Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Last Call

Once more into the breach, dear friends:
U.S. troops have launched a "major operation" against Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, U.S. military officials announced in Afghanistan early Thursday.

About 4,000 Americans, mostly from the Marines, and 650 Afghan soldiers and police launched Operation Khanjar -- "strike of the sword" -- in the Helmand River valley, the U.S. command in Kabul announced.

The push is the largest since the Pentagon began moving additional troops into the conflict this year, and it follows a British-led operation launched last week in the same region, the Marines said.

It is also the first big move since U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal took over as the allied commander in Afghanistan in mid-June.

In Washington, a senior defense official said the size and scope of the new operation are "very significant."

"It's not common for forces to operate at the brigade level," the official said. "In fact, they often only conduct missions at the platoon level. And they're going into the most troubled area of Afghanistan."

Helmand Province, where much of the fighting is taking place, has been a hotbed of Taliban violence in recent months. At least 25 U.S. and British troops have been killed there in 2009.

The defense official said the operation is a "tangible indication" of the new approach that McChrystal -- a former chief of the Pentagon's special operations command -- is bringing to the nearly eight-year war.

So, we get to test drive our shiny new Afghanistan counter-insurgency plan this month, with our shiny new Afghan theater commander, Gen. McChrystal. Interesting message to send, the same week we leave Iraq's major cities, we're driving into the cities in southern Afghanistan to try to do what we did in the last six years in Iraq.

Will it work?

Ask me again in 2015.

Jeff Huber at Pen and Sword, as always, has some of the best commentary on our continued operations in the Middle East.

Marcus C. Sanford, Jr. Will You Please Go Now!

South Carolina's Republican Party is making it abundantly clear that they believe Gov. Mark Sanford needs to resign post-haste.
South Carolina Republican Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd seemed to suggest Wednesday that the time had come for GOP Gov. Mark Sanford to consider resigning from office.

"For the past two days, I have been speaking with Republican leaders across South Carolina," she said in a statement. "There is clearly a growing view that the time may have come for Governor Sanford to remove himself and his family from the limelight, so that he can devote his efforts full-time to repairing the damage in his personal life."

The statement comes on the same day as a growing number of GOP state senators called for Sanford to step down.

CNN has learned that GOP Sens. Daniel Verdin, Shane Martin, Ronnie Cromer and Wes Hayes joined the anti-Sanford chorus Wednesday morning, bringing the total number of Republican senators calling for the governor's resignation to 13. There are 27 Republicans in the state Senate.

Sanford and his staff have said repeatedly this week that he will not resign. He wrote in a message to his political action committee e-mail list Monday that while he considered resigning, "I would ultimately be a better person and of more service in whatever doors God opened next in life if I stuck around to learn lessons rather than running and hiding down at the farm."

Ahh, but it gets worse. Not only are SC Republicans telling him to get the hell out of Columbia, but the state's Congressional Republicans are even more eager to show him the door.
Sen. Jim DeMint on Wednesday urged embattled Gov. Mark Sanford, a fellow South Carolina Republican, to make the “right decision” about his political future.

“He’s dropped the flag. The rest of us have to get up and go on,” DeMint said during an interview on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”

“A lot of us are talking to him behind the scenes in hopes that he'll make the right decision about what needs to be done,” the first-term senator said.

It's pretty clear that Sanford is being urged to resign in the strongest possible terms, because the state's Attorney General is already caling for an investigation into Sanford's travel records. Everyone in the state is throwing the guy under the bus, and that's only good news for Andre Bauer, the state's Lt. Governor. Bauer may have stepped on a few toes, but at this point he's infinitely preferable to Sanford.

Once again I stand by my prediction that Sanford will get the axe, especially since he can't keep his bloody mouth shut.

Happy, Happy Zandar Time

Nothing beats the fresh schadenfreude flavor of The Odious Patrick McHenry going after the Bachmanniac.
Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) bizarre obsession with the national census -- she's said she's prepared to break the law and not answer census questions -- has become so annoying, some of her far-right Republican colleagues in the House have seen enough.

David Weigel reports today that Reps. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), and John Mica (R-Fla) -- three conservatives on the House Census Oversight Subcommittee -- issued a statement today, emphasizing "how important it is for every individual to fill out their census forms," and explaining why Bachmann is backwards.

"Every elected representative in this country should feel a responsibility to encourage full participation in the census. To do otherwise is to advocate for a smaller share of federal funding for our constituents. Boycotting the constitutionally-mandated census is illogical, illegal and not in the best interest of our country.

"The unfortunate irony is that Ms. Bachmann's boycott only increases the likelihood that ACORN-recruited census takers will be dispatched to her constituents' homes. Anyone who completes and returns their census form will remove any need for a census taker to visit their residence.

"Furthermore, a boycott opens the door for partisans to statistically adjust census results. The partisan manipulation of census data would irreparably transform the census from being the baseline of our entire statistical system into a tool used to wield political power in Washington."

As Weigel noted, "You don't usually hear Republicans criticizing a fellow member in such a public and official capacity." Quite right. Given the language in this statement -- "illogical, illegal and not in the best interest of our country" -- it was a pretty striking rebuke from three far-right Republicans to another.

Personally, if you're getting called out for being too much of a right-wing nimrod by Patrick McHenry, you're on the verge of collapsing into your own pocket universe of stupid.

Your tears sustain Zandar. Please, continue your pitiful internecine squabbles.

EconoBloggers Behaving Badly

Ahh, the joys of economics blogging...with all the money and prestige and ego at stake, it's amusing to watch grown men pick schoolyard fights with each other. It's probably the best part, really.

Recently we've seen Roubini vs. Cramer as a long-standing fight, but just this week we've also seen Barry "Big Picture" Ritholtz's $100,000 cage match against John "Clusterstock" Carney.

Now on top of all that we've got Matt Taibbi's grudge match versus Goldman Sachs (the entire company no less) and CNBC's Dennis "The Great Recession Is Over!" Kneale completely losing it on cable TV over Zero Hedge:

I tell ya, econoblogging is serious bidness.

Al Franken Is A Big Fat Target

Over at TPM, Eric Kleefield details how the Rupert Murdoch-owned FOX/WSJ media conglomerate has become completely unhinged over yesterday's events that led to the words "Senator Al Franken".
Fox host Brian Kilmeade was also very upset this morning:

"Now we find out that Al Franken -- who's barely sane if you read his books, and is quite angry in every facet of his life -- is now the Senator from Minnesota," Kilmeade said, turning to his Minnesota-born co-host Gretchen Carlson. "Explain yourself, Gretchen."

The Wall Street Journal also has an editorial decrying the election process in Minnesota -- an essay that is so full of factual errors and distortions about what happened, it can drive you nuts if you'd spent countless hours following all the gritty details like I did. Its major fallacy is to accuse the Franken campaign of committing supposedly dirty maneuvers, without mentioning that the Coleman side was participating in the exact same activities just as fervently or even more so.

"Mr. Franken now goes to the Senate having effectively stolen an election," the Journal concludes. "If the GOP hopes to avoid repeats, it should learn from Minnesota that modern elections don't end when voters cast their ballots. They only end after the lawyers count them."

Gotta love it. "Barely sane" and "effectively stole the election" from the folks that brought you "fair and balanced". Franken has made a second career now calling out FOX and Rush Limbaugh, and now he's a United States Senator. Needless to say, they're gunning for him, and will spend the next five years attacking the guy both ruthlessly and personally for everything he does.

It might even give the Obama hate a run for its money once in a while.

Who Are The Patriots Again?

Folks, when you openly admit to advocating that you want Americans to die in a terrorist attack in order to change U.S. policy, that makes you a terrorist.
Yesterday, Glenn Beck guest and former CIA official Michael Scheuer openly hoped for a terrorist attack on the United States, saying, "the only chance we have as a country right now is for Osama bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States...It's an absurd situation again, only Osama can execute an attack which will force Americans to demand that their government protect them effectively, consistently, and with as much violence as necessary." Beck nodded solemnly.

This is the same Michael Scheuer who, a few months ago, played patriotism police arguing that anyone who didn't support the United States using torture to interrogate terrorist suspects was he's begging for a terrorist attack on the United States. This is a pretty awesome example of how the right conflates their political interests with the interests of the country as a whole. If there's no terrorist attack, then Americans are safe. But Scheuer can't be right if there's no terrorist attack. And Scheuer being right is actually more important than Americans staying alive.

So yes, here's a guy taken seriously as a terrorism expert that is basically saying "Well, in order to prove I'm correct, we need a major terror attack where Americans are killed."

Why is this man considered "an expert" again, and why is FOX allowing him to advocate terrorism on their network on Glennsanity's show? Could you imagine the shitstorm that would erupt if somebody came on Rachel Maddow or Countdown and said "The only way to save America is for Osama Bin Laden to hit us again and kill Americans"?

But this is par for the course for the wingers, openly wishing for Americans to be killed for "the greater good".

[UPDATE 1:19 PM] Here's the clip from Media Matters.

Why does Michael Scheuer hate America so much?

[UPDATE 6:01 PM] Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte makes an excellent point.

But after watching this video a few times, I realize that what Glenn Beck and Michael Scheuer mean when they say that Osama bin Laden is their last hope as a savior, is that they mean as the savior of the Republican Party. Which I find interesting, because I’ve argued for a long time that neocons and Al Qaeda may be sworn enemies, but functionally they have a codependent relationship and really rely on each other for their own justification for existing. In that sense, they’re working together for each other. But I never thought I’d actually hear a wingnut basically come out and admit this. But there you go---they get it. Osama bin Laden is both an enemy and an ally, and they’re practically begging him to attack us so that they’re relevant.

Again, my fear here is that this sort of open longing for terrorism will help push someone, domestic or foreign, to take them up on it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the real problem here.

Obamacare Hard Sell

The White House is going with the hard sell on Obamacare, unveiling a new ad campaign targeted at getting out "health care horror stories" showing the need for real reform.

Organizing for America — the operation run out of the DNC by operative Mitch Stewart — blasted out an email to its massive list late yesterday announcing the plans and soliciting cash. The goal: To put compelling health care stories collected in OFA’s big health care story bank up on the air, using the power of personal anecdote against opponents, who are also busily concocting anecdotal ammo to use against reform.

From the email…

Many experts believe health care reform was defeated in the early 90’s by the infamous “Harry and Louise” ads. They featured actors sitting around a fake kitchen table, pretending to be a family that was frightened by reform.

So just imagine if this time around, the debate is shaped by real people, looking us in the eye, telling their actual story, and asking for our help to fix this broken system.

Phony stories helped defeat health care reform in the past. But this time, real stories could be the reason we win.

It’s unclear whether Obama himself is doing enough to use his popularity to sell health care reform. His campaign apparatus seems to be doing its part, though the real proof will be in the amount of money collected and the quality of the ads themselves.

Considering that a new poll shows that a majority of people want health care reform and approve of Obama's plan, but that a majority also believe Obama's health care plan will increase health care costs, Obama does have some work to do.

A government run health insurance program is one of the most controversial parts of the Obama health reform proposals, with Republicans suggesting that such a plan could force current health care providers out of business, forcing Americans to switch doctors. The poll indicates such arguments may not be working.

"Two-thirds believe that the president's plan would allow them to see the same doctors they currently receive care from, and most say that their health insurance provider would not go out of business if Obama's plan is passed," says Holland.

But the poll does provide some ammunition for Republicans opposed to the president's proposals. Fifty-four percent say their medical insurance costs will increase if the Obama plan becomes law, with 17 percent feeling their costs will decrease. Around one in four say their costs will remain the same. And only one in five say their family will be better off if the president's plan becomes law, with 35 percent feeling they would be worse off, and 44 percent saying they would be about the same.

Like it or not, the money will determine if we get a real plan.

The Real Cost Of Health Care

While Congress argues about the cost of insuring the tens of millions of Americans who have no health coverage, it pays to remember the true cost of health care in this country for those who are insured. Tens of millions more Americans are underinsured: they indeed have health insurance but that insurance is simply not enough to cover a major illness.
One of them is Lawrence Yurdin, a 64-year-old computer security specialist. Although the brochure on his Aetna policy seemed to indicate it covered up to $150,000 a year in hospital care, the fine print excluded nearly all of the treatment he received at an Austin, Tex., hospital.

He and his wife, Claire, filed for bankruptcy last December, as his unpaid medical bills approached $200,000.

In the House and Senate, lawmakers are grappling with the details of legislation that would set minimum standards for insurance coverage and place caps on out-of-pocket expenses. And fear of the high price tag could prompt lawmakers to settle for less than comprehensive coverage for some Americans.

But patient advocates argue it is crucial for the final legislation to guarantee a base level of coverage, if people like Mr. Yurdin are to be protected from financial ruin. They also call for a new layer of federal rules to correct the current state-by-state regulatory patchwork that allows some insurance companies to sell relatively worthless policies.

“Underinsurance is the great hidden risk of the American health care system,” said Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who has analyzed medical bankruptcies. “People do not realize they are one diagnosis away from financial collapse.”

Last week, a former Cigna executive warned at a Senate hearing on health insurance that lawmakers should be careful about the role they gave private insurers in any new system, saying the companies were too prone to “confuse their customers and dump the sick.”

“The number of uninsured people has increased as more have fallen victim to deceptive marketing practices and bought what essentially is fake insurance,” Wendell Potter, the former Cigna executive, testified.

Mr. Yurdin learned the hard way.

At St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, where he went for two separate heart procedures last year, the hospital’s admitting office looked at Mr. Yurdin’s coverage and talked to Aetna. St. David’s estimated that his share of the payments would be only a few thousand dollars per procedure.

He and the hospital say they were surprised to eventually learn that the $150,000 hospital coverage in the Aetna policy was mainly for room and board. Coverage was capped at $10,000 for “other hospital services,” which turned out to include nearly all routine hospital care — the expenses incurred in the operating room, for example, and the cost of any medication he received.

In other words, Aetna would have paid for Mr. Yurdin to stay in the hospital for more than five months — as long as he did not need an operation or any lab tests or drugs while he was there.

Aetna contends that it repeatedly informed Mr. Yurdin and the hospital of the restrictions in policy, which is known in the industry as a limited-benefit plan.

The company says such policies offer value by covering some hospital expenses, like surgeons’ fees or a stay in the intensive care unit. Aetna also says all of its policyholders receive significant discounts on the overall cost of hospital care. But Aetna also acknowledges that a limited-benefit plan was inappropriate in Mr. Yurdin’s case because his age and condition — an irregular heartbeat — made him likely to require more comprehensive coverage.

“Limited benefits aren’t right for everyone, and it clearly wasn’t right for Mr. Yurdin,” said Cynthia B. Michener, an Aetna spokeswoman.
More and more insurance plans, particularly ones provided by employers, are these cheaper limited-benefit plans that simply do not cover surgeries, medication, testing, or anything else major. One hospital stay can literally bankrupt you even if you have health insurance.

Not only do we need a public health insurance option, we need a comprehensive public option that actually covers people. More and more Americans are playing by the rules, buying health insurance and finding out that the insurance they have will still cost them everything they have should they ever have to need the coverage they think they are paying for.


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