Monday, April 6, 2015

Last Call For Shaming You Into Wealth

For a bunch of small government conservatives, Kansas Republicans sure don't mind regulating the hell out of the common people if they happen to be poor.

Kansas welfare recipients will be unable to get more than $25 per day in benefits under a new law sent this week to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's desk by the state legislature.

The bill also prohibits welfare recipients from spending their benefits at certain types of businesses, including liquor stores, fortune tellers, swimming pools and cruise ships.

"We're trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended," state Rep. Michael O'Donnell (R) said, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. "This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life."

By the way, that $25 a day limit means that should you want to use cash assistance to pay your rent, you'd have to keep making $25 withdrawals daily, each time incurring a 85-cent processing fee.  And that's if you can find an ATM that gives $5s.  Bank ATMs in America only are stocked with 20 dollar bills, so really it's a series of $20 withdrawals with a 4.25 percent surcharge.

Democrats tried to amend the bill, but let's not forget that the goal of government is to punish those who are poor until they choose to stop being poor because America.

But that's who you voted for, Kansas.

The Oliver And The Snowman

John Oliver's Last Week Tonight on HBO is by far the best of the "informational satire" shows out there, mainly because with the show being on pay cable, Oliver can say whatever the hell he wants to, and it's far funnier and more effective than Jon Stewart or even Colbert on top of his game.  So far Oliver has really yet to make a major miss like Colbert did on the rare occasion (or Stewart did far more often, descending into "both sides do it" nonsense just to be a contrary bastard.)

So it was with some trepidation that I watched this week's episode as it tackled government surveillance and an interview with Dudebro Defector himself. If there was any subject where Oliver's razor wit could have faded into preachy garbage, it would be praying at the church of the Snowbro.

Luckily, he was up to the task.

The interview with Snowden picks up at the 14 minute mark, but the entire episode is worth watching.  The Daily Beast's Marlow Stern weighs in on the grilling:

Oliver didn’t pull any punches. “How many of those documents have you actually read?” he asked Snowden with a palpable air of skepticism. “I do understand what I turned over,” the ex-CIA systems admin mumbled.

Not good enough. “There’s a difference between understanding what’s in the documents and reading what’s in the documents… because when you’re handing over thousands of NSA documents the last thing you’d want to do is read them,” Oliver said.

He continued, “So the New York Times took a slide, didn’t redact it properly, and in the end it was possible for people to see that something was being used in Mosul on al Qaeda.”

“That is a problem,” Snowden replied.

Well, that’s a fuckup,” said Oliver.

“It is a fuckup, and those things do happen in reporting. In journalism, we have to accept that some mistakes will be made. This is a fundamental concept of liberty,” Snowden said.

Right. But you have to own that then,” grilled Oliver. “You’re giving documents with information you know could be harmful, which could get out there.”

It's kind of sad that by far the best interview that I've seen with Edward Snowden, one that actually explains where he believes he's coming from in his own words, was conducted by a fake news host.  Snowden came across here as an actual person and not a techno-martyr.  He honestly believes he did the right thing, but Oliver pointed out that Snowden had managed to dodge the consequences of what he did, and for once, Snowden seems to actually think about those consequences and the responsibility he has for those actions.  I don't think anyone has ever forced him to consider those consequences before, certainly not in any of the other interviews I've seen him in.

And then Oliver explains NSA surveillance through something that we can all understand:  penis pictures.  It's actually very good and he makes some excellent points about the NSA having done unacceptable acts in our name.

If there's anything I took away from this, it's that Snowden is naive and didn't quite fully understand the megatonnage of the stuff he swiped before he put it out there.  And he didn't understand it because he never had time to dissect it all and still hasn't.

And frankly, this interview is an admission that he hasn't even read over everything he got his hands on.  People did that for him, and that's a problem.  It also means that when he said he did evaluate all the documents he took out of the NSA in his NBC interview last year, he was lying, point blank.

That's a major concern and no matter what you think of the guy personally, he has feet of clay. Snowden's defense of his actions were 100% based on having evaluated all the documents he took from the NSA, and finding them all worthy of public release, that the necessity of releasing them outweighed the harm the information might cause.

We know now that was complete nonsense.  He took it all and released it all and didn't carefully evaluate it.  The NSA has to answer for what it has done, but so does Edward Snowden.

I thought it was tough but fair, and it didn't make me want to pull my hair out.  At the same time, I'm still not among the crowd that thinks we should be putting up statues of the guy, either. A trial awaits this guy if he ever returns to the states, and rightfully so.

GOP Health Plan In Tennessee Remains "Don't Get Sick"

Once again Republicans in Tennessee's legislature have killed GOP Gov. Bill Haslam's plans to expand health insurance.  What makes "Republicans tell thousands of voters to shut up and die" actually newsworthy is that Haslam was pushing what national Republicans say they want as far as replacing Obamacare's Medicaid expansion: vouchers and health savings accounts.  The plan didn't even make it out of a state Senate committee.

It was never very likely the nine-member committee, eight of whom are Republicans, would approve the plan. Opponents repeatedly said they thought the plan would end up costing the state tax money, questioned whether Tennessee could opt out of the plan and criticized its ties to the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare."

During the hearing Tuesday, though, there was very little discussion. Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, asked one question about the plan, the only question asked by a committee member.

"It was disconcerting to see the lack of any meaningful discussion. The people of Tennessee deserved better from their legislature today," said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville.

Yarbro initially sponsored the resolution that allowed Haslam to move forward with the plan during the regular session after a GOP-backed measure failed in a special legislative session earlier this year. After a subcommittee and committee approved the plan, GOP Sens. Doug Overbey and Richard Briggs took over as lead sponsors of the resolution.

"It is not an expansion to Medicaid. It is a new approach. It is a Tennessee approach," Overbey, R-Maryville, told the committee Tuesday.

Overbey sponsored the resolution during the special session, and Briggs, who also is a doctor, voted for the plan when it died in special session. Because of concerns raised during that session, lawmakers amended the latest version of Insure Tennessee.

The new plan required Haslam to wait until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the ACA case called King v. Burwell; created a six-month "lockout" for people who don't pay Insure Tennessee premiums; and required Haslam to have a letter from federal health officials promising to let Tennessee end the program at any time.

Otherwise, the plan is the same as introduced during the special session. The plan creates two programs for people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line: one would create vouchers for people whose employers offer insurance that they cannot afford, and a second program would create savings accounts that members could use to pay costs after partaking in healthy choices, such as appropriate use of an emergency room.

"Is Insure Tennessee Obamacare? I think you can give it a resounding no, it is not," said Briggs, R-Knoxville.

And Insure Tennessee's Republican plan lost the committee vote 2-6-1.  If poor people die, they're no longer the state's problem, are they?  

When Republicans say they want to replace Obamacare with a Republican version, point to Tennessee as proof they are lying.


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