Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years Ago Today

I know I'm not the only one to write a 9/11 tribute today, and to be perfectly honest, what is there to say that hasn't already been uttered? No one needs to be reminded of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001; we all know where we were, what we were doing when we first heard the news. Some of us still have the image burned in our brains of the towers falling in New York.

And I shudder to think how those who lost loved ones that day are feeling.

I was a junior in college, attending Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. Since I didn't have class until 10 a.m., I stayed in bed a little longer than usual. When my alarm went off, the first thing I heard was the DJ telling of how an airplane had struck the World Trade Center. Thinking I couldn't possibly have heard that right -- having just woken up and all -- I flipped on CNN ... only to find out that not only had I heard right, but the situation was far more tragic than anticipated.

I did actually make it to that class, but we didn't discuss British literature. Instead, we spent the time filling in the professor on what had happened since she had been teaching another class earlier that morning. She then let us go early, and the school eventually canceled the rest of that day's classes. I'm sure there was humanity in that decision, let everyone take the rest of the day to mourn and grieve, and find out if their loved ones were alright. But I'm sure there was a measure of caution there as well; our campus was just down the street from the largest naval base on the East Coast.

Considering the World Trade Center and Pentagon had been attacked, and another plane presumably on its way to the White House or the Capital had been brought down in Pennsylvania, there was no telling where the next target was.

Given the political climate on campus, 9/11 was the only time I can remember the students on campus, by and large, listening to what President George W. Bush had to say -- no mocking, no sneering, no rolling of the eyes. The President spoke, and for at least that one day, everyone listened.

That stuck with me, because it seemed that without a national tragedy of this scope, the concepts of respect and civility in our public discourse had whithered away. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, everyone from all political backgrounds -- and even ethnic and other backgrounds -- came together for the common good. It wasn't unlike a scenario in which an older brother picks on a younger sibling, only to have that sibling's back when an outsider threatened.

I guess it was inevitable that such respect, such ideas that we were all American regardless of who we prayed to or what letter followed our name, would fade over time. That the memories of those lost would morph back into the same old, politics-as-usual, right-versus-left bickering. But it sure would've been nice if that hadn't been the case, right?

Wouldn't it be nice to not see people use 9/11 for political gains? For Sarah Palin to suggest that President Obama demonzied the 9/11 victims in his speech on Wednesday night, because he said health care reform would cost less than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the very thing of which she accuses Obama. When Glenn Beck strikes up an anti-government movement, called The 9/12 Project, the political implications are clear as day. Beck isn't trying to get us to remember who we were in the immediate aftermath of 9/11; he's trying to use that memory to get us to turn against the current administration.

In essence, he's using 9/11 as a political opportunity. Just like the last administration used 9/11 to justify a needless war in Iraq that killed thousands of Americans, even more innocent Iraqis, took our focus away from Osama bin Laden and sank trillions of dollars that we sure would love to have in our own country right now.

Can we please stop? Using the memories of those fallen eight years ago to advance an agenda -- anti-Obama or not -- is so sick, I can't even think of a word strong enough to describe it. Innocent Americans died for no good reason, and the best some of you have to offer is to use their memories to advance your "God-fearing" rhetoric?

Shame on you.

This is a day to remember the fallen for what they were: Americans. Fathers. Sons. Brothers. Mothers. Daughters. Sisters. Grandparents. Husbands. Wives. Lovers. Girlfriends. Boyfriends. Friends. The more than 3,000 people who died this day eight years ago are not some sacrificial lamb to be tossed out in the name of opposing health care reform or government spending or building support for a war with a nation that had nothing to do with the attack. They were -- and still are -- people, who deserve just as much respect and grief today as they did back then.

Their families and loved ones deserve it even more.

Eight years ago today, our nation suffered the worst peacetime tragedy on American soil. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the plane that went down in that Pennsylvania field, were uncalled for, disgusting and an example of the very things this country should proudly stand against. Today, I will remember those who died and their families. I'll remember the heroes on the Pennsylvania flight who refused to let the terrorists win. I'll remember the firefighters and rescue workers who risked their lives in the immediate aftermath and the days following, trying to find survivors, or at the very least give families some closure.

I'll remember how civil and respectful we were with each other, and I'll wonder ... where did that go? Can we ever get that back?

Maybe, for the sake for those we lost, we should try to get back to that. I'm not saying I won't continue writing in this blog, calling out factual misinformation and hypocrisy where I see it. But the hatred? The vitriol and lack of respect that even goes as far as members of Congress in the face of the President? That's what needs to stop; that's what this country could do without.

We are all Americans. Past, present and future ... forever and always.

May the Goddess look after those lost on 9/11 and their families, and may the Goddess bless the United States of America.

Keith Olbermann's Special Comment, Sept. 10

In a Special Comment on Thursday night, Keith Olbermann took to task Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and others for their factual inaccuracies in the last few months regarding the health care reform debate. Olbermann argued that incivility and scare tactics were bad, but the fact that Wilson and those like him are factually inaccurate in doing so are the truly inexcusable part.

Out of respect for this day (and to avoid becoming redundant), I will not add my own thoughts; instead, I will just share the video and let you conclude on your own.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More CIA Torture Report Musings

Still plugging my way through the CIA Inspector General's Special Review on Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (Sept. 2001-Oct. 2003) -- which can be found here -- having pushed my way through page 70.

I will admit, there are several passages that are hard to read, either because of trying to keep up with the plethora of acronyms throughout the report and what they mean, or reading partial sentences due to redacting, or facing the typically wordy and needlessly complicated language that so often accompanies a government document.

There's also the fact that from pages 46 through 68, there is only one sentence of text that is not redacted -- on the middle of page 53, which reads, "Interrogators are required to sign a statement certifying they have read and understand the contents of the folder."

Everything else in those 13 pages? Nothing but hideous black boxes of ink. Which, considering how bad some of the information that wasn't redacted makes CIA interrogators and the Bush Administration's Department of Justice look ... I worry about the relative filth of the text our government still doesn't want us to see.

Page 15 of the report lists 10 methods of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" the CIA told the DoJ of in hopes of getting legal clearance to enact such measures. The CIA offered 11 methods, but one was discarded after the DoJ warned its presence could "delay the legal review."

In other words, it was blatantly illegal; no amount of fudging or hedging on the facts could've justified its use. Though I'm sure former Vice President Dick Cheney would've tried anyway.

The 10 methods the DoJ authorized were:

1) The attention grasp (grabbing a detainee by the shirt collar and jerking him forward).

2) Walling (pushing a detainee up against a wall).

3) A facial hold (grabbing a detainee's face with both hands to immobilize the head).

4) Slapping a detainee across the face.

5) Cramped confinement, in which a detainee spends anywhere from two to 18 hours confined in a small, dark room.

6) Stuffing detainees in said confinement boxes with "harmless" insects.

7) Having a detainee stand with his fingers supporting all of his body weight against a wall.

8) Stress positions (having detainees stand or sit in uncomfortable positions for lengthy periods of time).

9) Sleep drprivation that would not exceed 11 days at a time.

10) Waterboarding.

Waterboarding received the most media attention, due in part to its extreme visual nature and the fact that it's meant to simulate the sensation of drowning (which would theoretically lead the target into a panicked state and possibly make him more willing to cooperate). Some of the above techniques are things I've seen done on television and in movies (someone's seen a little too much 24 and Alias), while others -- such as the stress positions and having detainees stand near walls -- just make no sense.

At any rate, those 10 EITs were in accordance with both American and international anti-torture laws. A legal opinion written with regard to Abu Zubaydah mentioned the use of EITs on "an as-needed basis" and that they would be used in "some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique." Interrogators argued that Zubaydah would not offer intelligence without the use of such techniques, and that their use would not result in long-term mental or physical harm.

If that sounds nice and vague, that's because it is. Rule No. 1 of anything government-related: the more vague it is, the more leeway said government entity has to do whatever it pleases.

In this case, torture suspected terrorists.

Eventually, the use of EITs expanded beyond Zubaydah, leading to a document titled "Legal Principles Applicable to CIA Detention and Interrogation of Captured Al-Qaida Personnel." The report not only affirmed previous notions regarding torture, but it also said the federal War Crimes statute did not apply to members of al Qaeda because they were not considered prisoners of war.

Never mind the whole "War on Terror" thing ...

The report added that, "the [Torture] Convention permits the use of [cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment] in exigent circumstances, such as national emergency or war." Basically, this was Cheney's argument that we needed to torture detainees to prevent further terrorist attacks and keep Americans safe. Even though it was illegal, we had to do it.

You understand.

It's worth noting that Cheney's name does not appear in the first 70 pages of this report -- or if it does, it's part of the redacted text. The report also said EITs do not violate the Fifth of Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution because those provisions do not apply outside of American soil, and the Eighth Amendment was not violated because criminal sanctions had not been levied against the detainees.

And here I thought it was the Supreme Court's job to interpret the Constitution, not the CIA and DoJ ...

Detainees were required to receive basic medical care, and for a period, all interrogations were recorded so the CIA and DoJ could monitor the implementation of specific EITs. At this point, new CIA interrogators were being trained in the implementation of EITs. Only interrogators certified by the CIA could conduct such practices.

Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, according to the report.

Beginning on page 41, the report goes into detail regarding unauthorized EITs implemented on Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri. Interrogators used EITs on Al-Nashiri for two weeks in Sept. 2002 and deemed him to be "compliant," though when a debriefer decided he was withholding information, Al-Nashiri was hooded and handcuffed.

At some point between Dec. 28, 2002 and Jan. 1, 2003, that same debriefer used a loaded semi-automatic handgun to frighten Al-Nashiri into talking -- not only did the debriefer have the gun visibly on him -- he pointed it directly at Al-Nashiri's head ... twice. During this same time frame, the debriefer also used a power drill, revving the device in the presence of Al-Nashiri will he was naked and hooded.

The debriefer did not request authorization for nor report the use of the handgun or the power drill. The DoJ was notified of the practices, but on Sept. 11, 2003, the DoJ decided not to prosecute the debriefer -- even though the report shows no evidence that such practices actually worked on Al-Nashiri.

According to a separate report, the same debriefer once threatened Al-Nashiri by saying if he didn't talk, "We could get your mother in here," and, "We can bring your family in here." The debriefer apparently wanted Al-Nashiri to think his female relatives would be sexually abused in front of him if he did not cooperate.

And this is the text that wasn't redacted, folks!

Interrogators were also accused of stepping on Al-Nashiri's shackles (resulting in cuts and bruises) and bathing him with a stiff brush designed to induce physical pain.

The report went on to say that Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, despite being more than cooperative by all accounts, was waterboarded a combined 183 times -- and when he was waterboarded, the execution went well beyond the practice approved by the DoJ.

I mentioned before how deplorable these charges are, and how I think everyone associated with them -- from the interrogators who doled out the EITs to those in the DoJ and the White House who knew of and authorized them -- should be brought to justice. There is no need for the United States of America to be acting in such a fashion in the name of national security.

Members of al Qaeda might not be prisoners of war, but they are human beings, and deserve some basic rights and dignities. When we threaten their families with sexual abuse, or we threaten them with power drills or waterboard them, we are in fact no better than those we are trying to protect our citizens from. I understand we are in a time where we need to be vigilant and strong in the face of terrorism, but at what cost to our own national identity?

What does it say about us as a country when we feel the need to spit in the face of the rule of law in order to keep our citizens safe?

This is disgusting, deplorable and horrible beyond words. I can only imagine what atrocities are being hidden beneath the redacted text, and I can't even fathom what slights against humanity await in the remaining 89 pages of this report.

Sickening. Absolutely sickening ...

A Turning Point for Obama?

For the most part, public sentiment regarding President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night regarding health care reform has been positive; many pundits and American citizens felt he had been more specific and forceful than at any other point in this at-times silly debate -- even if he didn't so as far as some progressives would've liked.

The President strongly supported the public option, but did not demand it. Unlike Bill Clinton, the last President to attempt health care reform and address a joint session of Congress about it, Obama did not wave around a pen threatening veto. While the lack of such histrionics likely upset some progressives, what Obama did do with this speech more than made up for it.

Obama made clear Wednesday night that while he would not draw a line in the sand with regards to the public option, he would only accept alternative ideas that made sense and were offered in good faith. He mentioned briefly the idea of non-profit co-ops, though it's worth noting he went much further with regards to explaining the public option and how it would benefit ordinary Americans.

The White House's website also makes the case for a public option, specifically mentioning it as a facet of the President's plan.

"Now, let me be clear," Obama said. "Let me be clear. (The public option) would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5 percent of Americans would sign up."

Obama argued that the public option -- as part of an insurance exchange and in addition to other reforms, such as making it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage based of pre-existing conditions and drop policies or water down coverage when people get sick -- would help keep costs down, since the not-for-profit program wouldn't have the unnecessary administrative costs and profit margins of the private companies.

It was the simplest, clearest defense of the public option I've yet heard -- even without the mandate that the final bill include one.

Obama made sure to note that "80 percent" of the issues up for discussion were widely agreed upon by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle -- the remaining 20 percent (mostly the public option and cost of the bill) was where the majority of consternation and outrage have originated. He implemented several Republican ideas -- including Sen. John McCain's proposal that until the insurance exchange was formed, uninsured Americans should have access to low-cost catostrophic care coverage.

He also reminded the likes of McCain, Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley that they had voted for health care reforms of a sort in the past. McCain once authored a Patients' Bill of Rights with the late Ted Kennedy, while Hatch helped Kennedy offer insurance for children, and Grassley helped Kennedy offer the same for children with disabilities.

In fact, for as effective as Obama was in laying out what he wanted in the bill -- and making the point that the bill would have to be deficit-neutral and add no new taxes to the middle class -- perhaps his greatest moment came at the close of the speech. Invoking Kennedy's name, Obama mentioned a letter the Senator had written back in May when it became clear to him that his brain tumor was terminal.

In the letter, Kennedy called health care a "moral issue," and stated that whether reform passed would determine who America was as a country, what statement the issue would make about the country's character. Obama didn't quite make the point that health care for all was a right (something Kennedy was famous for arguing), but he did frame the issue as a matter of moral importance, that we as a country have a moral imperative to provide every member of this country with quality, affordable health care that will be there when we all need it.

I dare the Blue Dogs and Republicans to continue railing against reform now that the issue has been framed in such a way. Now, anyone who opposes reform and supports the status quo is showing their true American character -- the one that is green and makes life really difficult for people who don't have it. I dare these lawmakers to look their constituents in the eye and explain why regulating insurance companies and making it illegal for them to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions is a bad thing.

Really, I dare them to do this.

The way Obama framed the issue, and responded like a reasonable adult addressing a room full of chilldren (ironic, considering he did exactly that the day before) are what made Wednesday night's speech so successful. The issue now is whether members of Congress will take the President's words and turn them into an actual bill that he can sign and present to the American people. I believe they will, especially since the President seems intent to become more involved in the process now.

I expect Obama to tug on a lot of shirt collars and hold a lot of meetings with lawmakers in the coming days and weeks. He hadn't really done that to this point, and as great as his speech was on Wednesday, it probably should've come sooner.

Then again, maybe Obama's strategy was to let August go nuts. Maybe he wanted the insurance companies and the Republicans to fight feverishly against reform, show how ignorant and crazy they were, so that when he swooped in and set everyone straight, the majority of reasonable Americans would be on his side. It seems like every time people have doubted Obama, he has turned around and done something to show just how determined and up to the challenge he was. He proved it in the Democratic primaries against Hillary Clinton, he proved it in the general election against McCain, and I think he proved it again on Wednesday.

In the end, though, pretty words won't mean anything if a strong reform bill doesn't pass. Obama, I think, realizes this -- which is why he insisted that he would continue to reach across to politicians of all colors, while simultaneously making it clear that he will have no more of the venomous lies that so dominated the last month.

He knows what the Republicans are doing, and he is watching. Even as they shout like town hall protestors in the halls of the House of Representatives, or text while the President is speaking or holding up signs and showing disgust and indignation on their faces. Even as they trot out a birther to give the Republican response, who inadvertently made Obama's points for him, the President has repeatedly tried to gain bipartisan support.

A worthless endeavor, I feel, given the Deomcrats' vast Congressional majorities, but if he's going to frame health care reform as a moral issue, it might just work.

Now, about this idea of individual mandates ...

Friday, September 4, 2009

GOP Up in Arms Over ... Education Speech?

When is telling the children of America to stay in school, study hard and take their education seriously a bad thing?

Apparently, when this country's first African-American president is the one saying these things.

President Barack Obama will give a major speech on Tuesday, Sept. 8 regarding the importance of education. The speech, which will be televised live at noon EST on C-SPAN and the White House's website, will be directed at the nation's school children. Obama is expected to highlight the things I mentioned above, looking to use his considerable personal appeal and oratory skills to highlight the importance of getting a good education.

Think of it as an academic pep talk.

Almost like clockwork, though, the not-so-sane members of the right wing (I know, is there any other kind?) are coming out in opposition of the speech, calling it an attempt to indoctrinate America's children and use their return to school as a chance for political agenda-setting. Never mind when George H.W. Bush did the same thing in 1991 ... or when the beloved Ronald Reagan addressed school children in a speech in 1986.

Oklahoma state Sen. Steve Russell, a Republican, offered this tasty little nugget on Thursday: "As far as I'm concerned, this is not civics education -- it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality. This is something you'd expect to see in North Korea or Saddam Hussein's Iraq."

So now Obama, who has been called a socialist and communist and likened to Adolf Hitler, is now being compared with the late Iraqi dictator. Frankly, I'm surprised it's taken the GOP this long, since Obama's middle name is Hussein.

Then again, Republicans have always been a little on the slow side ...

Some school districts -- including those in Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin -- have decided not to show the speech to their classes. Other schools are letting parents opt their children out of class if they don't want them viewing the speech.

I wonder whatever happened to respect for the Office of the President. When I was in school, if the President was speaking to schoolchildren, not only would we watch, we'd watch eagerly. Now, it seems that if you disagree with Obama -- or apparently you can't stand the color of his skin -- you can deprive children of the important message he has to deliver.

What happened to this country? Since when did we go from a nation of respectful yet differing ideals to one in which everyone shouts over each other battling for space on the air waves? What is so dangerous about the leader of this country telling this nation's children how important it is to succeed in school?

Really, where's the harm?

Taxpayer dollars are not being spent to "spread President Obama's solicalist ideologies," as Florida GOP chairman Jim Greeg suggested on Wednesday. He is not indoctrinating anyone into anything; it's simply a message of the importance of education for a long, successful life.

Since when is that such a bad thing?

Memo to the GOP: the next time you want to let your racist opinions direct you into criticizing the President's moves, innocent though they may be, you need to do a better job of masking that vitriol. Virtually everyone with a brain now knows that "socialist" and "communist" are just code for the word you really want to say, but know you can't.

Comparing the President to Saddam Hussein doesn't help your cause either.

If you have a legitimate criticism or honest idea about something, by all means speak up. Otherwise, sit down, duct-tape that disgusting mouth of yours and let the President, who apparently is the only grown-up left in the room, have the floor.

You guys had your shot earlier this decade, and it was a catastrophic failure. Shut up, enjoy your irrelevance and go away.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Obama to address Congress, nation Sept. 9

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos is reporting that President Obama will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, Sept. 9. The report comes on the heels of signals from the White House that Obama was prepared to try a different approach in the battle over health care reform, ptoentially even a new, more specific message.

While the specifics of what Obama will tell Congress aren't yet known, I'm glad the President will finally be speaking up once more. I think Obama has done a poor job of handling the message in this debate so far, not adequately addressing the lies and distortions that reform opponents have been using to disturbing effect. The majority of Americans might support health care reform, but the opposition has been so loud, and the media spotlight on them so bright, that it would appear otherwise.

It's time for reform supporters to take back the message, and it starts with Obama.

Top advisor David Axelrod said the administration was entering a "new season" and that Obama would likely be more hands-on. To this point, the President sat back and let Congress handle the bills, trying to avoid what many perceive as the mistakes made during the Clinton administration, when Hillary Clinton drafted a bill and told Congress to pass it.

As we all know, that didn't exactly work. Thus far, Obama's approach hasn't looked much better, though that might be a matter of perception, due to the opposition's insistence on turning the debate up to 11.

Obama is not expected to introduce new proposals, but be more specific on his priorities for legislation. At this point, anything that clears up the ambiguity and confusion inherent in this important yet complicated issue would be appreciated; in a recent CBS News poll, 67 percent of Americans from all political backgrounds said the health care reform issue was confusing.

Which is one of the reasons the opposition has had such an easy time misleading everyone.

I stand by my assertion that the public option is the cornerstone of reform. Getting rid of pre-existing condition discrimination and ending policy recission are important, vital parts of reform and I'm not saying we shouldn't have them, but without the public option to curb costs and introduce competition in a market that is decidedly lacking in it, the other proposals will ultimately mean little.

At least 60 members of the House have said they will not vote for a reform package that does not include a public option. Will Obama heed those words and realize he won't be able to mathematically get a bill through without the more progressive members of that chamber, or will he drop the polarizing issue and risk a showdown with his own party?

If Obama and the Democrats want to still be around in 2010 and 2012, they better keep hold of that public option. We didn't vote these people into office for a bailout of the health insurance industry; we voted for reform and true change.

Mr. President, it's about time you gave that to us.

Rep. Bobby Scott's Health Care Town Hall

My Congressman, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va., 3rd District) held a health care reform town hall meeting Tuesday night in Newport News, Va., a relatively civil affair in which he discussed the proposals laid out in H.R. 3200, the American Affordable Health Choices Act, before taking questions.

It was the first such event I had attended -- mostly because it was the first such event scheduled for a time when I wasn't stuck at work. There were roughly 250-300 people there, and I would guess the audience was approximately 60-40 in favor of health care reform. For the most part, those who were against it were passionate yet polite and not eager to shout down supporters.

For the most part.

There were instances, on both sides, of people audibly groaning or shouting "No!" or "You're wrong!" when someone made a point, but there weren't any of the scenarios we've seen on television in the past month of Congressmen being berated or audience members nearly coming to blows over their disagreement.

The oddest part of the night was when a man stepped up to the podium, announced he was in favor of health care reform ... and proceeded to liken the Obama administration to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Apparently, the guy brought his Rush Limbaugh talking points, but didn't read through them carefully enough.

There were legitimate concerns raised by audience members relating to cost -- one woman asked if her taxes were going to increase to fund the public option (unless she makes $350,000 a year, they won't), and another mentioned that one study (a study I can't find, incidentally enough) said Medicare would be bankrupt by 2016.

Scott then made the point that Medicare is near bankruptcy because of how much it has to pay for treatments. Under health care reform, including the public option, the amount of money Medicare has to pay for health care costs would be greatly reduced, while not sacrificing the quality of the care Medicare can provide.

One woman asked where in the Constitution did it ever say that the government was responsible for health care, claiming that "the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" had nothing to do with health care. First of all ... that passage was in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.

Secondly, Section 8 of Article I of the United States Constitution reads, "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States." One could argue that health care falls under the umbrella of "general welfare," since your physical health directly correlates with your general well-being and welfare.

Thirdly, health care is tied to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Without health care, people are dying -- to the tune of 18,000 a year. Liberty is freedom, and it's hard to be free when you're shackled to a greedy insurance company who wants to take your money and not pay for your dialysis. And it's hard to be happy when you're screaming with the insurance companies who refuse to pay for your chemo.

And to the woman who wanted to let the free market take care of things, because dammit, that's what America was founded on? Letting the free market do its thing is what got us into this mess in the first place.

More than one audience member came in support a single payer -- a notion Rep. Scott supports, but one he said was not being considered. More than one reform supporter vocally expressed desire to see H.R. 676 -- the United States National Health Care Act -- passed instead. The bill, essentially Medicare-for-all, has been championed by the likes of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).

Scott said he was not familiar with H.R. 676, which I find peculiar, since he's one of that bill's co-sponsors.

Though Scott did not come right out and say he would not vote for a health care reform bill that did not contain a robust public option, he did express his skepticism that true reform could be possible without one. When asked about the co-op approach, Scott was again skeptical, citing Wisconsin's experience with the system and noting that he's seen studies that suggest such an approach wouldn't work.

Among the highlights from his presentation:

-The United States spends a greater percentage (17 percent) of its GDP on health care expenditures than any other country in the world, yet our health care outcomes are no better.

-Health care costs are rising at a rate faster than inflation. Some projections claim that under the current system, Americans will be spending $13,100 per capita on health care per year -- more than double what we're paying per capita now.

-H.R. 3200, among other things, will implement an employer mandate (which will include all but the very smallest of small businesses), will make it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, allow anyone to keep their current plan if they so choose and set up a Health Insurance Exchange -- which would be similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, which is what members of Congress use.

The proposed public option would be a part of that exchange, where people would have the choice between it and a number of private plans. The idea is to promote competition and drive down costs. In the current health care system, there is no competition; in most states, one private insurer controls anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of that state's market share.

Without competition, there's no incentive for these companies to keep down costs.

H.R. 3200 would also cap your annual out-of-pocket expenses. Individuals will have a $5,000 cap, while families would have a $10,000 cap. Anything beyond that will have to be paid by insurance, no matter what. The bill would also expand Medicaid to 133 percent of the poverty level (roughly $14,000 a year for individuals).

Scott said H.R. 3200 was deficit neutral and would be completely paid for in 10 years.

Now remember, H.R. 3200 is not the final bill. It will likely be combined with the other two health care bills in the House, and that's not even taking into account whatever bill comes out of the Senate. It's likely the final bill would encompass much of what's in H.R. 3200, but it probably won't be this exact bill. Once Congress returns to work next week, it's up to us to tell them what we want when it comes to health care reform.

Scott's town hall meeting was informative and relatively civil, which was nice to see. Too bad we couldn't focus more on these and less on the ones taken over by the insurance company-paid crazies.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

You Want Cheney to Do What Now ...?

If you live on Jupiter -- or read The Wall Street Journal, which is becoming the print arm of FOX News -- you might think the following is a good idea:

Dick Cheney running for President in 2012.

James Taranto wrote in Monday's edition about the prospect of Cheney running for the Republican nomination, mostly thanks to this passage:

"If the Bush administration's policies really did keep us safe for 7½ years, then it stands to reason that the Obama administrations' policies may be endangering us now. Certainly that is how the public would see it in the event of another terrorist attack.

If that happens, heaven forbid, Obama will be seen to have failed in the most basic presidential duty, and the Bush administration will be vindicated. As inconceivable as it may seem today, the 2012 election may end up turning on national security. Republicans would be wise to nominate someone with both toughness and experience. Under such circumstances, it's hard to think of a better candidate--assuming, of course, that he could be persuaded to run--than Richard B. Cheney."

Vindicated from what, exactly? How does one become vindicated after allowing the worst terrorist attack on American soil occur? How can one be vindicated when he (allgedly) authorized illegal interrogation practices that may or may not have worked? I find it hard to think Cheney would be vindicated when I strongly believe he broke the law, and I'm sure there are thousands of American families who point to eight years ago this month and rightly wrap that little banner around Cheney's shoulders.

In a perfect world, the Department of Justice's investigation into CIA torture would eventually lead to Cheney, which would lead to charges and sentencing, thus rendering his shot at running for President in 2012 (if he would even want to) pointless. Even if Cheney isn't implicated in an investigation, though, the perception of him as a war criminal would keep him from winning a general election, let alone the party nomination.

Cheney might fire up the base, much like Sarah Palin, but the ever-elusive independents and conservative Democrats wouldn't be caught dead voting for him.

I'm not sure what's scarier: the idea of Cheney running, or the fact that some within the Republican Party aren't laughing their heads off over it. I'm sure Cheney's ability to fire up the base has to be taken seriously, but given his reputation and how unpopular his and George W. Bush's policies were, whoever's running for the Democrats would have a field day with him.

John McCain couldn't distance himself properly from Bush/Cheney policies ... why would we think Cheney himself could?

This isn't even taking into account Cheney's age and heart problems.

I'm confident this will never materialize, and that the thought of Cheney running is nothing more than a case of some right-wing WSJ columnist trying to make a name for himself, but still ... were he to run, we'd probably see one of those beatdowns like the one Ronald Reagan put on Walter Mondale back in 1984, when Mondale won D.C. and Minnesota -- and nothing else.

Then again, it would be nice to see almost the entire United States painted blue ...

Government-Run Health Care: For Some or All?

Opponents of health care reform are quick to shout something about not wanting government-run health care ... even if half of them turn around and beg you not to touch their Medicare. Then there's the crowd of ignorance who believes the public option would lead to a government takeover of health care.

Then there's Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the lead Republican "negotiating" a health care reform bill in the Senate Finance Committee. He told a town hall crowd last week that he opposed a public option because he believed the American people deserved choices.

Umm, Senator? You do realize options and choices are the same thing, right?

Not that it matters; Grassley showed his true colors when a letter he wrote to fundraisers surfaced on Monday, in which he asked for "immediate support in defeating 'Obama-care'." This after Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) recorded a radio address in which he talked of wanting to kill health care reform.

Reports Tuesday hinted that the bill coming out of the Finance Committee likely won't contain a public option (which isn't really reform), but it's important to remember that's not going to be the only bill. It appears, though, that it would be the only health care reform bill in both chambers of Congress to not have a public option, so make of that whatever you will.

Then there's Ohio Rep. Joe Barton, who on Monday told The Washington Indepedent that if the GOP earned a majority in Congress after the 2010 elections, they would repeal any health care bill that passes. Uhh, Rep. Barton? That's a pretty big if, for one thing, and even if you do ... you'd still have a Democrat in the White House for at least two more years, and he'd likely veto your repeal.

Think, people. Think!

Yet the White House keeps hoping for bipartisanship. Why? Why go out of your way to appease a political minority who has made it clear time and again it wants nothing to do with your efforts? The Republican Party has repeatedly demonstrated that it cares little for the plight of ordinary Americans, so why do the Democrats keep trying to drag them onto the dance floor?

If White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' comments on Monday mean anything, perhaps the White House is finally abandoning the concept of bipartisanship. About eight months too late, but better late than never, I guess.

On her show Monday night, Rachel Maddow explained how there are examples of government-run health care already in this country ... but only certain segments of the population are entitled to them. Everyone else? Well, we get the stressful consolation prize of a private insurance industry hellbent on profits, which means denied coverage, dropped policies and partially-paid bills.

A system that's contributed to 62 percent of all bankruptcy filings from last year -- and 78 percent of those came from people who had insurance.

So let's recap:

Seniors have access to Medicare, a goverment-run single-payer health care system available to those 65 or older (or who meet a few other criteria). Although Medicare has struggled financially in recent years, most of its recipients hold firm to their desire to keep Medicare -- even as some of them scream about not wanting the government in control of their health care. Medicare is one of the major reasons my grandmother was able to successfully battle lymphoma this past year without suffering major financial losses.

Medicaid is a joint federal-state health care program designed to give low-income Americans health care. However, studies show that some 60 percent of "poor Americans" are not covered. Even though I make virtually nothing, I don't qualify for Medicaid.

Military veterans have access to Veterans Administration (VA) health care, which is -- you guessed it -- government-run. Though it too faces budget problems (no health care system is ever going to be perfect), those who can take advantage of the VA program are perfectly happy with it. Veterans are also eligible for a government program called Tricare For Life.

Tricare is run in part by the Department of Defense, and it offers care to military personnel, retirees and their families. Since my father served in the Air Force, I was covered under Tricare -- until I turned 23, and had to be dropped by law.

I haven't had coverage since ... mostly because of the out-of-this-world costs.

In 1997, the goverment created the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP. Created to cover children who were uninsured and part of families that can't afford private insurance but make too much to qualify for Medicaid, it's yet another government-run health care system. It was championed by the late Ted Kennedy, but George W. Bush twice vetoed bills that would expand S-CHIP's funding.

President Obama signed legislation in February expanding S-CHIP to cover up to 4 million more children and pregnant mothers.

So let's recap, shall we? In the United States of America, senior citizens, military veterans, government employees, children and the extremely poor have access to quality, government-run health care. Everyone else? So sorry ... have fun dealing with the private insurance companies and their "death panels". Better hope you don't get sick or in an accident, because the insurance company might drop you.

Better hope nothing's happened to you before, since insurance companies can call that a pre-existing condition. I had open-heart surgery when I was 4; I'm almost certain a private insurer would deny me coverage because of that ... or jack up my monthly premiums (which I already can't afford), or give me a policy, but tell me it won't pay for anything related to my heart.

This is the "system" in which we live. Certain members of the population are entitled to quality, affordable health care, while the rest of us are left to play Russian roullette with the insurance industry. I'm not suggesting those who have access don't deserve it ... what I'm trying to fight for is the right for everyone to have government-run health care.

The public option would provide that. It's not quite Medicare-for-all (which to me, would be the best-case scenario), but the public option would be a win-win for everyone. People without coverage would have an affordable option, one that would eventually force the private insurance companies to lower their costs.

Every other industrialized country on the planet recognizes that health care for all is a fundamental right, and that no one should ever go bankrupt because of disease or injury. Why can't the United States see this? Why are some segments of our population granted government-run, affordable health care, but not others?

Sounds a lot like discrimination to me.

Kennedy called health care reform the cause of his life, and he believed health care was a right for everyone -- not a luxury for the few. A basic human right, and it is wrong of anyone -- government or for-profit corporation -- to deny anyone that right. Again, I'm not saying take away Medicare or do away with the VA or S-CHIP ... keep all of those programs.

But what about something for the rest of us?