Thursday, September 10, 2009

Last Call

Seems heckling the President is good money...for the Dems.
The Democratic National Committee says it has raised online about $1.1 million since President Obama's speech last night, according to Communications Director Brad Woodhouse.

In addition to the dollar figure, Woodhouse said 381,000 people had signed a letter in support of health reform to members of Congress.

Woodhouse said the money figure and letter were evidence of "momentum for health reform."

I kept saying the Republicans would go over the line, and it looks like the man who finally crossed it was Joe Wilson.

The Longest Yard

Here in Cincy, the sports buzz is all about just how good the Bengals' Chad Ochocinco's fake law degree is against the NFL's actual legal eagles, and just how long he's going to get suspended when this all blows up in his face.
Chad Ochocinco is working on a tweet surprise for the NFL.

He promised something new for the Cincinnati Bengals opener Sunday against the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium. What exactly? He wouldn't say. But it's likely to get a review from the NFL, which has banned players' use of social networks during games.

Ochocinco thinks he's found a way around it.

"The Twitter world, they don't need a signal," he said Wednesday. "They'll know. It's the quiet before the storm. Just watch."

Leave it to the receiver to try an end around.

Ochocinco became immersed in social networking sites in the offseason, enjoying the chance to connect with fans. A company formed by backup Bengals quarterback Jordan Palmer and two of his California friends has designed an iPhone application for him. The company, Rock Software, Inc., is awaiting approval for the app, which would include a Twitter feed.

Perhaps that's part of the plan.

Near the end of training camp, the league established guidelines for using Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Players, coaches and football operations personnel can use them for up to 90 minutes before kickoff, and again after they've done media interviews following the game.

The league said that no player or anyone representing him can provide in-game updates on the player's personal Twitter, Facebook or other networking accounts.

Ochocinco, who is one of the most prolific tweeters among NFL players, thinks he's found a way around it.

"I've been really, really quiet, and there's a storm coming Sunday," he said. "That's one of the things that I do when I'm back: I have something. I keep you on the edge of your seat.

The anticipation factor of EPIC FAIL here is palpable, yet subtle. But he's right, the city can't wait to see how screwed up this one gets.

Problem, Meet Solution

The problem:
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota used premium payments to fund $15 million in employee bonuses, cover $35,000 for a retirement party and pay for other questionable expenses, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm said he ordered the company to make changes after insurance examiners found inappropriate or excessive expenses paid with policyholders' dollars. He said the nearly inch-thick report raised questions about compensation, travel policies, investments and severance packages.

Hamm said the report showed "a lack of judgment" by board members and senior management. It was the first audit of the nonprofit company since 2004.

What conservatives and glibertarians want to see as the solution:
Mackey's next suggestions — making individual health insurance tax deductible and allowing insurance companies to compete across state lines — tap into the positive forces of personal responsibility and market competition. By allowing tax deductions for individual insurance and increasing the pool of competing insurance providers, individuals could and would buy insurance at a lower price.

How often do we read that someone's health insurance premium has "risen 17 percent in one year?" Why wouldn't it, if there are only a couple of providers per state to provide the service?

Mackey argues for reform of tort laws, which he says allow "ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year." No wonder the pool of doctors shrinks while costs rise. The trial lawyers perennially block this obvious reform.

Medicare reform and treatment cost transparency round out Mackey's recommendations. Observing that "Medicare is headed toward bankruptcy," he proposes that "every American adult" should be "responsible for his or her own health."
To recap, a free market solution means that if America wasn't full of unhealthy people who are a burden on the health care system by needing health care, our terribly responsible insurance companies would be free and clear to continue taking America's insurance premiums and spending that money on whatever the hell they feel like that isn't providing sick people health care.

Thanks Joe!

I have to admit, Joe Wilson may have actually done more for Obama's cause last night than Obama did himself. If there's a seminal moment that sums up how little respect the GOP has for the President and how utterly disinterested Republicans are in doing anything but name-calling, obfuscation and outright lying themselves, Joe Wilson's idiotic outburst sealed the deal.

Yes, Virginia, the Republicans have been this way for years now. And I think Americans were reminded last night why the Democrats won running away in 2008.

[UPDATE 1:11 PM] Kevin at Rumproast has an excellent roundup of blog reaction to Obama's speech, Joe Wilson, and the public option. Not everyone on the left was happy with the speech, some were not even remotely happy with it. But as I said, the speech wasn't aimed at me, but at Congress and to an extent, centrists on the fence.

Far too late at this point to substantially change anyone's mind other than the still undecideds.

Happy Markets

If you want to know what actual, real world effect that Obama's speech last night had on the world, note that health insurance stocks are up today.
Obama "demonized insurers several times but didn't add anything new to the debate," Wells Fargo analyst Matt Perry said in a research note. "Overall we view the speech as neutral to insurers."

Shubitz said Obama's plan resembled the framework proposed earlier this week by Senator Max Baucus, head of the powerful finance committee, indicating that Baucus' formal bill would be crucial for investors to watch.

"It's very clear that this is the route they're going to use to get something out there," Shubitz said.

Obama made his case for a public health plan that he said would lead to more competition in the private market. The controversial public plan idea has prompted fear from investors that companies would be unable to compete against it and eventually beget a government takeover of healthcare.

Obama said he had "no interest in putting insurance companies out of business" and would remain open to other ideas to ensure Americans have an option to secure affordable coverage.

Ana Gupte, a Sanford Bernstein analyst, said in a research note she was "even more confident after the Obama speech that the legislative outcomes will be moderate with no threat of a Medicare-like public plan." Analysts noted that Obama remained open to other ideas aside from the plan, such as nonprofit cooperatives that are seen as less threatening to the industry.

"While we understand the negotiating logic of keeping it on the table for now, we still don't see any higher/better odds that a full fledged public plan can ever make it into a final piece of legislation," JP Morgan analyst John Rex said in a research note.

Wall Street is betting on a toothless plan that will do nothing to stop the insurance giants, and seems to think that Max Baucus is running the show himself.

Anyone willing to bet against that sentiment?

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Entire Right Wing Noise Machine:

At some point, a Democrat said Bush was a liar. This justifies everything Rep Joe Wilson and the Republicans and the Wingers and Birthers have done since January 20th. Address my infallible logical argument, libs!

The Death Of Irony

Following up on yesterday's post on the special SCOTUS hearing on campaign finance laws, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick pulls no punches as she sees the court overturning a century of precedent in arguably the greatest example of "judicial activism" in decades.

The morning concludes with Seth Waxman doing a sort of Shakespeare in the Park reading of "the sober-minded Elihu Root," who was "moved to stand up in 1894 and urge the people" to address "a constantly growing evil which has done more to shake the confidence of plain people of small means of this country in our political institutions than any practice which has ever obtained since the founding of our government." Which is more or less lost on the majority of the court because 1894 was soooo a century ago, and as Scalia points out, today's corporations are awesome and not the "railroad barons and the rapacious trusts of the Elihu Root era."

Alito scolds Waxman because "all this talk about 100 years and 50 years sounds like the sort of sound bites that you hear on TV." (It's funny to hear TV sound bites denigrated as junk political speech in a case about the urgent political importance of TV sound bites.) But Alito's big point here is that the court isn't considering overruling 100-year-old cases—only McConnell and Austin.

Olson very effectively uses his five minutes of rebuttal time to taunt Kagan for the government's changed positions. And while it looks as though there are five votes to fundamentally alter the way American elections will work, we've been through enough renditions of the Roberts Court slapping litigants around at oral argument then loving on them in decisions to make such predictions unwise. Of course, as Waxman suggests in his closing, it does take a somewhat "self-starting" institution to be deciding a case about campaign finance laws in which no litigant has directly raised the issues and no factual record even exists.

But it's what conservatives want: Wal-Mart and Goldman Sachs and GE need to be able to buy campaigns to preserve America's free speech in 2010 and beyond.

What you and I think doesn't matter.

It's Not A Crisis

Jesse Taylor points out Bill Kristol and the neocons considered Saddam Hussein nuking America a threat worth spending trillions of dollars on because Americans might die. The chance of Americans dying from lack of health care coverage however isn't worth a single f'ckin dime to these slimeballs.
So, on the eve of what’s predicted to be a potential epidemic of swine flu, increasing unemployment, rising numbers of uninsured, underinsured and medical bankruptcies, Bill Kristol has pissy-pants over the fact that Obama didn’t call Congress together to go to war.

So President Obama invited himself into our living rooms tonight...why? Not to address questions of war and peace—even though we are fighting two wars overseas, and even though an avowed enemy and terror sponsor is rushing towards nuclear weapons. Not to address the economy—even though unemployment continues to rise, the deficit is at an all-time high, and we face a truly worrisome debt burden in the years ahead. And not to rally the nation in the face of some other crisis.

But isn’t health care a crisis? No.

Indeed, the president acknowledged it isn’t: “But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came to build a future. So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future—and that is the issue of health care.” In other words, health care—unlike, say, the financial system a few months ago—is not in a state of crisis.

Besides the fact that Bill Kristol cannot read, and cannot understand the simple idea that we don’t just mop things up but build systems to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again, it strikes me as...let’s say ironic that a man who vehemently supported a war of choice in a sovereign nation when we were already fighting another war thinks he has room to lecture other people on what is and isn’t a crisis. The population of Iraq is around 28,000,000. The population of uninsured and underinsured Americans is at least twice that. The idea that those Americans may die early and in destitution from a wholly preventable phenomenon that almost every other major industrialized country on Earth dealt with decades ago isn’t a crisis, but failing to find Saddam Hussein eating Doritos in a hole could have very well killed all of your babies twice over.

Iraqi lives (and oil) are still far more important than American ones, apparently. Dirt poor Iraqis need American intervention worth trillions. Americans who can't afford health care? Screw em. There's no crisis.

Your Daily Dose Of Not Doctor Doom, But She Sure Does Sound Like Him

Banking sector analyst Meredith Whitney is basically predicting a second recession.
Home prices in the US could fall by another 25 percent because of high unemployment and another leg down will come for stocks, banking analyst Meredith Whitney told CNBC Thursday.

No bank underwrote a loan with 10 percent unemployment on the horizon," Whitney said. "I think there is no doubt that home prices will go down dramatically from here, it's just a question of when."

Local governments and states are chronically under-funded and "most states are under water," adding to the problem of low private consumption, she said.

"If you look at the drivers for unemployment I don't see that reversing very soon," Whitney said.

If consumers were to decide to spend, "that would be a game-changer," but it would be an unnatural thing to do in a recession, she said.

"A lot of themes are constant, which is the US consumer and the small business doesn't have any credit, credit is still contracting," Whitney said.

Consumer debt and consumer credit have dropped according to the latest figures which also show that people have been spending more from their debit cards than from their credit cards.

"Obviously that doesn't bode well for spending," Whitney said.

Another 25% drop in home prices would basically turn this into a full blown depression, and it would be lethal for the economy. If Whitney is anywhere close to right, we're looking at a truly ugly 2010 and 2011.

Then again, I've been saying we're facing that anyway. If we really are that far from the bottom of the housing market (and yesterday's foreclosures number bear that out) then we're in serious trouble all the way around.

All the folks who have bought houses now expecting the market to go back up are in for a devastating shock, most likely.

The Sanford Ultimatum

Gov. Mark Sanford's days as SC's chief executive are looking pretty numbered at this point.

The momentum is building for a potential impeachment of Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), the Palmetto Scoop reports, with 60 House Republicans signing a letter calling on him to resign.

"Your decision to abandon our state for five days, with no defined order of succession and with no known way to contact you, is inexcusable," the letter says, later adding: "But perhaps even more disturbing than the abandonment of your post and the multiple ethics allegations against you is the extreme amount of stress, uncertainty, an negative scrutiny that the citizens of South Carolina, our government and our party have had to endure due to your behavior."

Sanford has resisted multiple calls to resign, but the message from this is unmistakable. The South Carolina state Constitution requires a two-third vote of all members (83 votes) to impeach a governor, with the same requirement for conviction in the state Senate. If all 60 of these Republicans were to vote to impeach Sanford, it would only require 23 more votes -- either from among the 53 Democrats, or the handful of Republicans who didn't sign the letter -- then impeachment would pass.

When an overwhelming majority of your own party is asking you to step down, and impeachment looks assured of passage being only a matter of time, it's time to go. Learn from Blago's mistakes there, Mark.

Hang it up. You're toast.

The Morning After

Jon Cohn analyzes what the President said and comes up with last night's speech being significant in being the opposite of Reagan's famed anti-government speech:
The critical passage came at the end, after Obama was done laying out all of the problems with American health care and after he was done explaining, or trying to explain, how his health care plan would solve those problems. That's when he turned a bit more pensive and wistful--you could see this was the part of the speech he liked best--and started sounding a bit more like a preacher than a lawyer.

He invoked the spirit of Ted Kennedy, reminding people of Kennedy's determination to help the disadvantaged and marginalized. He conjured up the examples of Medicare and Social Security, noting the tough battles waged on behalf of each. And then he made his argument:

Our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter -- that at that point we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.

It's a careful statement, deferential to critics in the way Obama typically it is. But it's also a pretty clear defense of government--at a time when defending government is pretty controversial.

We saw that in August, when town hall meetings dredged up some pretty primal feelings. The protesters showing up at these events weren't simply angry about health reform. They were angry about every government program since the New Deal. Most Americans don't see things quite that way; Medicare and Social Security remain incredibly popular. But government remains unpopular in the abstract, as it has been at least since the time of Ronald Reagan.

With these final passages, I think, Obama was trying to shift that mindset--to remind people that government is already a part of our lives, and a force for good, in ways that are entirely consistent with basic notions of citizenship and shared responsibility.

Obama has always pushed that, and the plan he laid out last night added a practical bent to those abstract ideals. Again, it was long overdue. In the end, I'm not the guy Obama had to convince, but Congress itself.

I thought it was a wonderful speech. I only regret it wasn't said in May.

If It's Thursday...

New jobless numbers down to 550k claims this week, continuing claims down to 6.088 million, which is a 160k drop from last week and something of a hopeful sign, but the reality is we're seeing 500K plus new claims every week and 6 million plus continuing claims, and until those numbers improve, there will be no recovery.

View From The Health Care Trenches

CNN is reporting that among those who saw the President's speech last night, two-thirds of Americans approved of the plan the President laid out.
Two out of three Americans who watched President Barack Obama's health care reform speech Wednesday night favor his health care plans — a 14-point gain among speech-watchers, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll of people who tuned into Obama's address Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress.
However, the downside to the numbers is that CNN's sample was overwhelmingly Democratic, but did include a pretty large number of independent voters.
About one in seven people who watched the speech changed their minds on Obama's health care plan. "Going into the speech, a bare majority of his audience — 53 percent — favored his proposals. Immediately after the speech, that figure rose to 67 percent," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But the real question is whether those conversions will last. Bill Clinton got similar numbers after his 1993 address to Congress, but five months later a majority of the country no longer supported his plan."

Fifty-six percent of people questioned say they had a very positive reaction to the speech, with 21 percent indicating they had a somewhat positive reaction and a equal amount suggesting they had a negative reaction. The 56 percent who said they had a very positive reaction is lower than the 68 percent of speech watchers who had a similar reaction to the president's first address to a joint session of Congress in February.

More than seven in ten say that Obama clearly stated his goals, with one in four saying he didn't express his goals clearly.

Three out of four say it's very or somewhat likely that the president will pass most of his proposals on health care reform through Congress, with one in four saying it's unlikely.

Seven in 10 say that Obama's policies will move the country in the right direction, up 10 points from before the speech.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted just before and just after the president's speech, with 427 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The sample of speech-watchers in this poll was 45 percent Democratic and 18 percent Republican. Our best estimate of the number of Democrats in the voting age population as a whole indicates that the sample is about 8-10 points more Democratic than the population as a whole.

Despite the sample skewing, it's that "one in seven said the speech changed their mind" statistic that's important. It means that a fair number of Democrats had doubts about the plan and that the speech went a long way towards getting them back into the debate.

It's good news for Obama on health care.


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