Tuesday Mashup (1/28/14)

January 28, 2014
  • I have to admit that I was a bit – how shall I put it? – nonplussed by the following concerning the recent Davos gathering (the recent “big story” is the alleged hardship of the “one percent,” and Philadelphia’s conservative newspaper of record is ON IT, PEOPLE!)…

    Some of the richest and most powerful people in the world were asked by Wharton researchers to assess a set of risks likely to disrupt life as we know it — risks that could bring the downfall of governments and destroy economies.

    Of more than two dozen catastrophic scenarios, the group of global titans said these were their biggest concerns:

    1) Income inequality, which threatens social and political stability as well as economic development.
    2) Increasing numbers of extreme weather events which cause massive damage to property, infrastructure and the environment.
    3) Chronic unemployment, which coincides with a rising skills gap and high underemployment, especially among the young.
    4) Climate change, specifically the failure of government and industry to take action to protect threatened people and businesses.
    5) The escalation of large-scale cyber-attacks.

    In response to #1, I give you this (and this).

    As far as #2 goes (which goes with #4 as far as I’m concerned), I give you this (lots of talk with no commitment to anything, of course).

    And as far as Davos and its supposed laser-focus on unemployment (#3), I give you this (it will take smart, targeted government spending, people, which is what it has taken all along – we did this under FDR and we did this under Bill Clinton…yes, I know this is a broken record).

    Oh, and as far as cyber security is concerned (#5), I’ll let the Davos geniuses figure that out on their own, since it apparently hits their pocketbooks more directly than the other items on the list (at least this post-Davos item was positive, though).

  • Next, it looks like the Repugs are having their retreat this week to figure out some new “branding” trick to try and confuse the American sheeple, to say nothing of our corporate media of course (here – made to order for “Tiger Beat on the Potomac,” of course)…

    House Republicans will hear from legendary college football coach Lou Holtz, GOP message maven Frank Luntz, conservative journalists and pollsters and education experts at their annual retreat in Maryland this week.

    The House Republican Conference will also hear Rachel Campos Duffy — wife of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) — talk about “reaching every corner of America.”

    Of course they’ll hear from Frank Luntz (let’s see, maybe, instead of the “Tea Party,” we can have a “grass roots” gathering called the “Patriot Party,” with Rick Santelli yelling out the alarm as he once did here.)

    As far as Rachel Campos Duffy is concerned, she’s the wife of a guy who once said he “struggled” on his congressional salary of about $174 grand (and he spent more than $106 grand on personal use automobiles, both noted here). Her husband also got heat here (rightly so) for his vote to end Medicare (“voucherizing” it, despite what he said to a constituent) and continue tax cuts for the rich. And he also favored “immigration reform” without a path to citizenship here.

    And Lou Holtz? He’s a climate change denier, of course (here). He also was such a good sport when Alabama blew out Notre Dame a little over a year ago here (umm, maybe the “Fighting Irish” couldn’t “run the ball” because Alabama was kicking their collective butt…hard to do that when you’re losing). Besides, I thought he didn’t want anything to do with politics any more, having been quite rightly burned for endorsing former Repug Senator and race-baiter Jesse Helms here.

    I’m sure it doesn’t need to be pointed out yet again that this is nothing but more “kabuki” from the Beltway media-political-industrial complex. The party in power in the U.S. House has had over three years to come up with a plan to create actual jobs with a decent living wage and grow the economy for real. They haven’t. They can’t.

    And they never will.

  • Further, get a load of this from “Pastor” Gerson on the Affordable Care Law

    But even judged on the terms of (David) Remnick’s praise (of The New Yorker, who recently wrote an article about Number 44), Obama is in deep, second-term trouble. The president who embraces complexity is now besieged by complexity on every front. The U.S. health-care system has not responded as planned to the joystick manipulations of the Affordable Care Act. On the evidence of the article, Obama and his closest advisers are in denial about the structural failures of the program — the stingy coverage, narrow provider networks, high deductibles and adverse-selection spirals already underway in several states.

    How can the coverage be “stingy” when it includes an expansion of Medicaid to cover those who weren’t covered before (here, with the only obstacle being Republican governors who won’t allow Medicaid expansion, or, in the case of our own “Space Cadet” Tom Corbett, doing so with ridiculous strings attached such as proof of looking for employment)? And as noted here concerning “narrow provider networks”…

    About a third of insurance companies opted out of participating in the exchanges in states where they were already doing business, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Co. About half of states — which include about a third of the non-elderly insured population — will see a “material decline” in competitors, says McKinsey, while the other half of states will have about the same or more insurance choices on the exchanges.

    I read this as follows: as more enroll on the exchanges, more health care insurance providers will decide to offer plans on the exchanges. The carriers will go where the customers are, one of the things Gerson and his ilk are loathe to acknowledge, of course.

    As far as “high deductibles” goes, I give you the story of lifelong Arkansas Republican Butch Matthews here, who, after doing some actual fact-checking and research, discovered that “his local Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) provider confirmed that he would be able to buy a far better plan than his current policy while saving at least $13,000 per year (by enrolling on an exchange).”

    And I’ll be honest – I don’t know exactly what an “adverse selection spiral” is; if and when Gerson ever decides to explain it, I’ll update this post accordingly (and for what it’s worth, here is a link to Remnick’s article in The New Yorker).

    As noted here, though, I think it’s safe to say that Gerson isn’t exactly an impartial observer on this issue anyway.

  • Continuing (and sticking with health care reform), I give you the latest fear mongering from (who else?) Fix Noise (here)…

    Tom Gialanella, 56, was shocked to find out he qualified for Medicaid under ObamaCare. The Bothell, Wash., resident had been able to retire early years ago, owns his home outright in a pricey Seattle suburb and is living off his investments.

    He wanted no part of the government’s so-called free health care. “It’s supposed to be a safety net program. It’s not supposed to be for someone who has assets who can pay the bill,” he said.

    And after reading the fine print, Gialanella had another reason to flee Medicaid — the potential death debt.

    Cue the scary-sounding music (and leave it to the Foxies to fund somebody whose exceptional life circumstances dovetails perfectly into their “big gumint is baaaad” narrative).

    In response, I believe the following should be emphasized from here

    The Seattle Times published an article on Dec. 15, under the headline “Expanded Medicaid’s fine print holds surprise: ‘payback’ from estate after death,” that said: “If you’re 55 or over, Medicaid can come back after you’re dead and bill your estate for ordinary health-care expenses.” The Times is right that the state of Washington has this power, but it was not in the “fine print” of the Affordable Care Act (as the story itself makes clear).

    All states have had the option since Medicaid began in 1965 to recover some Medicaid costs from recipients after they die, as the Department of Health and Human Services explains in a2005 policy brief. In 1965, it was optional and states could only recoup Medicaid costs spent on those 65 years or older. That changed in 1993, when Congress passed an omnibus budget bill that required states to recover the expense of long-term care and related costs for deceased Medicaid recipients 55 or older. The 1993 federal law also gave states the option to recover all other Medicaid expenses.

    The Affordable Care Act did nothing to change existing federal law. It did, however, expand the number of people who are eligible for Medicaid, so there will be more people on Medicaid between the ages of 55 and 65, and, therefore, potentially more estates on the hook for Medicaid expenses after the beneficiary dies.

    Is this a problem? I suppose, but let’s address it constructively through legislation (yeah, good luck with that with those jokers in charge of the House) instead of fear mongering for a change, OK?

    And of course, this Dan Springer character, being a good little wingnut, tried to gin up more SOLYNDRA! nonsense here.

  • Finally, I just wanted to point out that we recently observed the 50th anniversary of the report from the U.S. Surgeon General linking cigarette smoking to cancer (and as noted here, cigarette smoking has also been linked to other ailments of varying degrees, including liver cancer, erectile dysfunction, and other bad stuff). The good news, though, is that (as noted here) about 8 million lives have been saved by prevention efforts.

    Like many other people I’m sure, this issue hits home. My dad smoked until his last days; I’ll never forget the look of anxiety on his face when he wondered whether or not I’d purchased his carton of Tareyton’s while I was out running other errands so he could break open a pack and light one up on the front porch (during the days near the end when it was dangerous for him to drive anymore because of a variety of ailments and my mom said he couldn’t light up in the house any more, partly because it got ridiculous having to redo the paint and wallpaper every few years from the stains of cigarette smoke).

    Yes, I probably should not have caved and tried to stand up to him on this, but I could tell that, though he was able to kick other bad habits, he would not have been able to do it with this one. And yes, nobody points a gun at anyone and tells them to smoke; there is an element of choice. But I don’t think that absolves us of trying to reach out to people if we think they can be reached on this subject (not as a would-be “reformer,” but as an interested and caring observer).

    And last year, we went through something like this with another beloved family member. My mother-in-law had been suffering with adenocarcinoma for the last year or so, but it got progressively worse as the cancer metastasized (unlike my dad, she had given up smoking years ago, though she had smoked for many years prior to that). It went from her lung to her liver and spread all over the place. There were multiple rounds of chemo and radiation which definitely bought time, but made her physically sicker in the bargain.

    The decline was gradual – first periodic hospital visits for procedures, then shorter stays, then longer stays and more procedures, then trying to do physical therapy to the point where she could endure more treatments, then finally to the point where she couldn’t even go through PT anymore, to the point where she finally couldn’t come home from the rehabilitation facility and slipped into a coma.

    It was truly hard to find anything positive in this experience, but one thing I can say without reservation is that she received fine care from Vitas at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia. We remain ever grateful to the staff for their constant attention to Mom during her final days.

    The day we said goodbye at Vitas (prior to the viewing and the funeral), we tried our best to console one another and go on with our lives in as normal a manner as we could. We drove off in separate cars, and as I left the parking lot, I saw a line of what appeared to be thin, twenty-something young women who (I assume) were done their shift at the hospital, standing in line in mid-afternoon waiting for what I guess was the 20 bus running up Roosevelt Boulevard.

    And at least four of them were smoking.

    If only you knew, I thought to myself, as I turned at the light and headed for home.

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    Friday Mashup (1/17/14)

    January 17, 2014
  • In an otherwise sensible column, Andrew Taylor of the AP inflicts the following here –and of course, since we’re talking about a “villager” like Taylor, the topic MUST be about our supposedly “crushing” debt burden (wrong) and how we’ll have to CUTUCUTCUTCUTCUTCUTCUT so others will have to feel the pain that Taylor won’t have to worry about ever feeling himself on this…

    Excluded are the giant benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps that run on autopilot and are increasingly driving the government deeper into debt.

    Even though the programs that Taylor mentions only account for about 45 percent of federal spending, as noted here.

    And I realize that “run on autopilot” is wingnut code, to say nothing of the fact that it’s wrong anyway since funding legislation still has to be passed by Congress and signed into law by the president; how else can these programs be administered?

    Oh, and as far as supposedly teetering on the edge of a debt apocalypse (or something), I give you Professor Krugman here.

    This type of wankery isn’t unusual for Taylor, who once claimed that President Obama suffered a “slide” in support in 2010 here without providing any, you know, actual data to support that claim.

  • Next (and sticking with financial matters), I give you yet another bad conservative idea on how to supposedly get our federal fiscal house in order (here)…

    After Congress managed in 1986 to largely accomplish the herculean task of tax reform by eliminating the many deductions, exemptions, and credits, those special tax provisions, like desserts, ultimately proved too tempting, betraying erstwhile commitments to diets and good policy alike. The reform was largely undone over time.

    Even the vaunted ‘86 reform left a few things untouched, some habits just proving too difficult to shed. If certainties are limited to death and taxes, a sub-certainty comes in the form of the mortgage interest deduction (MID), which is like the smoking addiction of the tax code.

    We don’t know exactly what will emerge from tax reform discussions, but supposedly everything is on the table (or chopping block, depending on how you see it). Except the MID of course. Defended as a way to encourage homeownership, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a worse way to accomplish this goal.

    Lather, rinse, repeat (sigh)…

    I’m sick of reading conservatives attack the home mortgage interest deduction. As noted here (quoting a story from Bloomberg News, prior to the 2012 presidential election)…

    Lots of middle class people would be hit hard by that. There is a real political issue here. Give up a mortgage tax deduction (the biggest loophole for the middle class) in order to give trillions of dollars of tax cuts to the rich. It also would make the real estate market much worse because home ownership is subsidized by that deduction.

    I think Romney would lose the suburbs if people understood. Of course, he’ll deny. He wants big tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations and he has a “secret plan” to end the war, I mean to balance the budget.

    Nixon beat George Romney in 1968 primaries, so Mitt became Dick Nixon, just as George Bush II modeled Ronnie Reagan rather than his father. I am tired of Republican “daddy” issues.

    There isn’t a lot that I, as a middle-class homeowner, benefit from when it comes to tax policy and our federal government (except for declining-over-time amounts that we have to pay, which isn’t insignificant I know), but the mortgage interest deduction is definitely one of those benefits (along with deducting state and local taxes; I don’t have a link at the moment, but I’ve seen the idea of getting rid of those deductions floated from conservatives too).

    There’s a reason why Willard Mitt Romney and Mr.-Puppy-Dog-Eyes-With-The-Shiv didn’t touch this with the proverbial ten foot pole. And that’s because they knew that it was a “third rail.”

    However, under the guise of supposedly encouraging “big ideas” or something, I’m sure this will get regurgitated over and over and over, which is why we must be ever vigilant when that happens.

  • Further, it looks like the wingnuts want Rachel Maddow to apologize here for a story saying that a Koch Brothers-affiliated group supported Florida’s totally ridiculous welfare-recipient-drug-testing law; see, the argument is that, because Maddow’s parent employer MSNBC (Microsoft, really) and Comcast, for example, donated to something called the State Policy Network, which counts among its members the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability, then the group is affiliated with Microsoft and Comcast also (hey, if the shoe fits)…

    Well, if this State Policy Network/Florida Foundation for Government Accountability takes money from the Kochs (which doesn’t seem to be in dispute), then what’s the problem with saying that they’re Koch-affiliated?

    Besides, maybe if the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability (which is to say, of course, Charles and David Koch) want to keep a lower profile on this issue (apparently not having the courage of their rotten convictions) then maybe instead of trying to persecute a cable TV personality, they could instead cease and desist from traveling to Georgia, for example, to tell that state how supposedly wonderful Florida’s welfare-recipient-drug-testing law supposedly is (noted here).

  • Continuing, I give you the latest in climate science denialism from Jack Kelly (here)…

    There were more record lows than highs in the United States last year, for the first time since 1993. For the 17th consecutive year, global temperatures were lower than in 1998. Arctic sea ice expanded by about 50 percent, confounding predictions the Arctic would be ice-free by the summer of 2013.

    Oh brother – as noted here in response…

    The Met Office in Britain recently pointed out that there are all sorts of reasons why sea ice extent can bounce around from year to year:

    — temperatures naturally vary from one year to the next ;
    — the amount of cloud can affect the amount of surface melting;
    — summer storms can also break up ice, which can accelerate the melting process;
    — settled conditions can be more conducive to ice forming;
    — winds may act to spread out the ice or push it together.

    Those variables can help explain why sea ice didn’t decline in 2013 as much as it did last year: “In 2012 we saw a record low which was storm which swept through the region in summer, but this year’s weather conditions appear to have been less conducive to ice loss,” noted Ann Keen, a sea ice scientist at the Met Office.

    Since things can vary a fair bit year to year, the Met Office advises looking at longer-term trends. And those are easy to see. There was less Arctic ice, on average, in the 2000s than there was in the 1990s. And there was less ice, on average, in the 1990s than there was in the 1980s.

    Clearly the ice is disappearing. Since 1979, Arctic sea-ice extent has been shrinking by about 4 percent per decade, with summer lows getting about 11 percent smaller each decade. And the volume of Arctic sea ice — which is trickier to measure — also keeps tumbling downward.

    And as long as we’re talking about Kelly, allow me to note that we’re coming up on the ninth anniversary of Kelly’s claim that the Iraq War was “all but won” in February 2005 here (proving among other things, that, like the forces affecting our temperatures, Kelly is an expert at generating hot air and apparently not much else).

  • Finally, this tells us that Repug U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma will end his term early due to his battle with prostate cancer. I wish him well with this health issue, but before anyone gets carried away with too many hosannas to this guy, I think we should remember the following:

    On the positive side, he said that liberals were honest about the deficit, or something, here (true). He also wanted $1 trillion in defense cuts for the next 10 years (here).

    On the negative side, he said that President Obama wanted more people to be dependent on government because Obama supposedly was (here). He also said here that Obama was “perilously close” to impeachment, without providing evidence of course (here). Coburn also blocked a transportation bill affecting the FAA that could have ended up putting about 80,000 people out of work because trees and bike paths supposedly posed a threat to public safety (here).

    Oh, and there’s also the matter of Coburn’s role in the scheme to pay off the mistress of his now-disgraced fellow Repug Senate colleague John Ensign, which Coburn originally denied, though it came to light later (here).

    He also scuttled a budget deal with Dick Durbin because he wanted an additional $130 billion in Medicare cuts (here). Coburn also made sure that $2 billion was removed from funding health care for first responders (here).

    As noted here

    This bastard voted YES for tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. He voted YES to exempt them from the estate tax. He voted YES to give these same rich people additional benefits in the form of capital gains tax cuts. Yet, somehow he had the balls to vote NO on taking care of the 9-11 responders who risked everything to respond to the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil on the grounds that it’s too expensive. How can he possibly rationalize this?

    He also helped to block federal flood insurance here, along with an extension of unemployment benefits here (past is prologue, I guess). And he also told a woman distraught at a town hall over her husband’s brain injury that expecting help from the government was “an inaccurate statement,” or something here (nice guy…and of course, Coburn’s sheep-like minions in attendance applauded – somebody elects these fools, people).

    Tom Coburn made his name as someone who supposedly was a prudent fiscal conservative, but who was in fact a heartless shill on behalf of the “pay no price, bear no burden” one percent of this country, with the accompanying media hagiography provided for him by all-too-willing Beltway corporate media stenographers (as well as Number 44 himself, who didn’t do us any favors on Coburn either).

    He merely reinforced, and did his best to accelerate actually, the already ruinous right-wing political realignment and economic inequality of this country. And I’d be hard-pressed to come up a worse possible epitaph than that.


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