Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I am Very, Very, VERY Sorry

Florida Democrat Alan Grayson describes the Republican plan for health care reform:

Following GOP complaints, Grayson issued this apology:

Meanwhile, Republican Senator John Ensign (NV) outlined his objection to a public option:
Ensign...said he feared a government plan would prove so popular it could never be uprooted.

"Does anybody believe Congress would let this public plan go away once it has a constituency?" Ensign asked. "No way. Once it's started, you will never get rid of it. Congress will subsidize it more and more, allow it to grow and grow.
In other words -- horrors! -- a public option might be the worst of all possible worlds: Successful. Ensign didn't bother to explain why he opposed a concept that would benefit actual people to the point of being so successful that it might increase. Not to worry, Charles Grassley (R-IA) carried that ball for Ensign:
"Government is not a fair competitor...It is a predator." He predicted that "a government plan will ultimately force private ensurers out of business," reducing choices for consumers.
Now, consumers in most states have no real choice as it is. A very few insurers dominate each market and -- except for in Massachusetts -- none of them are required to sell insurance to someone who wants to buy it. Plus, if anyone is guilty of predatory behavior, it's the insurers who take money from their clients and then resist paying claims or covering procedures. In truth, a public option would expand choice and force private insurers to behave competitively instead of monopolistically...

We were alone and I was singing my song for you...

Duh Dept: There is no "we" in American politics. The point is well-taken, but why blame the left because George W. Bush (a) decided to take office under suspicious circumstances and (b) governed from the right? The truth is that Bush never cared about the legitimacy of his presidency as much as he did about seizing power...

NOLA Happenings: Join Jo Dee Messina, Los Lonely Boys, and 130,000 others this weekend at the Gretna Heritage Festival...There's always the New Orleans Coffee Festival (two stages and 100 vendors) at Freret Market...Feel like getting out of town? Go up to Shreveport for the Red River Revel...Then there's the famous Angola Prison Rodeo, which starts Sunday...

About Damn Time Dept: Hank Williams and A New American Literary History...


Here is yet another example of the right embodying that which they profess to fear.

I'm just a lapsed Catholic and not a theologian, but even I can see the internal tension here: These children are literally worshipping Bush, which -- if they weren't exploited innocents -- would violate at least three commandments.

First Commandment: "I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol."

Second Commandment: "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God."

Third Commandment: "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy."

I don't know how else to interpret this scene other than worship of a false idol, times two: Bush himself and Bush as represented by a cardboard cutout. I admit that aesthetically the cutout is a long way from a golden calf, but the principle is the same. It's also worth noting that one of the founding principles of Protestantism aimed at eliminating the presence of statues from church for precisely the reason that their presence was a violation of the First Commandment.

Once you've started down the slippery slope of worshipping a false idol, it isn't long before you're breaking the next two commandments as well. After all, ascribing divinity to a mortal is heretical and certainly "wrongful use" of God's name. And if you do it on the Sabbath...hey, you're oh-for-three, commandment-wise.

Compare this to the right-wing outrage over President Obama's address to school children. There's a great deal of self loathing there, as it in part reflects disgust at the right's own behavior toward President Bush. This isn't limited to the religious right, either: Just think of the secular fawning over Bush when he emerged from the cockpit in front of the "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Similarly, the right-wing conviction that the president is a racist mirrors its attitude toward minorities. Call them out on it, though, as Jimmy Carter did, and you're accused of divisiveness and of playing the race card, never mind that the right plays the race card every day.

To me, though, the weirdest right-wing shibboleth about President Obama is that one of the most mild-mannered men to occupy the Oval Office is fundamentally angry. This article of faith is inevitably expressed with a great deal of anger and again reveals nothing so much as anger on the part of the accuser, not the president. Which leads to this rule of thumb: The right is whatever it accuses the left of being -- angry, racist, divisive. The next thing you know, they'll accuse the left of homophobia! (Thanks to Annette at Just my little piece of the world for calling this video to my attention.)...

The first rain of fall fell yesterday. It will be the first of many. Luckily, today is a beautiful day -- a great day to blog with the sliding glass door open and Dianne Reeves on the stereo. Here's "There'll Be Another Spring" from the soundtrack to Good Night, and Good Luck:

I love you more than you'll ever know...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge...

John Hayes reviews Keep An Eye On The Sky," the new Big Star box set, here. Big Star was a vehicle for Alex Chilton (who wrote and sang "The Letter" for the Box Tops) and Chris Bell, "a sort of southern Lennon-McCartney." John explains why their music has lasted and why they still matter...

John also writes about Big Star's "Nighttime" on Just A Song, here...

Twitter for your Jewish mother:

Great moments in movie music:

Sunday Gospel Time. "Judgment," by the Campbell Brothers:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Weekly Address: G-20 and Security Council

"The United States is committed to a new chapter of international cooperation..."
Who doesn't like health care reform? The American Institute for Cancer Research, among others. E. J. Dionne has the story here...

David Brooks writes that the issues in Afghanistan are complicated, difficult, and inescapable. Brooks' conclusions, though, follow from his assumption that "...since 1979, we have been involved in a long, complex conflict against Islamic extremism." The significance of 1979 is, presumably, the Iran hostage crisis, which itself was set in motion by historical forces created in large part by the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup that installed the Shah of Iran on the Peacock Throne. Brooks' conflict also has roots is Western exploitation of Middle East oil resources and in the historical Western support of oppressive regimes in the Middle East. This doesn't even touch upon our role in the Israel-Palestinian crisis.

It seems to me that the proper American response to all of this is to quit treating all of this as a war between civilized Judeo-Christianity and backward Islamic fundamentalism. And at bottom, what's the difference between that and the rationalization for the Crusades?...

You think the debate on health care reached lows for intellectual dishonesty? Wait until climate change takes the stage, writes Paul Krugman...

Speaking of green living...

Shake yer claw, ye scurvy buccaneer. Aarrhh.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My Foolish Heart

NOLA Happenings: Drive down the road to New Iberia and the fais do do at the 68th Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival. For the math challenged, that means it's been happening since at least 1941...Or celebrate Oktoberfest at Deutsche Haus on South Galvez Street.

Don't like the Seahawks' chances at home against the Bears this weekend...

Friday's Choice:
Bill Evans plays "My Foolish Heart." A pianist friend writes:

The epitome of simple elegance!---and I don't at all mean simple to play, but it's pared-down, uncluttered, and absolutely exquisite. The chord voicings are so subtle, but effective, ending is wonderful, I like how this shows that you don't have to be scrambling madly all over the keyboard, being showy and bombastic---The emotion is powerful, but tastefully contained. It's like a perfect short story where not one word is wasted. Beautiful song, too, isn't it?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh Comma, Comma

Happy National Punctuation Day! It's all here, including details of the cooking contest. Citizen K. suggests turning a regular meatloaf horizontal to get a hyphen. Premium T. has her own thoughts on the matter here...

Thanks to mommapolitico for conferring an Honest Scrap Award on this blog. Coming from someone who is no stranger to an honest scrap herself, this means a little extra something (especially since MP is a fellow fan of The Pogues)...

A visit with cuz and Steve Reilly and the Mamou Playboys...

The New Orleans Ladder gives its first Brass Balls Award...

She walks these hills in a long black veil. Hey, it's only one of the greatest songs ever written...

Don't miss "Eight Days," James B. Stewart's article in the Sept. 21 New Yorker. It's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at last fall's financial market meltdown and the round-the-clock efforts to contain the fallout. Stewart makes a convincing case that without the work of Henry Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner, things would have been much worse. As much as it pains me to admit it, our former president comes off looking pretty good, at least in terms of his part of handling the immediate crisis. Perhaps the most harrowing part of the narrative is the story of the fall of an established money market fund owing to its relatively innocuous position in Lehman Brothers. Stewart explains why the government helped A.I.G. while letting Lehman fail and provides details of Bank of America's acquisition of Merrill Lynch. It may sound dry -- and the financial details can be tough sledding at times -- but all in all it's an engrossing, essential read that is the soul of objective reporting...

Things seen on the farm-to-market road east of Donnelly...

The Ballad of David Vitter (thanks to Da Ladder):

Tea Bagger talk (thanks to Annette at Just my little piece of the world):

Yahoos are like the poor: Always with us...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Baseball's Relentless Math

When the Red Sox blew a 6-0 lead Monday and lost 12-9 to the hapless Kansas City Royals, they missed a chance to close to with three games of the Yankees in the lost column. By doing this, they submitted themselves to what I call Baseball's Relentless Math. On Tuesday morning, the top two positions in the American League East were

New York 95-56
Boston 89-60

In terms of catching the Yankees and winning the AL East, the Red Sox put themselves in an untenable position. Why? A baseball season is 162 games long, meaning that the Yankees have 11 games left to play and the Red Sox 13. The Yankees have won 63% of their games to date; if they win 63% of the remaining games they will go 7-4 and finish with a record of 102-60. For the Red Sox to simply tie them, they'd have to win all thirteen of their remaining games. If the Yankees go 6-5, the Red Sox must go 12-1; if the Yankees play below .500 ball and go 5-6, the Red Sox still have to win eleven of their thirteen games. In other words, the Yankees must play worse than than they have all season to date while the Sox must be dramatically better.

Moreover, with eleven games left, the Yankees have fewer opportunities to lose than the Red Sox. In the unlikely event that the Yankees lose the rest of their games, the Red Sox would still have to win six of theirs to even tie the Yankees. And as I say, the most probable scenario is that the Yankees will win seven and lose four. Which is why in the heat of a pennant race you can't afford to lose games in which you held leads of 6-0, 8-2, and 9-5, especially when the pitcher you're going up against the next day is Zach Greinke, the American League's top starter this year. (Note: The Sox lost to Greinke while the Yankees beat the Angels, reducing the margin for error by a further two games.)

It is true that teams have collapsed before and that -- despite Monday's debacle -- the Red Sox are currently playing better ball than the Yankees. But probably not enough better in a situation that has no margin for error. The Red Sox will still make the postseason as the wild card team. It's time for manager Terry francona to line up the pitching rotation for the playoffs, rest starting position players, and decide which relief pitchers he can trust...

I love old, weird buildings. The triangular building at Paris and Gentilly is a beaut...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Afghanistan War Strategy Under Review

In light of recent developments, the White House has asked for a reassessment of American strategy in Afghanistan:
Faced with a grim assessment of the Afghan war from his top commander and opposition from leading Democrats, President Obama has begun a wholesale reevaluation of the military effort that could alter the strategic aims of the American mission.
Imagine that: A president who, when faced with the facts, alters strategy to adjust to reality instead of making it a test of "resolve." We haven't had that in a while. Oh, there's the usual carping from the military:
"They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."
But where's the evidence that President Obama ever took Afghanistan lightly? To the contrary, he has long argued that it, not Iraq, was and is the so-called central front in the battle against Al-Qaeda. Vice President Biden has been arguing for a scaled back commitment in Afghanistan, one focused on Al-Qaeda and not nation building. Given military requests for additional troops and the recent election (generally regarded as corrupt), he may be carrying the day.

As for "sticker shock," we're not buying a car here. If the estimated cost in blood, treasure, and international prestige now appears too great, why should Obama give in to an argument by cheap analogy to fund an effort that is losing support in Congress and with the public? The military's answer to any problem is always to send in more troops. There's no historical support for that position: It didn't work in Vietnam and it didn't work in Iraq.

Afghanistan has never been subdued militarily. What evidence does the United States military have that its efforts would be any different? Me, I'm happy that President Obama wants a civilian review of Afghanistan instead of taking the military's word for what is needed...

The great E. J. Dionne writes that arguments over centrism and bipartisanship obscure the debate over policy in everything from health care to student loans...

Lynn Shelton, Seattle's award winning filmmaker, has a show on MTV. We've known Lynn for years; her working is refreshing and involving...

So, goodbye, Dublin boys, farewell...

I'll always be dreaming my dreams with you...

Something is happening here. Insurance companies need help and protection...

That's a lot of calamari: 19-1/2 foot giant squid caught off the Louisiana coast...

Breaking News: "I was black before the election." More here:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

This one goes out to John Hayes at Robert Frost's Banjo:

As always, click to enlarge...

Walking a woodland path. Note the depth of field Roy achieves in this photo, almost as if it were monochrome...

Cajun Delights: Double header zydeco breakfast and spice cake with praline icing. Lessee...zydeco, Cajun breakfast, spice cake, praline icing...sounds like back-to-back double headers to me!...

Foxessa has the NOLA signings-and-readings schedule for Ned Sublette's new book The Year Before the Flood here. You know that T. and I wish we could be there for the big party on 9/24 at the Mother-in-Law...

What did he say? It turns out that President Obama didn't say it at all, that Glenn Beck and his minions got a bit free and easy with the editing button to mangle the President's analysis of the Constitution. Check it out...

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University (Kevin Roose). In 2007, Brown University student Kevin Roose decided to forego a semester abroad in order to enroll at Liberty University, the Christian college originally founded by Jerry Falwell in the early 70's. In this engaging account of his time at Liberty, Roose discovered -- to his surprise -- that he had more in common with the students than he had imagined and eventually developed respect for what is known as the "Liberty Way." He even swung what became the last interview given by Falwell to a print journalist.

At the same time, Roose struggles with the content of Liberty's teaching, eventually concluding that its fundamental anti-intellectualism stifles the possibility of a solid college education based on skepticism and inquiry. Along the way, he joins the choir at Falwell's Fall Road Church, takes the core curriculum, learns not to curse, attempts to convert nonbelievers during Spring Break at Daytona Beach, and attends a session of the Every Man's Burden campus support group for chronic masturbators. Roose's closest friends at Liberty are the nonconformists, students whose brand of rebellion seems quaint by Brown standards but is all the more impressive for coming in an atmosphere that encourages and enforces conformity...

Paul Krugman explains why the Baucus health care bill won't work:
  1. It "bungles" the employer mandate by tying employer fees to employee subsidies. As Krugman points out, this discourages employers from hiring low-income workers.
  2. The financial aid portion is inadequate.
  3. By eliminating a public option, the plan fails to create competition in the insurance market.
Nonetheless, Krugman argues that the bill is not as bad as it could be and that it serves as a realistic point from which to begin negotiations...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Weekly Address: Global Economic Progress

Defense and foreign policy based on the technology we have and not on what might exist in a galaxy far, far away? Imagine that...

The guy is just plain weird. Maybe not as weird as yesterday's Canned Heat video, but definitely weird...

Maybe It's The Water: One-third of New Jersey conservatives suspect that President Obama might be the anti-Christ. Pull quote: "A village cannot reorganize village life to suit the village idiot"...

If you're in NOLA tonight, don't miss the Save Charity Hospital benefit concert at the Howlin' Wolf...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Goin' Up The Country

Back from New England wondering if this is the best Max Baucus can come up with? Surely the derision from both sides of the aisle that has greeted his version of health care "reform," which doesn't include a public option, can be no surprise to him. And, yet, Chuck Todd claims here that the White House is willing to do what it takes to get Olympia Snowe (R-ME) on board. Personally, I think that Snowe is about as likely to support meaningful reform as Newt Gingrich.

I also have to wonder why a single senator from a state with a population of 1.3 million (or .004 percent of the United States total population) has been able to amass such power. Todd points out that the White House's approach to Snowe is designed to accommodate Susan Collins, her fellow Maine Republican, and conservative Democrats like Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ben Nelson (NE), and Mary Landrieu (LA). Again, I must ask why?

Combined, these states amount to slightly more than 3% of the population of the country. Neither Arkansas or Louisiana voted for Obama, nor are they likely to. The one electoral vote he got from Nebraska came from the power of his organization and not anything that Ben Nelson did. In short, the White House is beholden to none of these senators for anything.

And, yet, the White House may have decided that it would rather have 60 votes for a watered-down bill than eke out a better bill via the reconciliation process (which, in short, would allow the bills sponsors to avoid cloture in the Senate, whereby 60 votes are required to bring a bill to the floor). Perhaps there's some grand strategy whereby President Obama and his advisors take the same approach as Lyndon Johnson did with the Civil Rights Act of 1957: Compromise for votes in order to get the camel's nose in the tent. Perhaps I'm just hoping against hope, too...

Slave master, I'm the shepherd of my pasture...

Clever Pup reviews U2 in Toronto...

Friday's Choice:
"Goin' Up The Country" with Canned Heat:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge...

Who'll Stop The Rain Dept.: I'm in New England for a week visiting family. Last night, my son, his roommate, and I went over to Fenway Park to catch the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. The folly of man trying to predict the weather occupied much of the evening's events. You see, Friday night, the Red Sox and Rays got in one-third of an inning before the game was called on account of rain. It seems that the the Sox' Super Duper Pooper Scooper of a high tech weather service predicted that the rain would be temporary even though anyone out of doors in Boston last night could have told them otherwise. Well, they weren't going to make the same mistake twice, by God.

So, last night, after an intermittently rainy afternoon, the Sox powers-that-be delayed the start of the game for two hours and ten minutes despite the fact that it wasn't raining at all. But, the SDPS of a high-tech weather service had apparently predicted that it would rain, prompting the team to delay the start. Now, the last downpour that I know of that hit when and where it was predicted was back in the days of a ballplayer name o' Noah. Heck, even Hurricane Katrina veered east at the last minute and spared NOLA the worst of the actual natural disaster part of that catastrophe. So why in the name of God/Buddha/Allah/Yahweh/Higher Power of Your Choice would anyone delay a ball game on the basis of trying to predict the weather? If it's not raining, you start the game, right? Wrong, apparently.

Well, I'll you what was predictable, and that was the deluge that descended at around 11:00, well after the game would have ended had it started at 7:00 instead of 9:15. Fortunately, the Sox led 9-1 and the game had gone the requisite 5 innings to go in the books as a win. But what is it that makes people in the year 2009 think that they can predict when exactly a rain storm is going to strike? Hubris? An overinflated confidence in technology? You tell me...

Surfing in Rhode Island? Yep...

Lunar Baedeker. These poems are amazing. The rhythms are so right on that you can imagine them spoken even as you read them silently. Don't miss...

Hillbilly heckler helped by health whores...

It's bayou boogie time!...

Sunday Gospel Time: He was fat and wore a ridiculous outfit. So close your eyes if your must, but don't miss Elvis singing his beloved "How Great Thou Art":

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Weekly Address: Losing Insurance Can Happen To Anybody

The President discusses a staggering new report from the Treasury Department indicating that under the status quo, around half of all Americans under 65 will lose their health coverage at some point over the next ten years. He pledges not to allow this future to unfold: "In the United States of America, no one should have to worry that they'll go without health care – not for one year, not for one month, not for one day. And once I sign my health reform plan into law – they won't"...

Stop! Don't miss the open house at 2761 Dreux, NOLA...

It's not exactly news, but Neal Gabler has an interesting assessment of the what it means that the Republican party has been taken over by its lunatic fringe:
Maybe Democrats should be happy...But the lunatics still have their seat at the table, and someday they may be sitting at its head again. What then?...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Barack Obama Hits It Out Of The Park. Again.

Last night, President Obama seized the middle ground in the health care debate, effectively casting his opponents as liars and delayers. In an address to a joint session of Congress, he outlined a set of proposals to regulate the health insurance business, a business that has gone virtually unregulated until know. Most important, he offered a ringing defense of mainstream liberalism, even going so far as to use the word, a word that has been generally verboten in Democratic party parlance since the heyday of Ronald Reagan.

His reading of Teddy Kennedy's posthumous letter left few dry eyes as he promised to carry on a tradition driven by big-heartedness and an empathy for the experience of others, not some icy technocratic love of big government. Obama recited such past liberal successes as Social Security and Medicare while challenging Republicans to put themselves on the right side of history this time. At this same time, he made it clear to seniors just who historically has been their friend and who has stood in the way of their best interests.

For nearly an hour, we watched one of the great counterpunchers in political history in action. The hatreds and lies of August dissolved in front of his onslaught, so much fodder for Obama's rhetoric. Republicans sat glum and discomfited, props that he managed to invite aboard and talk past simultaneously. It was a tour de force, and they knew it.

Was it the speech I wanted to hear? No: I'm a single payer guy and this definitely was not an appeal for a single payer health plan. In fact, he specifically ruled it out. The president has made the decision that that would be too disruptive and -- I suspect -- politically impossible. Instead, he offered insurance companies a grand bargain: More customers with the tradeoff of greater regulation and a public option. The insurance companies will no doubt try for a condition of more customers with less regulation, but last night the president virtually committed his party to a greatly regulated insurance business. It's hard to see him approving legislation -- much less signing it -- that achieves anything less...

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) called the president a liar at one point during the speech, over Obama's correct assertion that illegal immigrants would not be covered under any of the plans in Congress. The outburst earned him a rebuke from John McCain and Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World" designation. But I found myself siding with Barney Frank (D-MA), who thought it was no big deal and well within an American tradition of heckling. Anyway, if the President of the United States ought to be able to handle one looney tunes heckler from the state that gave us Mark Sanford...

A Louisiana congressman named Bouscany gave the (yawn) official Republican response to Obama's speech. Predictably, he called for starting from scratch and, as a doctor who -- according to Keith Olbermann -- has been sued three times for malpractice, tort reform. Bouscany is apparently a birther as well. This combined with Bobby Jindal's dismal performance last winter begs the question: What do the Republicans have against Louisiana? Who will they put up next? David Vitter?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Obama School Speech Indoctrinates Youth

Despite opposition from such mainstream adversaries as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, President Barack Obama spoke to school children today, making a controversial speech (full text here) with content sure to be debated for generations. President Obama began the speech ingratiatingly by sympathizing with the long-held and contentious student position that summer is too short. He then began an immediate recruitment into his cult of personality by boasting about his privileged upbringing by a poor, single mother.

Obama went on to make a number of controversial and highly politicized points:
  • teachers have responsibility "for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn"
  • in a swipe at TV-watching and video playing game-parents, he claimed in a blatant shot at Microsoft that it was a parental responsibility to ensure that kids do homework and not "spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox." (Antitrust experts are still trying to figure out whether this portends a reopening of the antitrust settlement reached with Microsoft some years back. On the other hand, this may have been a subtle version of product placement.)
But this was just the beginning. Students, Obama argued, could be serve themselves by staying in school, respecting their teachers, studying hard, participating in school activities, setting goals, and having a vision for their own futures. At one point, he even made a veiled allusion to his support of the homosexual lifestyle and agenda ("Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look").

Repeatedly, Obama attempted to recruit new members of his cult and party by stressing the importance of education and by citing the achievements of minority students who had overcome great odds. He alluded to only a single white student, and even that one had the highly ethnic last name of "Schultz." The president's message was clear: If your name is Cartwright, Cleaver, or Clampett, there's no place for you in the educated world of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party...

Don Parker has the Republican response here...

Sing an American Tune...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge...

"E" is for Ecology. It also happens to be the most commonly used letter, appearing 56 times more often than "Q". Read all about it here...

What if President Bush had wanted to speak to my kids? I would tell them that while I didn't agree much with him, other people did and that they should respect that. I wouldn't worry too much about indoctrination into a cult of personality because I raised my kids to have strong personalities that would shield them from cults based on -- say -- a president climbing out of a jet fighter to announce "Mission Accomplished."

The tea bagger "furor" over President Obama advising children to stay in school and pursue their educations is nothing more than, well, a tempest in a teapot. Although I must admit that the sheer stupidity and underlying racial animus did make my jaw drop. Gotta hand it to them: Just when you think that they can't sink lower, they do. Anyway, here's a simple solution to the so-called problem: Every year at the beginning of school, the president -- regardless of party -- addresses school kids about the value and importance of education. If they want to throw in a few things about initiatives being taken by their administration, I have no problem with that as long as they report on the progress the next year. Sheesh...

You think the wingnuts would have the same problem with Sarah Palin speaking to children? Just wondering...

After Katrina, NOLA's musically rich Treme neighborhood is shrinking...

T. and I often go to the Redmond Saturday Market because the produce is so outstanding. See what I mean in her pictures here...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Weekly Address: Labor Day and Fair Rewards for Hard Work

This is a difficult time for our country. But I'm confident that we can meet the challenges we face and leave behind something better.

The great E. J. Dionne writes that media stories of mob action at Town Meetings were greatly exaggerated:
The most disturbing account came from Rep. David Price of North Carolina, who spoke with a stringer for one of the television networks at a large town-hall meeting he held in Durham.

The stringer said he was one of 10 people around the country assigned to watch such encounters. Price said he was told flatly: "Your meeting doesn't get covered unless it blows up." As it happens, the Durham audience was broadly sympathetic to reform efforts. No "news" there.
This certainly echoes my experience...

David "Dean" Broder thinks that a "torture probe of Bush officials is a bad idea." It's a good idea, all right, in so many ways...

George Will -- never an enthusiastic supporter of adventurism in Iraq -- says that it's time to leave:
Yet as Iraqi violence is resurgent, the logic of triumphalism leads here:

If, in spite of contrary evidence, the U.S. surge permanently dampened sectarian violence, all U.S. forces can come home sooner than the end of 2011. If, however, the surge did not so succeed, U.S. forces must come home sooner...
Beware of socialized fire departments!... (Thanks, Bill!)

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) thinks we should leave Afghanistan too:
We need to start discussing a flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan. Proposing a timetable doesn't mean giving up our ability to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Far from it: We should continue a more focused military mission that includes targeted strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and we should step up our long-term civilian efforts to deal with the corruption in the Afghan government that has helped the Taliban to thrive. But we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals.
I don't disagree, but the part in the middle sounds like "Wouldn't it be pretty to think so" stuff. What makes anyone think that "long-term civilian efforts" will be any more successful than a military presence in a country run by a kleptocracy and where people are disfigured for exercising their right to vote? (Apologies for the absence of a link, but I did read a story on about a poor man who lost his nose and ears to Taliban thugs.)...

Billionaires for wealth care...

Jindal says NOLA teaching hospital will be built:

We've talked to the Obama administration several times, and they’ve been very clear to us that whatever money we get out of FEMA, whether it’s what we expect, which is $492 (million) or closer to what they’re offering today, $150 (million), they made it clear they’re open to providing additional funding from other sources within the federal government.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Honest Scrap Award

Annette at Just my little piece of the world has honored me with an Honest Scrap Award, calling me
a wonderful music lover, citizen of the world and all round great guy. He has been a blogger of all things LEFT and does take the left to task when they need it. He is honest and straightforward. He truly does deserve this award.
All I can say is that I greatly respect Annette's judgment and insight as I humbly and modestly accept this award! Seriously, receiving the recognition of a respected peer has its own special place, and I am grateful for it.

Honest Weblog Award Rules:
Honest Weblog Award Rules:

1. You must brag about the award. (Done)

2. You must include the name of the blogger who bestowed the award on you and link back to that blogger. (Done)

3. You must choose a minimum of seven (7) blogs that you find brilliant in content or design. (See below)

4. Show their names and links and leave a comment informing them that they were prized with the Honest Weblog Award. (See below)

5. List at least ten (10) honest things about yourself. (Ten? I have to do ten?)

Then pass it on with the instructions!

I'm going to slightly amend #3 and recognize seven blogs that aren't afraid of an Honest Scrap:
  1. Editilla at the New Orleans Ladder provides much more than a listing of daily news and opinion items -- excellent as it is -- about the Crescent City. Da Ladda gets this award because of Editilla's acerbic commentary, especially the ones aimed the Army Corps of Engineers. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
  2. Rastamick at Nihil Obstat never met a honest scrap he didn't like. Biting and witty as he is, I'd hate to be on the receiving end.
  3. Helen Wheels at Just Ain't Right writes a feisty, unapologetically liberal blog that wingnut bloggers have singled out as part of the "hateful" left. Way to go, Helen?
  4. PWALLY writes about the Honest Scraps of her life with rueful, self-deprecating humor. But when she gets her back about about something, you know you have a fighter on your hands. Great art, too.
  5. Foxessa at Fox Home takes her stands with notable integrity and compassion. I can always count on her to provide a different and thought-provoking perspective on any issue she chooses to address.
  6. I like it when Cliff of Cliff's Crib sits on his front porch and tells it like it is. Cliff makes a genuine effort to understand all sides of a question before settling the matter with uncommon common sense.
  7. Kathy at Stone Soup Musings writes with a penetrating empathy that I wish I had. She knows how to make a point, too, through careful sourcing that builds to an inarguable conclusion.
Ten things about me:
  1. I have two sons who are college seniors.
  2. I met my wife via the internet.
  3. I [Heart] New Orleans.
  4. I never give up on the Red Sox.
  5. I am a huge sports fan.
  6. I read, read, read.
  7. I have been a liberal my entire life, raised from birth.
  8. I have a Master's degree in Library Science.
  9. I have four brothers and eleven nieces and nephews.
  10. I have never voted for a Republican.

Friday's Choice: Joe Cocker sings "With A Little Help From My Friends" at Woodstock:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Health Care Town Hall Meeting: Reflections

Make no mistake about it: The primary objection conservatives have to health care reform is the inclusion of a public option. Oh, they make noises about other parts of the proposals and continue to erroneously believe that the path to true reform lies through revoking the right to jury trials in the singular instance of malpractice suits (and yet, they trust juries to hand out the death penalty. Go figure). But conservatives at the town hall meeting saved most of their invective for the possibility of a public option.

A public option simply means the alternative of purchasing health insurance through a government entity. Premiums alone -- and not tax dollars -- would finance the entity. Experts in health care reform believe it necessary not because of the large amounts of people who would choose it -- according to Jay Inslee, the CBO estimates about 3% of Americans would choose the public option -- but to control costs and to provide a competitive alternative to private insurance So why all the ruckus? As Inslee himself said, suppose that it is more than 3%? All that means is that people want it, that they're making the choice of participating in a public option.

As near I can decipher the hoots and jeers, the objections come down to these:
  • taxpayer money will eventually be needed to finance a public option, regardless of what anyone says now;
  • a public option is the camel's nose in the tent, the camel being socialized medicine along the lines of the Canada, Great Britain, or (shudder) France. Sure we start off with a small public option. But like all government programs, it will grow until it subsumes the entire health care system.
To which I say, if only. We'll have single-payer health care in this country when the political will and momentum exists for it, i.e., when politicians believe that not supporting it will cost them their jobs. Right now, we don't have that. I might argue that the quickest path to single payer is to continue doing nothing: Let the problem fester until radical surgery becomes the only option. However, the human costs of that are too high, so I'll support reform with a public option. Reform without a public option makes a mockery of the word, anyway.

So take the conservative argument as it is: That a public option is the first step to single-payer. So what? If that's what the people of the United States and their elected representatives want, that's what we should have. If conservatives want to avoid all of this supposed catastrophe, all they have to do is become a majority party again. They seem to think that the best way to do that is to Just Say No, in a preferably loud and profane manner. Which leads me to think that they are full of sour grapes and pissed off because they lost and are out of power. Worse (for them), they don't even have a ball to take home.

What Democrats have to realize is that the game is theirs, that it would be nice if the other side played but in the end it doesn't make any difference because the Democrats have already won. So, let's act like it. We don't need Republicans to pass a public option, and it's clear that they won't support any reform that comes from outside of their agenda, whether or not it includes a public option. Quit courting them and get on with what needs to be done...

Just my little piece of the world argues that the public option is far from dead...

If you lived in New Orleans, this weekend you could lose your inhibitions at the Southern Decadence Festival, dance the day away at the Creole Zydeco Festival, chow down at the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival, and party green at Project 30-90 (the intersection of sound + sustainability)...

Moments in time: Pablo Picasso poses with a new painting...

(Thanks to Collin Kelley.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Health Care Town Hall Meeting: Q & A

Anyone who wanted to ask a question put their name into a box. Since more people wanted to ask questions than there was time to ask them -- this part of the meeting lasted for an hour -- an Inslee staff member drew names at random. I'm presenting the questions here in the order asked.

Q: Are there death panels?

A: If you want to talk with your physician about end-of-life issues, you can.
Some yelling and cursing greeted this response, but Inslee didn't back off.

Q: Are you willing to support a bill without a public option?

A: Without saying yes or no, Inslee stated that a public option was "fundamental to reform."
This amplified an earlier statement to the effect that if we were going to require insurance, a public alternative to the "tender mercies of the insurance companies" "makes sense." Inslee added that the public would be financed by premiums and not taxpayer contributions.

Q: If this is such a good program, will you be on it?

A: Members of Congress will be subject to the same rights and liabilities as anyone else.

Q: Do the self-employed get help from this bill?

A: Self-employed people are eligible for tax credits and -- if living at under 400% of the poverty line -- are entitled to a sliding scale.
Presumably, the sliding scale applies to the public option.

Q: (This question was actually a series of questions that recapitulated the standard right-wing talk points about health care. Inslee chose to address issues of privacy and tort reform.)

A: He's read the Ways and Means bill (putting a cap on shouts of "read the bill" once and for all), and the assertion that the federal government will have access to people's bank accounts is "not accurate."
He added that if you are low income and if you apply for a subsidy, the government can look at your tax return -- which it already has -- to verify that you are eligible.

Regarding tort reform, "there is nothing in the bill that would change the judicial system of the United States."
Inslee pointed out that medical damages are traditionally a matter of state jurisdiction and that states that have tried tort reform have found it ineffective. He went on to state his personal philosophical objection to removing medical malpractice suits from the jury system: He thinks a jury is better positioned than the state to determine damages on a case-by-case basis.

Note: Tort reform has proven an ineffective means of bringing down medical costs for a good reason: Malpractice damages compromise an infinitesimally low portion of total costs.

Q: How does a national data base for best practices protect the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship?

A: The Ways & Means bill does not change privacy laws.
Inslee added that members of the committee have worked diligently to ensure this.

Snark Remark: Where was all of this conservative concern for privacy when Bush was tapping phones?

Q: Isn't a 1000-page bill too hard to manage? It "sorta feels" like a legal quagmire?

A: "We've done some pretty bold things in this country" and can handle this.

Q: Why should we trust government figures?

A: They're going by the CBO.
He understands the apprehension, given the false states that the Bush Administration made about the Iraq war. The jeers at the mention of Bush's name fell into two camps: The majority who routinely boo anything having to do with the man, and the minority who felt his name was unfairly injected into the debate. Bush remains a polarizing figure, and always will be.

Note: I find it odd that the same people who blamed Bill Clinton for everything that went wrong during the eight years of the Bush Administration now expect President Obama to have complete accountability for the hash Bush made of the economy after less than eight months in office. Does this mean that Bush was responsible for 9/11?

Q: Will a bill pass?

A: Inslee believes that the House and Senate will pass a bill that the president can sign. He is optimistic that it will include a public option.

If this meeting was representative, conservative opposition to health care reform coalesces around the public option, which they see as leading inevitably to socialized medicine. I'll address that further in my next blog entry. Meanwhile...

Just A Song: Death don't have no mercy in this land...

Second line to save Charity Hospital:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Health Care Town Hall Meeting

Last Sunday afternoon, I attended a health care Town Hall meeting sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA1). Inslee, one of the good guys, is popular in his district and was greeted with a standing ovation from about 1500 people filling a high school gymnasium. Although the crowd was largely supportive, a few signs opposing health care reform ("No Obamacare," "I Like My Health Care/Pay For Your Own") dotted the crowd. The sign that received the biggest cheer, though, was one that read "Republicans: Have You No Shame" on one side and "Health Care For People Not Profit" on the other.

Inslee began the meeting with with a recitation of the factual reasons driving health care reform:
  • 47,000,000 Americans are uninsured, including
  • 4,ooo,ooo since the onset of the recession
  • 10,000 working families a day lose insurance
  • annually, we spend $2.2 trillion (emphasis mine) on health care
  • 60% of all U. S. bankruptcies are due at least in part to unpaid medical bills
  • 80% of the uninsured work
  • the rest of the industrialized world spends $2800 per person annually on health insurance or coverage compared to $6500 in the U.S.
  • U.S. life expectancy is below that of Bosnia and Jordan
  • as a per cent of the economy, health care costs have risen from 8% in 1980 to 16% today
  • without reform, trends indicate that health care costs will be 35% of the economy by 2040
Inslee pointed out that this means that raises go more and more into health care spending, leaving unsaid the point that uncontrolled health costs drive down the standard of living as people and businesses put more and more of their resources into insurance. He concluded this part of the meeting by observing that "When people say we can't afford health care reform, I say we can't afford to do nothing."

Inslee then turned to the efforts currently underway in Congress. Amidst a few forlorn cries of "Read the bill!", he pointed out that five committees -- three in the House and two in the Senate -- have reported out bills while Senate committee remains in negotiations. Rather than talk about all five bills, he concentrated on the work of the Ways & Means Committee of which he is a member.

This bill proposes to finance health care reforms through a series of efficiency measures and a surcharge on the top 1% of income earners. (This would return the tax rate to pre-2000 levels.) In terms of efficiencies that could be gained, Inslee gave as an example a best practices clearinghouse used by Seattle doctors to significantly reduce Medicare costs.

Inslee's claim that much of the financing could be achieved by the elimination of "waste, fraud, and abuse" provided the first opening for the wingnuts, who jeered the claim. This struck me as odd, as it's an article of faith with these people that WF&A exists everywhere in the government (the military excepted). Apparently, it's too much of a leap for them to buy into an excess of WF&A in an industry who insurers spend 25% of their costs on administrative overhead. After all, it takes money to deny claims.

More heartening was the response to the surcharge, which was applauded without much resistance from the right. It just may be that people see through Republican charges of a massive tax increase.

Inslee next summarized the contents of the Ways and Means Committee bill:
  • no one is required to change health plans (he pointed out here that if you have health insurance, you pay on average hidden tax of $1200-1300 annually for uncompensated care)
  • covers 97-98%
  • small business owners receive a permanent tax credit of 15% and exemption for payrolls of under $5000
  • closes the Medicare Part D loophole
  • bans insurers from rejecting applications and claims for reason of a pre-existing condition
  • provides for a public option
  • limits premiums of low income earners to 12% of income
He then took questions from the floor, which I'll review tomorrow...