Sunday, July 12, 2009

Last Call

Things continue to heat up in Iran.
One of Iran’s most senior clerics issued an unusual decree on Saturday calling the country’s rulers “usurpers and transgressors” for their treatment of opposition protesters in recent weeks, in the strongest condemnation by a religious figure since the contested presidential election a month ago.

The decree by Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a dissident who has often criticized Iran’s ruling clerics, did not mention by name Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but was clearly aimed at the clerical leadership.

Posted on the Web site of Mohsen Kadivar, a dissident cleric and former student of Ayatollah Montazeri, the ruling said the recent arrests and shootings of protesters were proof that Iran’s leaders are unqualified to rule the community of Muslims.

In my estimate this is the strongest criticism ever of the supreme leader,” said Rasool Nafisi, a United States-based academic and Iran expert. “Although it doesn’t mention Ayatollah Khamenei by name, it is clear he is referring to him.”
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. What rough beast slouches toward Tehran, waiting to be born?

Blood Profits

I've said before that health insurance companies in particular make profits very simply: they take in as much as they can in premiums and reduce costs by doing everything they can to deny claims. When they deny claims, and people cannot get treatment because of lack of money, they suffer. Sometimes, they die. When the Right screams about dire warnings of "rationed care" under a government plan, understand that your health care is already rationed in this country. It is rationed by your ability to pay for it, specifically it is rationed by whether or not the health insurance company will pay the claim.

If you say to yourself "Zandar, you're being overly simplistic, it's much more complex than that" my response is "Don't take it from me, take it from ex-CIGNA Healthcare exec Wendell Potter," a man who worked in the industry for fifteen years, eventually ending up as the company's head of corporate communications as the man behind the company's public relations campaign. Potter left the company voluntarily. Here, he talks to Bill Moyers last Friday about the reasons he left:

Potter was CIGNA's PR point man on the Nataline Sarkisyan liver transplant debacle. Potter mentions the case at the end of the above segment, Nataline died in December of 2007 because CIGNA decided deny her claim for a liver transplant that could have saved her life. After pressure from the California Nurse's Association, CIGNA finally approved the treatment a week later...but it was too late to save Nataline. She died literally a few hours after CIGNA relented when her liver failed. UCLA Medical Center rejected two available donor livers because of CIGNA's refusal to pay. Either one could have saved Nataline's life.

Wendell Potter left CIGNA soon after.

The most interesting part of the interview is here, involving the campaign to discredit Michael Moore's scathing documentary on the health care industry, "Sicko".

BILL MOYERS: So what did you think when you saw that film?

WENDELL POTTER: I thought that he hit the nail on the head with his movie. But the industry, from the moment that the industry learned that Michael Moore was taking on the health care industry, it was really concerned.

BILL MOYERS: What were they afraid of?

WENDELL POTTER: They were afraid that people would believe Michael Moore.

BILL MOYERS: We obtained a copy of the game plan that was adopted by the industry's trade association, AHIP. And it spells out the industry strategies in gold letters. It says, "Highlight horror stories of government-run systems." What was that about?

WENDELL POTTER: The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you're heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.

BILL MOYERS: And there was a political strategy. "Position Sicko as a threat to Democrats' larger agenda." What does that mean?

WENDELL POTTER: That means that part of the effort to discredit this film was to use lobbyists and their own staff to go onto Capitol Hill and say, "Look, you don't want to believe this movie. You don't want to talk about it. You don't want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you."


WENDELL POTTER: By running ads, commercials in your home district when you're running for reelection, not contributing to your campaigns again, or contributing to your competitor.

BILL MOYERS: This is fascinating. You know, "Build awareness among centrist Democratic policy organizations--"


BILL MOYERS: "--including the Democratic Leadership Council."


BILL MOYERS: Then it says, "Message to Democratic insiders. Embracing Moore is one-way ticket back to minority party status."


BILL MOYERS: Now, that's exactly what they did, didn't they? They--


BILL MOYERS: --radicalized Moore, so that his message was discredited because the messenger was seen to be radical.

WENDELL POTTER: Absolutely. In memos that would go back within the industry — he was never, by the way, mentioned by name in any memos, because we didn't want to inadvertently write something that would wind up in his hands. So the memos would usually-- the subject line would be-- the emails would be, "Hollywood." And as we would do the media training, we would always have someone refer to him as Hollywood entertainer or Hollywood moviemaker Michael Moore.


WENDELL POTTER: Well, just to-- Hollywood, I think people think that's entertainment, that's movie-making. That's not real documentary. They don't want you to think that it was a documentary that had some truth. They would want you to see this as just some fantasy that a Hollywood filmmaker had come up with. That's part of the strategy.

BILL MOYERS: So you would actually hear politicians mouth the talking points that had been circulated by the industry to discredit Michael Moore.


BILL MOYERS: You'd hear ordinary people talking that. And politicians as well, right?


BILL MOYERS: So your plan worked.

WENDELL POTTER: It worked beautifully.

When insurance companies say no, sometimes people die. The full interview is here with the full transcript here. Do yourself a big favor. Watch the whole thing. It's absolutely stunning. They are terrified of Obamacare. They will do anything they can to kill it.

Remember Wendell Potter when you hear Republicans and Centrist Dems say "We don't need a public option."
Republicans oppose the high cost of health care reform, as well as key components of Democratic proposals including higher taxes on the wealthy. However, some Republicans expressed support for taxing employer-provided benefits of the most expensive health insurance plans.
Translation: Democrats drop the public option completely, we'll let you tax some benefits on employer-based coverage. Nothing changes. Health insurance companies continue to profit off suffering.

No public option, no reform. Remember that. Remember Nataline Sarkisyan. Remember Wendell Potter.

Remember why we must have a public health care option.

An 18 Month Sabbatical

John McCain doesn't believe Sarah Palin quit.

No, really.
John McCain, making his 10 gazillionth appearance on a Sunday morning show, was asked on "Meet the Press" this morning about his former running mate's decision to resign half-way through her only term as Alaska's governor.

"I don't think she quit. I don't know if there was a quote promise [to the people of Alaska to continue serving as Governor]. But I do know that she will be an effective player on the national stage."

Maybe McCain has some other definition of "quit"?

She's not quitting. She's just losing the race ahead of time...and that's something John McCain knows all about.

Deadlines Everywhere

Congress put out the word that they don't expect to have Obamacare done before the August recess, but this again is another shot across the bow of the White House about Eric Holder (emphasis mine):
President Barack Obama's overhaul of the nation's health systems is unlikely to be completed by the White House's August deadline, lawmakers said Sunday as Congress turns its attention to other priorities.

Democrats and Republicans alike said the administration's sweeping health care proposals are moving forward on Capitol Hill but cautioned against rushing into a spending plan that could costs trillions of dollars over the next decade. Obama's health and human services secretary said she remains optimistic Congress would send the White House legislation before the year ends.

"I think everything is on the table and discussions are under way," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

But the White House's strategy to leave the legislative back-and-forth to Congress has produced varying and sometimes contradictory versions of health care legislation _ along with delays. As the Senate turns its attention to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, the focus will turn away from Obama's top domestic priority.

The administration's Democratic partners in Congress hinted they would not deliver legislation before leaving town for an August recess. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Obama should be pleased with lawmakers' progress; Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said "there really is plenty of time."

And Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., insisted that lawmakers would have the overhaul in place before leaving town in August. He does not, however, expect Obama to sign it before lawmakers return to their home states.

The delay would be a blow to the White House and to Democrats' electoral prospects.

So...the Sotomayor hearing is supposed to delay health care reform until the end of the year? Hardly. Seems pretty damn clear to me that the unspoken warning here is "Well, suddenly, we've got all this stuff to do here in Congress and we just don't know if we can get to would be a shame if we never got around to taking it up because there was something else on our plates to deal with."

That something else of course would be Holder's investigation into torture and other unfinished Bush business. Note that these are Democrats hinting broadly at the delay, not Republicans. The implication is the same as in the Newsweek article. Holder's trial balloon is coming back with bullet holes all over it and a note attached saying "Obamacare or Torturegate. Choose." Clearly if Congress is busy with the DoJ, they just won't have time for health care reform, and after all it'll be Obama's fault if that happens. What a shame that would be, the article implies.

Yeah. Another warning from the Village for Obama to seep six Holder's investigation. Will he listen to it?

Sarahcuda Goes Off The Fish Farm

If this Moonie Times "exclusive" interview is anything to go by, Sister Sarah Of Our Lady Of The Media Martyr has finally gone round the bend.
The former Republican vice-presidential nominee and heroine to much of the GOP's base said in an interview she views the electorate as embattled and fatigued by nonstop partisanship, and she is eager to campaign for Republicans, independents and even Democrats who share her values on limited government, strong defense and "energy independence."

"I will go around the country on behalf of candidates who believe in the right things, regardless of their party label or affiliation," she said over lunch in her downtown office, 40 miles from her now-famous hometown of Wasilla -- population 7,000 -- where she began her political career.

Stump for Independents and even some Democrats? Why, given her near cult status among some conservatives, is this the beginning of the GOP schism I've been warning of since before the election?
Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush, dismissed Mrs Palin's critics as "cocktail party conservatives" who "give aid and comfort to the enemy".

He told The Sunday Telegraph: "There's going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?"

Does Sister Sarah mean to go rogue and split the GOP? Will the Palinites line up behind her, asking to be led to the promised land? There are signs that the answer to that is yes:
SarahPac, Palin's official fund-raising PAC effort, has printed an excerpt from a commentary by blogger Tammy Bruce, and also linked to Bruce's post in which Tammy Bruce writes,

Enter now Sarah Palin with very encouraging comments that lead one to believe that she is indeed planning to do what she must: build an independent conservative movement and take this nation back from the liberals which now control both parties.Thanks liberals, for provoking Sarah into the national scene while vetting that family at the same time.

One thing I will say, the Washington Times with their headline for this exclusive interview reveal an anti-Palin stance. She is, don't doubt, a threat to every existing political status quo. I hope the Washington Times and their editors realize, sooner than later, that the Palin movement is unstoppable.

Indeed. An "unstoppable" movement, with like-minded "independent conservatives" with the goal of taking this nation back from the "liberals that control both parties".

If you can stop laughing for a moment at people so bat-shit delusional that they think the modern GOP is controlled by liberals, may I remind you that dismissing these people as harmless idiots bound to be disappointed politically is the same mistake Frank Rich made earlier today.

There's nothing harmless about this movement. It is very, very dangerous. It has the fever-bright clarity of those who are true believers. It has been nourished in the darkness, with hatred and blood and talk of revolution. And it just found its poster girl.

Maybe this will die out. Maybe this will turn into the GOP attacking itself, rendering it even weaker than before, assuring a near-permanent Democratic majority. I do not welcome that. We need a strong, intelligent opposition party to keep the party in power honest. That was true in 2000 through 2008. It is true now. It has been true since America's beginning. We need a strong Republican Party to stop the worst abuses of Obama and the Democrats, just like we needed a strong Democratic Party to fight the worst excesses of Bush and the Republicans. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of an opposition party in the last 30 years, and America has suffered for it.

But maybe this will explode into a full-blown revolution. That's the thing with revolutions. They are never easy, bloodless things.

You Can (Not) Take It To The Bank

With California's budget disaster showing no signs of progress, more and more small businesses that do contract work for the Golden State are having to take IOUs...IOUs that major banks will no longer accept. That means small businesses are going to have to start furloughing workers, slash costs, and even trim jobs.
A number of California's community banks and credit units plan to accept the IOUs indefinitely, but in many cases, the terms are tough.

"My community bank will redeem the IOU for a fee, but I have no choice but to do it," says the owner of an 11-person firm who asked not to be named. "It's not worth my while to wait for this thing to mature. I'd be losing money." His company, which does $10 million in annual business with the state, has been providing goods to prisons, state hospitals, and schools for more than 20 years. This is the first time he's been confronted with an IOU.

"If this situation continues to force us to take losses, I'll have to look into furloughing employees and laying some off," he says. Even before the latest crisis, California was firing off distress flares: Last month, he received a letter from the state asking if he would consider voluntarily reducing his company's charges by 15%.

The California Credit Union League reports that most of its member unions are willing to honor the IOUs, but at many branches, new clients would have to open an account to be able to cash in the warrant. The unions say they're offering as much flexibility as they can: Some are considering modifying the terms of loans they're made to small businesses affected by the IOU situation.

"We're a little different from banks," says Jim Ott, CEO of UNCLE Credit Union, a mid-size union based in Livermore, Calif. "We want to be able to help our members."

As a last resort, cash-strapped companies may be able to redeem the IOUs at check-cashing storefronts or via online marketplaces such as Craigslist or eBay, but small business advisors warn against that because of the large fees and face-value discounts that would be incurred.

"I would automatically find a bank that will redeem the IOU for 100 cents on the dollar rather than taking a haircut by going to a check-cashing facility," says Donna Childs, a business consultant and author of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses. While businesses selling the IOUs might be able to haggle and receive close to face value, the California State Treasurer's office has mandated that the transactions must be accompanied by a notarized bill of sale signed by the payee whose name appears on the IOU.

For vendors that need cash sooner rather than later, losing a few bucks due to exchange fees might be the least of their worries. If California doesn't resolve its budget crisis soon, many more small companies will end up caught in the political crossfire.

And the disaster rolls on, unabated.

Dancing Around The Point

Frank Rich takes a look at the post-Palin resignation presser GOP and actually gets within touching distance of arriving at The GOP Plan, but he doesn't go all the way, dismissing them.

The essence of Palinism is emotional, not ideological. Yes, she is of the religious right, even if she winks literally and figuratively at her own daughter’s flagrant disregard of abstinence and marriage. But family-values politics, now more devalued than the dollar by the philandering of ostentatiously Christian Republican politicians, can only take her so far. The real wave she’s riding is a loud, resonant surge of resentment and victimization that’s larger than issues like abortion and gay civil rights.

That resentment is in part about race, of course. When Palin referred to Alaska as “a microcosm of America” during the 2008 campaign, it was in defiance of the statistical reality that her state’s tiny black and Hispanic populations are unrepresentative of her nation. She stood for the “real America,” she insisted, and the identity of the unreal America didn’t have to be stated explicitly for audiences to catch her drift. Her convention speech’s signature line was a deftly coded putdown of her presumably shiftless big-city opponent: “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” (Funny how this wisdom has been forgotten by her supporters now that she has abandoned her own actual responsibilities in public office.)

The latest flashpoint for this kind of animus is the near-certain elevation to the Supreme Court of Sonia Sotomayor, whose Senate confirmation hearings arrive this week. Prominent Palinists were fast to demean Sotomayor as a dim-witted affirmative-action baby. Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, the Palinist hymnal, labeled Sotomayor “not the smartest” and suggested that Princeton awards academic honors on a curve. Karl Rove said, “I’m not really certain how intellectually strong she would be.” Those maligning the long and accomplished career of an Ivy League-educated judge do believe in affirmative-action — but only for white people like Palin, whom they boosted for vice president despite her minimal achievements and knowledge of policy, the written word or even geography.
He's getting closer...

The politics of resentment are impervious to facts. Palinists regard their star as an icon of working-class America even though the Palins’ combined reported income ($211,000) puts them in the top 3.6 percent of American households. They see her as a champion of conservative fiscal principles even though she said yes to the Bridge to Nowhere and presided over a state that ranks No.1 in federal pork.

Nowhere is the power of resentment to trump reason more flagrantly illustrated than in the incessant complaint by Palin and her troops that she is victimized by a double standard in the “mainstream media.” In truth, the commentators at ABC, NBC and CNN — often the same ones who judged Michelle Obama a drag on her husband — all tried to outdo each other in praise for Palin when she emerged at the Republican convention 10 months ago. Even now, the so-called mainstream media can grade Palin on a curve: at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, Palin’s self-proclaimed representation of the “real America” was accepted as a given, as if white rural America actually still was the nation’s baseline.
Man Frank, if you got any closer to the truth you'd be on fire...

It’s more likely that she will never get anywhere near the White House, and not just because of her own limitations. The Palinist “real America” is demographically doomed to keep shrinking. But the emotion it represents is disproportionately powerful for its numbers. It’s an anger that Palin enjoyed stoking during her “palling around with terrorists” crusade against Obama on the campaign trail. It’s an anger that’s curdled into self-martyrdom since Inauguration Day.

Its voice can be found in the postings at a Web site maintained by the fans of Mark Levin, the Obama hater who is, at this writing, the No.2 best-selling hardcover nonfiction writer in America. (Glenn Beck is No.1 in paperback nonfiction.) Politico surveyed them last week. “Bottomline, do you know of any way we can remove these idiots before this country goes down the crapper?” wrote one Levin fan. “I WILL HELP!!! Should I buy a gun?” Another called for a new American revolution, promising “there will be blood.”
Dude, you're sitting on the volcano here. Make the leap.
These are the cries of a constituency that feels disenfranchised — by the powerful and the well-educated who gamed the housing bubble, by a news media it keeps being told is hateful, by the immigrants who have taken some of their jobs, by the African-American who has ended a white monopoly on the White House. Palin is their born avatar. She puts a happy, sexy face on ugly emotions, and she can solidify her followers’ hold on a G.O.P. that has no leaders with the guts or alternative vision to stand up to them or to her.
My God, has he finally seen the light for what the GOP has been up to for the last year? Can we make the connection that this is what the Republican Party is trying to do, to foment a race and culture war, with emphasis on the war part? Can somebody up there in Villageland finally speak truth to power, that the Republican Party has become a reactionary party of racism and violence, and that Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are their face and voice respectively? Has Frank Rich finally gotten the point that the GOP has all but declared war on Those Who Dare Put Obama In The White House?

Has Frank Rich finally, finally gotten The GOP Plan?
For a week now, critics in both parties have had a blast railing at Palin. It’s good sport. But just as the media muttering about those unseemly “controversies” rallied the fans of the King of Pop, so are Palin’s political obituaries likely to jump-start her lucrative afterlife.

Article ends.

Frank Rich drives up to the edge of the abyss, but fails to call it what it is. Still, this is the closest I've seen anyone in the Village get to the obvious. Rich dismisses this all as a failed and cynical political strategy that might yet still help the GOP down the road. He couldn't be more wrong.

Millions of Americans believe this is war, or soon will be one. And the clock's ticking. They're not kidding when they talk about the revolution. They're not kidding when they say "somebody's got to take matters into their own hands." They're not kidding when they say "We need to arm ourselves."

They're deadly serious. And the GOP Pretty Hate Machine keeps whipping them up into a frenzy on an almost daily basis. If they start assigning messianic status to Sister Sarah there...who knows?

People keep underestimating the depth and pervasiveness of this movement. But it's out there. Millions of them running on emotion rather than logic. Millions of them who see a black man in the White House as the Beginning of the End Times. And their anger and resentment grows daily because it's being fed. It's not just talk, folks.

It's deadly serious.

Missing The Point

Reaction to yesterday's Newsweek piece on Eric Holder considering a special prosecutor on the Bush torture regime has been interesting, but it has all missed the point. The Wingers have gone into a spittle-flecked meltdown as expected, but the folks on the left have completely missed the subtle point of the article. Tim F. at Balloon Juice, Steve Benen, D-Day, and Hilzoy all seem to think (with various levels of cynicism) that the article was some sort of Eric Holder/Obama generated trial balloon to float the idea of going after Bush.

But all of them are missing the obvious point here that I mentioned yesterday: the article was written to in fact be a loud warning to Obama and Holder not to try it or face losing Obama's domestic agenda.

Once again, the article warns:
While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama's domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months.
That right there is the most important sentence in the piece. What does going after torture authorizers have to do with health care reform?


But the warning is there, clear as day...if Obama doesn't put a leash on Eric Holder, he risks his domestic agenda in Congress. Ask yourselves who would be able to make this possible.

The GOP? Hardly. They will already vote against Obama's agenda. That leaves the ConservaDems, the Sensible Village Centrists who all believe they are the heart of Congress like Evan F'ckin Bayh, Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Arlen Specter and friends. The warning is on behalf of them. If Obama lets Holder do this, then the ConservaDems will sink his agenda. Why nobody else sees this obvious point, I'm not sure. The Wise Folks Of Washington have spoken. "We thought you killed this investigation garbage back in April. Now we find out Holder may do it on his own accord? You will stop his agenda, or we will kill yours. Choose wisely."

The article goes on to describe Eric Holder as an idealist fighting the political reality of the Rahmbo White House, but it calls Holder's pushing on torture memos as "miscalculations", "missteps" and "mistakes".

The article comes not to praise Eric Holder's investigation, but to bury it. It's painfully obvious to me that this is a Village hit piece...and a warning.

[UPDATE 9:51 AM] The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder is again pushing out the same Village warning to Obama and Holder: Don't do it.
Appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Bush-era policies of any sort is fraught with risk, even exempting the public and political ramifications. Investigations like these have a way of snowballing. The intelligence community will strenuously reject and resist; there are very legitimate concerns about the integrity of classified information.

If Holder decides to go ahead, he may not entirely satisfy critics of the Bush-era policies; a special prosecutor might not be given a mandate to investigate more than a handful of compartmented programs.

On the one hand, it is tough to see a prosecutor being given a mandate to determine whether former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered CIA officials to not brief Congress on a highly sensitive, classified intelligence collection program given the very real chance that the national security damage resulting from the disclosure of information about the program might be significant.
Alarm bells are ringing loud and clear in the Village today. Watch for the reactions on the Sunday Shows.

[UPDATE 11:44 AM] Amazingly enough, it's Winger MacRanger who finds the brass ring.
Newsweak left out that Attorney Generals also work at the pleasure of the President, and Holder can’t comb his hair without Obama signing off on it. Nevertheless, there will be no investigation, it’s false.

Here’s why. First, note the article comes out while Obama’s out of town, on a weekend. I guarantee you that once he’s back you’ll hear a giant “fizzz” of this story. 1) Obama is banking his entire Presidency on establishing government healthcare, and it’s beginning to look like 1992 again. 2) Obama’s poll numbers are slipping already, and the public polls have already shown a collective “yawn” for a CIA/Congress/Bush/Cheney bash fest, especially in light of growing foreclosures, lost jobs, generally sucky economics.

His reasons are specious (he goes straight into how a probe will somehow end up damning the Democrats and the Librul Media more), but his conclusions are right: Obama really has bet his legacy on health care reform, and MacRanger has put together that a Holder probe is a threat to Obamacare. Not only does he see the warning, but MacRanger fully expects Obama to fold.

Given Obama's performance on national security issues so far, I don't put the odds of an investigation to be very high either.

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