Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care & the Crazies

Take a chance and take my first ever survey on who you want to make your health care decisions. There are three choices.

Atrios has a Deep Thought
Nobody could've predicted that electing a black man president would drive this country completely fucking insane.
Josh Marshall (TPM): Armed Resistance
The guy who brought a loaded gun to the rally outside of Obama's town hall along with a sign calling for death to tyrants showed up this afternoon on Chris Matthews. And the major take away is that he's about as whacked as you'd expect. Plus, he says, the gun was loaded.
  • What About That Other Gun?
    Admittedly, It gets a little difficult to keep track of all the different guns brought to health care town halls across the country. But what about that gun dropped at a town hall down in Arizona? Eric Kleefeld's been playing phone tag with the police down in Douglas, Arizona. And this afternoon he finally got the story.
A.L. on Palin's "death panels:
... but Publius hits the most obvious point:

Palin is sort of right on one point -- there are people who weigh whether children like Trig are worthy of insurance. They're called insurance companies, and they have decided that these children are not in fact worthy of coverage. That's because Down Syndrome is a "pre-existing condition."
He then links to a number of sources talking about how impossible it is to purchase insurance for children (or adults) with Down Syndrome. Indeed, one of the primary legislative goals of the National Down Syndrome Congress is health care reform. If you look at their website, you can see their policy goals track almost exactly with the kind of health care reform currently being proposed.

Palin warns that the people who "will suffer the most" when the government "rations care" are the "the sick, the elderly, and the disabled." The exact opposite is true. It is the private insurance industry, not the government, that excludes the sick, the elderly, and the disabled. Insurance companies are in the business of making money, and it makes no economic sense for them to cover people who are likely to incur enormous health care costs over their lifetimes. Good luck trying to purchase private health insurance if you're old, sick, or disabled.

Indeed, it is for exactly this reason that most every other country long ago gravitated toward a universal system. The alternative is a world in which people like Trig (and their parents) are punished because of their bad luck, a world in which the elderly are priced out of the system, and a world in which those who need insurance the most are unable to purchase it. Medicare wasn't just passed as some sort of grand social experiment. It was passed in response to a dire social need, i.e., a situation in which most elderly Americans could not afford to see a doctor.

Benen: YOU DON'T SAY....

I hope you're sitting down. It appears that conservative organizers and Tea Party activists aren't really interested in some kind of bipartisan reform of the health care system, or watered down Democratic proposals. Their goal is to protect the status quo at all costs. Greg Sargent reports:

On a private conference call, a group of top Tea Party and conservative organizers offered a surprisingly frank description of their goal, according to a source on the call: Completely blocking any kind of bipartisan compromise, and completely preventing any type of health care reform bill at all from ever becoming law.

The source who got himself on the call was an organizer for the AFL-CIO, and AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale provided me with the organizer's notes. It's certain to be seized on by Dems to argue that organized Tea Party opposition to Obama has no constructive intentions and is fomenting public "concern" about Obama's plan solely to prevent any reform from ever taking place. GOP officials would argue that they don't share these goals.

The call consisted of representatives of top conservative groups, such as the American Liberty Alliance, the "Tea Party Patriots," and, the AFL-CIO's notes say.

According to AFL-CIO's notes, the moderator on the call said, "The goal is not compromise, and ANY bill coming out this year would be a failure for us." Another organizer added, "The purpose of Tea Parties is not to find a solution to the health care crisis -- it is to stop what is not the solution: Obamacare."

A spokesperson for the American Liberty Alliance told Greg that these sentiments "may have been expressed" on the call, though she isn't sure about the exact language.

Every time I hear about this, I think back to that Frank Luntz memo to Republicans earlier this year. "The status quo is no longer acceptable," Luntz advised his party. "If the dynamic becomes 'President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,' then the battle is lost and every word in this document is useless.... Acknowledge the 'crisis' or suffer the consequences."

At least in private, conservative activists are willing to do whatever it takes to ignore the crisis and keep the status quo just the way it is. When will they "suffer the consequences"?

TRMS investigates FreedomWorks August 11: Rachel Maddow reports on how FreedomWorks, a Washington D.C. advocacy group chaired by former House Majority leader Dick Armey, is influencing the fight against health care reform.

I don't know how many you were able to watch President Obama's town-hall event in New Hampshire this afternoon, but it was one of his most animated and powerful events in quite a while. Especially in this opening statement, the president seemed to show the same kind of energy he presented back during the campaign.

It's possible the White House would prefer fewer town-hall events, because of the possibility of right-wing mobs disrupting the discussion. But if today was any indication, Obama's team would be wise to schedule a whole lot more of these events.

More soon.

Towards the end of this afternoon's discussion on health care reform in New Hampshire, President Obama told his audience, "[L]et's face it, now is the hard part -- because the history is clear -- every time we come close to passing health insurance reform, the special interests fight back with everything they've got. They use their influence. They use their political allies to scare and mislead the American people. They start running ads. This is what they always do."

And with reform closer now than ever, it's what they're already doing. To that end, the president, while making the affirmative case for passing reform throughout the event, also took some time to address concerns he knows are out there.

Government-run health care:

"This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance. I don't believe anyone should be in charge of your health insurance decisions but you and your doctor. (Applause.) I don't think government bureaucrats should be meddling, but I also don't think insurance company bureaucrats should be meddling. That's the health care system I believe in."


"[R]ight now insurance companies are rationing care. They are basically telling you what's covered and what's not. They're telling you: 'We'll cover this drug, but we won't cover that drug; you can have this procedure, or, you can't have that procedure'. So why is it that people would prefer having insurance companies make those decisions, rather than medical experts and doctors figuring out what are good deals for care and providing that information to you as a consumer and your doctor so you can make the decisions?

"So I just want to be very clear about this. I recognize there is an underlying fear here that people somehow won't get the care they need. You will have not only the care you need, but also the care that right now is being denied to you -- only if we get health care reform. That's what we're fighting for."

Putting insurers out of business with a private option:

"People say, 'Well, how can a private company compete against the government?' And my answer is that if the private insurance companies are providing a good bargain, and if the public option has to be self-sustaining -- meaning taxpayers aren't subsidizing it, but it has to run on charging premiums and providing good services and a good network of doctors, just like any other private insurer would do -- then I think private insurers should be able to compete. They do it all the time. I mean, if you think about -- if you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? No, they are. It's the Post Office that's always having problems.

"So right now you've got private insurers who are out there competing effectively, even though a lot of people get their care through Medicare or Medicaid or VA. So there's nothing inevitable about this somehow destroying the private marketplace, as long as -- and this is a legitimate point that you're raising -- that it's not set up where the government is basically being subsidized by the taxpayers, so that even if they're not providing a good deal, we keep on having to pony out more and more money. And I've already said that can't be the way the public option is set up. It has to be self-sustaining."

"Death Panels":

"The rumor that's been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for 'death panels' that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we've decided that we don't -- it's too expensive to let her live anymore. And there are various -- there are some variations on this theme. It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they're ready, on their own terms. It wasn't forcing anybody to do anything. This is I guess where the rumor came from.

"The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican -- then House member, now senator, named Johnny Isakson from Georgia -- who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people's options. And somehow it's gotten spun into this idea of 'death panels.' I am not in favor of that. So just I want to clear the air here."

"Enemies List":

"Before you ask this question, just because you referred to it, can I just say this is another example of how the media ends up just completing distorting what's taken place. What we've said is that if somebody has -- if you get an e-mail from somebody that says, for example, 'Obamacare is creating a death panel,' forward us the e-mail and we will answer the question that's raised in the e-mail. Suddenly, on some of these news outlets, this is being portrayed as 'Obama collecting an enemies list.' Now, come on, guys. You know, here I am trying to be responsive to questions that are being raised out there and I just want to be clear that all we're trying to do is answer questions."

For the Tin Foil Hat crowd, I don't imagine this will matter. "Sure," they'll say, "the president says he doesn't want to kill my grandparents. That's what he wants us to think."

But for a more sensible skeptic, here's hoping the president's comments helped alleviate some of the irrational fears.


A couple of weeks ago, Paul Krugman noted that health care reform is complicated, but it's not that complicated. What's reform all about? "The essence is really quite simple: regulation of insurers, so that they can't cherry-pick only the healthy, and subsidies, so that all Americans can afford insurance," Krugman said. He added, "[W]hat it means for the individual will be that insurers can't reject you, and if your income is relatively low, the government will help pay your premiums."

It wasn't identical, but President Obama defined reform in largely the same way at his town-hall event this afternoon.

"For all the chatter and the yelling and the shouting and the noise, what you need to know is this: If you don't have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options, once we pass reform. If you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company, or a government bureaucrat, gets between you and the care that you need."

The president went on, to applause. "And we will do this without adding to our deficit over the next decade, largely by cutting out the waste and insurance company giveaways in Medicare that aren't making any of our seniors healthier," he said.

Three sentences. If you don't have coverage, you'll get coverage. If you have coverage, insurers won't be able to screw you over. And we can achieve this without increasing the deficit. Everything else relates to mechanical details to get us from here to there.

Perhaps the White House could have come up with this bottom-line/nutshell formulation a bit sooner.

Yglesias: British Official Disturbed By Right-Wing Health Care Lies

The United Kingdom is an actual country, with millions of inhabitants and a government and so forth. It’s a close ally of the United States. It’s also a kind of weird conservative bogeyman story, in which the right first lies about how liberals want the US to adopt UK-style health care and then they follow that up by lying about how UK-style health care works. And as The Guardian explains, this is creating dilemma for British diplomats:

Slickly produced television advertisements trumpet the alleged failures of the NHS’s 61-year tradition of tax-funded healthcare. To the dismay of British healthcare professionals, US critics have accused the service of putting an “Orwellian” financial cap on the value on human life, of allowing elderly people to die untreated and, in one case, for driving a despairing dental patient to mend his teeth with superglue. [...]

The British embassy in Washington is quietly trying to counter inaccuracies. A spokesman said: “We’re keeping a close eye on things and where there’s a factually wrong statement, we will take the opportunity to correct people in private. That said, we don’t want to get involved in a domestic debate.”

Of course the idea of correcting people in private assumes that they’re actually making mistakes as opposed to just telling wild lies deliberately. The British government’s hesitance to wade into a domestic US political dispute is extremely understandable, but I see no reason the Brits should be forced to stay silent as people decide to portray them as a country of eugenics-obsessed monsters. As Tory leader David Cameron has said:

In its bricks and mortar, people and services, the NHS embodies something which is truly great about Britain. That something is equity: the spirit of fairness for all and the equal right of everyone regardless of age, background or circumstance to get the healthcare they need. [...] We should be proud that, in its sixtieth year, people are beginning to look at the Conservative Party as the party of the NHS. But we’ve got to live up to that honour.

It honestly strikes me as strange that all these bizarre health care scare stories come from friendly, well-known English-speaking countries like Canada and the UK. You would think that to get away with weird lies about the horrors of “socialism” that people would need to at least pick more obscure countries; talk about how rotten everything is in Portugal or something.


They served as interesting bookends. President Obama hosted a very strong town-hall event in New Hampshire on health care this afternoon, featuring good questions -- from supporters and opponents of reform -- and covering a lot of ground.

The president's event began on the heels of Sen. Arlen Specter's town-hall event in Lebanon, Pa. Watching Obama's gathering, one got the sense that it was American politics as it's meant to be done. Watching Specter's, one got the sense that the American political system is an experiment on the verge of collapse.

Senator Arlen Specter and his staff tried mightily to control a town hall meeting this morning but he was repeatedly booed and heckled by a majority of the 250 people inside a large hall here at the Harrisburg Area Community College. At least 700 more were kept outside, police said.

Inside, fury erupted over a range of topics, from health care to immigration, government spending and the cap-and-trade program to control pollution. Many also expressed broad if unspecified disdain for the government and for President Obama.

"Where do you see an honest man in politics?" one man asked Mr. Specter. "Tell Obama to represent us as an American and if not, there's other countries!"

It certainly wasn't Specter's fault, but this event was enough to make one weep for our future. Fox News' Megyn Kelly called it an "extraordinary showing," filled with "informed" and "articulate" Americans.

Perhaps Megyn Kelly was watching a different event. More likely, Megyn Kelly doesn't know what she's talking about.

Specter's largely right-wing crowd insisted President Obama isn't an American. One nutty man said to applause, "One day, God is going to stand before you and he's going to judge you!" Another yelled, "This is the Soviet Union, this is Maoist China."

One attendee drew a standing ovation when she said health care reform is about "dismantling" the United States and "turning" the country "into Russia." She later added that she feared toilet paper rationing.

Someone in the audience wanted to explain that the Qu'ran says that "all unbelievers will be executed." The same person added that if we close Gitmo, "criminals" will "escape" and we'll find "a bunch of innocent people are murdered. And that's what's gonna happen."

We're better than this. We have to be.

Rosenberg (TPM): Are We Going To Be Intimidated By Thugs?

As recently as 9/11/01 (and for a long time after) Blue America and Red America were united. Not in support of a particular policy. But in grief for what had been done to our country and in hatred for the monsters who attacked us. .

Less than a year after the stolen election of 2000, some of the most fervent Democrats I know, (and some of the angriest about Florida) , including myself, flew the flag daily, held back on our criticism of the President and hoped for his success.

This was much like 1963 when most Americans (not all) were devastated by JFK's assassination and like 1981 when the whole country (or most of it) was praying that Reagan would survive the assassination attempt.

No more. I suspect that if America was hit again, the Republicans would not unite behind the Democratic President but would blame him for the attack and demand his impeachment (which we did not do with George W. Bush although we certainly could have).

And I suspect that if something happened to President Obama, a sizable chunk of the country (teabaggers, Glenn Beckites and the like) would, at best, just keep quiet. That is at best.

As Lucianne Goldberg once told my son on the air, "if something happened to Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy, I'd shut down the site" so as not to give a forum to the rightwing celebrants.

If this is true, it means we really are two countries.

Fortunately, Democrats and most Republicans are not partisans first. They don't virulently hate the opposition or openly wish them dead. They wouldn't dream of breaking up a Congressional town meeting.

But a sizable chunk of Republicans today (cheered on by Beck, Limbaugh, Savage, etc) do hate Democrats, the President, any and all liberals, and view us as evil. Not wrong. Evil. They want the President to fail, the economy to collapse, and, as Michael Scheuer said to Glenn Beck (and Beck agreed), they want a massive terror attack here at home to "wake up" America. They love America so much that they want to see untold thousands killed.

It's hard to imagine Democrats wishing destruction on the country, Some radical leftists do but they are not Democrats, do not serve in Congress, and do not have radio and television shows that indoctrinate millions. Leftwing crazies are outside our tent. Rightwing crazies are very much inside the GOP's.

How did this happen? We Democrats didn't like it but we lived under Nixon, Reagan, and even the unelected Bush without calling for insurrection. We know that some elections you win and some you lose.

But starting with the Florida recount, the Republicans openly employed thuggery to intimidate the opposition. Remember those goons trying to stop the recount in Broward County? I recall the mobs here in Washington during the recount, marching on Massachusetts Avenue by the Vice President's mansion, screaming, "Gore. Get out of Cheney's house."

What is wrong with these people? Is this a blip in our history or is this the way it is going to be. We are the majority after all. Are we going to be intimidated by thugs?

Think Progress: Rep. Scott’s office vandalized with four-foot swastika.

At a contentious town hall meeting last week, Rep. David Scott (D-GA) shot back at the protesters who were disrupting his event by accusing them of “hijack[ing]” the gathering. Now, Scott’s district office in Smyrna, GA, has been vandalized with a four-foot swastika painted onto his door. Fox News reported that Capitol Hill police will likely be launching an investigation immediately. Watch it:

Just yesterday, Glenn Beck went off on a rant against Scott on his Fox News show:

BECK: Congressman, how many Americans…have called and called and called, only to be treated like swine?

You know what? I’m not sure, Congressman, if you are aware that not everybody has access to a brand new Gulfstream G550. I mean, it might be tough for the average Joe, who makes $129,000 less than you do to swing by the office for a meeting in Washington, D.C. We hope you understand and accept our offer instead to use a common alternative to private jets that are so much better for the environment called the telephone.

America, you call your congressman. You call just — the congressman that represents you. You call your senator right now. Is that — there is the House switchboard right there.

Update A photo of the vandalism:


Think Progress: Town hall crowd boos Specter when he calls President Obama an ‘American.’

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) held a town hall today in Lebanon, PA, which was carried live by all three cable news networks. Towards the end, a man critical of health care reform asked Specter to “go back to Washington and represent us first as an American and tell Mr. Obama he’s an American and if not, there’s other countries.” When Specter replied by saying that “I think President Obama knows he’s an American,” many in the crowd booed and one person held up a sign saying “liar.” Watch it:

At a town hall held by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) yesterday, ThinkProgress’ Amanda Terkel overheard at least one person yelling out, “Obama’s not even a citizen!

Here's one of the guys stirring the crazy's pot. Funny that major advertisers think it is a good idea to support him.
JedL (DK): Glenn Beck, brought to you by...

Media Matters presents Glenn Beck’s corporate sponsors:

As ColorOfChange diaried earlier, GEICO has now joined the growing list of advertisers pulling their corporate advertising from Beck's show. Fortunately for Beck's current advertisers, there's still time them to get on board the train out of Glenn Beck's crazy-town. What are they waiting for?

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