers was worth my time.
A year later, though, it's worth more of my time to say what many resist: The tea party movement is disturbingly racist and reactionary, from its roots to its highest branches. On Saturday, as a small group of protesters jammed the Capitol and the streets around it, the movement's origins in white resistance to the Civil Rights Movement was impossible to ignore. Here's only what the mainstream media is reporting, ignoring what I'm seeing on Twitter and left wing blogs:
  • Civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis was taunted by tea partiers who chanted "nigger" at least 15 times, according to the Associated Press (we are not cleaning up language and using "the N-word" here because it's really important to understand what was said.) First reported on The Hill blog (no hotbed of left-wing fervor), the stories of Lewis being called "nigger" were confirmed by Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones and Democratic Rep. Andre Carson, who was walking with Lewis. "It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis," said Carson, a former police officer. "He said it reminded him of another time."
  • Another Congressional Black Caucus leader, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, was spat upon by protesters. The culprit was arrested, but Cleaver declined to press charges.
  • House Majority Whip James Clybourn told reporters: "I heard people saying things today that I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try to get off the back of the bus."
  • There were many reports that Rep. Barney Frank was called a "faggot" by protesters, but the one I saw personally was by CNN's Dana Bash, who seemed rattled by the tea party fury. Frank told AP: "It's a mob mentality that doesn't work politically."
  • Meanwhile, a brick came through the window at Rep. Louise Slaughter's Niagara Falls office on Saturday (the day she argued for her "Slaughter solution" to pass health care reform, though it was rejected by other Democrats on the House Rules Committee).
On Thursday MSNBC's "Hardball" host Chris Matthews grilled tea party Astroturf leader Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity about supporters who taunted a man with Parkinson's disease at a tea party gathering in Ohio last week. Phillips insisted the bullies just didn't represent the tea party movement. But such demurrals don't cut it any more. At the Nashville tea party gathering last month, a proponent of the kinder, gentler tea party movement, Judson Phillips, tried to distance himself from crazed and racist elements – but later endorsed racist speaker Tom Tancredo even after he told the convention: "People who could not even spell the word 'vote', or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama." Tancredo blamed Obama's election on the fact that "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country." He got some of the loudest cheers of the weekend.
So I'm having a hard time tonight trying to believe almost uniformly white tea partiers are anything other than a racist, right-wing reaction to the election of an African American president who brings with him feminists and gays (even if he doesn't do as much for them as they would ideally like). I'm having a hard time seeing the tea partiers as anything other than the spawn of George Wallace racism – the movement Pat Buchanan bragged to me that Richard Nixon made his own. Of course, in that same "Hardball" segment, Buchanan denounced me for condescending to and "demonizing" the tea partiers. I still find that rich: I grew up in lower middle class Long Island, with a first-generation Irish father, going to public schools and universities, while the wealthy Buchanan grew up in Washington D.C. with professionals as parents and attended Georgetown University. How is he the supposed working class troubadour while I'm somehow emblematic of the pointy-headed liberal elite?
Democrats are lame about fighting stupid class-based slurs like that, which is part of why this health care fight has dragged on and become so bitter. But I think a lot of Democrats were horrified by the ugliness they saw today, and I'm hoping that helps pass health care reform on Sunday.
I'm going to close with statements issued by the offices of Emanuel Cleaver and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (no firebrand lefty, by the way), which I found on the New York Times: Cleaver (who didn't press charges against the loser who spit at him) is first:
For many of the members of the CBC, like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.
This afternoon, the Congressman was walking into the Capitol to vote, when one protester spat on him. The Congressman would like to thank the US Capitol Police officer who quickly escorted the other Members and him into the Capitol, and defused the tense situation with professionalism and care. After all the Members were safe, a full report was taken and the matter was handled by the US Capitol Police. The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol Police.
This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the “n” word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans. That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting. He looks forward to taking a historic vote on health care reform legislation tomorrow, for the residents of the Fifth District of Missouri and for all Americans. He believes deeply that tomorrow’s vote is, in fact, a vote for equality and to secure health care as a right for all. Our nation has a history of struggling each time we expand rights. Today’s protests are no different, but the Congressman believes this is worth fighting for.
Hoyer here:
Today’s protests against health insurance reform saw a rash of despicable, inflammatory behavior, much of it directed at minority Members of Congress. According to reports, anti-reform protestors spat on Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, yelled a sexual slur at Rep. Barney Frank, and addressed my dear friend, Rep. John Lewis, with a racial slur that he has sadly heard far too many times. On the one hand, I am saddened that America’s debate on health care — which could have been a national conversation of substance and respect — has degenerated to the point of such anger and incivility. But on the other, I know that every step toward a more just America has aroused similar hate in its own time; and I know that John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, has learned to wear the worst slurs as a badge of honor.
America always has room for open and spirited debate, and the hateful actions of some should not cast doubt on the good motives of the majority, on both sides of this argument. But Members of Congress and opinion leaders ought to come to terms with their responsibility for inciting the tone and actions we saw today. A debate that began with false fears of forced euthanasia has ended in a truly ugly scene. It is incumbent on all of us to do better next time.
Copyright ©2010 Salon Media Group, Inc. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Debunking Health Care Reform Myths In The 11th Hour

Ron Callari
Inventor Spot
March 20, 2010

While this blog was written one day prior to a watered version of the health care reform act moving to its final vote, there are still many in the U.S. who continue to wade through the misconceptions. Far from following the health care  models of other countries and after over fifty years of fighting for some form of reform, if you're a 'dummy' like me, you may still not be as knowledgeable as you'd like regarding this revolutionary new legislation. However when dealing with the facts on some of the major issues, I was able to research some of the more topical myths that can be debunked.  

A Government Take-over. 
Dissimilar to Canada and Britain, the government will not take over hospitals or other privately run health care businesses - and physicians will not become government employees.  The U.S. government intends to help those who purchase insurance from private companies, but not pay all the bills like the system in Canada. Medicare and Medicaid will stay in tact, and the government would create health insurance exchanges for those who have tobuy insurance on their own. This will be done so that Americans will be able to comparison-shop. 

Employers Don't Need To Provide Insurance.
Employers will not be required to buy insurance for employees, but larger employers with more than 50 workers may be subject to fines if they don't provide insurance. Congress apparently wants to encourage employers to offer insurance to all their employees, Fines will be issued to larger employers if their employees buy insurance on the exchanges and qualify for a low-income credit. Fines will be based on a sliding scale according to the number of employees, 50 and above. 

Insurance Companies Will Refuse Certain Coverage. 
 By 2014, when the exchanges open, insurers won't be able to deny customers for pre-existing conditions. There will also be minimum services they must cover and they will have to pay out a certain percentage of premiums for patient care. This is not to say that insurance companies won't be able to charge more for thoseinsured that require pre-existing conditions.

Insurance premiums will continue to increase.
The bill will prevent health insurance from escalating at the current high double digit percentages. For the four out of five who get insurance through their employers, the savings would land in the 0 to 3 percent range by 2016, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Those who buy insurance on their own and don't qualify for government subsidies would incur a maximum increase of 13% (but the high end would be for policies that offer premium services).

Increase The Deficit.
The most recent estimate of the plan, released by the Congressional Budget Office, said that it would spend $940 billion over 10 years. But new taxes, penalties and cost savings would offset that spending, the CBO said. So overall  - the plan pays for itself, dropping the deficit by $138 billion over 10 years. Obama has said the plan will save more than $1 trillion in the second 10 years, but that estimate, according to the CBO, is highly speculative. 

Medicaid Will Be Restricted.
 Medicaid, a joint federal-state program for the poor, will cover all of the poor, instead of just a few groups. Right now, to qualify for Medicaid, a person has to be poor and also disabled, elderly, pregnant or a child. Under the new plan, all poor adults would qualify. 

Abortions Will Be Covered.
The government won't pay for elective abortions. But under the Senate plan, people will be able to buy insurance that covers abortion on the insurance exchanges, as long as the insurancecompany pays for the services with patient premiums, not taxpayer subsidies. Medicaid has an exemption for cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother. 

Creating Death Panels.
Numerous media outlets have now debunked right-wing claims that the House health care reform bill would encourage euthanasia of the elderly, including Sarah Palin's claim -- forwarded by the conservative media -- that the bill would create a "death panel" and the related claim -- initiated by Betsy McCaughey -- that the bill would "absolutely require" that seniors on Medicareundergo end-of-life counseling "that will tell them how to end their life sooner."Media Matters for America has identified more than 40 instances of media reporting that these claims are false.

A Universal Health Care Bill. 
Based on the final bill being watered down, what will become law is neither universal health care nor universal healthinsurance. According to the Congressional Budget Office:

    * Total uninsured in 2019 with no bill: 54 million.
    * Total uninsured in 2019 with Senate bill: 24 million.

Will Lead To Socialism. 
The same was said about Social Security back in the 40s and Medicare in the 60s. But what was proven over the course of the last 60 years, both of these programs were actually responsible for lifting millions of people out of poverty and have lived longer lives as a result.

Need To Start Over.
On March 17, MyBarackObama.comissued the following YouTube video, with the message, "if we fail to act on health reform, everything stays the same, right? Wrong. If we turn back now, the health care system we currently have will quickly start to unravel.

I am sure there are many other myths that can be debunked. So I ask the readers to post those that I have not covered in this blog. Whether you are on the right or left of this debate, it is important that we work with the facts versus 'scare tactic' mentality and politically-twisted logic. Health care has proven successful in countries that pay dearly for it - and at greater costs than the watered down U.S. bill that will be passed into law. I just hope that after we are on the other side of the vote, and the dust settles, these debunked myths will fade quickly and we can alldeal with the pressing matters of living longer and healthier lives.
Ron Callari
Society and Trends Writer
Copyright © 2006-2010. Aha Cafe LLC. All Rights Reserved.