Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Glenn Beck Can’t Take Glenn Beck’s Heat

The website is clearly labelled satire and parody; in fact, it says so in very strong language on the home page for anyone who can’t figure it out for themselves. But Glenn Beck, never known for possessing a sense of wit – although some may call him a half-wit – is livid that Isaac Eiland-Hall launched glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.

Essentially, Eiland-Hall turns Beck on himself, using his own tactics in a way that is vaguely reminiscent of a time, one hundred lifetimes ago, when Edward R. Murrow demolished another rabid demagogue, Sen. Joe McCarthy by using McCarthy’s own words.

As if channelling Beck’s writers, Eiland-Hall’s site proclaims it, “exists to try and help examine the vicious rumour that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990. We don't claim to know the truth – only that the rumour floating around saying that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990 should be discussed. So we're going to do our part to try and help get to the bottom of this.

“Why won't Glenn Beck deny these allegations?” the website asks. “We're not accusing Glenn Beck of raping and murdering a young girl in 1990 – in fact, we think he didn't! But we can't help but wonder, since he has failed to deny these horrible allegations. Why won't he deny that he raped and killed a young girl in 1990?”

Beck uses this identical approach to everything from claiming Pres. Obama is a white-hating racist to accusing him of indoctrinating young children by urging them to stay in school to insisting health reform is really a hidden plot involving death panels for granny.

Warning: Satire Ahead

Unlike, say The Onion, which everyone knows is satire as it tears apart every mainstream American convention, apparently many people going to Eiland-Hall’s site are missing a few pencils in their box and don’t get the joke. To assure the world – and protect himself legally – the site’s creator has a prominent disclaimer along the bottom of the home page.

Notice: This site is parody/satire. We assume Glenn Beck did not rape and murder a young girl in 1990, although we haven't yet seen proof that he didn't. But we think Glenn Beck definitely uses tactics like this to spread lies and misinformation.

Read the last sentence again. That's the point. Read it a third time and ignore the name of the site itself, because anyone who believes that we're trying to actually get people to believe Glenn Beck raped and/or murdered is *whoosh* missing the entire point. So don't be dumb like a lot of people are. I greatly expanded this text because so many people *read* it, and *still* didn't understand.

Not even an obviously fake video of a supposedly distraught woman convinces some that the whole thing is a grand send-up of someone – Beck – who increasingly parodies himself on Fox every day.

Et Tu, Glenn

Gee, here’s a surprise: Beck doesn’t like the site. Uninformed bullies seldom enjoy seeing themselves parodied.

But knowing full well that a federal lawsuit to block the site would fail miserably because courts have held for more than 50 years political satire and humor are protected by the 1st Amendment, Beck’s lawyers are trying an end-run. They’ve filed an administrative complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization. WIPO handles disputes over domain names. The complaint claims that the site was improperly using a trademark and the domain name was registered and being used in bad faith.

Yesterday, Eiland-Hall's lawyer, Marc Randazza, filed a response. In it, he says the site should be his because it's a valid critique of Beck's politics.

"The Web site is a legitimate criticism site, consists of political satire, and thus the Respondent has legitimate rights in the domain name," the brief says. "Mr. Beck's attempt to censor this criticism is improper and should be rejected."

To help the tribunal, Eiland-Hall’s lawyers helpfully offer a history of esoteric inside jokes that became Internet phenomena from "Mr. Spock Ate My Balls" to Richard Gere's unflattering "Gerbil story." But the case also makes a political point, noting an interview Beck conducted with Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), a Muslim, in which Beck said on air, "I like Muslims, I've been to mosques … And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview because what I feel like saying is, sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”

Mr. Beck, what I feel like writing is, sir, prove to me that you are not completely unhinged. And, anyway, why won’t you deny rumors that you raped and murdered a young girl in 1991 so this whole thing can be put to rest?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Medical Journal "Health Affairs" Bends And Coughs Over For Aetna

For several years, professional medical journals have been drawing heavy artillery fire for not disclosing any conflicts of interest its authors have with the subject they’re covering, hyping faulty studies and publishing too many glowing articles about new pharmaceuticals that have questionable value.

This is why the latest issue of Health Affairs leaves me deeply troubled because the peer-reviewed health policy journal turned over the cover of a recent issue to Aetna, the nation’s third largest insurance company. That’s right, Aetna. The same behemoth with a vicious Rotweiller in the health care reform dog fight opposing any reform that doesn’t profit Aetna.

Health Affairs made a deal with Aetna to sponsor the current issue of the journal. The problem is that the theme of the edition is “Bending the Cost Curve.” This is wonk speak for “controlling or containing medical costs in ways that send shivers up the spine of Aetna.”

Unfortunately, “Bending The Cost Curve” is clever jargon that often filters into the MSM and down to the general public, where no one knows what the hell it means. William Safire, whose love of the English language and its use, and who died this weekend, must be spinning in his still-fresh grave.

In exchange for its cash, Aetna got to design a cover that was pasted on the publication, hiding the journal’s real cover. The faux cover is the one a reader sees unless they look under the hood, and this one is a doosey. It features a “Dear Colleague” letter from Aetna CEO Ronald A. Williams. In the letter, Williams enthuses about his company’s concern for patients and improving the quality of care.

We believe that the right solution will be based on what is already working in the private sector, and should include an individual coverage requirement and guaranteed issue with no pre-existing conditions. Addressing health care costs is equally important, and we must simplify the system so that doctors and caregivers can spend more time with patients.

It sounds wonderful except for four things.

First, any physician or health care worker who thinks Aetna is their “colleague” is seriously delusional.

Second, Aetna’s “right solution” isn’t working in the private sector for anyone except Aetna, and its insurance brothers-in-Satan. This is why nearly 50-million Americans aren’t insured at all with another 12-million underinsured, and why a new Harvard study documents that 45,000 people die every year because folks like Williams either cancel their coverage, deny treatment or refuse to issue a policy to them.

Third, if simplifying the system is so important, why hasn’t Aetna done it already so “doctors and caregivers can spend more time with patients”? It’s insurers that can’t figure out a way to standardize forms or how to process a claim in less than 180 days so a doctor gets paid promptly for a patient’s visit.

Fourth – and this is what really sent me over the top because Williams' letter never mentions it – Aetna and the industry will go along with “guaranteed issue with no pre-existing conditions” only if Congress mandates that everyone has to buy a policy from the insurers rather than through a public option because such a requirement means billions in additional revenue and profits for Aetna and its friends.

Aetna had no comment on the sponsorship and it’s hard to figure out whether Aetna’s funding affects editorial decisions.

In one section called “saving money,” there’s a think piece called “Opportunities To Improve The Quality Of Care For Advanced Illness.” It describes a care management program Aetna is piloting that “gives people culturally sensitive supporting information, to make informed choices and obtain palliative services in a timely manner.”

Whoa! Where are the tea baggers and cries of “Death Panels!”?

I guess someone on the right decided that it’s okay for insurance companies to help people make informed choices about end-of-life care, but not for the government to pay the cost of a doctor’s visit so a Medicare patient can have the identical discussion.

Chalk it up as example No. 3188 of Republican hypocrisy.

This whole thing makes me want to wretch. Aetna trumpeting concern for cost-control and the plight of the uninsured on the cover of a professional journal is the kind of chicanery that became so familiar this summer. The insurance industry keeps portraying itself as a good guy in this fight, all the while working behind the scenes to stop what is good for Americans.

Being on the cover of Health Affairs is a PR flack’s wet dream about burnishing the image of a badly tarnished reality.

– Hat tip to Trudy Lieberman

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Health Reform Inaction More Likely To Kill You Than A Drunk Driver

Here’s a special note to the Republican Party, its Congressional leadership, fellow-travellers like Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh, big Pharma and the insurance industry as the Senate Finance Committee prepares to debate the public option on Tuesday:

Every 12 minutes, your delays kill a fellow American who doesn’t have access to health care due to a lack of coverage.

While totally irrational tea baggers claim Pres. Obama is somehow both a Commie and a Nazi, as a result of a new study those of us in the reality-based world can hold up a sign of, say, H. Edward Hanway, chairman and chief executive of CIGNA Corp., or any other industry CEO, with the phrase “Helped Kill 5 People This Hour” scribbled underneath the photo. While we might be as tasteless as the poppycock protesters on the rampaging right, at least we’d be accurate.

Who says so? No less an authority than Harvard University's medical school.

According to new Harvard University research released Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, in roughly the time it takes to read this article, one American dies of not having health insurance or access to care. Take two down if you are a slow reader.

One of the co-authors, Dr. David Himmelstein who is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, observes, "The Institute of Medicine, using older studies, estimated that one American dies every 30 minutes from a lack of health insurance. Even this grim figure now is an underestimate. Now, one dies every 12 minutes."

Deader Than In Iraq

In 2009, the nation claiming to provide the best medical care in the word simply killed nearly 45,000 people, dead because they couldn’t afford insurance or medical care. The previous study was done in 2004. So, in less than a half-decade, the death rate caused by not having health insurance more than doubled.

In case the intellectually challenged GOP still doesn’t get it, Dr. Himmelstein put it in real simple terms, telling Reuters, "We're losing more Americans every day because of inaction ... than (by) drunk driving and homicide combined.”

Or, in language even the GOP can’t help but comprehend, the lack of health insurance kills nearly nine times more people in the US every year than the total who died in Iraq and Afghanistan combined since 2001.

Overall, researchers find that American adults age 64 or younger who lack health insurance have a 40% higher risk of death than those with coverage. Those are close to the high mortality rates for smokers and drug addicts.

Another co-author of Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler – who also teaches medicine at Harvard and is a physician in Cambridge MA – compared the situation in America with the rest of the world.

"Historically,” Dr. Woolhandler says, “every other developed nation has achieved universal health care through some form of non-profit national health insurance. Our failure to do so means that all Americans pay higher health care costs and 45,000 pay with their lives."

The Baucus Caucus

Don’t think that Blue Dogs and ConservaDems – who should rightly be renamed ObstructaDems – are faultless here.

In exchange for the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to them as campaign contributions by the health insurance industry and the rest of the medico-industrial complex, they are complicit in the killing of sick people in their own country – including residents of their own state or district.

And Max Baucus manages to keep a straight face while proposing a subsidy to insurance companies by requiring everyone to buy a policy from one of them.

An executive at Humana, a large health insurance company, who is not authorized to speak to the media told me confidently, “We can write a bare-bones policy on anyone, even people with cancer or bad hearts. We just set the premiums high enough, put the deductible in the $10,000 per year range, have a 30% co-pay on everything else, and take 90 days to pay proviers. It’ll be a license to print money.”

In other words, the Baucus Caucus’ brilliant idea of providing coverage to all means that somebody who is diagnosed with cancer and runs up $100,000 in medical bills one year for exams, tests, chemo, radiation and possibly surgery, will be out of pocket somewhere around forty grand. And the insurance companies become legalized thieves that would make Wall St. financiers whose tricky default swaps and goofy mortgages that damn near bankrupted the world in 2008 seem like philanthropists by comparison.

Poll after poll shows overwhelming voter support for a true public option. The question is whether the Baucus Caucus, Blue Dogs, ObstructaDems and a few courageous Republicans such as Olympia Snowe are paying attention.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

UPDATE 6: Palin’s As Goofy In Hong Kong As She Is At Home

While Muammar Quaddafi was boring UN delegates with a meandering 90-minute speech in New York yesterday, it seems that half a world away Sarah Palin was doing the same thing in Hong Kong.

Palin was paid a reported $300,000 – I assume that’s American dollars, not Hong Kong – to speak for 90 minutes to a meeting of investors convened by a local brokerage firm. Although closed to the press, today’s New York Times carries a fairly flattering report based on its reporter speaking with a Canadian who listened to her speech.

Not nearly as flattering is the account of her talk that I found in an e-mail this morning from an old friend who I met in the 1990s when I was travelling to Hong Kong three or four times a year.

According to JoAnne, large numbers of Americans walked out during her speech, Europeans were whispering and laughing amongst themselves, and Chinese investors – who, culturally, are too polite to walk out on anyone giving a talk no matter how boring, frivolous or yammering the speaker might be – turned their attention to BlackBerry’s or one of the many other electro-gizmo’s that Hong Kong business people are so fond of that most restaurants require cell phones to be checked before seating a patron.

The Times account overlooked some of these details that put Palin’s reception in perspective.

Here is the e-mail, with irrelevant matters like stuff about her job and family edited out, and a few typos corrected.

To: Charley James
Date: 24 Sept 2009
Subj: Sarah’s A Yawn in Hong Kong

Hey CJ from a different day in HK

There she was at last, a life size replica of Tina Fey up on stage wearing something almost tasteful but definitely small townish bought from what must have been the softer side of Sears. (Thanks for the line – I’ve been using it for years!) No one in the room who wasn’t from North America knew quite what to expect; a few Yanks apparently did because a trickle of them got up and left as she was being introduced.

Suspecting what would be coming, I was tempted to join them but decided to hear what Her Craziness had to say.

I’d give you some specifics but there weren’t many. Basically, she gave a stump speech that might have worked at a Chamber of Commerce lunch in Juneau but left a room full of highly educated, very sophisticated and worldly business people scratching their heads. If she intended to use the speech as a way to build credentials as a foreign policy expert, Sarah could have stayed home and avoided the jetlag. The South China Morning Post called her speech “a triumph of low expectations.”

She talked about health care reform and actually brought up death panels, much to the deep befuddlement of Asians in the audience. And the anger of Americans, another dozen of whom got up and stalked out. After the speech, several local execs asked me if the US actually has death panels for the sick and elderly, an abhorrent idea to people who revere not just the aged but their ancestors. It took me several minutes

A lot of her colloquial references were lost on the crowd. She kept talking about “Main St.” which means nothing in Asia or even Europe, for that matter. Somebody should have told her to change the reference to something local, like “Aberdeen” or “Kowloon side” because people kept looking at each other wondering what the fuck she meant about Main St.

As for foreign policy, she pretty much kept that under wraps. At least she didn’t tell the crowd she can see Russia from her porch in case Putin rears his head in American air space. She touched on the virtues of war in Iraq and Afghanistan just long enough to get glowers from an unsympathic audience, mumbled something about North Korea and China that was a total non-compute … that’s when I looked around on purpose and, sure enough, spotted two or three people from China’s State Security Bureau in the audience taking furious notes – they’re always at speeches and always easy to spot in their ill-fitting, poorly made suits sporting bad haircuts …

Anyhooo … after she finished she took some pre-arranged questions giving pap answers to pap questions, signed a few autographs and posed for photos – well, this is Asia after all, everybody takes photos of everything – and then was out the door.

Not sure what anyone was expecting other than seeing an American celebrity famous for gaffes, white trash relatives and shooting Bullwinkle from helicopters. If you didn’t expect much, you got what you came for.

That’s the news that’s fit to print. I have no idea why she flew over here for the speech except for the money. If I were a sponsor, I’d have asked for a partial refund. Well, at least she finished her speech and didn’t quit half-way through because she wanted to do something else.


So there it is: Sarah Does Hong Kong. Sounds as if she was her usual informed, thoughtful self, spending as much time discussing serious issues overseas as she did when she was campaigning.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We're Number 37!!!

This has been making the rounds of the intertubes for a day or two but it's so good, it is worth reposting here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Study: Public Option Popular In Blue Dog Districts, Across Nation

Poll analyst wunderkinder Nate Silver teams up with Markos Moulitsos of Daily Kos today to discover the public option enjoys the support of a majority of voters in all but one Blue Dog district.

Moreover, despite the pronouncements of Blue Dog Democrats in the House and Senate – as well as by Republicans – a health insurance public option is wanted by a majority of voters across all but a small handful of the 435 Congressional districts.

Moulitos writes this morning that “Nate Silver determined that poverty levels and support for Barack Obama were the factors driving support for the public option. A few mathematical equations later, he projected support for the public option (widespread nationally) and declared as a result that, contrary to assertions, the public option is popular in most Blue Dog districts.

“The Blue Dogs have been fighting the good fight on behalf of the insurance companies, doing everything they can to stymie reform. When called to task for their anti-reform efforts, they hide behind their constituents, claiming they are simply representing the views of their constituents. We were curious – is there any truth to these claims? As we've seen, in some places (like Nebraska), it's true, but in others, like in Jim Cooper's Tennessee district, it's not,” Moulitos concludes.

As if any more proof were needed, these new numbers show that opponents of the public option are simply running a well-organized scam for the insurance industry.

Even in districts where Blue Dogs claim to be simply representing the will of their constituents, the numbers prove them to be liars. And while there are margins of error in any poll, the fact is that in almost every district support for a public option outweighs opposition by more than the margin – or the “Keith Number” as Keith Olbermann called the undecided’s plus the margin of error during the last election.

Isn’t it w-a-y past time for the president, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to call out Democrat opponents for what they are: Lying shills who are in the pocket of insurance companies, and who have no regard for the problems of their constituents.

What A Surprise! “Values Voters” Pick Racist Huckabee

The so-called “Values Voters” held their annual hate-in and what a surprise: Mike Huckabee won the straw poll of presidential contenders, taking 148 of the 500 votes cast, a whopping 28%.

Huckabee, the silver-tongued, jovial Baptist preacher now best known for losing weight, charmed the crowd gathered in Washington over Rosh Hashanah weekend –Shanatova, en shallah to all – by dog whistling coded racist messages that wowed folks in the ballroom.

This is nothing new for Huckabee, who’s trying desperately to be the GOP’s Great White Hope in 2012 now that Sarah Palin has become a caricature of herself. As Max Blumenthal pointed out in The Nation during last year’s Republican presidential primary season. Borrowing a page from George Bush’s 2000 primary playbook that short-circuited John McCain’s surging campaign, Blumental reported how far Huckabee was willing to go:

As South Carolina's Republican primary election draws nearer, Mike Huckabee has ratcheted up his appeals to the racial nationalism of white evangelicals.

"You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag," the former Arkansas governor told a Myrtle Beach crowd on January 17, referring to the Confederate flag. "If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole. That's what we'd do."

Appealing to white racists is old hat for Huckabee.

Long before he was a nationally-known politician, Huckabee carefully nurtured a relationship with America's largest white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens. The extent of Huckabee's relationship with the racist group is unclear but he accepted an invitation to speak at the group's annual conference in 1993 and delivered a videotaped address that was "extremely well received by the audience,” according to reports at the time.

No wonder he took the straw poll that, in the final analysis, is representative of absolutely nothing.

Whose Values?

Exactly whose values do the voters gathered in DC think they represent?

Certainly not mine. I consider myself a “values voter,” which is why I gleefully cast my ballot for Barack Obama last November. His values reflect the best of what America is supposed to be all about.

Oh, wait. The “Value Voters” summit didn’t even pretend to be about my values because I’m not a right wing fundamentalist who thinks the earth is 8,000 years old and America was really founded as a Christian theocracy. That’s probably why I didn’t see any black or brown faces in crowd shots, nor folks named Schwartz or Lopez as registered delegates. Nor were any of the opening prayers offered by Imans.

A few actual American values were overlooked on the weekend.

Apparently, they weren’t very concerned about genuine Judeo-Christian values, either. Nowhere on the agenda was there mention of discussing Sen. David Vitter wearing diapers with a hooker or his name on the DC Madame’s list. Nothing was said about Sen. John Ensign’s dalliances or "gifts" to his mistress and her family. How about Sen. Mike Enzi, who admitted having an affair with a female staff member? What about Gov. Mark Sanford’s hikes on the Appalachian Trail with his Latin Lover, sometimes at taxpayer expense?

How come nobody spent time discussing the righteousness of 20,000 people in the US dying each year because they lacked access to health care? Why didn’t anyone raise the very Christian value issue of helping 1-million Americans forced into bankruptcy by medical expenses? Where was talk about the values of the money changers in Wall St. temples grabbing seven-to-nine figure bonuses as they destroyed the lives and economic security of tens of millions of their fellow citizens? Who brought up the values that should be used to fight to poverty, hunger, homelessness and helping those who are without hope?

There was plenty of time to bash the government and an African-American President but no time to deal with the real issues confronting the nation.

Those are some values that sad collection of so-called “value voters” put on display.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cut The Crap: Compared To America, Canada’s Health Care Is A Utopian Dream.

It’s time for a truth-and-reality check on conservative crazies in Congress, on Fox and loose in the country who keep using the Canadian national health system as their example of why they object to making major reforms to America’s medico-insurance complex.

I’ve experienced health care on both sides of the 49th parallel and can tell you that, compared to what happens when you get sick in the US, Canada is utopia.

While films such as Michael Moore’s Sicko and Capitalism: A Love Story and shorts produced by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films do much spotlight the problem in bold face terms, the need to change the health care delivery and payment system in the US is essentially the collected nightmare stories of millions of individuals and families.

My sister was one of them.


When my sister and only sibling was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, she and her husband had major battles with their insurance company which fought tooth-and-nail to cancel coverage and deny care at sight of the first claim form.


Because in her original application – roughly 10 or 11 years earlier – the insurer discovered that she forgot to note that, at age eight, she had two sessions with a child psychologist after our family dog died. She had real trouble coping: Tarzan taught her to walk when she was an infant, letting her hang onto his back as he walked her slowly around the house. As a pre-schooler, she’d dress him in outfits for tea parties – the kind little girls have, not Glenn Beck’s monstrosities. When Tarzan died, it was her first experience with losing a loved one and she couldn’t stop crying, even a week later at school.

To the insurance company, which went rummaging through Janice’s past after collecting more than $60,000 in premiums over the years she was a policyholder, that oversight meant she was a scamming liar trying to defraud them. It relented only after being confronted by a series of insistent phone calls from her oncologist and increasingly strong letters from the family lawyer. Nevertheless, the fight took weeks, causing Janice and Steve enormous grief and worry – on top of worrying about Jan’s cancer.

But it didn’t end there.

After being told she was terminal, Janice wanted to die at home in familiar surroundings with her three cats on the bed and her husband of 17-years sitting in the room. Nope, the insurance company ruled. They’d pay for her to stay in a hospital wired to machines and tubes at roughly $2,000 a day or more but the $150 or so it’d cost to have a nurse come each morning to check Jan’s vitals and a health care worker every afternoon to stay while Steve ran errands, bought food and have a few minutes away from his gruesome death watch was verboten.

A Supreme Irony

How ironic.

At first, the company wasn’t willing to pay anything yet when given a chance to reduce its expenses to less than 10% of what they were running, they balked. A bizarre-o world example of what’s wrong with health insurance in the US.

So, there ensued another series of letters between their lawyer and the insurer and, this time, also her employer, threatening legal action and public exposure. Reluctantly, the insurance company backed down. To its credit, the senior vice president of human resources at the large corporation where Janice worked before getting sick phoned to say that he was appalled at learning of the treatment she was receiving and assured Steve that if the insurance company didn’t pay for home care, the employer would.

In a way, Janice and Steve were “lucky.”

Besides having a caring employer, they had the resources and toughness to summon a lawyer to go toe-to-toe with the insurer. And, in the end, her care was covered. But, like Barack Obama’s mother, Jan and Steve spend much of the 11 weeks leading to the end of her life fighting with an enormous insurance company bureaucracy and its “medical advisors” who never clapped eyes on Janice before trying to deny what she’d been paying years to have. Happy to take money from her pay check every month for her share of the premium, the insurance company fought desperately when it was time to meet its end of the deal.

The best system in the world? Only people who never had the misfortune of dealing with it would say so. They must be the people in surveys who say they like their current insurance.

Meanwhile, Up North

Walk across the road where Minnesota meets Ontario and enter an entirely different world of health care.

I’ve lived in Toronto since 1991, during which time my out-of-pocket costs for health care have been zero. Nothing. Nada. Zip. This includes more than a year seeing a psychiatrist for depression and grief after my sister died; she passed away six months after mother and three years following our dad’s death, and I was overwhelmed. It also includes two separate hospitalizations for heart problems, one very minor and one more serious. And I’ve been fighting colon cancer with chemo, radiation and surgery for four-plus years.

None of my care has cost me anything. I never waited to see a specialist, or to have tests or treatment. When surgery was prescribed, I saw another doctor for a second option and was still on an operating table within two weeks.

Before the right goes all batty and begins yelling I pay for coverage through income tax, I’ll admit that I do. But – and this is a big but, much larger than the butts on the back ends of many of the 9/12-er’s waddling around Washington last weekend – I did the math and my total cost of taxes plus insurance is less than in America.

Yes, my federal and provincial taxes are higher than if I lived in the US. But what I pay includes the cost of government health insurance. So, when I looked at US and Minnesota tax tables – Minnesota being my last state of residence in America before moving here – and added in the average of what friends back home tell me they pay annually in health insurance premiums, I pay about 9% less in Canada than if I lived in the States.

Nine percent less.

Never Cancelled

My coverage never can be cancelled or denied. I pay no deductible. There’s no such thing as a pre-existing condition. I had coverage the first day I arrived in Toronto after filling out a short, half-page form. I never heard the words “Not in our network” when seeing a physician or specialist.

When I was ill, no one went scrounging through my past to find a reason to deny coverage. When I am discharged from hospital, the only thing I receive is a warm handshake and a sincere, “We’re glad you’re doing so well.”

I did have some oput-of-pocket costs. I paid for cable television in my room, a morning newspaper, a vegetarian pizza from a place near the hospital and a few Chinese food deliveries after being taken off the restricted diet list. If I’d had high speed internet in my room, I would have paid for it myself; national health doesn’t cover surfing the net.


Utopia? No. Only when compared to the US health system nightmare. And there are problems with the Canadian system.

For example, Ontario is short of doctors. It’s not because of a brain drain but because of the physicians themselves. The College of Physicians and Surgeons, the licensing board in all of the provinces, for many years made it nearly impossible for immigrating doctors to practice here, a kind of closed shop protectionism.

The rationale – often justified – was that foreign trained physicians and surgeons don’t meet Ontario standards. Fair enough. But then the College required people to start med school all over again, as if they’d never treated a patient.

Most of these physicians readily admit they need additional training when arriving in Canada. But why force them to start a 10 year process of med school, internship and residency all over again? I suspect that human anatomy is the same at a university in, oh, Kenya, Mumbai or Jamaica as it is at the University of Toronto.

Fortunately, the government stepped in to apply pressure on the Colleges. Now, additional training is handled much more swiftly and the doctor shortage is starting to ease.

Constant Claptrap

Trial lawyers joke that when the facts are against you, argue the law; when the law is against you, argue the facts; and when the law and the facts are against you, then pound the table.

The anti-change artists in the health care debate are left pounding the table because everything is against them. But there’s no talking with most of them because they react like small children: They cover their ears, scream loudly to drown out what’s being said and stamp their feet. It’s their only genuine argument.

The arguments against making major changes to the medico-insurance complex are about as accurate as Glenn Beck’s crowd count. I’m not sure it will do any good but we have to keep trying. For one thing, since I’m uninsurable in the US until I’m eligible for Medicare, I can’t come home until there’s a rational new plan in place.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

GOP Warns Collins, Snowe: Oppose Health Care Or Face Primary Challenges

Now we have proof positive that the crazies grabbed control of the asylum as bullies shake down and thump – not entirely figuratively – Republicans in the halls of the US Senate.

Maine’s two usually reasonable and moderate Republican Senators – Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe – spent the summer trying to find ways to support health care reform, including some form of a public option. Suddenly, they did an abrupt about-face: No public option, no non-profit co-ops, no triggers, no anything in the bill they’d previously supported.

So what happened?

“Last week, they were bombarded with calls, elevator and hallway chats, and e-mails from the RNC, the Senate leadership, other Senators, people on the party’s Senate campaign committee, serious donors,” a GOP Senate staffer explains to me Tuesday afternoon by phone.

“Basically, the message was the same” he insists. “Support health care in any form and face serious, well-funded primary challenges when they’re up for re-election.”

(As an aside, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee used to be run by John Ensign, resident of the infamous C Street Home For The Perpetually Bewildered, and best known for sleeping with an aide, hiring her 19-year old son as a “strategic consultant” to the SRCC, firing another aide who happened to be married to the woman Ensign was hiking the Appalachian Trail with, and then having his mommy and daddy provide $96,000 in “gifts” to the aides and two of their three children to smooth everything over. So we know how the SRCC operation works.)

Republicans Are Fringe

Since Snowe’s term expires in 2012 and Collins isn’t up for re-election until 2014, that seems like a long spell for the goofball right of the Republican party in Maine to stay mad. After all, Snowe received 74% of the vote when she was re-elected in 2006, a year when Republicans all over the country were being booted from office without so much as a good riddance.

“Because you’re not part of the party, you don’t know how it operates these days,” the man reminds me.

“The fringe is the party,” he says, the emphasis his. “Between now and 2012 or 2014, the goofballs can show up at every town meeting, state fair and garage door opening ceremony either one of them attends. Their life would become a living hell.”

The staffer would not let his name be used because he’s not authorized to speak with reporters, nor would the five other people who work on the Republican side of the Senate who essentially confirmed his comments. But I’ve known each of them for years, trust information they provide because each has always been accurate, and none have an axe to grind.

Calls to Senators Snowe and Collins were not returned by the time I posted this article. But I was directed to a statement on Snowe’s website that claims if, “after we have implemented landmark insurance market reforms, private insurers fail to deliver the affordable coverage Americans require” she would support, maybe, down-the-road, possibly something that resembles a public option.

That would be when? Maybe in 2066, on the millennial anniversary of Magna Carta? How many more than the 62-million already uninsured and underinsured Americans will never see a doctor, die, file for bankruptcy or go to bed every night hoping their kids don’t get sick tomorrow before Snowe and her colleague Susan Collins see the world as it really is?


In her website statement, Snowe also trots out the totally discredited notion that reform will lead “to a government takeover of health care.”

No wonder another GOP-side Senate staffer confesses to me, a touch of sadness in her voice, “Right now, I’m ashamed to be a Republican.”

Despite the fact that this same staff member gave her full-throated support to the McCain-Palin ticket and that didn’t seem to shame her, nor did George Bush’s eight years, I am willing to accept that some sort of divine intervention leading to her Come To Jesus awakening in the spirit in which she offers it. Better late than never.

Oh wait. Maybe she’s seeing the light because her brother-in-law and sister are struggling to cope with medical bills: Their 10-year old was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year and there’s a constant fight with the insurance company supposedly providing coverage to pay for the child’s treatment.

I know what that’s like. I’ve been through it with my sister.

Snowe Job

I’m not sure what Snowe and Collins are up to but, clearly, it has nothing to do with what is best for one-fifth of the American population directly and the rest of us indirectly.

Sadly, the Snowe Job being pulled is totally uncharacteristic of both Senators. In the past, they’ve acted like Responsible Republicans most of the time – even when I disagreed with them. Now, they’ve become no better than the louts who got their mad on in Washington Saturday afternoon. The fear Snowe and Collins have of that small but vocal slice of the Republican Party is driving them to put their own interests ahead of those of the nation.

There is an irony to this.

Dick Cheney spent eight years scaring Americans into doing what the GOP wanted. Now, the GOP is scaring Republicans into doing what a tiny minority of lunatics want them to do and the hell with the rest of us.

It'd be much funnier if it wasn't so sad.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Teabaggers In The Mist - Updated 9.15.09

Glenn Beck once insisted that he started his “9/12 Movement” to recapture the sense of unity in the nation the day after the terrorist attacks in 2001. That idea lasted about four minutes Saturday morning as evidenced by the signs held aloft at the event he and a group of well-funded astroturf organisations in Washington created.

Thanks to Oliver Willis’ website, we have a disturbing record of just how bizarre and out-of-touch the ragtag and often racist crowd of batty birthers, deathers, tenthers, climate change deniers, Federal Reserve haters, anti-abortionists, pro gunners and the just plain kooky turned out to be.

Like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-Crazyland). He actually autographed a sign that reads “We Are A Christian Nation.”

Over at RedState, people are claiming that two million protesters showed up. The police estimated the crowd at about 75,000.

I realised that the most disturbing thing about Willis’ photo essay is that the people whose signs he captured on film - OK, I'm showing my age; he probably captured them on disc - are allowed to own checking accounts, sign contracts, own passports and have children.

UPDATE - I've decided that my two favourite characters from Saturday's Mad On Washington are the old lady carrying a sign reading "Keep Government Out Of Medicare!" and a fellow in his late 60s who is in a YouTube video declaring to a questioner that he'll stop cashing his Social Security cheques when the government stops interfering in his life.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Only Way Out Of Afghanistan Is To Leave. Here’s How.

There’s a reason why Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires.

From the time of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan to the British, Soviets and now the US and NATO, Afghanistan’s poppy fields, barren plains and rugged mountains are filled with the ghosts and treasuries of would-be conquerors. Sooner or later, America, Canada and NATO will meet the same dismal fate as everyone who went before them.

George Bush invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to rid it of al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors, taking away a “safe haven” for plotters of the 9/11 attacks. Since this was accomplished in a matter of weeks with relatively few American deaths, Bush’s neo-con puppet masters then made two disastrous mistakes.

First, they sent troops off to fight a stupid, illegal and totally unnecessary war in Iraq, a country which posed as much threat to the US as Bermuda, with no plan for bringing stability to a country stripped of its institutions.

Second, Washington installed a pretend government in Kabul to create a democracy by forcing a strong, central government on the nation – something that is an anathema to the very soul, nature and character of dozens of centuries of Afghan history.

To keep voters from becoming as questioning as they are now, once the Taliban was gone Bush marketed the Afghan War by claiming it is about democracy, women’s rights, education and nation building. President Obama still says the US is in Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda. But al Qaeda barely exists; its handful of members long ago decamped to Pakistan’s unruly and ungoverned tribal regions.

In fact, this war has become all about oil pipeline routes and Western domination of the energy-rich Caspian Basin. And, of course, there is pressure on Obama from the right that the US cannot afford to “lose” a second war under his command. So he seems to feel that his only option is charging full-tilt over a cliff. Unless he ends this daft misadventure, his granddaughters may see American soldiers still fighting in the badlands of Afghanistan.

Put bluntly, Afghanistan is a bloody mess and America, Canada and NATO add to the problem every day. It’s way past time for us to go home.

Buy Poppies

Before any stability can be returned to the country, the Taliban and other insurgents in the south have to be cut off from their cash flow: Opium smuggling.

Since drug dealers, traffickers and customers are protected by corrupt officials in Kabul and provincial capitals, the only realistic answer is for America and NATO to become poppy farmer’s highest paying customer. It’s a tactic that was wildly successful in Turkey and it can work in Afghanistan, as well.

Some small part of the crop can be resold to pharmaceutical companies which use opium as an ingredient in many legal drugs; the rest can be burned. It’s far cheaper than the current cost of the war. Moreover, within a year, the West will bankrupt the Taliban by deriving it of the estimated $300-million the illegal drugs trade produces and which it uses to buy weapons, food, pay bribes – and buy next year’s poppy crop.

On an on-going basis, America and, hopefully, the EU can subsidise Afghan farmers to grow other crops, using our vast knowledge of agriculture to teach people who still live in the third century how to feed themselves and, eventually, their nation. Again, it’s a far less-expensive venture than fighting a hopeless, unending war even though this may become a semi-permanent part of America’s foreign policy.

As crucial, buying up the poppy crop for a few years will make it incredibly difficult for the Taliban to re-supply, re-equip and re-emerge as a potent force in the region. If destitute farmers and unemployed teens can’t find piece work burying IEDs or launching RGPs for the Taliban, much of its amateur infantry who get paid $5 a day to kill foreign troops will disappear.

The Pashtun

Once the opium supply is controlled and eradicated, the US should put on hold the fruitless task of building up the central government and even most provincial governments, turning its attention instead to bolstering Afghanistan’s traditional source of political power: Tribal leaders.

Like most of its foreign policy, the Bush Administration was wrong-headed about handling Afghanistan once the Taliban were routed. Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribes, who make up 55% of the population, were excluded from power as Washington deceived itself into believing that a strong, central government could be created where one never existed.

The neo-con’s never grasped that Afghanistan is a three-legged ethnic stool and, by removing the Pashtun leg, stability became impossible. It's the same misunderstanding that led to carnage in Iraq after Washington banned Sunni's from participating in rebuilding their country.

There will be neither peace nor stability until the Pashtun majority is enfranchised. This means dealing directly with Taliban, which is largely Pashtun. The West cannot run Afghanistan by using the minority Tajik’s, Uzbek’s and Shia Hazara.

The solution to this no-longer-necessary war is not more phoney elections but a comprehensive peace agreement between ethnic factions that largely restores the status quo before the 1979 Soviet invasion. This means a weak central government in Kabul – for which Hamud Karzai is ideal – and a high degree of autonomy for self-governing regions.

Instead of pretending that Kabul governs any of the country beyond its suburbs, the government should reinstate the loya jirga, or regular, tribal sit-downs. Decisions are made by consensus, often after lengthy haggling. This is the tradition of Afghans and many Islamic societies. Afghanistan worked pretty well for several thousand years under this traditional, informal and easy-going system.

Historical Reality

There’ll have to be a quid pro quo with the tribes beyond buying the opium crop, teaching farmers how to grow other vegetables and short-circuiting the Karzai government.

First, integrate the Pashtun back into civil society. At the moment, the Taliban are the ethnic group’s only voice.

Second, stop all drone attacks on insurgent targets where civilians always end up bearing the brunt of the bombings.

Third, make it clear to tribal leaders that the US doesn’t care about their disputes with other tribes, and won’t interfere as long as it doesn’t spill over into killing American and NATO forces.

Fourth, recognise that cash goes a long way to buy loyalty in Afghanistan. It always has and always will. Just as the US did in Iraq with Sunni militias, put the tribal leaders on Washington’s payroll – with the understanding that killing of Americans will stop immediately. It worked in Anbar and other Sunni provinces and it will work in Afghanistan.

Fifth, pay bonuses to tribal leaders – and members – if they provide actionable intelligence about Taliban activities in their area. But before anyone is hauled off to the infamous prison at Baghram Air Base, make sure that someone isn't trying to settle an old score as happened regularly in 2001 and 2002,

Sixth, use US and NATO ground forces to secure areas where needed but rely on the tribes to police themselves.

Seventh, at a loya jirga – rather than in Karzai’s presidential palace – ask Afghan elders to draw up a list of benchmarks that establish when and under what circumstances Western forces will leave. It may take months to achieve a final agreement but, in the meantime, it’s likely that violence will decline slowly and, at the end, a close-to-peace and stability situation will endure.

We won’t solve Afghanistan’s social or political problems by continuing to wage a cruel and apparently endless war. Our soldiers will never be able to change Afghanistan’s social behavior or end tribal customs that go back thousands of years. They are too busy defending their own bases from angry Afghans and it’s time to leave them alone.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Toronto Film Festival: Moore’s "Capitalism" Will Infuriate Wingnuts Because It's Accurate

Michael Moore has a gift for maintaining two things that people easily lose in times of crisis: Perspective and a sense of humor. Along with his deadly accuracy, it is those two qualities that drive the right wing totally batty.

In 1989, American workers were reeling from Reaganomics that enriched the wealthy, undermined the middle class and had outright contempt for the poor. That was when Moore arrived at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) with Roger & Me tucked under his arm, Moore’s directorial debut which deployed humor like a weapon of mass distribution. He won the People's Choice Award at TIFF and went on to become America’s foremost agent provocateur with Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Slackers and Sicko.

At the 20th anniversary of his debut, the gap between rich and poor is only widening.

Every day brings more layoffs, foreclosures and financial scandals. The desperate conditions in the Flint, Michigan of Roger & Me now are replicated across America, hitting every color collar in the middle class – blue, white, green, polka dot. Back in ‘89, Moore's target was GM. This year, it's the whole system. And he hasn't lost his wit or his jaundiced view of what’s wrong in the United States.

In Capitalism: A Love Story, which premiers Sunday night at TIFF, Moore is at his best. He’s come far in the last 20 years. Moore’s new doc was slotted at 9PM on the first Sunday of the festival in a prime venue, a time and location typically reserved for high-concept blockbusters starring George Clooney or Jodi Foster. When he brought Roger & Me to Toronto in 1989, it was shown on a midweek morning at a small, remote, dirty theatre that smelled of stale popcorn oil and urine, and not easily reached by car, public transit or moose.

The new film explores another taboo question that will make the right wing go apeshit yet again: What price does America pay for its love of capitalism?

When I was a kid, capitalism meant job security, a home and big yard in the suburbs paid for with one salary, a shiny new car in the drive, decent health care benefits and a secure pension at retirement.

Now, as financial institutions run amok and families lose their savings, the American dream is more of a nightmare. Moore takes us into the lives of ordinary people whose worlds were turned upside down by the economy before looking for explanations in Washington, Wall Street and around the nation. He pays particular attention to the 2008 bank bailout during the waning days of the Bush administration. Was this really the best hope for America, or just another money grab by the wealthiest in our nation?

In a film filled with countless memorable moments, one that is foremost in my mind is when Moore stands before the AIG building in lower Manhattan, bullhorn in hand to announce he’s come to make a citizen arrest of the entire AIG board of directors.

The audience at the special screening I attended howled and applauded at the scene and, in fact, as the credits rolled the picture was greeted with an admiring, loud and sustained ovation.

Moore has a knack for finding a fresh angle on familiar headlines. Even in an age with the excesses of Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, Malkin and Bachman, he has the ability to shock. But for all the harsh realities that he reports, his films still empower audiences. By drawing communities together in theatres, he reminds us that there is strength in our numbers.

But perhaps best of all, Capitalism: A Love Story will infuriate bloviators on the right like Glenn "Crazy Mouth" Beck, Lou "I'm Always Right And You're Always Wrong" Dobbs, Rush "Fatty Arbuckel" Limbaugh, Bill "Liar" O'Reilly, and both Michelle's - "I Am The Lunatic Fringe" Malkin and "Never Think Before Speaking" Bachman, because it is an accurate portrayal of how far wrong America has gone.

Production Credits
Executive Producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein
Producers: Michael Moore, Anne Moore
Written By: Michael Moore
Cinematographer: Dan Marracino, Jayme Roy
Editors: John Walter, Conor O'Neill, Alex Meillier, Tanya Ager Meillier, Jessica Brunetto
Sound: Francisco LaTorre, Mark Roy, Hillary Stewart
Music: Jeff Gibbs

Gov Tim Pawlenty On The 10th Amendment

I grew up in Minnesota and since it was my last place of residence in the US, still vote in the state.

After hearing the radio interview this week where Gov. Tim Pawlenty - rumoured to be considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 - joined the so-called "tenthers" I sent this e-mail to him this morning. Fraser Hall is (or was, at the time I was there) the law school at the University of Minnesota.

--- On Sat, 9/12/09, Charley James wrote ---

Subject: Your Comment On The 10th Amendment
Sent: Saturday, September 12, 2009, 9:23 AM

Dear Gov. Pawlenty,

I heard your radio interview this week in which you asserted that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives states the power to not participate in federal health reform legislation.

Were you in hospital the week they taught Constitutional law at Fraser Hall where you supposedly received a J.D? Don’t you remember what was taught about the 10th Amendment? The Supreme Court hasn't held truck with plaintiffs using it to block Congressional action since before the Civil War.

When I was an undergrad at the UofM, I tested into a graduate school seminar on the Constitution in the Political Science department and wrote a paper on the 10th Amendment: Basically, courts have held for more than 100 years that it's usurped by Article 1, which gives Congress the power to regulate commerce and promote the general welfare. I received an “A” on the paper and I’d be happy to send a copy of it to you to refresh your memory. In case I can’t locate it quickly, you might want to read a bit of Thomas Jefferson or look up the Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the federal income tax.

Such nonsense comments are unworthy of a governor, or at least one who isn’t governor of Texas. They may play well with the fringe, right wing base that votes in Republican presidential primaries but they make you sound like an utter fool, and an uneducated one at that.

Charley James

Somehow, I suspect Pawlenty is more interested in the impact of his idiotic comments on the GOP's dwindling base of lunatics than he is in my comments. If I hear back, I'll let you know.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Do As I Say, Not As My Wife Does

I grew up in Minneapolis and worked on my first political campaigns there – JFK and a man named Don Fraser who unseated a long-time Republican Congressman, a zealous anti-Communist named Walter Judd, in the 5th Congressional District in 1962. So I’m always amazed that the same state which produced Hubert Humphrey, Gene McCarthy, Walter Mondale and Amy Klobuchar also turns out the likes of Jesse Ventura, Michelle Bachman and Tim Pawlenty.

Thus, I wasn’t entirely surprised when CBS News reported that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty – sometimes said to be a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2012 – got his tidy whities in a bunch because the President of the United States wants to talk to some returning school kids on Tuesday.

“At a minimum it’s disruptive, number two, it’s uninvited and number three, if people would like to hear his message they can, on a voluntary basis, go to YouTube or some other source and get it,” he told reporters at the Minnesota State Fair. “I don’t think he needs to force it upon the nation’s school children.”

Put in language without his dog whistles to the devout, Tim Pawlenty says he ain’t gonna let no darkie Muslim force socialism on his kids. Powerful words, Guv’ner.

But hey, wait: What’s this?

His wife Mary, the state’s first lady, visits elementary schools frequently to teach students about our system of democracy. The first lady focuses on expanding school children’s knowledge and understanding of the three branches of government, providing a special emphasis on the judiciary. She was a district court judge for 12 years, handling criminal, civil, family and juvenile matters.

Yikes! Mary Pawlenty has been running around the state disrupting and indoctrinating the children of Minnesota for years! Couldn’t she just do that on YouTube or something? I demand to see the complete text of each and every speech she gives from now on.

This is a perfect example of Pawlenty’s hypocrisy or, as Minnesotans call it, T-Pawcrisy. It's the same irritating rash that is Michelle Bachman (R-Goofyville), who recently lashed out angrily at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for writing a flattering profile of her son who is working with Teach For America.

At the same State Fair, Bachman also cried out, “What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists (so insurance and health care reform) will not pass.”

By all means, Michelle, slit your wrists. Please. I think there's still a Chicago Cutlery Store at Knollwood Mall if you need some equipment.