Thursday, March 4, 2010

Last Call

Congress has two weeks to pass HCR, according to the White House.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is ratcheting up the pressure on Congress to complete health-care legislation, setting March 18 as the deadline by which a final bill should be passed.

Noting that President Obama leaves that day on a trip to Indonesia, Guam and Australia, Gibbs said on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" with Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie that "we believe that we're on schedule, based on our conversations with the speaker and the majority leader, to get something done by then."

The White House deadline means Congress would have exactly two weeks to pass a version of the existing Senate-approved bill in the House of Representatives and then pass a second bill filled with "fixes" in both chambers.

Gibbs modified his statement hours later, in his daily briefing for reporters, saying that the bill was "on schedule to get this through the House by then." He did not address the bill's fate in the Senate. 
The House responded by saying "End of the month.  Maybe"

The Senate responded by saying nothing.

Three weeks until the Easter recess, then two weeks off.  What's another five weeks among friends?

The Insurance Racket

Illinois wins the "screwed by insurance companies" prize over California.  You thought those 39% Wellpoint hikes were bad?  The Land of Lincoln is looking at up to a 60% hike in individual insurance premiums this year.
For the state's more than half-million consumers in individual health plans, base rates will go up from 8.5 percent to more than 60 percent, according to state data. Base rates do not take into consideration health status, gender, age, place of residence and length of a policy -- all factors that could raise premiums further.

The individual insurance market is relatively small compared with consumers who get their insurance through their employers, but it has become the fastest-growing group in this economy, in which about one in 10 are unemployed. The individual market also has spawned a national debate after a California health insurer raised premiums for this group by up to 40 percent, triggering probes by state regulators and the Obama administration.

In an effort to help consumers know more about insurance rate increases, Illinois is putting the individual rate data online for the first time starting Thursday. The state does not receive information on small or large group health insurance rates or premium changes.

"This information is important because the individual market is where an increasing number of people fall when they lose their jobs and become unemployed," said Illinois Director of Insurance Michael McRaith. "Individuals need insurance more and more, and they are struggling to hang onto it now more than ever. Because fewer people are employed and fewer employers are offering health insurance, we would expect to see increased applications for individual health insurance."
As Steven D points out however, most of that is plain old profiteering.
From 2000 to 2008, insurance premiums went up 97% for families and 90% for individuals. In the same time period, payments to providers like hospitals and doctors only went up 72%. Even worse, underlying medical inflation, calculated from the Consumer Price Index, went up only 39%. 
In short, over the last eight years premiums almost doubled, but medical inflation went up only 40%. Premiums rose two times faster, and over three times faster than wages, which only rose 29% in the same time period.
Your insurance pretty much doubled from just ten years ago, folks.  Unless health care reform passes, it will more than double again in another ten years.  Your choice, America.

Hippie Punching 201: The Village

Double G takes a look at the Village reaction to last night's Alan Grayson/Michele Bachmann debate on Larry King Live and produces a primer on Village Hippie Punching for you, the erstwhile reader.
My Salon colleague, Mark Benjamin, writes about last night's Larry King Show -- featuring a debate between Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson and GOP Rep. Michelle Bachmann -- and does so by repeatedly branding Grayson as being every bit as "crazy" as Bachmann.  Beginning with the article's headline ("Bachmann and Grayson: A diary of crazy") to his sarcastic description of "these two towering intellects" to his claim that Grayson and Bachmann are "the Candy Stripers of Crazy of their parties," Benjamin denigrates Grayson's intellect and mental health by depicting him -- with virtually no cited basis -- as the Democratic mirror image of Bachmann's rabid, out-of-touch extremism.  This view of Grayson has become a virtual Washington platitude, solidified by The New York Times' David Herszenhorn's dismissal of Grayson as "the latest incarnation of what in the American political idiom is known as a wing nut."

There are so many things wrong this analysis.  To begin with, it's a classic case of false journalistic objectivity:  the compulsion of journalists to posit equivalencies between the "two sides" regardless of whether they are actually equal (since I'm calling a GOP member of Congress "crazy," I now have to find a Democrat to so label).  Benjamin cites numerous Bachmann statements that demonstrate her penchant for bizarre claims (and there are many he omitted), but points to only one Grayson statement:   his famous floor speech in which he claimed: "If you get sick in America, the Republican health care plan is this:  Die quickly."  One could reasonably object to that statement as unduly inflammatory rhetoric, but Grayson was one of the only members of Congress willing to forcefully connect health care policy to the actual lives (and deaths) of American citizens.  There's nothing crazy about dramatically emphasizing that causal connection; far crazier is to ignore it.

But more important, Grayson has managed to have more positive impact on more substantive matters than any House freshman in a long time (indeed, he makes more of a positive impact than the vast majority of members of Congress generally).  He has tapped into his background as successful litigator and his Harvard degrees in law and public policy to shape public discussion on a wide range of issues --  from his highly effective grilling of the Fed Vice Chair regarding massive, secretive Fed activities and aggressive investigation of the fraud surrounding the Wall Street bailout to his unparalleled work exposing defense contractor corruption, his efforts to warn of the unconstitutional underpinnings of anti-ACORN legislation (a federal court proved him right), his creative (if not wise) legislative proposals to limit corporate influence in politics, and his successful, bipartisan crusade to bring more transparency to the Fed.  What conceivable basis exists for disparaging as "crazy" one of the few members of Congress who is both willing and able to bring attention to some of the most severe corruption and worst excesses of our political establishment?
And he's right, of course.  The whole point of the Bachmann/Grayson debate is not because those two are incredibly powerful Washington figures, but becuase Bachmann says crazy crap all the time, and apparently Alan Grayson has to be singled out as the "Democrat equivalent".  There has to be one, or else that's media being too liberal.

Except the problem is Grayson has quite a pedigree in his first term as an effective lawmaker who has championed true bipartisan causes and has done so in an intelligent and forceful manner.  Far easier to call him a moonbat and ignore the guy.  That's the way Washington works, after all.

You Go To War With The Wingnuts You Have

Via Rumproast, Dan Riehl has declared SUPER ULTRA MEGA WAR on Obama or something.  His manifesto:
The cause is well known and it is just. When the alleged leader of a democratic republic places his own wishes so above those of the complete body politic, he is no longer worthy of the title, leader, no matter what office he might occupy. 

Only a fool with no clear appreciation of, or for, America past and present, would dare undertake what this pustule in the White House is attempting to do. It is contingent upon the Republican Party to undertake every step, every maneuver it can to bring this government to a halt. 

Tell me now how wrong Bunning was to do as he did, yesterday? Whose side are those Republicans who didn't support him really on, ours, or merely their own? If the GOP lacks the courage, or the ability to stop this pathetic power grab by the un-American, decadent Left - an ideology that has already failed over and over throughout much of the world - then it becomes not just a right, but a responsibility for the American people to take their country back from the political elites that have already bankrupted it. And after that, they now seek to do even more harm by capitalizing on a crisis.

They confessed as much via ex-ballerina Rahm Emanuel, hence, they deserve no respect, or just due, as they are self-admittedly, an unjust crew. It is time to stop this government in its tracks, take it back democratically in the fall, or it then becomes time to bring this government down.

This neophyte, this joke we have in the White House has absolutely no idea of the force and the rage he is about to unleash on him and his entire political party. If there are not enough responsible adults left within his party to rein in this accidental, affirmative action jerk, this self-styled, extremely flawed little man, then his party is worthless to America. It deserves to be marginalized electorally and, ultimately, utterly destroyed, before being relegated to the dung heap of history with the rest of the marxist, socialist clowns Americans have dispatched before.

Reconciliation for this disaster of a destructive health care bill I doubt anyone on the Hill can fully define means all out war. The only question remaining is, whose side are you on?
Well then General Riehl, good luck to you and your One Point Nine Million Invisible Teabagger Army.  

Seriously?  Riehl wants to "bring this government down" over the use of reconciliation?  Nothing Bush did registered this level of outrage to the point where Riehl is advocating the removal of the current government, right?  None of the other dozen plus times the Republicans used reconciliation was worth a Second American Revolution or whatever, right?

There's whiny, there's petulant, and there's Obama Derangement Syndrome...and Dan Riehl here should get this one dipped in bronze and framed for the Wingnut Hall of Fame.

This guy's crazy.

The Health Care Battle Is In The House

And it's Bart Stupak and the most rabid of his Blue Dogs that stand between the Dems and victory on health care reform.  Stupak is warning that Pelosi has already lost as many as 12 votes because the Senate version didn't adopt Stupak's language on abortion in health care reform, and right now that means this bill will not pass.
Stupak, the sponsor of an amendment to the House healthcare bill that barred federal subsidies for health plans covering abortion, said that 12 lawmakers who had previously supported healthcare reform legislation in the House would be ready to switch.

"It's accurate to say there are at least 12 of us who voted for healthcare that have indicated to the speaker and others that unless you change this language, we will vote against it," Stupak said during an appearance on MSNBC.

Stupak and other Democrats who oppose abortion have threatened to fell the healthcare effort before Congress over the issue of abortion. They say the Senate's provision, which had been demanded by centrist Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), does not go far enough in preventing federal money from going to support abortion.
So, what's Stupak's price?   Any changes would have to come afterward in Senate reconciliation.  That could be Stupak's demand, to have his language inserted into reconciliation that would effectively eliminate insurance plans that would cover abortion, making them so expensive that very few women could afford them.  They would not be eligible for a dime in subsidies, pricing them out of the range of most people.

Stupak is not backing down, either.  Something has to give here, and soon.

A Fifty-Fifty Proposition For McHenry

Our old friend The Odious Patrick McHenry has a plan to help the NC-10 area's 14%+ unemployment rate back home.  His clever plan to create jobs, help families and bolster the economy?

Meh, OK I lied, McHenry's got nothing on that front.  But he does want to waste America's time by putting Ronald Reagan on the $50 bill!
Rep. Patrick McHenry announced that he will introduce a measure that would replace Grant's face with Ronald Reagan's, just in time for the 40th president's 100th birthday next February.

"President Reagan was a modern day statesman, whose presidency transformed our nation's political and economic thinking," McHenry said in a statement. "Through both his domestic and international policies he renewed America's self confidence, defeated the Soviets and taught us that each generation must provide opportunity for the next."

McHenry says it's only logical for Reagan to replace Grant on the $50 bill because several historians have ranked Reagan as a much better president than Grant. McHenry specifically cites a 2005 Wall Street Journal survey of scholars who placed Reagan at No. 6 and Grant at No. 29.

"Every generation needs its own heroes," McHenry also said. "One decade into the 21st century, it's time to honor the last great president of the 20th and give President Reagan a place beside Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy."
He does have a point:  Ronald Reagan was certainly half the man Ben Franklin was on the $100.  Apparently the bar for getting on currency as a Republican is "Being a president not universally despised when they left office."  Compared to Nixon, Ford, and the Bushes, yeah, I guess Reagan's not a complete douchebag.  Also, his wife was on Diff'rent Strokes once.

Seriously though, Pat.  I'm fairly sure your constituents have much bigger problems to worry about than whose face is on the fifty dollar bill...I'm sure most of them would rather have the fifty dollar bill, in fact.

Or a job.  Throw in the U-6 numbers in this part of North Carolina and you're looking at, what, over 22% being underemployed or unemployed?  One in five, approaching one in four?

And you're trying to get Reagan's face on money?  No wonder you're getting Hoffmaned from the right by not one, but two teabagger challengers.

Business is Modern Warfare, Too

Video game maker Activision has raised a lot of eyebrows by suddenly canning two of the execs behind 2009's most successful video game.
Jason West and Vince Zampella, the president and CEO respectively of Infinity Ward, have left the company, apparently removed by publisher Activision after alleged “breaches of contract and insubordination”. (Infinity Ward is a wholly owned subsidiary of Activision.)

Employee turmoil is commonplace at game publishers—the industry has seen multiple thousands of layoffs in the last 12 months—but when the people affected are the leads on “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” it’s something that makes investor ears perk. “MW2” set new industry sales records last year, selling 4.7 million copies in its first day in the U.S. and U.K. alone. In January of this year, the game passed $1 billion in retail sales. 

The company did not reveal further details for the action and did not return calls for comment. Broadpoint AmTech analyst Ben Schachter, in a note to analysts, pointed out, though, that there has been recent chatter on Wall Street “regarding possible M&A interest about Infinity Ward from private equity firms and others.” 
It's implied that West and Zampella were trying to jump ship.  The actual story seems to involve the fact that the billion-dollar game meant West and Zampella were owed serious royalties, and Activision instead royally screwed the two over.  They are in turn suing Activision for those royalties.
Jason West and Vince Zampella, who co-founded Activision’s Infinity Ward studio, sued the company in Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday, claiming breach of contract and wrongful termination. They seek at least $36 million and control over “Modern Warfare,” a subset of the “Call of Duty” combat games, according to a copy of the complaint.

Activision, the world’s largest video-game company, conducted a “pretextual” investigation to fire the Infinity Ward co-heads and avoid making a royalty payment due on March 31, according to the complaint.   “Activision terminated their employment weeks before they were to be paid substantial royalty payments as part of their existing contracts for ‘Modern Warfare 2,’” West and Zampella’s lawyers at O’Melveny & Myers LLP wrote in a statement.

Maryanne Lataif, a spokeswoman for Santa Monica, California-based Activision Blizzard, declined to comment on the suit. The company said in a March 1 regulatory filing that two senior executives who led “Modern Warfare” were leaving and said it was investigating insubordination and breach of contract.
$36 million isn't chump change.  And these days, with World of Warcraft creator Blizzard in its stable of game makers, Activision is the big kahuna in the video game world.  This one may have far reaching implications for the industry as a whole.

Either way, I wouldn't expect MW3 this Christmas.

What BooMan Said

Another lesson on health care reform and reconciliation from BooMan:
Now the folks over at Powerline are trying to execute the Republican strategy of making the reconciliation process a big part of the debate over passing health care reform. I don't blame them for making the effort, but I still find it amusing. The Republicans are forgetting that the Senate health care bill passed on Christmas Eve. What the Democrats are going to attempt is to get the House to pass the Senate version of the bill under completely ordinary rules. If the House does that, the health care reforms will have passed without any use of reconciliation rules. So, at that point, health care reform will have passed under the ordinary rules in both the House and the Senate. There will be nothing to complain about from a procedural point of view. The bill will have passed at the normal majority vote in the House and the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

That is how our Republic works. We have elections and our Congress votes. 
He's right, of course.  This is why the reconciliation will destroy the universe argument is idiocy.  The Senate bill already passed a sixty-vote supermajority. This is a fact.  The House is completely within its rights to pass the Senate bill with a 50%+1 majority and it will become law if the President chooses to sign the bill rather than veto it.

All this happens before reconciliation ever enters the picture.

Republicans think you're stupid.  That's why they are lying to you about this.

Half-Caf, Semi-Auto

Via Balloon Juice, Starbucks Coffee is apparently trying to burnish its image among the tea party crowd by allowing open carry in locations where law allows it.  Starbucks doesn't want to "interfere" apparently, but firearm advocates seem to be specifically targeting Starbucks in order to cause the kind of reaction you'd expect from adherents of the coffee chain.
Some of the events were spontaneous, with just one or two gun owners walking into a store. Others were organized parades of dozens of gun owners walking into restaurants with their firearms proudly at their sides.

Now, gun control advocates are protesting the policy. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, launched a petition drive demanding that the company ''offer espresso shots, not gunshots'' and declare its coffeehouses ''gun-free zones.'' And Wednesday, that group delivered 28,000 signatures to the coffee giant's headquarters in Seattle.

The group also held a press conference near Seattle's Pike Place Market, just a few yards away from where the first Starbucks cafe opened. Gun rights advocates showed up as well, some carrying handguns in holsters around their waists.

Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign said carrying guns intimidates and frightens people, and said the group thinks Starbucks will ''do the right thing'' and change its policy.

''They're putting their workers in harm's way by allowing people to carry guns into their stores, especially open carry,'' Malte said.

More than a dozen pro-gun supporters, some with Starbucks coffee cups in hand, chanted during the press conference, at points interrupting speakers.

''I think the (Brady campaign is) trying to strong-arm private businesses into banning the rights of the people,'' said Bev Carman of Everett, Wash. Carman held a sign that said: ''Criminal Control not Gun Control.''
Let's be honest here, this is not about rights and freedoms, this is about pissing off coffee-drinking liberals, and whenever that's possible, you'll find teabaggers lining up around the block to do it.  There's a message here being sent when a group of openly armed individuals come into a social establishment where the people there are not armed, and it's the same message that it has been for the thousands of years that this has been done, whether it's swords, spears, or guns:  get out or else.

It's all about power and threatening people with it.  Scared, angry teabaggers see themselves losing "their" country, and they're not going to accede to that decline without a fight.  It's intimidation, pure and simple.  Open carry in a public place like that is a warning and a threat, period.  Takes a big man to walk into a coffee joint packing heat to protect himself against college kids, baristas and hipsters.

Grayson Versus Bachmann

Florida Dem Alan Grayson took on the Bachmanniac on Larry King Live last night, the topic:  health care reform and reconciliation.
Bachmann began the discussion by arguing that the Senate would be breaking it's own rules to pass a health care bill if it uses reconciliation.
Bachmann: An up or down vote is a good thing, Larry. It's just how many votes will it take. Will it take 50 votes or will it take 60 votes... King: Well what's wrong with majority rules?
Bachmann: Well because that's not how the Senate works. The Senate works with 60 votes, and now what the president is promoting is a nuclear option which is 50 votes.
King: But it used the majority rules on the Bush tax cuts.
Bachmann: Well, the House uses straight majority rules, the Senate doesn't. So what this means is that the Senate has to break their own rules in order to pass the bill.
King: And that's wrong?
Bachmann: Oh, I think so. Sure.
Grayson responded:

My esteemed colleague from Minnesota is entirely wrong. There's nothing in the Senate rules that prevents reconciliation. It's been used 22 times overall and 14 times by Republicans. If it's good enough to provide tax cuts for the rich -- twice under Bush -- it's good enough to provide health care for all Americans.
Seems Grayson won this battle flat out.  Note Bachmann's mistake:   She says majority rule is a horrible, "nuclear option" but then admits that the House uses...majority rule.  Larry King asks what's wrong with it, and Bachmann simply can't answer the question.  In fact, she makes it worse for herself.

Then Grayson comes along and points out Republicans have used reconciliation time and time again.

This wasn't a debate, it was shooting fish in a barrel.  Next time, the GOP really needs to use somebody a little better for their mouthpiece.


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