Friday, March 01, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) So Weaker Boener caved in and allowed the sequester to go through. Naturally, the mouthbreathers of the right cheered him on. As I posited the other day, it seems pretty likely that Weaker Boener did this as a sop to this flank, and will now have to negotiate with Harry Reid and President Obama. Do not expect easy negotiations. Boener is in a terrible bind, with ghosts of the 1995 shutdown looming over the Republicans and the American people pointing fingers directly at him.
2) The second private space flight to the International Space Station, the unmanned Dragon space craft, will launch today at 10:10 AM. It carries restocking supplies, including fresh food. NASA is paying $1.6 billion for a dozen flights.
3) Groupon fired its CEO (and general knucklehead) yesterday. He comes off an as immature brat, even walking out the door. Groupon could have, should have, been the darling of the American economy, particularly in tough economic times, but instead they ended up being a diversion, a light entertainment on the business landscape, and a thorn in the side of stockholders.
4) God bless America, where voting is an entitlement  -- Scalia's word -- but slaughtering a classroom full of five year olds is a God-given right.
5) Now that President Obama has a) endorsed gay marriage and b) won re-election, it's nice to see he hasn't forgotten to follow up.
6) A "polarizing issue"? My God, IT'S FUCKING GOLF, for Christ's sake! Gun ownership, voting rights, violence against women, those are -- although they should not be -- polarizing issues. But putters????
7) Another nail in the coffin for climate change denialists. Soon, guys, those will be literal coffins, as the planet pays us all back.
8) You know those background mental stability checks the NRA is proposing? Here's a good start. I'm betting many gun nuts would fail, epically.
9) First came the telephone. Then the cell phone. Then the smart phone. And soon? The brain phone. I have a problem with this: I like to turn my phone off at night.
10) I pick on Florida a lot in this column, so let me post something nicey-time for your perusal to make up for it.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Two Arms" Instead of "To Arms"

John Kerry made an interesting statement yesterday on behalf of the United States:

ROME—Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. is preparing for the first time to directly provide nonlethal assistance, including food rations and medical supplies, to rebel Syrian fighters as part of a bid to change President Bashar al-Assad's "calculations" and expedite his removal from office.

Washington's top diplomat also announced at an international conference in Italy on Thursday that the U.S. will provide $60 million in assistance to Syria's main political opposition group, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, to help it unify politically and better distribute humanitarian supplies and public services to areas of Syria that have been liberated from Mr. Assad's rule.

The U.S. has already provided humanitarian supplies, communications equipment and training to Syria's political opposition. But Thursday marked the first time that Washington announced it will directly engage with Syria's military fighters through the Supreme Military Command, which is attached to the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

The Supreme Military Command is a coalition of the armed forces of the various opposition factions, and could be the basis of a replacement government should Assad vacate his office. Of course, care must be taken to make sure that none of that aid goes to assist groups with aims beyond Syria that include Israel and the US, and you can almost hear the far right Israel lobby throwing a hissy fit that America is getting involved at all in this, since it provides cover for militant activities in Syria and by extension, Lebanon.

Not that Assad is pro-Israel, of course, but the Devil you know...

Still, it's a tricky "thread the needle" that Kerry has to accomplish here: assist rebel forces in Syria without openly confronting the Sov-- I mean, the Russians who have announced they will jack up their military presence in the region.

And to be fair, $60 million is just a large drop in the bucket considering the assistance we could provide. This no doubt has the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) a little upset, but this is why diplomats exist, to make them see things our way.

What's the famous saying, "Diplomacy is the art of letting you have my way"?

The SOC threatened to boycott the Rome conference over the lack of a Western reponse to the humanitarian crisis of government-led violence against the people of Syria. The Russian chess pieces prevent us from openly doing much more than we have been able to, plus our new initiative. This is hardly the time to start a World War.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Perfect Place For Bloodythirsty NRA Members To Move To

To understand South Africa's gun culture, it's crucial to go back nearly two decades. In 1994, apartheid ended. The official system of racial segregation, in place since 1948, took rights away from black Africans and gave virtually all power in every aspect of life to whites.

For generations, violence born out of apartheid spawned a kind of arms race; blacks and whites fought against each other, and everyone else armed themselves, afraid to be caught in the cross fire.

Gun violence was at a record high as the country made its first effort to become what archbishop and peace crusader Desmond Tutu envisioned -- a rainbow nation.

Sort of sounds familiar, doesn't it? A waning white majority panicked over the rise of people of darker complexion purchases crates of guns to protect itself in an overheated paranoid delusion.

Not surprisingly, that forced South Africa to toughen its gun possession laws. Less surprisingly, the anti-apartheid and liberation movements also stockpiled weaponry in response to the perceived threat that white people would start shooting black people on sight.

Even less surprisingly, home burglaries increased, primarily to steal guns that were grandfathered in. This adds a bit of a backdrop to the Pistorius claim that he thought there was a burgler in his bathroom, even if that's likely a bogus claim.

At least South Africa has an excuse: there has been a literal civil war for generations. Here, it's at best a figurative one and at worst the paraniod delusion of entitled white folks, even the poorest, somehow believing the government is teaming up with them against the common folk.

There's a certain logic to the wingnut paranoia, though. In the Fifties and Sixties, a lot of this stuff was pushed by the centralized Federal government. The reasons were simple and clear: the states weren't moving fast enough in passing civil rights legislation themselves, and people's lives were at stake. There was a compelling interest in the Federal government imposing the future on these redneck yahoos.

The reaction, no matter how over the top, is basic human logic: if they could make those people go to school with my viginal kids, what else can they ram down my throat?

You'd hope sixty years later they'd have gotten over it, but here's the thing: it's such a powerful trope ("Something bigger'n you and me is comin' fer us") that it gets fanned regularly. And sadly, there doesn't seem to be anyone pointing out there is no wolf whenever they cry "Wolf!"

Except us liberals, but then...well...

So we ignore them, and move on, and eventually history proves their irrelevance, which just makes them madder.

I don't see a good outcome out of all this, unless somehow cooler heads step in. We may end up with a literal civil war after all, which will not speak well of nation founded on the people's voice.

We can stop coddling them, however.

Or let them move to South Africa.

A side note: Is there ANYone involved in the Pistorius case who ISN'T even indirectly under investigation for gun violence?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bad Medicine

Run, do not walk, to the local newsstand and pick up a copy of this week's Time Magazine for the lengthy investigative reporting done by Steven Brill on the price-gouging and profiteering of the American medical system.
From doctors to hospitals to insurance companies (which actually almost come off as heroes in this tale), Brill follows the money, and does it in-depth and in such a thorough manner that you feel what the various victims of the scamming feel as you read it: anger, terror, overwhelming intimidation.

When Sean Recchi, a 42-year-old from Lancaster, Ohio, was told last March that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his wife Stephanie knew she had to get him to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Stephanie’s father had been treated there 10 years earlier, and she and her family credited the doctors and nurses at MD Anderson with extending his life by at least eight years.

Because Stephanie and her husband had recently started their own small technology business, they were unable to buy comprehensive health insurance. For $469 a month, or about 20% of their income, they had been able to get only a policy that covered just $2,000 per day of any hospital costs. “We don’t take that kind of discount insurance,” said the woman at MD Anderson when Stephanie called to make an appointment for Sean.

Stephanie was then told by a billing clerk that the estimated cost of Sean’s visit — just to be examined for six days so a treatment plan could be devised — would be $48,900, due in advance. Stephanie got her mother to write her a check. “You do anything you can in a situation like that,” she says. The Recchis flew to Houston, leaving Stephanie’s mother to care for their two teenage children.


The total cost, in advance, for Sean to get his treatment plan and initial doses of chemotherapy was $83,900.


Steven Brill is no wild-eyed radical. He created CourtTV and American Lawyer magazine and has advocated for charter schools and the dismantling of teachers' unions as a way to improve education in America.
Hardly a granola crunching hippie, is my point.
In this treatise, he makes a very cogent argument that not only are hospitals -- even non-profits, which opened my eyes -- overbilling, they are basically running RICO scams against consumers, fueled mostly by greed and cynicism.
We all know stories of the aspirin that costs $5 a piece, and we're told its because there's overhead and salaries and equipment to cover. Brill demolishes that shady defense, and points out that most of the money lines the pocket of shareholders and executives of hospitals, doctors' groups and insurers.
As I said higher up, insurers almost look like they're getting scammed, except Medicare. Brill lays out a very strong case for single-payer healthcare, pointing out that Medicare/Medicaid actually get the most cost-effective "bang for the buck" of any insurer out there...and they are still mandated to cover a comfortable profit margin for healthcare providers.
This article may be the arrow that finally pierces the armor of Big Med. Go read it. You'll be mad as hell, and yet come away with a sense of hope for the future.


Monday, February 25, 2013


The Obama administration and Democrats is sitting awfully pretty this week. This is the week that Republicans will explode, no matter what happens. Pass the popcorn:

The danger for Republicans is that the budget cuts will severely weaken public support for the austerity theme that the party has been promoting since 2010. The cuts will make "deficit reduction" something very real to average American citizens and business and something that is often quite painful rather than an abstract debate over numbers.

While Americans have historically been hostile to government, they tend to support specific government services when asked by pollsters. So Washington's overall spending might not be popular as a concept, but Social Security and Medicare are.

The spending cuts will shift the debate toward the specifics. Americans will watch as government services are retrenched. The last time this happened, things didn't go well for the GOP.

That is, barring some grand and hidden scheme by Republicans that will successfully paint Obama as out of touch with the average American. That will be really hard, as it is Republicans who have driven the sequestration dialogue. Obama has helped egg them on, to be sure, but has taken great pains in his statements to set up a "you break it, you own it" theme.

After all, it's the Teabaggers who have run and won office on the promise to cut spending and keep taxes low, and they got their lunch stolen when Speaker John Boehner's caucus caved at the end of last year. Despite the high profile Weaker Boener has given to the Teabaggers (the State of the Union address featured not one but TWO responses from Teabaggers) there's still a lot of anger and the urge to drive off the cliff is strong.

Thus, we're seeing a lot posturing this week, starting with last night's fiendishly timed (just before the Oscars® aired) release of the list of how budget cuts would impact each state, starting with furloughs for Federal employees and drilling all the way down to the number of children who will not receive immunizations in Georgia (as an example.)

Many if not most of these cuts wouldn't be felt for some time. For instance, Federal law requires 30 days notice to lay off Federal employees, so staff cuts won't happen until April 1 at the earliest. Some impacts will be felt immediately, like Social Security checks not being mailed out for the 3rd of March, of course.

To be honest, this all seems like some Grand Guignol opera: the Teabaggers get their fiscal cliff and government shut down but then the responsible adults step in almost immediately to restore balance to things.