Saturday, August 15, 2009

Health Care Saturday: Flashing Gums Edition

Scot Lehigh (Boston Globe):
IT’S HARD TO SAY what’s more amusing, the wild-eyed rants at town hall meetings or the conservative attempts to portray those snarling sentiments as genuine mainstream anger about the president’s health care plans.

Some Republicans are gleeful in the hope that the testy town hall encounters will derail Obama’s signature initiative.

Question: Do they really think the country is dopey enough to mistake microwave mobs staging Potemkin Village protests as an accurate expression of true American opinion?

If so, they’re delusional.


But even if you weren’t aware of all that, it would be hard to mistake the hostile town hall encounters for a serious barometer of voter sentiment. Sure, some talk-radio types are insisting they are. Lawmakers know better, however. After all, if these folks really spoke for the country, Democrats wouldn’t control Congress, and Obama would never have been elected.

All we’ve learned here is something we already knew: This nation never has to worry about suffering from a shortage of kooks, cranks, and ideologues.

Just don’t try to tell us they are level-headed, mainstream Americans.

Maddow and Armey will be on Meet the Press this Sunday.
Dick Armey retreats Aug. 14: Rachel Maddow reports on the resignation of Dick Armey from D.C. lobbying firm DLA Piper amid questions about the relationship between the firm and Armey's FreedomWorks group, which has been organizing protests at town halls. Maddow further probes the relationship between PR company Shirley & Banister and conservative activist groups.
Herbert: Hard to Believe!

It was strange to find in this economically stressed, rural region of Vermont, not far from the state capital of Montpelier, a good news story about health care.

Those who live in the area, no matter what their income, can get high-quality primary care, dental care, prescription drug services and mental health assistance at a price they can afford. All they have to do is call or stop by the Health Center at Plainfield, which is part of a national network of centers that are officially (and clumsily) known as Federally Qualified Health Centers.

I was somewhat skeptical when Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, told me that these centers (there are 39 sites of various size in the state) had “essentially solved the problem of primary care” for local residents. Politicians are in the business of making big claims. Most of the time you don’t hold it against them. But you don’t take the claims as gospel, either.

In this case, the senator’s claim seems to be very much on the money. The center at Plainfield is modern and well equipped, spotlessly clean, quiet and efficient. Patients that I spoke with marveled at the friendliness of doctors and staffers and said they never felt intimidated. Appointments are easily made, and if it is necessary to see a physician on the same day, or within 24 hours, that is usually not a problem.

All types of patients are served at the center, from the well off to the impoverished. There is a sliding scale of fees for patients without insurance. They are charged what they can afford. No one is turned away.

“This place is so important,” said Kathleen Hoyne, who was at the center with her 14-year-old son, Daniel. “Neither my husband nor I have health insurance through work.” Daniel, she said, is covered by Vermont’s expanded children’s health insurance program.

There are similar health centers across the country serving primarily low-income patients in areas where medical services are scarce. They are a crucial resource, even in those cases where staffing is difficult or other challenges arise. But there are not enough of them.

What is impressive is how much sense the centers make. They are nonprofit and receive federal support, but they don’t require a ton of taxpayer dollars. By focusing intently on primary care and preventive services, they save tremendous amounts of money.

Given the toxic tone of the current health care debate, it’s interesting to note that the centers actually have significant bipartisan support. (President George W. Bush was a strong advocate.) And the Office of Management and Budget has rated them as among the most efficient and effective users of taxpayer money.

Nearly 10,000 patients are served by the Plainfield center, which is a godsend because there are no other primary care physicians in the vicinity, and very few dentists in private practice will treat poor patients, who usually are covered by Medicaid.

When you look at the number of people who are served by these health centers nationally and then look at the number still in need of the services, you begin to get a sense of the scope of the crisis in health care in the U.S. The centers currently serve about 20 million people and receive approximately $2 billion a year from the federal government. It is estimated that another 40 million people in medically underserved areas, primarily rural areas and inner cities, need the services a health center would provide.

Senator Sanders and Representative James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, are sponsoring legislation (as part of the current push for health care reform) that would quadruple the number of centers across the country over the next five years.

In the areas served by the centers in Vermont, the problem of access to primary care does, in fact, seem to have been solved. The centers not only provide patient care, they offer transportation (often crucial in rural areas), counseling, health education classes and a range of other community services. And still the costs are substantially lower than average for comparable health-related services.

Twenty miles from Plainfield, at the Northern Counties Dental Center at Hardwick, I ran into a stark example of the difference that proper health care (in this case, dental care) can make. Armando Gelineau, a grizzled, toothless old-timer who has spent much of his life coaching boxing, was leaving the center with his granddaughter, a young woman named Morgan Worden.

When Ms. Worden smiled, you couldn’t help but notice that her teeth seemed perfect. “I come here every six months for a checkup and cleaning,” she said. “They’re very friendly.”

Mr. Gelineau laughed, flashing his gums. “They didn’t have that in my day,” he said.
Lying right targets vets Aug. 14: Rachel Maddow talks with Rep. Joe Sestak, D-PA, about the right-wing fear campaign against health care reform turning its sites on U.S. veterans.

ThinkProgress traveled to a town-hall event in Iowa yesterday, getting an up-close look at Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and the leading Republican negotiator on health care reform.

One of the senator's constituents noticed that Grassley was carrying a personal copy of Glenn Beck's book, "Common Sense." When the constituent urged the conservative Republican lawmaker to share it with members of Congress, Grassley said:

"Well the reason I brought it is you're supposed to pass it on to other people when you're not reading it."

He later told ThinkProgress that the book, written by Fox News' self-described "rodeo clown," is "something you gotta read a couple times."

Contrast this with what we saw last week, at an event hosted by Rep. Bob Inglis, a very conservative Republican in South Carolina. When the crowd turned ugly, Inglis suggested it'd be a good idea to "turn the TV off" and stop listening to Beck. "Turn that television off when he comes on," the congressman said. "Let me tell you why. You want to know why? He's trading on fear."

Inglis later told a local blogger, "The America that Glenn Beck seems to see is a place where we all should be fearful, thinking that our best days are behind us. It sure does sell soap, but it sure does a disservice to America."

A week later, Chuck Grassley -- an alleged moderate and the man principally responsible for finding a "bipartisan" solution for health care reform -- is promoting Beck's lunacy.

I can only assume that Grassley doesn't want to be part of reform negotiations anymore, and is working on getting himself kicked out of the talks. If he keeps moving further to the right, and Dems eventually decide to cut their losses with this guy, Grassley gets to have it both ways -- he'll tell moderates, "I invested months of time and energy in bipartisan reform negotiations," and he'll tell the right, "I stuck up for conservative principles and Democrats refused to listen."

C&L: There's a reason the Obama-hating crazies are coming out of the woodwork

ABC News had a noteworthy story today on the increasing fears for President Obama's safety because of the plethora of nutcases -- many of them in fact mentally ill -- who are crawling out of the woodwork and threatening Obama and anyone associated with him:

Experts who track hate groups across the U.S. are growing increasingly concerned over violent rhetoric targeted at President Obama, especially as the debate over health care intensifies and a pattern of threats emerges.

The Secret Service is investigating a Maryland man who held a sign reading "Death to Obama" and "Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids" outside a town hall meeting this week. And in New Hampshire, another man stood across the street from a Presidential town hall with his gun on full display.

Los Angeles police officers apprehended a man Thursday after a standoff with him inside a red Volkswagen Bug car in Westwood, CA – the latest disturbing case even though officials said the man had mental problems.

"I don't think these are simply people who are mentally ill or off their rocker," Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told ABC News of those behind the threats. "In a very real sense they represent a genuine reaction, a genuine backlash against Obama."

Experts say a sharp growth in so-called militia groups that helped spawn a wave of domestic terrorism in the 1990s – and are now using YouTube, rock music and the Internet to recruit members and spread hate and fear - shouldn't be ignored.

"It's certainly a scary time," said former FBI agent Brad Garrett, now an ABC News consultant. Garrett said the Secret Service "cannot afford to pass on anyone," and he believes "they really do fear that something could happen to [Obama]."

Garrett said statements like one recently made by controversial radio host Rush Limbaugh comparing a logo for the White House plan to a Nazi symbol "legitimizes people who are on the edge to go do something or say something."

Naturally, the right is full-throated whine about people making this very logical connection: Yesterday on his show, Glenn Beck repeated the standard whine that "left is trying to silence me." No; we just want people like Beck to live up to the immense responsibility that comes with having those powerful media megaphones they hold.

Often we hear the excuse that the problem is simply the fact that these people are mentally ill crazies who would be doing something crazy anyway.

This is, of course, a complete cop-out. It ignores, in fact, the cold reality that violence, even by the mentally ill, does not occur in a vacuum. When people become the subject of a relentless campaign of demonization -- especially by the use of grotesque smears that make them out to be monsters and provably false "facts" that have the concrete effect of unhinging people from reality -- it will only be a matter of time before the lethal violence breaks out.

And while the concern for Obama is well-placed -- he is, after all, the focus of all this hatred -- there is only a remote likelihood of anyone actually succeeding in harming him, since he is very well protected indeed. What's far more likely, in fact, is that some innocent bystanders in his vicinity will be harmed -- or, moreover, that the crazies will decide that instead of harming Obama, they will take out their hatred on his supporters.

This was the thinking, after all, of Jim David Adkisson, the Knoxville church shooter. Recall this passage in his manifesto:

This was a symbolic killing. Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book. I'd like to kill everyone in the mainstream media. But I know those people were inaccessible to me. I couldn't get to the generals & high ranking officers of the Marxist movement so I went after the foot soldiers, the chickenshit liberals that vote in these traitorous people. Someone had to get the ball rolling. I volunteered. I hope others do the same. It's the only way we can rid America of this cancerous pestilence.

The right-wing crazies popping up almost daily, thanks to right-wing fearmongers, are very real cause for concern about Obama's safety. But we should also be concerned about our own.


  1. Well now I can go have a relaxing Sunday, knowing that the nation is teeming with violent delusional lunatics.

  2. Hi Cliff. I realized today that I despair for our nation. There is no one on the republican right who "at long last has no sense of decency." Not a one.