January 30, 2011

Sunday School 1/30/11: Hillary makes the rounds

The focus of most of the talk shows today was the evolving situation in Egypt, and the spotlight was squarely on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We’ve got excerpts from all of her appearances. 

On NBC’s Meet the Press, in response to David Gregory’s question on whether Mubarak should stay in power: “I believe strongly that we are only at the beginning of what is unfolding in Egypt. I’m not going to go into hypotheticals and speculation, other than to say that President Mubarak and his government have been an important partner to the United States.” 

Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, Candy Crowley asked about Mubarak’s ability to stay in power, even if he reaches out to peaceful opponents, and even given that there are already elections scheduled within the next few weeks, would that be enough?  “Well, no. Much has to be done. And we are not advocating any specific outcome. We are advocating that the government, the representatives of the civil society, the political opposition and activists begin a dialogue to chart a course…”

Bob Schieffer (CBS News' Face the Nation) questioned whether the appointment of a vice president is a step in the right direction: “Well, it’s something that American Government representatives have been urging and requesting for 30 years… So yes, it’s something we have said is absolutely imperative.” 

Not to be left out, on Fox News Sunday Chris Wallace wondered whether Americans should leave Cairo. “Well, we are following the conditions for American citizens extremely closely. This is one of my highest responsibilities, Chris. And we have authorized voluntary departure, which means that we will assist American citizens to leave Egypt. Thankfully, right now, there are no reports of Americans killed or injured.” 

On ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour, the host was in Egypt herself. Responding to Amanpour’s statement that folks in the streets were angry at the US and thinking that we were ‘hedging our bets’ by seeming to support Mubarak, “We believe that democracy, human rights, economic reform are in the best interests of the Egyptian people… People are not going to stand by any longer and not be given the opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potential.” 

It will be interesting watching things continue to unfold.

State of the Union Poetry, Part 2

The Future.
We are the nation
of Google and Facebook.
It's how we make a living.

This is our generation's Sputnik moment.
We're not just handing out money.
We're issuing a challenge.

I'm willing to eliminate
whatever we can honestly afford
to do without.

But we're not doing it
on the backs
of our most vulnerable.

It may feel like you're flying high
at first, but it won't take long
before you'll feel the impact.

Our success in this new and changing world
will require reform, responsibility,
and innovation.

The future is ours to win.

At stake right now? Whether we sustain
the leadership that has made America
Not just a place on a map, but a light to the world.

We measure progress by the success of our people.
by the opportunities for a better life
that we pass on to our children.

It is time to move forward as one nation.
None of this is easy. All of it will take time.
And it will be harder because we will argue about everything.

That's the project the American people want us to work on.

The State of the Union.
And yet I know there isn't a person here
who would trade places with any other
nation on Earth.

This is a place where you can make it if you try.
this is a country where anything's possible.
We do big things.

We are a nation.
I'm not sure how we'll reach that better place
beyond the horizon

But I know we'll get there.
I know we will.
We do big things.

The idea of America endures.
Our destiny remains our choice.
The state of our union is strong.

January 29, 2011

State of the Union Poetry, Part 1

The debates have been contentious;
we have fought fiercely for our beliefs.
And that's a good thing

Amid all the noise
and passions
and rancor.

We are part of the American family.
We believe that in a country
we are still bound together as one people

We share common hopes and a common creed;
That, too, is what sets us apart
as a nation.

What comes of this moment is up to us.
We will move forward together
or not at all.

Change is hard.
The change has been painful. I've seen it
in the shuttered windows and the vacant storefronts
of once busy Main Streets.

I’ve heard it in the frustrations of
proud men and women who feel
like the rules have been changed.

What do you think of that idea?
What would you change about the world?
What do you want to be when you grow up?

Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
We must never forget that the things
we've struggled for, and fought for,
live in the hearts of people everywhere.

And we must always remember that
the Americans who have borne the greatest burden
are the men and women who serve our country.

And we know that some of them are gay.

January 23, 2011

The Update Desk: No response from Ann Marie Buerkle

Earlier this month, I sent an email to Ann Marie Buerkle asking about health care reform and the planned vote to repeal.  To date, I haven't heard from her. 

The House did vote to repeal PPACA, as expected, with three Dems joining the Reps.  After the vote, the House vowed to have their committees start working on coming up with some new ideas for health care reform, including many of the ideas that are in the bill they want repealed. 

Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) continues to say there's not going to be a repeal vote, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insists there's going to be one. Suspect if it does happen, it'll be through amendments to other bills, or via some obscure parliamentary procedure.  

Perhaps one good thing has come out of the House vote: there's now some movement on at least thinking about discussing changing some of the things in the bill, such as requiring a 1099 for all $600 business transactions. Pretty committal, I know, but I guess it's something.

What I haven't seen yet, however, is how many jobs the Job-Killing Health Care Law actually killed.  Anyone have the number?  And how much of the bill needs to be repealed before we start seeing jobs created?

Sunday School: 1/23/11

We’ll start with This Week on ABC.  The comment of the day comes from George Will, the baseball historian and conservative curmudgeon. Discussing  State of the Union addresses, Will noted that at times presidents have delivered their report in writing, but that “now we’ve turned this (SOTU) into this panorama in which – in an interminable speech, every president, regardless of party, tries to stroke every erogenous zone in the electorate.” Makes me want to slip into something more comfortable when I watch Obama's address on Tuesday.

NBC’s Meet the Press offered us Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Majority Leader. He believes that Barack Obama is a US citizen, but didn't express much interest in shutting down discussion on this in the House. Cantor also spent some time trying to explain whether or not they’re going to meet the $100 billion savings this year, and whether or not everything’s on the table in terms of cuts. I think his answer to the second question is yes, but on the first I’m not sure if he said yes or no. He did say this about Social Security: “Anyone 55 and older in this country has got to know that their Social Security benefits will not be changed.  It is for all the younger people, those 54 and younger, we're going to have to have a serious discussion.”  Um, that means me.

Over on Fox News Sunday, another member of the Congressional leadership, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), echoed Cantor’s sentiment that everything’s on the table, saying that he’s told constituents “don’t assume that we can tackle this without impacting something you like.”  When asked about spending cuts, he indicated that they’re going to try and “reduce domestic discretionary spending as much as we possibly can that will get a signature by the President”, I think starting early to point fingers in case they don’t come close to what the Tea Party is interested in, which is a return to 2006 levels. Does anyone really remember what they spent in 2006?

Last this week, let’s check in with CBS News and Face the Nation. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) were guests. McCain, after saying some nice things about Obama, talked about spending cuts and I think did a perfect job of illustrating how hard it’s going to be to get anything done.  Host Bob Schieffer referenced Eric Cantor’s statement about cancer research being on the table, and pointed out that he (Schieffer) and McCain are both cancer survivors. Schieffer asked “Do you think that’s something where we can cut back?” and McCain answered “…And frankly, cancer research I think is one of the last things I’d go after.” Imagine that - not wanting to cut something that's personally significant. That kind of attitude is what got us where we are today. 

For his part, when asked the cancer research question, Schumer pointed out that the Republican Study Committee only focused on one part of the budget; logically, if you need to get all of your cuts from one place, you end up cutting thing like cancer research.  He didn't say he wouldn't but there, but it did note that “everyone knows there’s waste and inefficiency in the military budget” and “waste in the military is no better than waste in domestic spending.” Good for Chuck.

January 19, 2011

Shots Fired: Health Care Reform Repeal

Not surprisingly, there was lots of talking going on today leading up to the vote to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and there's of course been plenty since then.  Here are few of the lame, the tame, and one that's truly exceptional.

Mike Pence (R-IN), in response to Dem criticism that the vote was just a gimmick, said "We have another term for it on our side of the aisle: It's a promise kept," he said. "And House Republicans are here to stand with the American people and say with one voice, 'We can do better.' We can do better than their government takeover of health care."

Hometown girl Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), spoke shortly before the vote and said “When our Founders envisioned the legislative process it was to be one in which legislators were deliberative, thoughtful, and respectful of the freedoms of American citizens. Last year, that vision faltered, and Congress failed in its duties to the American people when they enacted the Affordable Care Act.”

Former Speaker and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): "I think we should send a strong message today with a great vote against this repeal, which is so harmful to the health of the American people, which is so damaging to our fiscal health as well, and to have people know that we want to have what is best for them."

And this from another California Dem, George Miller : "Has anybody, any family in America, any single mother, any spouse, any child, any grandparent met a more bureaucratic system than the American health insurance system? There is no more bureaucratic system."  

But without a doubt, the prize-winner has to be Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who added this gem in his halftime report on the debate: "You know, I want to just advise people watching at home playing that now-popular drinking game of 'You take a shot whenever Republicans say something that's not true': Please, assign a designated driver."  Watch it here.

January 18, 2011

Poll Watch: What's important and what's not

From Rasmussen Reports, seventy five percent of those surveyed want to see changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, or The Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, as it’s referred to by the Reps in the House), while only 18% want to leave it alone.  But among the ‘change it’ population, 20% say repeal it and do nothing, 28% say repeal it but keep the popular stuff, and 27% say don’t repeal it, just get rid of the stuff they don’t like.  So, that sums it up pretty well, don't you think?   True to form, the majority want the good stuff and are not interested in the hard stuff.

Over at Pew Research, Americans of all political persuasions believe the President ‘stands up for what he believes in’ – 77% overall believe this to be the case, and that includes Reps (67%) and Independents (79%), as well as Dems (89%).  His job approval ratings continue to be less than stellar (46%) but fairly consistent.   More interesting from this survey was a question asking respondents to describe the Tea Party in one word. No prompting, just one word.  In April of last year, the five words most mentioned were: great, interesting, patriotic, good, and ridiculous.  Nine months later, the five words most mentioned were: good, radical, crazy, OK, and ridiculous.  Hmm… is this another ugly baby? And last from this study, only 34% of those surveyed approve of the new GOP leadership’s agenda, while 43% disapprove. 

That segues nicely to a recent Gallup poll, which finds that Americans are very focused on domestic issues. Among the issues considered ‘extremely important’ or ‘extremely important/very important’, the economy is first and health care is sixth. Two through five? Unemployment, the deficit, corruption, and education.  And while the House has determined that the ‘Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act’ is the single most important thing they have to tackle, only 33% of their own party rate this as extremely important; rather, Republicans seem to be focused on the economy, the deficit, government corruption, unemployment, terrorism, and illegal immigration, all of which scored higher on this question than health care.

Go figure.

January 16, 2011

Inaugural Poetry, Part 3: The Buckeye, Silver, and Empire States

A collection of thoughts from gubernatorial inaugural addresses.

Ohio: John Kasich
Thank you, Babe.

You know, my inauguration,
the conductor of a great orchestra,
with all of you playing an instrument in that orchestra,
my inauguration is your inauguration.

You know, I’m only a servant.
I am only a servant, a public servant.
I report to the people. I report to you, the people.

And when I wake up every morning, I’ll say my prayers,
I’ll hug my family,
and I will focus on Ohio’s economy.

Nothing, nothing can stand in our way.
I am a servant of the Lord.
I am a servant of the Lord. 

You see, Ohio has wide horizons, we have unlimited
opportunity. Ohio is an exciting place. And I have
come to understand as a grown man what Ohio is all about.
We are about common sense.
We are about common sense.

Get ready for an exciting time. Put on the seat belt
because we’re going. The weeds have grown up.
The obstacles at times seemed great.
The light is dimmed in our great state. 

Our enemy. Our enemy is not our people
or our assets or our great cities. Our enemy,
our enemy is the status quo.
The status quo, the dark side of human nature
that shuts down dreams and basks in fear.
The status quo, the dark side of human nature
that shuts down dreams. 

Our enemies…They refuse to help raise the bar.
And as our mother used to tell us,
Donna, raise the bar.

The people who refuse the power of team
and refuse to raise the bar are weak.
We will defeat them. We will defeat them together.
Well, as far as it relates to our enemies,
we can make them allies. 

We are not Republicans. We are not Democrats.
We are not liberals. And we are not conservatives.
We are Ohioans. We are Buckeyes together. 

It’s our mountain to climb. Can you see it?
Can you see that mountain? I know you can.

Nevada: Brian Sandoval
I am reminded of the struggles and triumphs
that have shaped our state.
I am reminded of opportunities realized through
the courage of our forbearers.

We live in a time when the odds seem to be against us.
The earth has shifted beneath our feet.
And for some, the results have been disastrous.
But character is measured in times of crisis.

People say Nevada is at the top of all the bad lists,
and the bottom of all the good lists.
This perception cannot – and will not – be our reality.
These are our times.

Optimism is the foundation of courage.
And rarely has our state been so in need of courage.
Perhaps never has optimism been so necessary
for citizens who hunger for a Nevada
filled with promise, progress, and prosperity.

History unfolds around us.
We must choose between indecision and action,
between complacency and courage,
between the status quo and what might be.

The Nevada I know will choose action, courage
and opportunity. We will choose optimism.
I know this in my heart.

New York: Andrew Cuomo
From the falls of Niagara to the
powerful waves of Montauk,
we have it all and everything in between. 
We really have every asset that man or God
could be expected to give to a place.
That is the State of New York,
and I saw that up close and personal.

Our expectation is that the politicians and the
elected officials of people are now going to do
what the people voted for
and what the people need.
Nothing is going up in their lives.

It is a time for deeds, not words,
and results, not rhetoric. It is time
for a bold agenda and immediate action.

There is no more waiting for tomorrow
and there are
no more baby steps, my friends. 

Look at the commitment, look at the resources.
They could have built a building
in one-tenth of the time,
with one-tenth of the expense
and one-tenth of the effort.
That’s not what they wanted. 

They wanted to make a statement
when they built this institution of government.
Why? Because the government is them.

It is not an alien force…

Inaugural Poetry, Part 2: The Ocean, Gem, and Golden States

A collection of thoughts from gubernatorial inaugural addresses.

Rhode Island: Lincoln Chafee
We have suffered for reasons
that are all too familiar to all of us.
Our present condition has not developed

It has been decades in the making
and it is the shared legacy of Democrats and
Republicans, business and labor,
liberals and conservatives.

We have tolerated something that Roger Williams
did not – a refusal to do the work necessary
to correct our course,
and an acceptance of a fractious society
that emphasizes division over common purpose.

Each part of our agenda is important unto itself.
But our ultimate goal is to reclaim the vision
of our founder… It is written in marble behind me:
“To hold forth a lively experiment…
that a most flourishing civil state may stand.”

Our state may be small, but our ambitions
have never been. Our challenges are great,
and our obstacles are many,
but I promise you today
that our great state will lead again.

Rhode Island’s best days are still ahead of us.
Let us today begin that journey
to a better future.

Our time here is so short.
And Rhode Island is so extraordinary.

Idaho: Butch Otter
Idahoans are deeply concerned
with decisions that affect the liberties
and opportunities available for
future generations.
Idahoans take seriously their job
in electing individuals who will
safeguard those freedoms.

Tolerance for mission creep
spawns an attitude of passive acceptance
that government’s needs come before
those of the people.

The divide is increasingly drawn
between those who work for a living,
and those who vote for a living.

Ladies and gentlemen, that day is gone.
Frugality in the public sector should
not be seen as cruel or careless,
but rather as necessary to maintaining
our economic and personal liberties.

Idahoans are best characterized
by their determination.
We always are determined to improve
ourselves and our communities, and we depend
On each other to make that happen.

We labor together, we celebrate
our victories together,
and together we work
to make our State an oasis
of personal compassion
and unlimited opportunity.

California: Jerry 'Moonbeam' Brown
Without the trust of the people, politics
degenerates into mere spectacle; and
democracy declines, leaving
demagoguery and cynicism to fill the void.

In this crisis, we simply have to learn
to work together
as Californians first,
members of a political party second.

It is not just my family
but every Californian is heir to some
form of powerful tradition,
some history of overcoming challenges
much more daunting than those we face today.
From the native peoples who survived
the total transformation of their way of life,
to the most recent arrival,
stories of courage abound.
And it is not over.

The people of California have not lost their
pioneering spirit or their capacity to meet
life's challenges.. We an overcome the sharp
divisions that leave our politics
in perpetual gridlock,
but only if we … find that loyalty, that devotion
to California above and beyond
our narrow perspectives.

It is sobering and enlightening to read through
the inaugural addresses of past governors.
They each start on a high note of grandeur
and then focus on virtually the same... issues —
education, crime, budgets, water.

It strikes me that what we face
together as Californians are not so much
problems but rather conditions,
life's inherent difficulties.
A problem can be solved
or forgotten but a condition always remains…
to elicit the best from each of us
and show us how we depend on one another
and how we have to work together.

With realism, with confidence, with loyalty
— in that deepest sense —
to California, to my forebearers and
to posterity — as our song says:
"California here I come right back where I started from."

Inaugural Poetry: The Palmetto, Sunshine, and Sunflower States

A collection of thoughts from gubernatorial inaugural addresses:

South Carolina: Nikki Haley
Our state has an incredibly powerful and rich history.
It is one that has not always been pleasant,
but one that can teach us
many great lessons.

Let's see: tax protests, tea parties,
the grassroots beating the professionals –
it does have a certain
familiar ring to it.

Growing up in rural...South Carolina,
my family experienced this state... at its best.
No, not every day was perfect.
No, we were not always free from the burdens.

For us, happiness existed in not knowing what we didn't have.

When we embark on this new journey
toward growth and prosperity,
we must do so together,
with one vision.

A vision that is focused on
the success of our families and businesses
is a vision that is not impaired
by bipartisanship, personalities, or distractions.

We don't have time for that, and I won't stand for it.

Florida: Rick Scott
Clear goals and hard work can achieve amazing things.
The giant oak trees that surround us here
ARE what they ARE Because acorns had a plan.

Unemployed parents struggle
to put on a brave face for their children,
but it’s hard to hide the fact…
that the wolf is at the door.
I’ve been a child in a home like that.

Three forces markedly reduce that chance for success—
taxation…regulation…and litigation.
We’ll also re-examine every regulation to make sure
its benefits outweigh its costs.
Unless they are pruned.
Regulations grow like weeds.

After all, we have always been the destination
for dreamers. Railroads into the wilderness…
A magic kingdom…A trip to the moon…
Freedom from a foreign tyrant…
Better health...Life without winter.

Large and small,
Dreams are the stuff that Florida is made of.

Kansas: Sam Brownback
We were born on Hope…in sacrifice and bloodshed. 
A Hope built on the Truth that all men and women
were created to be free.

If you had enough courage and self-sacrifice
to come claim 160 acres of challenge, then it was yours.
Some succeeded, some failed, and a state was born!

Believing in the future of Kansas, speaking it,
making it happen. As you believe, so you will be.
Character is the fruit produced out of the Kansas environment.

Yesterday is gone, tomorrow never does come.
Today is our masterpiece.
We have been placed here for a reason
and a short season.

Let us make the most of it.

January 12, 2011

It's the lack of civility, stupid!

And before you yell at me, the title of this post references Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign mantra '"it's the economy, stupid." 

As updates continue to stream in from Arizona following the shootings last Saturday, we’re hearing more about the alleged shooter, his mental issues, his family, and how he decorates his back yard. And we’re hearing at least some encouraging news on the condition of Representative Gabby Giffords, which is both remarkable and a very good thing.

We’re also hearing from a whole host of pundits of every stripe chiming in with their thoughts on whether politics had anything to do with the shooting, or whether it’s right to put out a map with gun sights…er I mean surveyor’s map icons...over political districts and call for a ‘reload’, or whether it’s right for Americans – politicians or not – to be using ‘violent’ metaphors (battleground, taking shots, fighting hard, etc) in our political speech.  

And of course now there are the calls for limiting what can be said, or how it can be said, or regulating ‘fairness’: 
  • Rep James Clyburn (D-SC) wants to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, and have the FCC engage in ensuring ‘fair and balanced’ is more than just the tag line for the partisan Fox News Network.
  • Rep Robert Brady (D-PA), with support from at least one colleague (Ruben Hinojosa, D-TX), is looking to make using ‘threatening symbols’ such as gun crosshairs illegal in ads targeting… I mean aimed at… I mean pointed at… members of Congress or federal employees. See how easy it is to innocently use common phrases in a bad way?
  • Brady, when asked if he thought the crosshairs map could have incited the shooter in Tucson said temperately “I don’t know what’s in that nut’s head. I would rather be safe than sorry.” Given the backlash from the mental health community in response to NPR CEO Vivian Schiller’s comments that Juan Williams should have kept his views on scary Muslim garb “to himself or his psychiatrist", and now this comment from Brady, can bills barring speech unflattering to mental illness be far behind? 

Anyone who calls for censoring speech in reaction to the shootings in Arizona is missing the point.  

We don’t need laws telling us that we can’t say really stupid stuff, or violent stuff, or rude stuff, or disrespectful stuff. We don’t need to stop pointing out where we disagree, or even that we disagree.

Rather, what I think would help is if we remember that not everything is ‘us vs. them’, not everything is a conspiracy, and not everything can or should be blamed on Donkeys, Elephants, or Teapots. Not everything is about being in the majority and lording it over the minority. Not everything is a mandate –-in fact, most things aren’t mandates, and we should stop pretending that they are. And not everyone with a different opinion is un-American, a traitor, a moron, an idiot, and so on and so forth. 

And politicians should be a little slower with their legislative trigger finger, and not try and force us be nicer to each other. 

Oh wait. Can I still say ‘trigger finger’?  I’d better be careful...

January 9, 2011

Sunday School: 1/9/11 The Newspapers

Certainly, the talking heads will be all over the horrific shooting in Tucson yesterday, which left a federal judge, a nine-year-old child, and four others dead, and seriously injured Rep Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and several others.  Today, instead of listening to them, let's go to Sunday School with the newspapers, where we have more time to reflect on what’s being said and where we might expect rhetoric to be toned down some. No guarantees, but we’ll give it a try.  

To start, in an unsigned editorial on the Arizona Star's website, the paper offers condolences to the families of the innocent victims, and notes that "Giffords has never let vitriol deter her from public service. She works hard to be accessible. She's shown not just willingness but courage to engage with people who don't agree with her."  It would be unfair of us to ask our elected officials to do more than that.

In the New York Times, political columnist Matt Bai talks about how information was quickly removed from the Internet, including the ‘crosshairs’ map posted last year by Sarah Palin’s PAC. He notes, “The country still labors to recover from the memories of Dealey Plaza and the Ambassador Hotel, of Memphis and Birmingham and Watts. Tucson will either be the tragedy that brought us back from the brink, or the first in a series of gruesome memories to come.”   It will be interesting to see which direction we head.

Matthew Cooper, managing editor of White House coverage at the National Journal, offers that “our country is whole lot more like Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan than we thought when we got up this morning”, now that we’ve had our first elected female office holder shot.  He also notes that we have no idea what motivated the shooting, if it even had anything to do with politics, if the shooter was mentally ill… and what would it mean, anyway?  

From the Arizona Republic, Bill Goodykoonz points out that “Covering breaking news is a messy, competitive business” and that we’ve lost the old window for reflection that used to exist before we had 24/7/365 access, and could prevent us from prematurely reporting ‘facts’ (such as that Giffords had been killed) before they were determined to be facts. He notes that losing the window may not be a bad thing, but reminds us that “…traditional media and social media and all who consume it -- have more power to inform than ever before.  We also have great responsibility and ought to use it.”   Point taken.

“We can’t say we weren’t warned,” laments a Chicago Sun-Times editorial. When people show up with guns, or signs indicating ‘next time’ they’ll bring their guns, and routinely call people they disagree with traitors and un-American, and our political leaders don’t try and put a stop to it (or worse, inflame it themselves), we should have known something would happen sometime. Sometime, sadly, was yesterday.  The editorial takes a slight turn from some others stating it is “simply not true” that both left and right are equally guilty of promoting this kind of speech or action.  “Overwhelmingly today, the fear-mongering and demonizing flow from the right, aided and abetted by cable TV and talk-radio hosts. They may represent only the irresponsible fringe of conservatism in America, but they are drowning out the thoughtful voices of the vast majority of conservatives.”  I suspect this editorial itself will inspire more of the same.

The LA Times focuses on the tenor of commentary from both the left and the right, much of it for the purpose of  "fanning the maximum fear, and injecting it into the roiling narrative of anger, partisanship, and paranoia that passes for dialogue today" and they had plenty of examples to prove the point.  On the other hand, they include President Clinton's comments on the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, in which he stated "...we must all accept responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged."  The gunman in this case almost certainly embodies at least one of those four adjectives.  They close the editorial stating they are "both ashamed and embarrassed at the intemperate commentary we read on Saturday."  If you've seen what's being said out there, you'll agree with them, as I did.

January 8, 2011

Rep Buerkle: Why Repeal PPACA?

Dear Representative Buerkle:

I’m writing you to let you know that I do not agree with your position on repealing or defunding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as PPACA, and referred to by some as the Job-Killing Health Care Law. 

While I’m not thrilled with PPACA in its entirety, I do not believe that killing this bill is the right decision. I am however interested in understanding why you believe it IS the right decision. 

I’m also interested in what Republicans would offer instead?  What specific coverage benefits would you provide, if you succeed in taking away the ones that became effective last year? What specific job-creating or job-preserving provisions would you include in a health care reform bill? 

If you do not believe in mandating that everyone have coverage, can you explain to me why you think it’s acceptable and necessary for me to pay for other people’s health insurance, through higher premiums, fees and taxes paid directly by health insurance companies such as my employer, or through claim payment surcharges? 

Last, I’m concerned that the vote to repeal PPACA is specifically excluded from the pledge that all new bills will either reduce spending, or if they raise spending, they have to be accompanied by equal spending reductions elsewhere. How will you make up for the projected $230 billion impact repealing this Act will have? And why was this bill carved out? 

Thanks for your consideration and response.

January 4, 2011

A Health Insurance CEO Navigates the System

I work for a regional BlueCross BlueShield Plan in Central New York. The CEO of my company has been in the business for a long time. He makes lots of money. He has a lot of contacts in the health insurance and medical arenas. Heck, he’s been to the White House and met with President Obama. If I were to try and think of someone well-prepared to navigate the American health care system, he’d be pretty darn high on my list. 

But right now, he has a role more important than CEO -- the role of devoted husband to a wife who has terminal cancer. He elected to share their story in Bloomberg Businessweek last month, and it’s a story that is both touching and enlightening. Here are a couple of excerpts:
  • On his own preparedness for navigating the system: “I’ve spent almost 40 years on the business side of the health-care industry, including the last seven as chief executive officer of a health plan. I believed my network of contacts would serve us well. I presumed there were unambiguous answers to questions about the best treatment plan and the best providers. What I learned was that for uncommon diseases like Linde’s, if not all diseases generally, clear answers often don’t exist. I will never forget one doctor telling me that the information I sought wasn’t available and that I would have to trust my gut. This is pretty incredible when you think about how much as a society we spend on health care.”
  • On our ‘best course’ moving forward: “As a society, we need to be honest about treatment limitations. Patients should be well informed about what the industry knows and doesn’t know. There should be candor about the likelihood that care will make them worse instead of better. Patients should be empowered to be the treatment decision makers. In recognition of the uncertainty patients face, we need to compassionately acknowledge their pain and fear. We need to counsel that aggressive intervention isn’t always the best course of action.” 
Some folks say that  illnesses are ‘equalizers’ – they treat everyone the same, whether rich or poor. But I believe our health care system came out as an additional equalizer, beyond his wife's illness itself, in David’s case.

As he and his family now deal with the reality of his wife’s decision to seek palliative care instead of any additional aggressive treatment, their story should be required reading for all those who profess to know what’s best for us.

Poll Watch: Sex, Drugs, and Social Networking

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio presented a paper back in November that concluded that kids who are overly engaged in social networking are also likely to be overly engaged in certain bad behaviors, including sex, drinking, smoking, and fighting. More of the ‘hyper-texters’ who send at least 120 text messages a day, or ‘hyper-netowrkers’ who spend at least three hours daily on networking sights, are poor, female, and from single parent households. The researchers also found increased incidents of depression, television watching, poor eating habits, and increased parental permissiveness. Makes you wonder how they have time to be involved in all of these activities?

In another study released last November, an increase was seen in the number of baby boomers seeking emergency medical treatment for drug misuse or abuse. From 2004 to 2008, the number of folks 50 or older treated in an ER for a drug-related issue increased from almost 116,000 to just over 256,000, an increase of 121%.  Almost a fifth of those visits (19.7%) were by patients at least 70 years old. Not surprisingly, pain relievers (43.5%), drugs used to help relieve anxiety or improve sleep (31.8), and anti-depressants (8.6) were the meds most frequently involved. I say not surprisingly because, other than drugs used to enhance male sexual function, these seem to be the ones most commonly advertised on TV during prime adult viewing hours, such as the evening news.

I learned about boomers and drugs in the latest edition of AARP/The Magazine (yes, I’m a member). The latest edition includes some data on how we stay connected. The survey, which included folks 50 and older, found that while 40% consider themselves extremely or very comfortable using the Internet, an equal 40% prefer to get their news the old fashioned way – via newspaper or print news magazines. When it comes to social networking, 27% of all boomers do it; more do it on Facebook than other sites; 73% are connected to relatives other than children or grandchildren; and 63% of those who were introduced to social networking by a family member were introduced by one of their kids – and likely NOT one of those hyper-networking kids in the CWRU study.