Monday, August 31, 2009

Preparing For My Trip To Rome-- With Penn And Teller And Sabina Guzzanti


I may have mentioned how I'm planning out a trip to remote, mysterious Albania in a few months. In all honesty, most of the vacation will be spent in Rome eating in places like La Pergola, Roscioli, Quinzi & Gabrieli, Colline Emiliane, and Al Ceppo and wandering around the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Castel Sant'Angelo and, of course, the Vatican. Two weeks of that, then Albania; then more Rome. Yesterday, though, Roland, who was raised an atheist and claims to not even know what religion his antecedents were, directed me to a story in the L.A. Times about how Junipero Serra needs just one more miracle and-- BOOM-- he's a saint. It's been 75 years since they've been looking and 22 since he was beatified after being credited with curing a nun in St Louis who had lupus. One place they probably shouldn't look for the second miracle is on the Penn and Teller show, Bullshit! You, on the other hand, will certainly enjoy it, especially if you're planning a trip to the Vatican-- or even plan to live it vicariously through my reports on the travel blog.

[This video was originally hosted as a single clip by Vimeo, a company that pulls down videos if anyone says "boo" to them. I have a feeling that someone-- Satan perhaps-- may have said more than "boo."]

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There's no "filler" here. At DWT, you get all 100%, um, whatever the heck this stuff is!


Labor Day, eh? Big deal. We don't
go to the beach anyways.

We interrupt whatever it was you were doing to bring you this breaking news:


AUGUST 31, 2009

In Week Before Labor Day, Pointless 'Filler' Columns Abound

Lazy Columnists Pad Out Stories by Quoting Experts, Experts Say

In a phenomenon that occurs every year in the week before Labor Day, national columnists across America file pointless, content-free "filler" columns, enabling the lazy scribes to hit the beach earlier, according to observers who have been following this trend.

The "filler" columns are churned out in a matter of minutes with no loftier goal than meeting a deadline and filling up space -- meaning that columnists will often resort to using the same words or phrase again and again and again and again and again.

And rather than doing any original writing, the slothful columnists will rely on so-called "experts" to supply them with quotes to fill up space, experts say.

"They'll often quote people you've never heard of," says Harold Crimmins, an expert in the field of filler columns. "It's pretty shameless."

The typical "filler" column is often a reprint of a previously published column, but the writer will later plug in one cursory reference to current events, such as the health care reform controversy, to disguise this fact.

And in order to fill up space even faster, Crimmins says, the lazy beach-bound columnist will compose his summer "filler" columns with short paragraphs.

Many of these paragraphs will be as short as one sentence, he says.

"Or shorter," he adds.

There are other telltale signs a reader can look for in order to determine whether a writer has, in fact, filed a so-called "filler" column, according to Crimmins.

One of these is a tendency to repeat information that the reader has already read earlier in the article, with columnists even stooping to using the same quote twice.

"They'll often quote people you've never heard of," Crimmins says.

Another tip-off is if the column ends abruptly.

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Amazing How The Right Has Managed To Get The Teabaggers All Riled Up About Tort Reform


I wrote a few times about my lovely day in August with the teabaggers and somewhere along that way I think how I explained that the chief teabagger, Mike Alexander, when he wanted his teabaggers to disrupt a speaker, would signal a 16 year old kid with a drum who would tap out a signal for which chant Alexander wanted them all to shout in unison. "Read the bill" and "Liar" were most popular but "Tort reform" was another one they had all rehearsed.

I have a brother-in-law who seems to have lost his mind some time ago. I never really knew him well enough to figure out why, but he was a truck driver and I figured he just listened to too much Hate Talk Radio and it drove him mad. He's retired now, filled with bitterness, bitterness he allows Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to direct for him. He's been pretty crazy for years but after hearing his theory about how Obama planned to get revenge on white people if he were to be elected, I decided to only call my sister on her cell phone going forward. You may have a brother-in-law like that too. Worse yet, a right-wing porno actor from Georgia sometimes IMs me to rant and rave about whatever he's heard on Fox. I try ignoring it since he adds nothing whatsoever to the brainwash routine but yesterday he started in about how high his taxes are and how liberal health care would ruin him. I didn't want to be unkind but after he started in about how Hitler was a leftist I told him I needed to finish writing and best of luck. Like I said, he didn't add anything but he certainly didn't leave much out either-- and "tort reform" was part of the gibberish he regurgitated. Who knew gay Republican porn actors from rural Georgia were so concerned with tort reform?

But more and more people have noticed that the teabaggers and dittoheads have been howling about tort reform and Dan Margolies at the Kansas City Star decided to try to get to the bottom of it on Friday... and on page one, no less! He had noticed the phenomena at a Claire McCaskill town hall there in town. Margolies approached the issue with an open mind and acknowledged that "few causes in the health care debate draw more support than tort reform-- the idea of reining in frivolous lawsuits that lead to unjust cash awards, soaring malpractice premiums and 'defensive medicine,' the unnecessary tests ordered by doctors to avoid being sued." He also points out that evidence paints a "much different picture." The Medical-Industrial Complex and Insurance industry spend far more on bribing members of Congress and lobbying them ($1,171,723,099 in thinly disguised bribes since 1990 and another $4.8 billion in lobbying just since 1998) than on settling jury awards.
The most reliable estimates peg the costs of malpractice litigation at 2 percent of overall health care costs. And while tort reform measures have helped tamp down malpractice premiums, national health spending continues to rise.

“If you’re talking about payments made on behalf of doctors or hospitals to plaintiffs, that’s actually a drop in the bucket compared to the nation’s $2.2 trillion in health care costs,” said Amitabh Chandra, a professor of public policy at Harvard University.

Ask any physician how he or she feels about tort reform and you’re likely to get an impassioned answer about how malpractice litigation has raised insurance premiums and led to an epidemic of defensive medicine.

“The one central goal that any health care reform should include is cost containment,” said Steve Reintjes, a local neurosurgeon. “I think that federal tort reform will go a great way to ease the practice of defensive medicine.”

It’s no mystery why Reintjes and fellow physicians feel that way. Six or so years ago, malpractice premiums skyrocketed, the latest in a series of liability crises that galvanized the medical community.

Doctors pressed state lawmakers to enact tort reform measures, including caps on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, caps on punitive damages, and requiring verdicts to be reduced by amounts plaintiffs get from health insurance and other sources.

...Since the 2005 reforms in Missouri, malpractice premiums at Hagen’s practice have fallen 24 percent-- a decline he attributes to the reforms. Reintjes said his premiums have declined 30 percent.

But-- and here is where the debate gets sticky-- overall health care costs in Missouri continue to rise. The same is true in states that have enacted even more stringent tort reforms, such as Texas.

Which suggests that a tort system run amok is, at best, only a small contributor to the nation’s health care costs.

In fact, it’s not clear that malpractice awards have risen anywhere near as dramatically as tort-reform proponents insist. Nor is it clear that jackpot justice, as opposed to declines in insurers’ investment income, is to blame for rising malpractice premiums.

Missouri is one of the few states that issues regular reports on medical malpractice. Its most recent report states that from 2006 to 2007, the number of paid claims increased from 514 to 719, but declined to 564 in 2008.

From 2005 to 2006, average awards in the state declined by 15.9 percent, from $253,888 to $213,454, and by an additional 8.5 percent to $195,239 in 2007, according to the report. And while average awards rose by 3.8 percent in 2008 to $202,612, that amount was still below the 2005 high of $253,888.

And those awards represent only a fraction of all claims. Most claims result in no payment at all to the plaintiff.

So how much do the costs of malpractice lawsuits — defined to include verdicts, settlements and the costs of defensive medicine — contribute to health care spending? In 2004, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office pegged those costs at less than 2 percent.
More recently, a study by WellPoint, a large insurer, found that medical malpractice was “not a major driver of spending trends.”
Tort reform, WellPoint said, would lower health insurance premiums, “but medical malpractice is not currently driving the rate of increase.”
Physicians frequently cite a higher figure — 10 percent — as the share of overall health care costs attributable to malpractice litigation and defensive medicine. The figure appears to come from a 1996 study by two Stanford University economists that estimated the costs of defensive medicine at 5 to 9 percent of health care spending and the costs of litigation at 2 percent.

The authors found wasteful defensive medicine in the treatment of elderly heart disease patients and extrapolated their findings to other areas of health care. But other experts, including the Congressional Budget Office and researchers at Dartmouth College, have been unable to replicate those findings.

“The fact that we see very little evidence of … dramatic increases in the use of defensive medicine in response to state malpractice premiums places the more dire predictions of the malpractice alarmists in doubt,” the Dartmouth researchers wrote.

While some studies have shown that caps on non-economic and punitive damages have led to lower malpractice premiums, most experts say the savings don’t have a significant effect on overall health care costs. The Congressional Budget Office, for instance, noted that “even a reduction of 25 percent to 30 percent in malpractice costs would lower health care costs by only about 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small.”

And when the Congressional Budget Office took into account the larger, albeit harder-to-measure costs of defensive medicine, it found no significant difference in per capita health care spending between states with and states without limits on tort liability.

On the other hand, doctors find it beneath their dignity to be sued and the emotional costs may have more to do with the medical professionals tort hysteria than actual financial costs. And people pay attention to their doctors and respect them. Tom Baker, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Medical Malpractice Myth, theorized that having “a common enemy” keeps insurance and pharmaceutical companies-- the real culprits behind rising costs, he said-- from fighting among themselves. And then there's this:

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Will Rahm Emanuel Lose Congress For The Democrats?


This morning's big DC buzz was for Josh Kraushaar's top of the page Politico story on predicted double-digit losses for congressional Democrats in 2010. He cites bad polling results for Democrats-- although most of the results were how Democrats are angry at Max Baucus, who isn't up for re-election, for not supporting progressive health care legislation. Much of the slippage in polling for Democrats is, in fact, because disenchanted Democrats are unhappy with the unwillingness and inability of Democrats to push forward the real health care reform that was promised during last year's elections. Perhaps some of these voters will stay home in 2010. None will be voting for Republicans, though.

Obama and the Democrats have a big fat albatross around their collective necks: Democrats who behave like Republicans. Bill Moyers captured it beautifully Friday night when he explained Rahm Emanuel's destructive role in the Democratic Party:
The Democratic Party has become like the Republican Party-- deeply influenced by corporate money. I think Rahm Emanuel, who's a clever politician, understands that the money for Obama's re-election will come primarily from the health industry, the drug industry and Wall Street. He is a corporate Democrat who is determined that there won't be something in this legislation-- if we get it-- that will turn off those powerful interests.

Democrats and independents are angry about health care. Will they blame the Democratic Party and reward the Republicans? Defeats for anti-health care quasi-Democrats-- Blue Dogs like Parker Griffith (AL), Travis Childers (MS), Glenn Nye (VA), Walt Minnick (ID), Frank Kratovil (MD), Bobby Bright (AL), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ) for example-- makes sense, These people vote with Democrats on crucial matters less than one-third of the time. They are, in effect, Republicans. One, Parker Griffith, has already promised teabaggers in his northern Alabama district-- a district that always elects Democratic congressmen-- that he will oppose re-electing Nancy Pelosi Speaker. Would his likely defeat count as a loss for Democrats? Why should it?

Charlie Cook, who lost track of what's going on politically almost a decade ago but is still cited as "an expert" Inside the Beltway, tells his followers that "the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats... Many veteran congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats."

Conventional wisdom isn't wisdom. And predictions that African-Americans and young voters who turned out in droves last year to elect Obama won't bother to vote in 2010 may be premature. It depends on how Obama and the Democrats handle health care reform. If the Rahm Emanuel faction wins and health care reform turns into a corporate give-way-- like Bush's drug bill-- it will be all over for the Democrats. If Emanuel's faction gets pushed aside, Democrats could end the career once and for all of ridiculous chicken entrail readers like Cook by increasing their majorities in both houses of Congress.

If Republicans believer this kind of hogwash, maybe the NRSC and the NRCC wouldn't be having such a miserable year recruiting top tier candidates across the country and being forced into settling on 3rd and 4th rate Republicans-- sometimes teabaggers-- to run in seats where Republicans might even have a chance. Just today Peter King told the NRSC that they'll have to find someone else to run against Kirsten Gillibrand; he's not interested. Maybe they can persuade Tedisco or Pataki. two proven losers with ambition.

As the NY Times reported this morning, the unpopular bankster bailouts may get less unpopular was more voters-- Democrats and independents (the KKK voters are never going to like Obama no matter what he does and the sooner that is factored into the political calculus, the better)-- realize the bailouts actually yielded a significant profit for taxpayers, the better that will rebound on Democratic electoral hopes.
Nearly a year after the federal rescue of the nation’s biggest banks, taxpayers have begun seeing profits from the hundreds of billions of dollars in aid that many critics thought might never be seen again.

The profits, collected from eight of the biggest banks that have fully repaid their obligations to the government, come to about $4 billion, or the equivalent of about 15 percent annually, according to calculations compiled for the New York Times.

A year from now, the economy will either be rebounding or if won't. (It looks like it will.) Regardless of what Charlie Cook says now, that will be the determinant-- along with the results of the health care reform struggle-- that will decide the elections. What Democrats need to be doing now is targeting vulnerable GOP obstructionists, like Chuck Grassley, who are blatantly using partisanship to follow Rush Limbaugh's diktat about making Obama fail even if it takes the country down the drain. Voters-- other than the small, noisy teabagger base of Fox viewers-- do not like that. Our friends at PPP are doing just that. Watch their new ad running in Iowa today:

UPDATE: All Elections Are Local, But...

Governor/exorcist Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana GOP thought they had the perfect opportunity to pick up a Democratic-held seat in Cajun Country. Their strategy was to pour tens of thousands of dollars into the open state Senate seat for southern Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes (District 20) and tie the Democratic candidate, Norby Chabert, to President Obama, who the state GOP has demonized. If their strategy was successful, it backfired; Chabert won the run-off vote on Saturday 54.3- 45.7% against Jindal's candidate, Brent Callais.

“Once again, the Republican strategy of smear and fear has been soundly rejected by voters,” said Chris Whittington, chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party. The third congressional district, represented by Blue Dog Charlie Melancon, encompasses the senatorial district. Obama only got 37% of the vote there last year.

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Will O'Reilly Boycott Sushi Now That Japan Has Gone Socialist?


Please God! If enough rich Republicans stop going to Matsuhisa, Katsu-Ya (the real one in Studio City; they're certainly welcome to the joke versions in Glendale, Hollywood, Encino and Brentwood), Asanebo and Mako it might be possible to get in (with reservations) without waiting on long lines. All that clean energy talk is going to drive O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Hannity and the rest of the lunatic fringe propagandists even crazier than they already are. And raising corporate taxes? Expect right-wing saki sales to plummet the same way sales of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Armagnac went into a tailspin in Mississippi, Alabama and Oklahoma when O'Reilly started his boycott of all things French.

Sorry for the tangent; I'm fasting today. Yesterday Japanese voters kicked out the bums-- in a really big way. The election and the stunning, historic defeat for the right-wing LDP, was all about change, change and more change. I hope they're luckier with that than we've been. It looks like the progressive party (DJP) has won over 300 seats in the 480 seat parliament. The new government of Yukio Hatoyama will be only the second ever in Japan not controlled by conservatives.
Speaking to jubilant party members in Tokyo, he said he remained committed to the mantra of change that had swept the DPJ into power. "The people are angry with politics and the ruling coalition," he said. "We keenly felt that people wanted a change in their lives, and so we fought this election for a change in government."

Taro Aso, the outgoing prime minister, indicated he would resign as head of the LDP to take responsibility for a disastrous night that could see the party's strength reduced from 300 seats to just over 100.

"These results are very severe," he said. "There is deep dissatisfaction with our party."... With an overwhelming public mandate secured, Hatoyama will quickly come under pressure to make good on his manifesto pledges. He has promised to eliminate wasteful public works, challenge elite bureaucrats' policy stranglehold and invest heavily in social security in one of the world's most elderly societies.

Even more likely to rile up O'Reilly and the teabagger brigades was an Op-Ed Japan's incoming prime minister wrote last week about the U.S.-Japanese relationship, the nature of predatory capitalism, and the failure of Bush's military adventures. Would you say this might be enough to drive O'Reilly to swear off... are loofahs Japanese?
In the post-Cold War period, Japan has been continually buffeted by the winds of market fundamentalism in a U.S.-led movement that is more usually called globalization. In the fundamentalist pursuit of capitalism people are treated not as an end but as a means. Consequently, human dignity is lost.

How can we put an end to unrestrained market fundamentalism and financial capitalism, that are void of morals or moderation, in order to protect the finances and livelihoods of our citizens? That is the issue we are now facing.

...The recent economic crisis resulted from a way of thinking based on the idea that American-style free-market economics represents a universal and ideal economic order, and that all countries should modify the traditions and regulations governing their economies in line with global (or rather American) standards.

In Japan, opinion was divided on how far the trend toward globalization should go. Some advocated the active embrace of globalism and leaving everything up to the dictates of the market. Others favored a more reticent approach, believing that efforts should be made to expand the social safety net and protect our traditional economic activities. Since the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (2001-2006), the Liberal Democratic Party has stressed the former, while we in the Democratic Party of Japan have tended toward the latter position.

The economic order in any country is built up over long years and reflects the influence of traditions, habits and national lifestyles. But globalism has progressed without any regard for non-economic values, or for environmental issues or problems of resource restriction.

If we look back on the changes in Japanese society since the end of the Cold War, I believe it is no exaggeration to say that the global economy has damaged traditional economic activities and destroyed local communities.

In terms of market theory, people are simply personnel expenses. But in the real world people support the fabric of the local community and are the physical embodiment of its lifestyle, traditions and culture. An individual gains respect as a person by acquiring a job and a role within the local community and being able to maintain his family’s livelihood.

I hope Obama-- and the corrupt Wall Street crowd he has chosen to surround himself with-- are paying attention too.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

500 Days


... of Mark Sanford, as of tomorrow. Once he was Mr. Conservative-- sandwiched between outgoing Larry Craig and incoming Paul Ryan-- and the hopes of secessionists everywhere who craved... well, you know what. Now he's desperately trying to stave off impeachment, impeachment, in fact, that Democrats haven't been even remotely involved with.
South Carolina House Republicans met at an open door meeting Saturday in Myrtle each to discuss beginning the process of impeaching embattled Gov. Mark Sanford.

The result of the meeting, which was meant to set the upcoming legislative agenda, was conflicted. No one defended Sanford, but there was nowhere near enough of a consensus to move forward with impeachment prior to the start of the legislative session in January.

“Is there anybody in this room that feels the governor should not resign?” asked Rep. Harry F. Cato (R-Greenville). “I don’t hear anybody defending him.”

Of the 56 GOP members on hand, not a single one said a word in defense of Sanford. And with Republicans controlling nearly 60 percent of the State House, that lack of support could prove costly for the governor.

“Can anybody in here give me one good reason, one positive thing, that’s going to occur by him remaining in office?” asked Rep. Greg Delleney [R-Chester], who is drafting impeachment articles against the governor. “How can you defend the indefensible?”

I'll give the pack of hypocrites that is the South Carolina Republican Party enough benefit of the doubt to assume "the indefensible" is not his adulterous fling per se-- which, in the end, really is between himself and his wife-- but his use of taxpayer dollars to carry on his adulterous fling. I mean for a man who refused to accept federal money to extend unemployment insurance because he didn't want to waste taxpayer dollars-- or, at least, because he wanted to position himself as someone able to say he didn't want to waste taxpayer dollars-- this guy sure did spend a bundle on some fancy trips when he went a-courtin' down in Buenos Aires. And spending all this time writing hideously banal poetry instead of fighting death panels and plots to give health care to everyone in Mexico and Guatemala... South Carolina Republicans are steaming.

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Russ Baker Goes Below The Surface Of The Hassan Nemazee Case-- And Finds... The Transpartisan Influence Bazaar That American Politics Has Become


"You mean Hassan here's NOT Venezuelan?

If you've been following this blog since the election, you probably know about our admiration for investigative journalist and author Russ Baker, whose latest book, Family Of Secrets, has been a topic of discussion at DWT at least a dozen times. So you can imagine how enticed I was when a friend told me that Baker has been looking into the background of Hassan Nemazee, the top Hillary Clinton fundraiser who was arrested this week and charged with forging loan documents in order to borrow $74 million from Citibank. The difference between Baker's report and the coverage we've gotten from the popular mass media is the difference between reading the work of actual reporters like Edward R. Murrow, Seymour Hersh, and Jessica Mitford and listening to the lunatic ravings of Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Self-professed "journalists" like Hannity, Savage and the 3 clowns above never got beyond shrieking about the embarrassment for the Clintons and the Democratic Party involving the financial misdoings of one prominent backer. But that's just the superficial tip of a much more important story, or, as Baker puts it "a sprawling cautionary tale of presidents, would-be presidents, and the shadow world of wealthy operators who cozy up to them for their own gain. It reaches into the Bush operation as well as that of the Clintons, and is a microcosm of an influence bazaar that has gone global along with the economy."

Nemazee had been raising big bucks for the DNC since the mid-nineties and had brought in $60,000 for Bill Clinton's legal defense fund in the midst of the GOP Lewinsky witch hunt. His nomination as Ambassador to Argentina was withdrawn when it was revealed that he had falsified documents showing he was Hispanic-- he's Iranian-- but he went on to work as the New York finance chairman for Kerry's presidential campaign and then worked for Chuck Schumer as the national finance chair of the DSCC. Last year he was the financial director for the Clinton presidential campaign.
She should have known plenty about Nemazee. In 2005, Nemazee and his business partner, Alan Quasha, went deep into the Clinton circle to hire Terry McAuliffe, the Clinton confidante and former chairman of the Democratic Party, for Carret Asset Management, their newly acquired investment firm. During the interregnum between McAuliffe’s party chairmanship and the time he officially joined Hillary Clinton’s campaign as chairman, Nemazee and Quasha set McAuliffe up with a salary and opened a Washington office for him.  There he worked on his memoirs and laid the groundwork for Ms. Clinton’s presidential bid.
In March 2007, Nemazee, at the behest of McAuliffe, threw a dinner for Ms. Clinton at Manhattan’s swank Cipriani restaurant, which featured Bill Clinton and raised more than $500,000.  In 2008, after Barack Obama gained the nomination, Nemazee raised a comparable sum for him.
But it is not fair to characterize Nemazee as an embarrassment to Democrats alone. Nemazee’s profile is considerably more complicated. For legal representation in his current troubles, for example, Nemazee has retained Marc Mukasey, a partner in Rudolph Giuliani’s law firm and the son of Michael Mukasey, who served as George W. Bush’s last Attorney General. 
There’s more than choice of counsel involved. Before moving into the Democratic camp, Nemazee had backed such Republican senators as Jesse Helms, Sam Brownback and Alfonse D’Amato. None could be described as Clinton fans. Nemazee’s business partner, Alan Quasha, who specializes in buying up troubled companies, has also played both sides of the partisan divide. Quasha gave to both Bush and Al Gore in 2000, and in the 2008 race gave to Republicans Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani as well as Democrats Barack Obama and Chris Dodd.
The strikingly trans-partisan and trans-national nature of this high-stakes influence game is best exemplified by the relationship between Quasha’s oil company, Harken Energy, and George W. Bush. Harken provided a home for Bush in the 1980’s when his own oil businesses failed, offering him handsome compensation and a solid financial base from which to enter politics. Bush was named to the Harken board and received a range of benefits from the company while devoting most of his time to his father’s presidential campaign and then his own outside career efforts.
Harken is a curious outfit. Its early funding sources were opaque, and its investors and board members had a dizzying array of connections into global power centers—and ties to the Saudi leadership and the former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the Shah of Iran, as well as to the Swiss Bank, UBS, which has been charged by the US government with providing cover for  Americans who were evading taxes.
Around the time George W. Bush joined its board, Harken received an unusual and sizable cash infusion from the Harvard Management Company, which handles Harvard University’s endowment, the largest in the nation. Robert G. Stone, Jr., a figure with ties to US intelligence and to the Bushes, was head of the Harvard board of overseers that approved financial strategies. Former employees of Harvard Management have recently made highly-publicized charges that the company engaged in Enron-style investment practices. (Prior to going to work for Nemazee and Quasha, Terry McAuliffe had publicly criticized Bush for his financial dealings with Harken, disparaging that company’s own Enron-like accounting. Both Quasha and Nemazee, like Bush, have Harvard degrees, and both have sat on prestigious Harvard committees in recent years.)
Nemazee’s role as a foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton can be better understood through his own Iranian connections.  His father was a shipping magnate who was close with the Shah of Iran and served as the Shah’s commercial attaché in Washington; Nemazee was a founding member of the Iranian-American Political Action Committee, a lobbying group. Recent strains have been reported between President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over policy toward Iran. Clinton has advocated a harder line toward the Islamic fundamentalists who took over when the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979, while Obama has stressed dialogue.  
With Nemazee’s arrest for financial fraud certain to attract some sustained coverage, it remains to be seen whether it will be treated as yet another isolated case of financial wrongdoing, or lead to a deeper look at the influence bazaar that American politics has become.
Most Americans who have even heard of this story, know nothing more than this:

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Robert McDonnell (R-VA)-- Living Up To Buy Bull "School" Expectations


Pat & Bob- Master and Servant

We've all made mistakes when we were teenagers that we regret now. When I was in high school I won a scholarship from the UN by writing a paper favoring the death penalty without understanding the absolute inability of judges and juries to be able to guarantee the accuracy of their assessments of guilt. In theory I still favor the death penalty; in practice I oppose it and I'm embarrassed that I wrote that paper. I had just turned 16 at the time.

Today's Washington Post reports, at some length, on a Master's Thesis (here it is in all it's startlingly banal glory) by Robert McDonnell, The Republican Party's Vision For The Family: The Compelling Issue of The Decade. In it McDonnell described working woman and feminists as "detrimental" to the family and he advocated for a very totalitarian position-- beloved of both the Communist and Nazi regimes on the 1940s-- that government policy should favor married couples over "cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators." He described as "illogical" a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples.

He wasn't attending a real school at the time-- but a Buy Bull "college" run by Pat Robertson in Virginia Beach. One can't logically expect anything else from students of these institutions other than, at best, polished up propaganda, devoid of depth or any kind of critical thinking which is absolutely discouraged in these kinds of brainwashing centers. Today McDonnell, a vicious homophobe and far right extremist, is a candidate for governor of Virginia and he's whining that voters shouldn't judge him based on "a decades-old academic paper I wrote as a student." He wasn't 16 when he wrote it. Nor was he 26. He was 34, hardly a brash act by an intellectually unformed child. In fact, examining McDonnell's legislative record, it is clear that he has been attempting to implement the largely religionist ideas in his paper and force them on all Virginians. (The Buy Bull "college" where he went for his formal brainwashing, Regent, has as its motto: "Christian leadership to change the world.")
The 93-page document, which is publicly available at the Regent University library, culminates with a 15-point action plan that McDonnell said the Republican Party should follow to protect American families -- a vision that he started to put into action soon after he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

During his 14 years in the General Assembly, McDonnell pursued at least 10 of the policy goals he laid out in that research paper, including abortion restrictions, covenant marriage, school vouchers and tax policies to favor his view of the traditional family. In 2001, he voted against a resolution in support of ending wage discrimination between men and women.

One of his thesis' points is the old right wing canard, pushed by Robertson and drummed into the heads of all Regent's students, that the Founding Fathers did not favor separation of Church and State. Another pushes a bizarre plan-- which he went on to push in the Virginia legislature-- to make it more difficult for couples to get divorced and he advocated for religionist indoctrination in public schools. And he make sit clear that he feels progressive taxation policy is "socialist" and should be abolished, something that would tend to wipe out the middle class and gradually bring back the kind of feudal society right-wing loons like McDonnell crave. He was successful in repealing Virginia's estate tax, one of the points he advocated in his paper.

During the campaign McDonnell has been frantic about covering up his extremism and posing as a moderate. Conservatives wink and nod and keep their collective fingers crossed that they can get a true believer into the governor's mansion.
Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who has shared most of McDonnell's conservative positions over the years, said there is no question that the candidate is playing down his conservatism today. Marshall said McDonnell risks alienating two groups of voters: moderates who might view him as hiding his true beliefs and conservatives who might think that he is no longer conservative enough.

"If you duck something, that tells your opponents that you think your position is a liability," said Marshall, who is backing McDonnell. "Why else wouldn't you acknowledge it? But I'll tell you, I've got precinct captains who are annoyed that he's not answering these questions. He doesn't have to bash people in the head with it. But he doesn't have to put it in the closet, either. There's a balance you can take."

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Sunday Classics: There are few life forces more powerful than the musical instincts of a talented, well-grounded musician


"Neptune, the Mystic," the seventh and last movement of Gustav Holst's ever-popular orchestral suite The Planets, is conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, whose association with the piece spanned 60-plus years, including its first public performance, in 1918.

Holst's imagination was driven, not by planetary astrophysics, but by the mythological associations of the planets' namesakes. In the liner notes for his circa 1967 EMI recording, Sir Adrian had this to say about "Neptune":

In this final movement every instrument is directed to play pianissimo throughout, and the tone is to be "dead", except for one moment near the end, when the clarinet plays a succession of notes which might almost be called a tune in this otherwise tuneless, expressionless, shapeless succession of cloudy harmonies, suggesting as it does an infinite vision of timeless eternity. We spoke of the end but this is inaccurate, for if it is possible for a piece of music never to finish, this is what happens here. A slow, irregular swing between two distant chords fills nearly every bar of the 3+2 meter, and imperceptibly we become conscious that female voices have joined the orchestra. Soon the instruments gradually melt away, and the voices carry on with the two swaying chords, whose diminuendo is prolonged until we wonder whether we still hear them or only hold them in our memory, swinging backward and forward for all time.

by Ken

Recently I mentioned to a friend that I had found -- for $1.99! -- a used copy of the CD of that Boult Planets recording. (It's a good thing it was only $1.99, or I probably wouldn't have bought it. I mean, a CD with a mere 50 minutes of music?) It turned out that I was confused about what I had actually bought -- a fortunate confusion we'll come back to in a moment -- but in this state of confusion I recalled to my friend how important that Angel LP had been to me.

"Everyone had that," he said. And I have no reason to doubt that everyone did.

You have to understand that as a record listener I'm a compulsive multiple-version collector, I guess because I'm so far from believing in "definitive" performances that not even the most exceptional performance seems likely to encompass anything like the range of possibilities built into any truly substantial piece of music. Still, in the case of The Planets, although a few other versions came my way from one source or another, I never felt any strong impulse to seek others out.

I mentioned to my friend that the Boult Planets as freshly reheard seemed even more remarkable than I remembered. People tend to be impressed by the parts of the piece that make the most obvious impression, but those are relatively easy to make sense of. Only the most doltish conductor could fail to "get," for example, the indomitably rousing "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity." But no other conductor I've heard can rivet you the way Sir Adrian does with the hauntingly more intimate sections -- like "Neptune," for one.

(Actually, Sir Adrian points out a trap in "Jupiter" in his liner note. The bustling main theme eventually evolves into a famous broadly lyrical tune. He notes that the composer's daughter, Imogen Holst, a prime champion of her father's work, "has warned us against linking the slow middle section with the patriotic words with which it was later associated. The tune as it stands reflects the good humour of Jupiter, no more, no less." And he has already recalled the composer's description of Jupiter as "one of those jolly fat people who enjoy life." How many conductors of "Jupiter" understand any of this? Contrary to popular impression, Boult was not prone to sentimentalizing.)

I guess I've had Sir Adrian (1889-1983) on my mind since I wrote last week about his ravishing yet disciplined late-in-life recording of Vaughan Williams' Lark Ascending, another now-40-year-old recording that sounds as fresh and vibrant today as it did when it was made. Well, maybe I was thinking not so much about Sir Adrian himself as about conductors like him, by which I mean the kind who don't usually pop into mind in discussions of "great" conductors, but whom you consistenly return to, over a wide range of repertory, for the almost unfailing pleasure of their thoroughgoing musicianship.

In the course of thinking about writing about Sir Adrian, or about conductors like him, I started pulling out CDs of his I could think of that I have, including naturally the $1.99 Planets. Imagine my surprise to see that the orchestra credited is the London Philharmonic, and you'd think EMI would know, whereas I remembered pretty conclusively that "my" Boult Planets was recorded with the New Philharmonia. Eventually I pulled the Angel LP off the shelf, for the first time in a long while. It didn't take long to figure out that they're in fact different recordings. Somehow I've managed all these years, I guess because of my satisfaction with the New Philharmonia version, to remain ignorant of the fact that Sir Adrian had yet another go at The Planets, with indeed the LPO, his old orchestra of the '50s, in 1978-79, his final year of recording, when he was approaching his 90th birthday.

I got another surprise when I took a closer look at the jacket of the Angel LP, though this was something I must once have known: that Sir Adrian wrote his own (excellent) liner notes for it, from which I've already quoted above. He started by writing about his association with the piece, beginning at the beginning, before it had ever been performed. He noted that he had corresponded with the composer before meeting Gustav Holst (1874-1934) in 1917. Soon afterward he had his first hearing of The Planets, in an "excellent" two-piano arrangement. And then:

One day in the autumn of 1918 [Holst] rushed into the office where I was doing my war work: "Adrian, I have got to go to Salonika quite soon for the YMCA. Balfour Gardiner, bless him, has given me a parting present consisting of Queen's Hall full of the Queen's Hall Orchestra for the whole of a Sunday morning. We are going to do 'The Planets' and you have got to conduct."

Up to this point, Holst had always felt uncertain as to whether he would ever hear The Planets. Hitherto he had always been accustomed to write appropriate music for special purposes, and it was only here that for the first time he allowed himself everything he wanted: an apparently impossibly large orchestra in a work of symphonic proportions, from one who had hitherto been rather thought of as a miniaturist.

It was on the morning of September 29th, 1918, that I first met the Queen's Hall Orchestra, led by the veteran Maurice Sons [meaning, in our lingo, he was the concertmaster], and this was for me too a new and exciting adventure. We planned to rehearse for nearly two hours, and to play the work straight through at 12 o'clock, by which time a large audience had assembled, consisting of several generations of St. Paul's School [the girls' school where Holst was director of music] girls, and all Holst's professional and other friends, including many music critics, and Sir Henry Wood [the leading British conductor of the time, famous now as the founder of the Proms concerts] himself.

The work instantly made a deep impression. There were enough members of the Board of the Royal Philharmonic Society present to invite me immediately to repeat most of it at one of their concerts in the following winter, and the score was engraved in a very short time by the enterprising firm of Goodwin and Tabb. My copy was inscribed by the composer as follows:
[reproduced in Holst's own handwriting]
This copy is the property of
Adrian Boult
who first caused the
Planets to shine in public and thereby earned the gratitude of
Gustav Holst
The composer himself conducted the first recording of the work at a time when recording techniques were still pretty crude. It was still in the days of 78s when the BBC Symphony Orchestra recorded a performance which I hope came very near the composer's intentions. It has been my privilege to repeat this experience with other orchestras, and now I hope that those who remember earlier performances will find that this later version, my fourth, with all the wonderful technical improvements which have now been introduced, still sounds faithful and authentic.

Boult was understandably closely associated with British music, for which he clearly had a natural empathy. But that natural empathy ran deeper and wider. I don't know how to say it any better than that he just had music inside him, busting to get out. And in what most everyone refers to as that remarkable "Indian summer" of his career, dating from EMI's resumption of an active recording program with the then 77-year-old conductor in 1966 and lasted roughly a dozen years, music lovers would eventually be reminded just how wide that musical empathy ran.

You can get a taste of Sir Adrian's Elgar (and yes, he was already "Sir Adrian," having been knighted in 1937) from this clip. In it he introduces the celebrated writer-broadcaster J. B. Priestley, who makes an eloquent appeal to the audience to support the survival of the London Philharmonic, at the time threatened with dissolution. Then Boult returns to conduct Elgar's jaunty Cockaigne Overture, of which, frustratingly, we hear not much more than the first minute and a half.

(The clip, by the way, is from a 1943 British film, Battle for Music, but this excerpt presumably dates from about 1939, since Priestley must have been anticipating Britain being drawn into a new world war, "There'll be dark days and dangerous nights ahead of us. Soon we may be fighting for our lives, and that's all the more reason why we should have all the courage and inspiration, the noble refreshment of the spirit that music can give us, and in short why we must save the London Philharmonic Orchestra." On the subject of war, I might mention that Sir Adrian begins his Planets liner note on the opening movement, "Mars, the Bringer of War," with the observation: "It is worth remembering that the composer wrote this in the summer of 1914 and so had no experience of what it describes.")

Brief as the Cockaigne excerpt is, we can see that Sir Adrian's conducting technique consisted of almost nothing that's visible beyond the extremely long baton. He insisted that the great conductors of his youth he modeled himself after essentially didn't move on the podium. Yet there is nothing static or neutral in the vivid orchestral playing he elicits.

We can observe the same thing, some 30 years later, in the most standard of standard repertory, as Sir Adrian conducts the opening of the first movement of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in 1968 with the great David Oistrakh as soloist (Sir Adrian was one of the great musical collaborators, with both instrumental soloists and singers):

(Among Sir Adrian's EMI stereo recordings, incidentally, is one of the great recordings of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, with the great Czech violinist Josef Suk.)

Not surprisingly, EMI recorded Boult in a ton of Vaughan Williams and Elgar. But as enthusiasm built for these products of his advanced maturity, EMI grew bolder in its repertory choices for him. Of course, in his half-century of professional conducting he had conducted most everything in the Western classical literature, old and new. But now he got to do such things as the complete Brahms symphonies (including the Alto Rhapsody with Janet Baker) and the two serenades, all the traditional Wagner orchestral excerpts, and perhaps most treasurably the complete Bach Brandenburg Concertos, all not only competitive with the best-ever recordings of this much-recorded music, but reflecting the unique wisdom of all those decades of living passionately with the music.

Again, I don't know how to describe the special quality I'm talking about except in terms of innate musicality. To me, there aren't many forces more powerful than the musical instincts of a talented, well-grounded musician, which I hold in something like awe.

A friend once asked me -- as a matter of fact, it was the very friend of the above-noted Boult Planets conversation -- what my favorite recording of Schubert's "Great C major" Symphony was. I thought for a bit, then mentioned that William Steinberg had made a wonderful recording during his custodianship of the Boston Symphony (in 1969-72, with the orchestra's management unable to agree on a successor to Erich Leinsdorf, he acceded to its request that he watch over it, while retaining his longtime music directorship of the Pittsburgh Symphony), and of course there's Josef Krips's stereo remake with the London Symphony. My friend got upset. Apparently I was supposed to nominate one of the Great Conductors. Toscanini or Furtwängler would have been acceptable answers. But Steinberg? Krips?

What can I say? It's not that I don't have worlds of admiration for Toscanini and Furtwängler. But these are the conductors I'm more likely to gravitate to. (Sir Adrian, by the way, made an outstandingly beautiful recording of the Schubert symphony.)


I don't find any recent trace of "my" Boult Planets, the c 1967 New Philharmonia version, except via download from Amazon UK. Shockingly, although there have been a couple of EMI editions, like this one, of the 1977-79 LPO version paired with Sir Adrian's London Symphony recording of Elgar's Enigma Variations, I don't find any indication that 1978-79 Planets is available now in any form except as one of Arkiv Music's authorized (but premium-priced) "custom" reproductions, of the Planets-only EMI Studio edition.

To my chagrin, I can't find any sign of recent availability of Boult's Brandenburgs, and while the EMI Brahms symphonies have been on CD in various couplings, again I don't see any recent listings. However, the two serenades, the Academic Festival and Tragic Overtures, the Haydn Variations, and the Alto Rhapsody with Baker (which, no doubt on the strength of Baker's name, seems to have been reissued in 20 or 30 different couplings) are all packed into a generous EMI "twofer" set.

On a happier note, the beautiful Boult Wagner orchestral excerpts seem readily available. If you can find the three separate EMI Studio CDs at reasonable prices, grab them. However, leaving very little out, EMI was able to squeeze the rest into a moderately priced two-CD setthat should be self-recommending.

Toscanini note: The Philadelphia recordings made listenable

Side note: Having mentioned Toscanini in connection with the Schubert "Great C major" Symphony, I want to make sure you know -- as I didn't until recently -- about the miraculous 2007 restoration wrought by the Sony BMG Classics technical people on the previously barely listenable recordings the maestro made in 1941-42 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Something terrible apparently happened to the 78 masters, and with the 1942 wartime U.S. recording ban, it not only wasn't possible to continue the Toscanini/Philadelphia series, it was impossible to remake the presumed hopeless material. Previous releases have left no doubt that these are specially lovely performances, with orchestral textures and subtleties contrasting particularly with Toscanini's NBC Symphony recordings, but the technical defects made it almost impossible to listen to them.

I don't know how the miracle was accomplished, but in this latest issue, where all the material fits on three CDs, the recordings sound just fine for their time. In addition to the most beautiful of the Toscanini recordings of the Schubert symphony, there's a similarly lyrical Tchaikovsky Pathétique plus shorter works by Debussy (La Mer), Richard Strauss (Death and Transfiguration), Respighi (Feste romane), Mendelssohn (Midsummer Night's Dream excerpts), and Berlioz' "Queen Mab Scherzo" from Roméo et Juliette. If you've tried to listen to this material, you won't believe the difference.


I wish we could talk a little more about these, but you don't really want to go into it now, do you? I didn't think so. And I don't know when we'll be able to get back to them, so let's just take note of two more super-economical big boxes, both from Deutsche Grammophon, covering repertory we've talked about recently. Of course there are only rudimnetary notes and no printed texts for the vocal works, but again, look at the prices.

Brahms, as I noted in our three-part quick look (part one, part two, and part three), set himself almost impossibly high standards, and two of his favorite tricks were abandoning or outright destroying works at any stage of compositiong which didn't meet his standards. Partly for this reason, and partly because of the historical trend to writing fewer but more elaborately considered works (already evident in Beethoven's output, and both reflected in and advanced by Brahms), DG has been able to offer the complete works on 46 CDs -- not necessarily all that well filled. (For example, the two piano concertos, both about 50 minutes, occupy CDs by themselves.)

It should go without saying that the quality of the performances varies, but these are all A-list performers from the DG roster (you can find a breakdown of the contents and performers here), and the overall level is blessedly high. At the moment, Amazon is still offeringthis set at an astonishing $62.97 -- plus tax, of course, but with free shipping.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about Verdi's ability to look unflinchingly at the problem of evil. DG has produced a set that unquestionably has a split personality but is still worthwhile: the 21-disc "Verdi: Great Operas from La Scala/Various." (You can find a list of the cast principals for all the performances here.)

One personality is the five Verdi operas DG recorded at La Scala between 1960 and 1964: Rigoletto conducted by Rafael Kubelik, Il Trovatore by Tullio Serafin, La Traviata by Antonino Votto, Un Ballo in maschera by Gianandrea Gavazzeni, and Don Carlos by Gabriele Santini (the first recording of a five-act version) -- by no means uniform in approach, but in general building performances through a grounded understanding of the shape of an Italianate musical phrase.

Then there are recordings from the later series conducted by Claudio Abbado, made between 1986 and 1991: Macbeth, Simon Boccanegra, Aida, and the Requiem. (Curiously, in the booklet the Traviata with Renata Scotto, Gianni Poggi, and Ettore Bastianini -- from 1962, I believe -- is listed among the Abbado peformances and dated "5/1976," making one wonder if a different performance had at some point been intended, though I can't think what. A previously unreleased recording, perhaps? If so, it remains unreleased. Of course, it could just be a screw-up.) The Abbado-conducted performances have their attractions. They're very pretty in a lot of ways, but unfortunately mostly in the same several ways -- for example, a soft, lyrical mode that sounds like a lullaby and is misapplied to most of the music that gets this treatment. And while Abbado seems to have had some effect on his singers, he doesn't seem to have provided much help to any of them in getting inside their roles. For example, baritone Piero Cappuccilli does some prettier-than-usual soft singing, but again it's that lullabylike mode that hardly ever has anything to do with what's going on.

I might mention that there is an Abbado Verdi Requiem that I like quite a lot: a 1982 Edinburgh Festival video performance that seems to me much more alert to musical and dramatic content, orchestrally, chorally, and in the work of the vocal soloists.


The updated list is here.

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The Real Story Behind Paul Ryan's Opposition To The Public Option And Health Care Reform


Paul Ryan: Empty budget proposal, empty hopes, empty suit

Although John Boehner initially assigned Roy Blunt to serve as the point person and the face of Republican health care "policy"-- i.e., unadulterated anti-Obama hysteria and complete obstructionism-- the fact that Blunt was utterly mired in decades of the most foul corruption and that he's busy trying to lie his way into Missouri's open Senate seat, necessitated that the Republicans switch the assignment. Foolishly, they gave it to the chatty empty suit from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan. Ryan's ambitions know no bounds and when Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) told constituents at a Hiawatha health care town hall last week that the GOP is looking for a great white hope it is widely thought that she had Ryan in mind. And she's not alone.

On Friday Ryan debated Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore of Milwaukee. Ryan has taken more money from Big Insurance ($508,651) and the Medical Industrial Complex ($702,464) than any other member of Wisconsin's congressional delegation-- including, more than both U.S. Senators. His Friday sparring partner has gotten a modest $90,000 from Insurance and $44,022 from health care interests. Ryan is widely considered one of the most unscrupulous corporate shills not just in Wisconsin, but anywhere in the nation. His line of attack on Friday clearly demonstrated that he serves the interests of his corporate donors rather than his constituents. His talking points were all straight out of Big Insurance's anti-health care playbook:
Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat, said a new public option would provide "a standard of care that everyone ought to deserve," and force badly needed price competition with private insurers.

Ryan, a Janesville Republican, said spiraling health care costs ultimately would force the government to "take rights away from people" to get care they seek.

They took questions from a panel of reporters and citizens about the health care reform bill pending in Congress. The event, at the Newsroom Pub downtown, was sponsored by the Milwaukee Press Club.

Both agreed something had to be done to control runaway health care costs, notably in Medicare and Medicaid. And they concurred that millions of currently uninsured people should get coverage. But they agreed on few specifics of how to do that.

"These are unsustainable programs, but I don't think the solution is to turn it over to the private sector," Moore said.

Ryan countered that he didn't want bureaucrats-- from the government or the insurance companies-- running health care. He has proposed what he terms a "patient-centered, consumer-driven" set of reforms. Moore contended that some of the particulars of Ryan's approach would cause a "huge run" of workers away from their current employer-provided health coverage.

Moore said private insurers have co-existed with Medicare, and they will not be crowded out under the new proposed system, as Ryan contends... William Johnson, who identified himself as a long-retired Milwaukee health insurance executive, said the new generation of health executives was so greedy it was shocking. He blamed corporate consolidation that has created giant companies.

Ryan said he also was concerned about "crony capitalism" and added that he worried that the current bill would create a handful of mega-insurers who would operate with little real competition.

Ryan's a slick politician, but people in Wisconsin are beginning to take note. Vic Ponelis has delineated a long list of lies Ryan has been regurgitating for his district's voters, mostly slick lies of omission like:
• Not mentioning that Americans wait longer to see primary-care physicians than patients in Australia, Great Britain, Germany or New Zealand... all countries with strong public-health systems.

• Not mentioning that 25% of Americans reported waiting 6 days or more for their doctor... while only 3% of patients in New Zealand, 10% of patients in Australia, 13% of patients in Germany and 15% of patients in Great Britain waited that long (33% of Canadians waited that long).

• Not mentioning that only 26% of Americans and Canadians reported being able to see their doctors on the same day... compared with 60% of patients in The Netherlands and 48% of patients in Great Britain.

• Not mentioning that The United States ranks last overall in comparative studies, which consider access, equity, cost, quality and efficiency... measured across developed countries.

• Not mentioning that the only category where The United States excels is in wait-times for "elective" surgery.

• Not mentioning that the disparity between primary and elective care is due to a shortage of primary-care doctors in the U.S. due to our over-production of specialists.

• Not mentioning that Germany pays its doctors less... but can do so because medical education in Germany is paid for by the government... and so Germans have plenty of primary-care physicians who don't have to worry about paying off student loans.

• Not mentioning that he accepted almost $500,000 in campaign contributions from the Insurance industry, over $131,000 for the 2010 election cycle alone!

Paul Ryan is a paid hack of the Insurance Industry... he has no interest in a "MediCare for All" public option... because his best chance of being re-elected is achieved by strapping on a pair of kneepads and dropping down before the Insurance Industry.

Are more residents of southeast Wisconsin starting to see Ryan in this light? Last year he handily won re-election, but outspent his little-known opponent, Margaret Krupp $2,251,389 to $134,042, while Bush's 56% win in 2004 turned into an Obama victory (51%). There are only two congressional districts in Wisconsin with catastrophic foreclosure rates, Moore's and Ryan's, each projected at over 14,800 over the next 4 years. Moore voted to force banksters who had taken federal bailout money to renegotiate mortgage rates with some borrowers. Ryan was adamantly opposed (he's also taken more money from the Financial Sector than anyone else in the history of Wisconsin politics, a mind-boggling $1,673,945).

This past week the House Energy and Commerce Committee took a look at the effect the health care reform legislation it has put forward would have on Ryan's district. The bill that he's been hysterically opposing all over the state, the bill he's parroting Insurance Industry lies about, turns out to be a big winner for WI-01, especially for small businesses and senior citizens. There are few examples anywhere in the country where a member of Congress is opposing a bill that would be so overwhelmingly beneficial to his own constituents,
• Help for small businesses. Under the legislation, small businesses with 25 employees or less and average wages of less than $40,000 qualify for tax credits of up to 50% of the costs of providing health insurance. There are up to 14,000 small businesses in the district that could qualify for these credits.

• Help for seniors with drug costs in the Part D donut hole. Each year, 9,400 seniors in the district hit the donut hole and are forced to pay their full drug costs, despite having Part D drug coverage. The legislation would provide them with immediate relief, cutting brand name drug costs in the donut hole by 50%, and ultimately eliminate the donut hole.

• Health care and financial security. There were 1,600 health care-related bankruptcies in the district in 2008, caused primarily by the health care costs not covered by insurance. The bill provides health insurance for almost every American and caps annual out-of-pocket costs at $10,000 per year, ensuring that no citizen will have to face financial ruin because of high health care costs.

• Relieving the burden of uncompensated care for hospitals and health care providers. In 2008, health care providers in the district provided $41 million worth of uncompensated care, care that was provided to individuals who lacked insurance coverage and were unable to pay their bills. Under the legislation, these costs of uncompensated care would be virtually eliminated.

• Coverage of the uninsured. There are 73,000 uninsured individuals in the district, 10% of the district. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that nationwide, 97% of all Americans will have insurance coverage when the bill takes effect. If this benchmark is reached in the district, 51,000 people who currently do not have health insurance will receive coverage.

• No deficit spending. The cost of health care reform under the legislation is fully paid for: half through making the Medicare and Medicaid program more efficient and half through a surtax on the income of the wealthiest individuals. This surtax would affect only 2,470 households in the district. The surtax would not affect 99.3% of taxpayers in the district.

Last month Wisconsin's most prominent journalist, John Nichols, wondered aloud why Democrats aren't taking up the case against Ryan more seriously.
Despite running against a virtually unknown and seriously underfinanced challenger in 2008, and despite the fact that he spent more than $1 million on a disingenuous TV ad campaign that seemed to suggest he was concerned about protecting manufacturing jobs in the U.S., Ryan won just 64 percent of the vote. That's roughly the same percentage of the vote that Kind and Obey earned. Yet, while Republican elected officials are lining up to challenge the two Democrats, Democratic legislators and local elected officials in the 1st District are shying away from the Ryan race.

The point here is not to take away from Paulette Garin, the Wisconsin coordinator for the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care and a strong advocate for single-payer health care reform, who is mounting a second bid in southeastern Wisconsin. Garin's working hard, and if state and national Democrats were to get behind her run in a big way, she's capable of raising the right questions in a contest with a Republican congressman whose votes on trade and industrial policy issues harmed rather than helped efforts to preserve jobs at the shuttered Janesville General Motors plant and the threatened Kenosha Chrysler plant.

But the state and national support isn't coming Garin's way yet. And neither are "name" Democrats mulling the race. That's disappointing. And it fosters the sense that Democrats are falling into the dangerous mode of playing defense rather than maintaining the offensive strategy that has seen the party move from the margins to a dominant position.

Playing defense doesn't work at points like this. For confirmation of that fact, remember a summer 16 years ago when a popular new Democratic president was promoting health care reform, while a solidly Democratic House and Senate were preparing to take up a host of progressive economic and social policy initiatives. A relatively unknown Republican congressman from Georgia was busy recruiting serious challengers to entrenched Democratic incumbents. Democrats laughed at the GOP upstart and comforted themselves with the notion that they only needed to hold what they had. The idea of mounting a real campaign that went after Republican incumbents-- and that shifted the direction of the debate-- was dismissed as unnecessary.

A year and a half later, health care reform was dead, as were those economic and social policy initiatives. And Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the House.

Have you considered donating to Stop Paul Ryan? Or perhaps you'd prefer a more positive expression-- either by donating to Paulette Garin's congressional campaign (on the same page) or by joining 1,984 other Americans who have thanked Gwen Moore for standing strong for the public option on the Blue America Standing Up For The Public Option page. Rep. Moore has over $4,000 in thank-you's; it would be great to get that up for $5,000.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Afghanistan Debate Always Seems To Take Place During The Weekends


Busy Saturday for Afghanistan policy today! Senator Russ Feingold published an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal calling for a "flexible" timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. He pointed to 8 years of having achieved basically nothing at all. Feingold, who voted for the initial post 9/11 attack on Afghanistan, was one of the first senators to criticize the incompetence and lack of vision with which the Bush Regime pursued America's national security objectives-- particularly when they simply abandoned the job to pick an unjustifiable fight with Iraq. Likewise, he's taking a leading role in warning Obama against "an open-ended commitment to an escalating war in Afghanistan when the al Qaeda operatives we sought have largely been captured or killed or crossed the border to Pakistan."
Ending al Qaeda's safe haven in Pakistan is a top national security priority. Yet our operations in Afghanistan will not do so, and they could actually contribute to further destabilization of Pakistan. Meanwhile, we've become embroiled in a nation-building experiment that may distract us from combating al Qaeda and its affiliates, not just in Pakistan, but in Yemen, the Horn of Africa and other terrorist sanctuaries... During hearings in May at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, whether our troop increases might worsen instability in Pakistan. Adm. Mullen candidly said he shared that concern.

Mr. Holbrooke went even further. "You're absolutely correct," he said, "that an additional amount of American troops, and particularly if they're successful in Helmand and Kandahar, could end up creating a pressure in Pakistan which would add to the instability."

Feingold goes on to point out-- in less hyperbolic terms-- that historically, Afghanistan has been the graveyard of empires and that a military victory there is "elusive" enough to "give us reason to rethink an open-ended military presence." Polling shows that the U.S. presence, which is more and more frequently looked on as a brutal and destructive occupation by a foreign power, does not have the kind of support necessary to accomplish the mission the Obama Administration claims to be pursuing. Feingold concludes that by "announcing a flexible timetable for when our massive military presence will end [it] would be one of the best things we could do to advance our national security interests in Afghanistan. By doing so, we would undercut the misperception of the U.S. as an occupying force that has propped up a weak, corrupt and unpopular government, while at the same time removing a tremendous strain on our troops and our economy... Instead of increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, we should start talking about a flexible timetable to begin drawing those levels down. It is time to ask the hard questions-- and accept the candid answers-- about how our military presence in Afghanistan may be undermining our national security."

Obama, however, doesn't seem to be thinking along the same lines as Feingold-- and if today's U.K. Independent is to be believed, we're probably about to get another counterproductive escalation. That assessment doesn't come as a surprise to anyone in Washington paying close attention to the tragic American role in Afghanistan.
The commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan will ask for 20,000 more international troops as part of his new strategic plan for the alliance's war against a resurgent Taliban, The Independent has learned.

...General McChrystal, tasked with turning the tide in the battle against the insurgency on the ground, has given a presentation of his draft report to senior Afghan government figures in which he also proposes raising the size of the Afghan army and police force... Afghan troops would rise from 88,000 to 250,000, and the police force from 82,000 to 160,000 by 2012.

...As part of an initial troop surge overseen by General McChrystal, the US has already committed to boosting its forces from 31,000 to 68,000 this year. However Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was told by commanders in Afghanistan last week that those numbers would not be enough for what is being viewed as defining months of fighting to come.

Today's Washington Post pointed out that this has been the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the country since the war began eight years ago. The mention, well hidden and obscurely placed, is juxtaposed with a disturbing bit of news about a Pakistani court ordering the government to lift remaining restrictions on A.Q. Khan, the rogue scientist/businessman/spy who sold nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

And this morning's NY Times editorializes-- somewhat pathetically-- about the diminishing legitimacy of the Afghan central government just as the Pentagon is publicly facing up to the fact that our situation in Afghanistan is, in the words of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Mike Mullen, “serious, and it is deteriorating.” A news story in the same edition talks about "darker currents that have undercut the American-led war in this country [that] have surfaced often over the past eight years, but rarely have so many come into view all at once. In the space of a single week, a string of disturbing military and political events revealed not just the extraordinary burdens that lie ahead for the Americans and Afghans toiling to create a stable nation, but the fragility of the very enterprise itself." Using the word "fragility" gives "the enterprise" far more hope than is due.

Want to understand what's going on in Afgahnistan? Watch Robert Greenwald's short film and you'll get a better understanding about why Obama's policies in Afghanistan are failing and will fail even worse if he doesn't change course and start winding this bullshit down:

UPDATE: We Know Failure When We See It

Good to know-- and, fortunately, many very smart people already recognize that, like, for example, Derrick Crowe, who wrote about it in relationship to the mess the Obama Administration is making of Afghanistan.
The ongoing use of the Pashtun homelands as the base for the insurgency and the Pashtuns’ rejection of the processes of the central government show that after eight years, 807 U.S. military casualties, $228 billion dollars (so far; the full cost will exceed half-a-trillion dollars) and more than 20,000 Afghan civilian deaths, we have utterly failed to convince the Pashtuns in Afghanistan to “consent to the government’s legitimacy and stop actively and passively supporting the insurgency.”

In fact, as Dexter Filkins’ article in the New York Times shows, the massive election fraud will make it impossible for even the United States to endorse the legitimacy of the Afghan national government until questions of election fraud are adequately addressed, putting the political element of counterinsurgency (referred to by the COIN field manual as the prime element of COIN) into indefinite limbo while more and more U.S. troops spill into the country.

In other words, the U.S. counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan has been a total failure.
Reports indicate General McChrystal will soon ask for 20,000 more troops for this debacle. The President and Congress should say no and end our military involvement in Afghanistan as quickly as possible. Americans know failure when they see it.

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I Wish I Was A Comedy Writer So I Could Do Justice To The Michele Bachmann Town Hall


It wouldn't surprise me if half the attendees at Michele Bachmann's health care town hall meeting in Lake Elmo had come for the entertainment potential. There isn't a Republican in Congress as delusional-- loudly delusional-- and clueless as Bachmann (R-MN)-- and that includes several who have proven themselves to be borderline insane like Mean Jean Schmidt (R-OH), Steve King (R-IA), Paul Broun (R-GA), Wally Herger (R-CA), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Todd Akin (R-MO), Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), Trent Franks (R-AZ) and, of course, Virginia Foxx (R-NC). But this Bachmann story, like most of them, just writes itself, especially if there's a camera and a mike in the room. Meet one of her fervent supporters, St. Francis City Councilman LeRoy Schaffer:

My favorite part is when the loon in the top hat and tails starts screaming about how Bachmann is "right-- we got the best health care in the world!  THE VERY BEST! " The audience ate it up. These are the people who elect deranged officials like Bachmann and Schaffer. They like the way it sounds-- "America has the best health care in the world," regardless of the patent absurdity of the statement for anyone who isn't a multimillionaire.

The U.S. in down at the bottom of the barrel in comparison to other developed countries, when it comes to health care. American consumers spend double what other nations' consumers spend on health care-- almost entirely because of Insurance companies-- and have the worst results of any developed nation. An average American male will live to be around 78. Cool, huh? Well, cool compared to how long your grandpa could have expected to have lived. But not cool compared to the 29 countries' males who will live longer (and pay far, far less for health care). Men in Iceland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, Israel, Canada, Costa Rica, Sweden and twenty other countries have higher life expectancies than American men. And more American babies die before reaching the age of one than in almost any other developed country.

Republican politicians can continue obstructing health care and making up their own "facts" that rubes desperately choose to believe, but that won't make any of the nonsense true and it won't change the dismal state of American health care delivery for ordinary U.S. working families. A public option will do that, but half 78% and 66% of Republicans would rather obsess over the myths that, respectively, health care reforms means taxpayer-funded abortions and paying the health care costs of undocumented immigrants. But Councilmember Schaffer got even crazier-- and brought Bachmann's audience right along with him:
I’ll be danged if I am going to give up my Social Security because of socialism, and I'll be danged if I am going to give up my Medicare because of socialism!

How do you even deal with the kind of mind that works this way? I guess we just need to keep reminding them what Republicans have always said about Social Security and Medicare, two progressive programs they opposed as strenuously as they are now opposing health care reform. Or remind them that conservatives opposed freeing the slaves, allowing women to vote, regulating safety conditions in mines and food plants and opposed free public education, labor unions, the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. Ronald Reagan shilling against Medicare in 1964:
"Write those letters now; call your friends and them to write them. If you don't, this program I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow, and behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country... And if you don't do this and if I don't do it, one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."

Wait, maybe all these drooling idiots at Bachmann's health care forum, in their white flight suburbs don't need any help with medical reform. Maybe everything really is great in Minnesota's 6th CD. After all, the median income is the third highest of Minnesota's eight congressional districts-- $56,862 (compared to $47,111 statewide). It's not like Florida and Nevada, where everybody is losing their homes. In Bachmann's district only 5,853 homes have been foreclosed on and they're only expecting 19,487 foreclosures in the next 4 years, only the third worst in the state. And Bachmann certainly voted against forcing the banksters to stop acting so predatory and re-negotiate with borrowers. As for health care... well, it turns out a report from the House Energy and Commerce Committee shows that the folks in MN-06 actually do have a lot of lose if the reform bill Bachmann (and the kook in the top hat) oppose so violently fails, especially seniors and small businesspeople.
America’s Affordable Health Choices Act would provide significant benefits in the 6th Congressional District of Minnesota: up to 16,100 small businesses could receive tax credits to provide coverage to their employees; 9,900 seniors would avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D; 1,400 families could escape bankruptcy each year due to unaffordable health care costs; health care providers would receive payment for $64 million in uncompensated care each year; and 29,000 uninsured individuals would gain access to high-quality, affordable health insurance. Congressswoman Michele Bachmann represents the district.

• Help for small businesses. Under the legislation, small businesses with 25 employees or less and average wages of less than $40,000 qualify for tax credits of up to 50% of the costs of providing health insurance. There are up to 16,100 small businesses in the district that could qualify for these credits.

• Help for seniors with drug costs in the Part D donut hole. Each year, 9,900 seniors in the district hit the donut hole and are forced to pay their full drug costs, despite having Part D drug coverage. The legislation would provide them with immediate relief, cutting brand name drug costs in the donut hole by 50%, and ultimately eliminate the donut hole.

• Health care and financial security. There were 1,400 health care-related bankruptcies in the district in 2008, caused primarily by the health care costs not covered by insurance. The bill provides health insurance for almost every American and caps annual out-of-pocket costs at $10,000 per year, ensuring that no citizen will have to face financial ruin because of high health care costs.

• Relieving the burden of uncompensated care for hospitals and health care providers. In 2008, health care providers in the district provided $64 million worth of uncompensated care, care that was provided to individuals who lacked insurance coverage and were unable to pay their bills. Under the legislation, these costs of uncompensated care would be virtually eliminated.

• Coverage of the uninsured. There are 51,000 uninsured individuals in the district, 7% of the district. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that nationwide, 97% of all Americans will have insurance coverage when the bill takes effect. If this benchmark is reached in the district, 29,000 people who currently do not have health insurance will receive coverage.

• No deficit spending. The cost of health care reform under the legislation is fully paid for: half through making the Medicare and Medicaid program more efficient and half through a surtax on the income of the wealthiest individuals. This surtax would affect only 3,790 households in the district. The surtax would not affect 98.9% of taxpayers in the district.

UPDATE: Councilman LeRoy Schaffer-- Much Crazier Than You Probably Imagined

After watching the video a few times, I started wondering if it was legit. Is it possible that "Schaffer" was just an actor making a mockery of Bachmann and the teabagger ethos? I mean could anyone really be that stupid? So I did a little research and found out that the City Councilman was able to show just a small fraction of his immense store of ignorance and jaw dropping bigotry. Forget for a moment that the top hatted lunatic was censured by his colleagues on the St Francis City Council for "harassing and improper behavior," telling a young woman, who was clearly not interested, about his sexual practices. You see, he's actually best known for his crusade against allegedly Spanish-speaking roofers. Last summer the City Pages reported on Schaffer in a story called If Lou Dobbs Was A City Councilman.
Last week, residents called for Schaffer's resignation after he shouted at a KSTP broadcaster, went on a tirade about immigration reform, and made what some say were racist comments on TV.

"He behaved like a maniac," says resident Melissa Jabas, who called for the councilman's ouster at the meeting. "If you watch the clip, he's got, like, spit on his lip," she added. "He was just yelling and screaming."

KSTP showed up at Schaffer's home after he filed a report with the local police that "illegal aliens" were working on a neighbor's roof. He knew they were "illegal" because they "didn't speak English."

According to the report, Schaffer continues: "They probably crossed the Rio Grande...and I don't blame them. I would swim as fast as I could, too."

Defending himself on camera, Schaffer tried to make a point about the nation's current immigration crisis, but ended up digging himself into an even deeper hole.

"I'm tired of looking the other way, sir," he shouted into the camera. "I'm tired of Mr. and Mrs. America looking the other way."

This is not the first time Schaffer's loose lips have gotten him into trouble. Last December, the council censored him for making inappropriate sexual remarks to a woman during a city event. (Maybe he did learn his lesson, because he didn't return our call for comment.)

And you wonder how Michele Bachmann gets elected in blue, blue Minnesota?

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