Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Age of Disinformation - or simply a return to honesty?

Just like everything in our modern world, the media isn't as good as it never was. Was it ever, really objective?

There was only a short period of time (30 years maybe? 1930-1960) when broadcast journalism could have been even remotely considered "objective". Before that newspapers always leaned to one side or the other, stemming in great part from their evolution from pamphlet printers.

There's really no effective way for anyone to challenge the current journalism stranglehold. Just like there's no way for consumers to fight oil company prices. Fox News has sprung up to bring a different perspective, which is needed, even if you think all they do is sprout lies. The internet is a viable method of disputing facts and dispersing information, but overall the power of the blog is weak compared to the power of the network.

I'd love to think that once true internet and television integration occurs (yes I know the shift by young people has firmly taken root, I'm one of them) - meaning when web content is easily browsable on all televisions - we'll have the YouTube political commentator types who we can turn to for news.

Tell you what, let's follow this hypo for a minute. Assume 70% of Americans have a television set with a listing for different sources of internet blogs and news broadcast in video. It can be browsed using your remote control and your provider (DirectTV or Cable Company) will throw it up on a screen for you to choose from.

A several questions come to mind:
  • Will providers have a virtually UNLIMITED list for you to pick from (like say anyone who posts on YouTube) or will they simply provide an expanded, but limited list (maybe a hundred sources that they choose by their own criteria)

  • How will YOU personally decide which one to watch?

  • Will you take the time to search their credentials on the net? Will they be part of a bio page you can browse on screen?

  • How many people will just lock into all (liberal/conservative) stations and believe what they hear?

  • To what extent will this further and further solidify the extreme positions of either side? Will it mean that political groups will stop trying to be bi-partisan?

  • Will this lead to more passionate political involvement or more people just giving up because "their side" wont be heard?

See folks, this is why you need to go talk to old people. I mean REALLY old people. Get up from your computer....go find the oldest person you can ...and ask them about what they think the world was like in the past.

An 80 year old could tell you about what the birth of radio was like. A 70 year old could tell you about what television started out doing. Yes, they'll have their own political views and they won't always be 100% right, but I'm betting they wont bend the truth as much as the trusty, dusty internet search will.

There's no way for me to know if the news I'm getting now is "fair and balanced". When ABC shows me people protesting at town halls, how can figure out whether the people in the video are being taken in context or out of context? How do I know if these are isolated incidents or if there's wide-spread panic across the country like Fox News says.

We're at a complete breakdown of our sources of information gathering. I'm hoping it brings us back to real, human contact.

We're all operating on this fallacy of "the good old days of objective journalism" - that were a blip and possibly never to return.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Weakness, disagreement, or enlightenment?

It seems like we're to the part of the news cycle where sides are cannibalizing themselves.
But honestly, it's turning out for the best.

I watched Rachel Maddow last night and she noted that those in the majority are backing off what they've said they want...simply because of all the other rhetoric that's being touted. Democrats (I'm trying to use that word in an objective, not characterizing way) who have the super-majority aren't taking it and running with it...they're backing off because of the huge/extreme/violent/empassioned (use whichever adjective you find fair) at town hall meetings.


Let me remind you, I'm not in favor of HR3200 with Section 102 in it. But why are you backing off if you really think your plan is best for the country????

Like the title says, is it weakness? bending to a bully.
Is it true disagreement by blue dogs, with the net effect of the Dems losing the super-majority?
Is it enlightenment? i.e. we need to convert hearts and win minds.

I'm all for discussion and rational debate, but if you've been voted in to do a job - DO THE JOB.

Here's some coverage of the on-going reaction:

The seven Blue Dog Democrats holding up health care reform legislation in the House Energy and Commerce Committee have received tens of thousands more dollars from insurance weasels than other Democrats on the committee, a new report finds. An analysis by the Public Campaign Action Fund finds a fairly strong correlation between private industry donations and opposition to health care reform. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate who voted against proposed legislation this congressional cycle, the report found, received roughly 65 percent more money from health and insurance interests than those who supported the bills. The back-stabbing Blue Dogs are Reps. Mike Ross (Ark.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Charlie Melancon (La.), Jim Matheson (Utah), John Barrow (Ga.), Bart Gordon (Tenn.) and Zach Space (Ohio).
Source - The Huff

And so here we are.

I'm glad to see that accountability for promises is being scrutinized. If you believed in it before - tell your party why you dont believe in it now.

And on the other side...

Neil Boortz, the conservative talk-show host broadcast on my local station today that people bringing guns to healthcare townhalls was thuggery. Thug = his word verbatim. He said it was reminiscent of the Iraqis outside of Saddam's villas.

Nice to see cooler heads are speaking up about the place of guns at events like this. Can't we defend their ideas with brain power and not firepower? Yes, it's legal to wear guns in the open in Arizona and other states. But what's legal can also be dangerous.

I'm far from anti-gun. I have several and even have urged my wife to get handgun trained. It should be admitted though that upping the number of guns at a presidential event ups the risk...and those who are doing it simply to get a rise out of the other side. Be honest with yourself. Is proving that you have a right worth increasing the risk to the office of the president?

Of course not. My hat's off to you, Neal.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Digging in to HR 3200

It's been interesting to hear that "there is no bill" but still hear people say what's in and what's not in the bill. Obviously nothing has passed both House and Senate and there are still multiple versions in the works.

It should be noted, however, that the bill most people are discussing is HR 3200. The full text of HR 3200 can be found at

The thing is friggin huge. But that's to be expected. And tbh, huge amounts of reading dont scare me, but I say that by means of a warning.

One of the main charges levied against Obama has been that while people DO get to start out on the plans they want, they will all be funneled into the "public option" eventually - so I decided I wanted to read this for myself.

It's a bit worrisome.

Section 102, "Protecting the Choice to Keep Current Coverage" addresses this very topic. They way I'm reading this section, it makes it sound like almost any change in your insurance policy or life status will REQUIRE you be changed over to the "public option."

Let's look at the text:


(a) Grandfathered Health Insurance Coverage Defined- Subject to the succeeding provisions of this section, for purposes of establishing acceptable coverage under this division, the term ‘grandfathered health insurance coverage’ means individual health insurance coverage that is offered and in force and effect before the first day of Y1 if the following conditions are met:


(A) IN GENERAL- Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day of Y1.

ok so far, it's easy to follow. There's a date at which this piece of legislature starts, after which limitations are placed on insurance coverage. There's obviously a bad way to see this and a good way.

The good way is that regulatory restrictions are being placed on the terms, features, and prices of private insurers to protect consumers and citizens. This already happens so it shouldn't be a big shock.

The bad way is that the government is over-controlling what insurance carriers can offer.

(B) DEPENDENT COVERAGE PERMITTED- Subparagraph (A) shall not affect the subsequent enrollment of a dependent of an individual who is covered as of such first day.

(2) LIMITATION ON CHANGES IN TERMS OR CONDITIONS- Subject to paragraph (3) and except as required by law, the issuer does not change any of its terms or conditions, including benefits and cost-sharing, from those in effect as of the day before the first day of Y1.

Ok. This is the stuff that scares me. Basically nothing can change in your policy or your life status or you get funnelled into the "public option?"

That doesn't sound acceptable.

(3) RESTRICTIONS ON PREMIUM INCREASES- The issuer cannot vary the percentage increase in the premium for a risk group of enrollees in specific grandfathered health insurance coverage without changing the premium for all enrollees in the same risk group at the same rate, as specified by the Commissioner.

So will someone please address this directly? Are we being funnelled into the public option or not?

I don't have a problem with Section 1233, HR 3200 Advance Care Planning Consultation - the Death Panel that people are getting worked up over. If you actually read the darn thing, all it's saying is that we'll have a practicioner and a 1-800 hotline if you want to make a living will or discuss what your benefits and choices are.

What's wrong with that? I'm not seeing it.

Let's keep going... In the same Section 1233

(A) IN GENERAL- For purposes of reporting data on quality measures for covered professional services furnished during 2011 and any subsequent year, to the extent that measures are available, the Secretary shall include quality measures on end of life care and advanced care planning that have been adopted or endorsed by a consensus-based organization, if appropriate.

So who makes up this organization that makes decisions on end-of-life care? That's answered in Section 122

“Health Benefits Advisory Committee to recommend covered benefits and essential, enhanced, and premium plans.”

This will be chaired by the Surgeon General and will have “9 members who are not Federal employees or officers and who are appointed by the President”, “9 members who are not Federal employees or officers and who are appointed by the Comptroller General”, and an “even number of members (not to exceed 8 ) who are Federal employees and officers, as the President may appoint.”

A committee with up to 27 members, 18 of whom are picked by the President.

The bill says these people will “reflect providers, consumer representatives, employers, labor, health insurance issuers, experts in health care financing and delivery, experts in racial and ethnic disparities, experts in care for those with disabilities, representatives of relevant governmental agencies, and at least one practicing physician or other health professional and an expert on children’s health”.
Don't get me wrong. The Chief Executive appoints people to groups who make life-changing decisions all the time. Agencies that set policy on food, drugs, weapons, natural resources...the list goes on and on. But what kind of checks and balances do we have on this particular group?

I'm not willing to call them a "Death Panel" and I'd much RATHER have a group that is accountable to the citizens of the United States than a for-profit insurance panel.

I am wondering if the end-of-life counseling will be like the "genetic counseling" that pregnant mothers get?

Also, I've read some people posting about the government trying to implement automatic electronic funds withdrawals from citizens' bank accounts. That's not true.



These have to do with provider transactions not consumer transactions. Let me explain further.

A system will be set up whereby: both Social Security providers AND add ons to SS and private insurers will promulgate a move to implement a computerized system that can instantly indicate what coverage you have, [with a computer data card, like a credit card] IOW, it will know what your insurance is and what coverage you have. This will assist in billing. It will also streamline the claims process.

This section would change the indicated section in Title 42 so it would automatically apply to Medicare [Title 42 would be amended to reflect this] as well as the applicable providers in the section named in HR 3200. It proposes to eliminate ambiguity due to language constraints and strives to simplify and standardize nomenclature.

It does not set up an open conduit to your bank account.

Revisiting an old ghost

I was rifling through some old papers today in my study and I came across some handouts from my International Constitutional Law Seminar at Jones Law School. One of the handouts had accompanied a presentation that a classmate had done about "extraordinary rendition." If you've never heard the term or are a little fuzzy on it, Extraordinary Rendition is rationalization at its finest.

The U.S. says to itself "hey, these people are trying to kill us...therefore anything we want to do to them is justified for national defense." "Yeah, but we have these laws, both at home and abroad, that say we can't just do anything to people that we want to do. How do we get around that?"

Extraordinary Rendition is the answer. In a nutshell, we transfer people outside our borders or collect them somewhere in the world and transport them to a country that has very few human rights laws. If it's not illegal there, we're not breaking the law, right? Uhm, yeah, ya kinda are. Maybe not the letter of the law, but the spirit of America. I highly doubt that the Founding Fathers shipped people to Spanish or French colonies and tortured them to protect our Constitution.

Yet this is what we did - both under Bush and under Clinton - lest you think I'm playing favorites - although the torture practices of Cheney/Bush (in that order since that was the chain of thought command) were enormously worse.

Not convinced? Watch this and see if you're proud of the policy.

First a preview of the Frontline video...

And if that got you on the edge of your seat, here's the real deal.

Now this country has had the term "unlawful enemy combatants" since before the World Wars. These types of war-time criminals are nothing new. What was new, was the bravado and stealthy, shiftiness with which our country rationalized treating criminals badly. Held for years with no charges. Children taken and beaten. For the express purpose of using pain and brutality as information-gathering methods.


Of course there's going to be a segment of people reading this that says we should be able to do anything to anyone trying to hurt us or who wont help us stop the death of innocents. If you haven't learned by now that the world isn't always black and white...that it's not always clear as to who the bad guys are and whether they're even giving you good information...I'm afraid for you. That's not even addressing the notion that we're not supposed to subject ANYONE to pain and suffering. We're supposed to be better than that.

If you're defending this by saying "Jesus would support righteous self-defense" then heaven help you, there's no changing your mind anyway.

Let it be known, I'm not bringing this up to sling hash at any side in particular. There are enough skeletons in the closets of everyone to throw the proverbial Oingo Boingo "Dead Man's Party." I just happened to see this on my desk and thought I could illuminate something that others had either avoided or buried under the rug.

I love this country. I'm not one of those people who thinks we've always been a terrible place and have a history of pain that outweighs the good we've done as a nation. I'm proud of us. That's why using pain and torture to protect ourselves is even more terrible. We are not a nation of Chuck Norrises, kicking ass first and finding out the story after the dust settles. We are a nation Mr. Smiths. Standing up for the little guy, but still defending ourselves when the time is right.

This issue will return sometime soon and now you're armed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

2019 = Medicare bye bye

I turned on the wayback machine (read: my bookmarks folder) and found a clip from NPR circa 2004, to remind myself what the heck we were thinking back when Bush was the man with a plan.

Listen to this for a moment:

So even then we knew Medicare was going the way of the dodo earlier than we thought. If you listen carefully, you'll hear Marilyn Moon, vice president and program director of health at the American Research Institute, explaining how the Medicare Part A "Medicare Plus Choice Plan" did NOT foster competition like Bush thought it was going to do.

There's a nugget of advice in there which I'm betting would still yield substantial savings today: "We need to coordinate much better care for people who have multiple illnesses" which is where she says a large proportion of costs lay, as well as helping people choose only necessary care as opposed to unnecessary care.

Sounds like a no-brainer, but let's get real. When you're sick you want to try anything that works, so the distinction might not be so clear. Of course, this is where self-restraint and listening to your doctor comes in to play.

Over my shoulder there's someone whispering, "I should have the choice to do whatever I want if I think it's going to extend my life as long as I'm paying for it. I can waste my own money if I want." You know, that's sort of true. But when you opt in to the Medicare system by your own choice, you're deciding to follow someone else's criteria for treatment.

Put another way, if you want our rates and our benefits, you've got to play by our rules. Take it or leave it. And taking it doesn't mean you take it up the proverbial nose. You can still lobby your elected representative for change.

Mrs. Moon goes on to say that if you want to maintain the Plus Choice program...if you think it has merit...there's no free lunch. You're going to have to pay for it. As a short recap, this plan allows people to use a private plan that gets re-imbursed by Medicare. And where does Medicare come from? That's right, taxes.

Again, let me state, I'm not a "be a zombie, do whatever the government tells you to do" kind of guy. Inefficiency is bad. Competition is for the most part (but not always) good. But come on people! Think! You can't go to these town halls gripping at your Medicare with razor-honed fingernails and expect that you wont have to pay for it.

We haven't fixed things since 2004, but we can still listen to what the aristoi were offering us as solutions.

Losing the Trust and Getting it Back

Just watched a short and sweet CNN piece about people speaking out at health care town halls (hereinafter "HCTH's) where the main buzzquote was "the government has lost the trust of the people."

Fair enough. But you shouldn't say something like that without explaining how the government can get your trust back. If you do that's tantamount to having your cake and eating it too. Moral outrage is cheap and fun. Trying to actually work together is complicated and hard.

So I'd like to hear how those of you who distrust the government will ever trust it again.
Write me at my email address or post here. I'd love to hear some ideas on that threshold legislators have to meet in order for their constituents to actually listen to them.

Both sides need to cool it with the Nazi talk

Hey, I'm talking to you. You're either a talk-show host who makes money from being irresponsibly entertaining or your a concerned citizen who's been scared into throwing rational debate out the window.

We get it. You hate the other side. No, no. You REALLY hate the other side. I'm here to tell you that calling someone else a Nazi or implying that they're Nazi-like just wont cut it when you're trying to actually do something to help this country.

You think we're in dire times? I agree. You think radical measures are justified. Ok, fine, but to the point of throwing all decency and reasonableness out the door. Calling someone a Nazi is UNREASONABLE.

I'm going to show you two videos to explain the point that BOTH sides fall prey to this cheap, but horribly damaging scare tactic:

and now for the other side...

We all know there are extremists on both sides and we all seem to think that OUR extremism is OK. It's not. Sure the internet and talk shows are full of people doing things that WE'D never do, but when you repeat something that sounds true from a source you havent researched, or make a comment that some talk show guy swears he has a source're contributing to the problem.

I'm asking for people to dig in and do their own research. I know we all lead lives that have too little time as it is. It's easy to want to cut corners and believe what "respected people" tell you. But when corner after corner after corner is cut by well-intentioned people who just want to be safe, the end result is spouting this NAZI stuff. By the end of the day you think you're justified painting a Hitler 'stache on Obama/Bush and you get desensitized as to how bad it is to do that.

Hitler and Mengele were evil men, motivated to eradicate a race of people through the most horrific means available based on twisted ideological views that only a few extremists (read: none of the past presidents) espouse.

Seriously. Stop it.

(BTW. Evan over at has done some amazing work. While we're different on a fair amount of issues, I applaud his efforts and enjoy his work for the most part.)