Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Last Call

There's evidence that the Party of No may be ready to become the Party of Well, Okay...
As news reports come in of one Republican after another suggesting that a government-run public option for health care may not be so bad after all, evidence is beginning to mount that the GOP may be conceding defeat in the health care battle -- or at least preparing itself to make major concessions.

Prominent conservative blogger Erick Erickson raised the alarm on his RedState blog on Wednesday that at least some congressional Republicans may be ready to throw in the towel, and even vote for a compromise that could include a public option.

"I am told quite reliably that in a meeting today on Capitol Hill, Republican Senators began to rapidly move toward concessions on health care because they are afraid they cannot hold their members," Erickson wrote. "Some Republicans are now thinking of supporting a government program."

Erickson urged his largely conservative readership to "go to the action center and start calling" their members of Congress.

It's looking like non-Congressional moderate Republicans have realized that this is a losing battle for all Republicans the way it's playing out right now. They're not beholden to Capitol Hill lobbyists, and frankly they're not going down with the ship.

But Congressional Republicans don't have a choice. They've staked everything they have on appeasing the reactionary lunatic fringe of their party, and if they crumble on health care, these guys will turn on them to the point where it's the Democrats who will see major gains in 2010. They will primary the hell out of GOP incumbents and replace them with frothing wingnuts. All the Dems will have to do is refrain from actually combusting on live television and they win.

On the other hand, this is exactly the scaremongering rally the base cry that the GOP wingers believe they need right now. Republicans will have to fall all over themselves prostrating to the Pretty Hate Machine, and the base will indeed rally.

But the cracks are in the foundation now. The weakness is showing, and the blood is in the water. At this point the Republicans have to double down on the Obama Derangement. And I think it may be enough to finally get America to go "We've had just about enough out of you." If the Dems are smart enough to let the Republicans self-immolate, they have a serious shot at getting a real bill through.

Maybe. We'll see. Meanwhile, HuffPo is talking a Public Option plan that gives the states the power to opt out of the program.

How such a system would work is still being debated, according to those with knowledge of the proposal. But theoretically, the "opt-out" approach would start with everyone having access to a public plan. What kind of public plan isn't yet clear. States would then have the right to vote -- either by referendum, legislature, or simply a gubernatorial decree -- to make the option unavailable in their health care exchanges.

For conservative Democrats -- especially those from states with major private health insurance industry interests -- this concession could be key, allowing them to punt a vote on a public plan to local governments. For progressives, it would not be the hardest pill to swallow.

"It is clearly much better than triggers and [Carper's] opt-ins," said Richard Kirsch, executive director of the group Health Care For Americans Now. "A trigger option is a way to kill the public option and these opt ins are not effective because it leaves it up to state legislatures to set it up..."

Another Democrat working on reform legislation added, "If everyone gets a plan, and states have to affirmatively vote, preferably by referendum, to opt out. I really don't see a lot of states opting out, for one. And, for two, you get your national [public plan] available everywhere. If a few holes start appearing, it's not nearly as fatal as if you went with the Carper plan, which after a few years might mean 10 or 20 [state-based] public options. If you go the other way, you'll probably have like 47 states. It's a big difference."

Possibly this could work, but I think Dems are sorely underestimating the stupidity of GOP tenther governors who will immediately plan to exempt their state from the public option. They'll get voted out of office, but if enough of them do it, it could seriously damage the power of the public option.

On the other hand, the states WITH the public option are going to be more than happy to take those federal dollars...

Four Bombs And A Funeral

ABC's Jonathan Karl is reporting that the Pentagon has "quietly" ordered up four massive "bunker buster" bombs.
The notification was tucked inside a 93-page "reprogramming" request that included a couple hundred other more mundane items.

Why now? The notification says simply, "The Department has an Urgent Operational Need (UON) for the capability to strike hard and deeply buried targets in high threat environments. The MOP is the weapon of choice to meet the requirements of the UON." It further states that the request is endorsed by Pacific Command (which has responsibility over North Korea) and Central Command (which has responsibility over Iran).

The request was quietly approved. On Friday, McDonnell Douglas was awarded a $51.9 million contract to provide "Massive Penetrator Ordnance Integration" on B-2 aircraft.
Well, let's be honest here: exactly who would we be using these bombs on other than Iran?

Bob Dole Says Health Care's Gonna Pass, That's What Bob Dole Says

Bob Dole takes the Party of No out back and tans their hides.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kans.) told a group of local Kansas reporters on Wednesday, that opposition to the president's health care package had been driven by knee-jerk partisanship and urged Congressional Republicans to get on board a version of reform.

The 1996 Republican presidential candidate also predicted, following a speech at a health care reform summit in Kansas, that "there will be a signing ceremony" for a reform bill sometime this year or early in 2010.

But the comments that seem likely to create the most ripples were those that dealt with congressional opposition to the White House. Dole, according to reports, framed the pushback to Barack Obama's reform agenda as almost perfunctory in nature.

"Sometimes people fight you just to fight you," he said, according to The Kansas City Star. "They don't want Reagan to get it, they don't want Obama to get it, so we've got to kill it...

"Health care is one of those things," he added. "Now we've got to do something."

Viagra ads aside, Dole's got a point. Didn't stop him from running against Clinton's failed health care plan in '96, but then again, he seems to have learned from his loss.

The GOP's circular firing squad continues unabated.

That Little Domestic Terrorism Problem Of Ours

It's baaaaaaaaack.
Two men were arrested when police found a pipe bomb, two shotguns, bomb-making materials, ammunition, a can of propane and SWAT costumes in their car Tuesday night in New Haven, Conn.

So far the police don't have a clear sense of what the pair were planning to do, New Haven Police spokesman Officer Joe Avery told TPM.

"They're not talking much," Avery said.

Police received a call just before midnight about a suspicious car with weapons on the backseat, he said. Police surrounded the car, a Mercedes, and pulled the two men out. A bomb squad detonated the pipe bomb.

The men, John Iannucci, 38, of Branford, Conn., and Jessup Bowllinger, 27, of New Haven, were charged with the manufacture of bombs, illegal possession of explosives, illegally transporting explosives and having a shotgun in a vehicle. Bowllinger was also charged with criminal possession of a firearm. The two are being held on $500,000 bond each, said New Haven Police spokesman Officer Joe Avery, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is also investigating.

The New Haven Register has reported that one of the men was arrested earlier this year for making a bomb, and his case is still pending in Superior Court.

As Steven D over at BooMan's place puts it:
I'm sure they must be followers of The One, right? Part of his master plan to subvert our Republic and form an Islamocommiefascist Tyranny in which small children will be trained to rat out their Republican parents, and the Federal Government will intrude on every aspect of our lives, even enforcing laws which tell us what we can and cannot eat, drink or smoke.
Pray tell, what were these fine gentlemen planning to do with all this weaponry? I'm betting we'll find out when the inevitable next group of "patriots" evades the law and shows us all what years of paranoid ranting and scaremongering by the Wingers leads to.

But no, we don't have a domestic terrorist problem in America...

One of these assholes was out on bail after being arrested for making a bomb and was out driving around, why? Would they have been allowed out on bail if they were say, of Pakistani or Iranian descent?

What Republicans Are Thinking

Via K-Drum, what are local Republican party officials thinking about when it comes to Obama? How to better adjust the party to respond to a changing demographic in America? How to better outreach through technology and embrace knowledge? How to work with the Democrats to help America through its tough times?

Yeah, right.

....He wants to totally change it to a socialistic nation....His swift moves towards socialism....We should point out that the Blank Panthers, KKK, and ACORN are the shock troops of the Dem Party....Obama's socalist tendencies....Stop kissing up to the RINOs, the left, and the socialists!....Is he for America or against us? Hard to tell with some of his far right [sic], socialistic policies or legislation he wants to enact.

....Dems can have an openly queer sitting as chair and nothing is held against the party or the individual....We are rushing into Sosialism and that is where we need focus our energies in poing this out not on how many hail marys did you say....Obama is all about race [...] He wants payback....We feel we are marching toward the end of our liberties without having a chance to catch our breath....Despite what he said, this is not a Muslim Country, we do not need a Muslim majority ruling America. This is one decision that was made under the cloak of darkness.

....I seem to remember a similar charismatic socialist somewhere in middle Europe about a third of the way through the last century.... I think the most worrisome part of the Obama presidency is the blatant adherence to the socialist doctrine....The most worrisome part is that the Obama administration my put us on an irreversible course toward socialism....We should stop all measurements of race and actively fight the race-pimps who live off of division.

It's like a cult, man. A cult. They really don't have anything else other than "We hate Obama and everything he does."

Bloggers Behaving Badly

K-Drum calls out Sully (emphasis mine:)
Betsy McCaughey's mendacious article "No Exit," which ran in the New Republic in 1994, has long been given a share of the credit for killing the Clinton healthcare plan. Andrew Sullivan, who was TNR's editor at the time, says he's addressed all this before, he's sorry he published the piece, he ran plenty of rebuttals, and anyway Clinton's bill had plenty of other problems too. Fine. But he also tells us today that he tried to correct some of McCaughey's worst excesses but failed:

One key paragraph — critical to framing the piece so it was not a declaration of fact but an assertion of what might happen if worst came to worst — became a battlefield with her for days; and all I can say is, I lost. I guess I could have quit. Maybe I should have. I decided I would run the piece but follow it with as much dissent and criticism as possible. I did discover that she was completely resistant to rational give-and-take. It was her way or the highway.

He lost? He was the magazine's editor. So who forced him to run the piece?
That's a damn good question, and I'm pretty sure the answer is "the same people who are running the same mendacious scare tactics in 2009."

K Street Blues

Obama has a lobbyist problem, and it's a pretty bad one if you ask the NY Times's Frank Rich.
Barack Obama promised a change from this revolving-door, behind-closed-doors collaboration between special interests and government. He vowed to “do our business in the light of day” — with health care negotiations broadcast on C-Span — and to “restore the vital trust between people and their government.” He said, “I intend to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.” That those lobbyists would so extravagantly flaunt their undiminished role shows just how little they believe that a new sheriff has arrived in Dodge.

In his scathing Wall Street Journal column on The Post articles last week, Thomas Frank crystallized the gap between Obama’s pledge and this reality. “There is something uniquely depressing about the fact that the National Portrait Gallery’s version of the Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster previously belonged to a pair of lobbyists.” That’s no joke: It was donated by Tony and Heather Podesta.

Obama’s promise to make Americans trust the government again was not just another campaign bullet point; it’s the foundation of his brand of governance and essential to his success in office. At the first anniversary of the TARP bailout of the banks, we can see how far he has to go. Americans’ continued suspicion that Washington is in cahoots with powerful interests in joints like Tosca is contributing to their confusion and skepticism about what’s happening out of view in the battle over health care reform.

The public is not wrong. The administration’s legislative deals with the pharmaceutical companies were made in back rooms. Business Week reported in early August that the UnitedHealth Group and its fellow insurance giants had already quietly rounded up moderate Democrats in the House to block any public health care option that would compete with them for business. UnitedHealth’s hired Beltway gunslingers include both Elmendorf Strategies and Daschle, a public supporter of the public option who nonetheless does some of his “wink, wink” counseling for UnitedHealth. The company’s in-house lobbyist is a former chief of staff to Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader. Gephardt consults there too.
And it is bad. Some things never change, only the faces do. Washington is still Washington, and always will be. Powerful public interests will control our country until we take that control back from them.

In many respects Obama is vastly different from the Bush/Cheney/DeLay/Abramoff junta. But in some ways Obama's own inner circle is actually worse.

It's long past time for Obama to make good on spiking the revolving door shut.

Americans Want Action On Health Care

And they are losing their patience with Democrats in Congress.
The current drop in overall job approval to 21% particularly reflects a substantial drop in approval among Democrats, whose 36% rating this month is 18 points lower than last month's 54%, and the lowest since January of this year.

Congressional Approval -- 2009 Trend, by Party ID

Republicans' already-low ratings of Congress have dropped marginally, to 9% from 13% last month. There is a similar pattern among independents, whose approval of Congress, now at 16%, is down from 23% last month.

Bottom Line

The reasons why Americans' ratings of Congress have fallen so significantly this month are not completely clear. The highly publicized and sometimes acrimonious debate over healthcare reform in recent weeks would seem a proximate and, therefore, possible explanation. It is also possible that Americans are frustrated with the lack of meaningful outcomes from Congress. A Gallup analysis of a drop in congressional job approval ratings in 2007 found that many who disapproved cited congressional inaction as the explanation.

Of note is the steep decline in approval among Democrats, who appear to be souring on the job Congress is doing despite the fact that their party controls both the House and the Senate. For the first time since February, Democrats' approval of the job Congress is doing is below 50% -- with only slightly more than a third of Democrats now approving. It is possible that after watching Democratic lawmakers defend healthcare reform in town hall meetings through the summer, rank-and-file Democrats may be disappointed that Congress hasn't followed through with more progress on that legislation this fall.

May be?

It's a lot more than just a possibility, guys.

Pass health care reform.

That "Poll Asked" Look

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the latest FOX News poll shows overwhelming opposition to Obamacare. Nate Silver is on the case.
The first instinct that most of the liberals in the audience will have simply this: well, it's a Fox poll, so of course it's biased. The reality is a little bit more complicated, however. Fox News's pollster, Opinion Dynamics, generally hasn't shown much evidence of a Republican-leaning "house effect". Take a look, for example, at their Obama approval numbers. Since the beginning of Obama's term, they have shown, on average, 58 percent of registered voters approving the President versus 32 percent disapproval. This is, if anything, generous to Obama, as the average non-Fox polls has shown 57 percent approval and 37 percent disapproval over this interval.

The next suspect would ordinarily be the question wording. But Fox News's question is perfectly fine:
Based on what you know about the health care reform legislation being considered right now, do you favor or oppose the plan?
No bias that I can detect there. The question is slightly unusual in that it mentions neither "Congress" nor "Obama" nor "the Democrats", but it's not unusual in a biased way. If anything, the question is particularly unbiased -- it looks to me that support for health care improves slightly if Obama's name is mentioned, but goes down slightly if Congress is mentioned instead. Fox escapes this problem by simply phrasing things in the passive voice and not mentioning either institution.

So how can Fox News ask a seemingly unbiased question of a seemingly unbiased sample and come up with what seems to be a biased result?
Good question. FOX News certainly has an agenda, folks. So how do they push it without making it look obvious? This FOX News poll is a good 15-20 points off the most recent averages.

The answer? By making it look only somewhat obvious, of course.
The answer may have to do with the questions Fox asks before the question on health care. This weekend, for example, Fox News put out a separate release with their health care questions -- but the health care questions weren't asked separately. Instead, they were questions #27-35 of their larger, national poll, which you can find here. And what were some of those questions? Here are a few:
3. Do you think Barack Obama's travel and speaking schedule makes him look more like he is a candidate on the campaign trail or more like he is the president of the United States?

4. Do you think President Obama apologizes too much to the rest of the world for past U.S. policies?

5. Do you think the Obama administration is proposing more government spending than American taxpayers can afford, or not?

6. Do you think the size of the national debt is so large it is hurting the future of the country?

7. Would you rather: [ROTATE OPTIONS 1 and 2]
Cut spending now so future generations don't have to pay
Keep spending at current levels and let future generations pay

20. When Barack Obama was a candidate campaigning for the presidency, he spoke of the urgent need to finish the fight in Afghanistan, which he called the central front on the war on terrorism. Do you think that, as president, Obama is doing what it takes to win in Afghanistan?
These questions run the gamut slightly leading to full-frontal Republican talking points. Some of them, such as question #3, are almost literally rhetorical questions, which are never good things to have on a poll. And no, you can rest assured that Fox News was not asking questions formed from comparably biased Democratic talking points.

A respondent who hears these questions, particularly the series of questions on the national debt, is going to be primed to react somewhat unfavorably to the mention of another big Democratic spending program like health care. And evidently, an unusually high number of them do.
It's not the health care questions that are biased, it's the rest of the poll questions leading up to it. Clever...but not clever enough, apparently. Only makes FOX News look even more like a bunch of tools.

Obama Derangement Syndrome As Domestic Policy

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley encapsulates the rank hypocrisy and pernicious naysaying that defines today's modern GOP, as Steve Benen notes Grassley was for insurance mandates before he was against them as he is currently.
So, for Chuck Grassley, an individual mandate is a deal-breaker. No matter what other concessions Democrats are willing to make in the name of compromise and in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation, the Iowa conservative believes the mandate is just too much.

At least, that's what he believes now. As recently as August, Grassley argued the way to get universal coverage is "through an individual mandate." He told Nightly Business report, "That's individual responsibility, and even Republicans believe in individual responsibility."

In June, Grassley was even clearer. He said "there isn't anything wrong with" an individual mandate, and compared it to laws requiring Americans to have car insurance. "Everybody has some health insurance costs," the conservative senator said, "and if you aren't insured, there's no free lunch."

Grassley added, in unambiguous terms, "I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates."

Only now that health care reform is looking more and more likely to pass, mandates are evil unconstitutional government fascism in our lives, despite the fact that six weeks ago Chuck Grassley thought that mandates were not only a great idea, but that the rest of Congress thought it was a great idea too, both Democrats and Republicans.

But this all goes back to my first point about the GOP and health care reform: the GOP will never allow real health care reform to pass if the Democrats can take credit for it. So, Grassley now opposes mandates as government interference in the freedom of choice when two months ago he was saying it promoted individual responsibility. If a real health care bill passes, the GOP will be finished. Grassley doesn't give a damn about health care in America, he only cares about the political power game.

Any more questions as to why the people don't trust the GOP to do the right thing?

Put In Your Place

Ahh, the GOP, making friends and reaching out to voters. (via John Cole)
On Monday night, Pelosi told Charlie Rose “should go up the line of command” instead of publicly opining on strategy—prompting a swift, sneering reaction from the GOP committee.

Mocking the first female speaker as “General Pelosi,” an NRCC spokesman wrote, “If Nancy Pelosi’s failed economic policies are any indicator of the effect she may have on Afghanistan, taxpayers can only hope McCrystal is able to put her in her place.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who is close to Pelosi, could barely contain her anger.

I think the place for a woman is at the top of the House of Representatives,” said Wasserman Schultz.

Game. Set. Match.

Also, commenter Sirkowski over at Balloon Juice brings up a really, really good point:

The military should put the government “in its place”???
Isn't this basically what the Teabagger crowd is praying for, for the military to come in and kick out the Not White Kenyan Usurper and save America from becoming a Benetton ad?

Apparently this lovely attitude extends to women, too. Memo to NRCC: get a new f'ckin spokesman.

Zandar's Thought Of the Day

Jonah "Liberal Fascism" Goldberg defending Glenn Beck in USA TODAY this morning is like Cobra Commander defending Skeletor in Cartoon Villainy Daily. In the end, America has a good laugh and moves on.

Now, before I proceed, I should disclose the fact that I like Beck personally and that his support for my book Liberal Fascism was a huge boon, helping to push it to No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list. As a Fox News contributor, I have appeared regularly on his show. Whether that gives me more, or less, credibility when I say I cannot defend some of the things he says is for others to decide.

Still, much of the anti-Beck backlash (He's an extremist! He's paranoid! He's hate-filled!) from the left is hard to take seriously. First, this is a crowd that lets Michael Moore and Janeane Garofalo speak for them, and that celebrated the election of unfunny man Al Franken to the Senate. If you think it's racist to oppose Obama's health care reform efforts, it goes without saying that you'll think Beck is an extremist. This is what liberals always say about popular right-wingers, including Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley. For over 20 years liberals, including Presidents Clinton and Obama, have insisted that Rush Limbaugh is everything from an unpatriotic hatemonger to an enabler of domestic terrorism. It makes sense that they'd give Beck the same business.

What Goldberg glosses over is that fact that all of these guys really have made racist comments at one point or another.

Honestly, we've got Goldberg here defending Beck because he believes that know-nothing, paranoid anti-intellectualism is good for the conservative movement. Conservatism has been mutated into anti-Obamaism, plain and simple. Sure these jokers are for libertarian ideas now...didn't skip a beat in praising Bush growing the Federal government by trillions, starting wars, and wrecking the Constitution.

Government is only a problem if a Democrat is in charge.

[UPDATE 7:57 AM] Speaking of FOX News...
"The fact that our numbers are up 30 plus in the news arena on basic cable I'd like to think is a sign that we are just putting what we believe to be the facts out on the table," said Michael Clemente, Fox's senior vice president for news, in an interview on Tuesday. "In terms of the relationship, I think we are doing our job. And they [the White House] are doing their job."
Facts don't matter to a news outlet like FOX. What FOX believes are the facts matters.

A Not So Healthy Respect For The Law

The SEC is investigating the country's largest hospital chain for allegedly cooking the books.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has opened a probe into whether the largest hospital company in the world, Hospital Corporation of America, violated securities law by manipulating its books and records, according to documents and people familiar with the investigation.

The investigation has been focusing, at least in part, on HCA's London subsidiary and whether the company fabricated tens of thousands of payments for phantom nursing shifts, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter. The SEC has been coordinating with investigators at Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs in London, according to the documents.

HCA runs more than 160 facilities across the United States and in London and treats millions of people a year. In 2006, HCA, then a public company, was bought by a consortium including its management, the family of former Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and three major financial firms for about $33 billion in the largest leveraged buyout ever at the time.

In a statement, HCA confirmed Tuesday that it has been contacted by the SEC as part of an ongoing probe, saying it "received a voluntary request for related information from the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. We have provided requested information and look forward to working with them to conclude this inquiry." The company said the allegations under investigation are unfounded.

An SEC spokesman declined to comment about the probe. The agency opens many investigations each year, and most don't lead to formal action. The prospect of action in the HCA investigation could not be determined from documents and interviews.

Gosh, what better way to leave the Senate than to buy your way into the world's largest hospital group? The GOP's top guy in the Senate during the Bush years showed us exactly what the Republican version of health care reform is: rules to reduce oversight and regulations on companies like HCA so they could make more profit.

And people wondered why with their control of Congress and the White House, the GOP decided to "reform" health care by setting up trillions in government payments to Big Pharma for Medicare drugs.

Which is more important, folks? Health care or profit margins? It's time for us to decide.


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