Friday, August 28, 2009

Analysis: Vote snarls US job instead of easing it

Inconclusive election results in Afghanistan, disappointing voter turnout and the prospect of rising ethnic tensions and political turmoil are new roadblocks to the Obama administration's plan to turn around a backsliding war.

The U.S. had hoped the national voting, run by Afghans themselves with heavy international backing, would demonstrate that stability was within reach in Afghanistan and worth the steep price in dollars, time and American combat deaths.

Instead, the presidential election last week highlighted old problems and pointed to disturbing new challenges, including the prospect of political paralysis and parochial squabbling while U.S. combat deaths soar.

August is on pace to be the deadliest month for U.S. forces since the war began nearly eight years ago. A U.S. service member died Thursday in a militant attack involving a roadside bomb and gunfire, bringing to 44 the number of U.S. troops who have died in Afghanistan this month.

With the war worsening on President Barack Obama's watch, an increasingly skeptical American public may soon be asked to support a fresh infusion of U.S. combat troops on top of 21,000 combat forces and others Obama sent this year as part of a start-from-scratch strategy to protect Afghans and peel off support for the Taliban insurgency.

Just above 50 percent of respondents to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week said the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting.

"We want to try and enable the Afghan government to take responsibility not only for its reconstruction, but also for its own security," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said when asked whether the election would help reduce violence and allow new economic development.

Violence is at peak levels this summer, and the Taliban has the edge in some unexpected places. Top U.S. military leaders said this week that reversing insurgent gains will take significant time and lives.

"Despite important achievements in various areas, given the deterioration in the security situation, an enormous amount of hard work and tough fighting lie ahead in Afghanistan," Gen. David Petraeus, who has overall responsibility for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the American Legion's national convention in Louisville, Ky.

A week since the Afghan election, there is no clear winner and no definite timetable for determining who is on top. That leaves the United States, the single largest backer of the fragile Afghan government and the largest contributor of troops, without a clear Afghan partner for ambitious development and anti-corruption plans that have been on hold pending the election.

Afghan election officials have released two early batches of vote tallies that show incumbent President Hamid Karzai with 44.8 percent of the vote and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's former foreign minister, with 35.1 percent. The next partial results are expected Saturday.

A candidate needs to get above 50 percent to avoid a runoff. Final results won't be known for weeks. A runoff, if there is one, probably would be in October.

As frustrating as a runoff might be, from the U.S. perspective it is preferable to a first-round victory by Karzai that comes by suspicious margins.

Allegations of fraud are mounting along ethnic lines, and the United Nations and other international officials are worried about the possibility of violence if Abdullah's followers believe the election was stolen.

A few international analysts have said the fractures on display in the election could spread to north-south civil war.

The tensions may not subside either if Abdullah ends up the winner. He is half ethnic Tajik, and is considered the "northern" alternative to Karzai's Pashtun-dominated southern base.

Analysts are split on whether ethnic Pashtuns would embrace a Tajik leader, but Pashtuns were a key ethnic supporter of the Taliban when the fundamentalist militants seized power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. Now stateless insurgents fighting U.S. forces, the Taliban is again strongest in Afghanistan's Pashtun regions in the South.

Obama and his aides have distanced themselves from Karzai, a favorite of former President George W. Bush, but have tried not to appear close to Abdullah either.

Meanwhile, turnout was paltry in southern districts where British forces and U.S. Marines all but held the door for Afghan voters. Obama dispatched 17,000 additional combat forces to Afghanistan ahead of the election, but the threat of Taliban violence and reprisal apparently kept voters at home.

The Times of London reported Thursday that only 150 of the several thousand Afghans eligible to vote in the Babaji area of Helmand province cast ballots. Four British soldiers were killed there this summer, a toll the newspaper recalled with the blunt headline: "Four British soldiers die for the sake of 150 votes."

The election was supposed to launch new development, agricultural reform and other advances that U.S. Afghanistan policy chief Richard Holbrooke has said require a foundation of political legitimacy.

A runoff probably would mean a further delay of at least two months for many of the most ambitious plans. Obama's new war commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is expected to lay out a bleak assessment of the deteriorating war next week that will point fingers at an underperforming Afghan government and recommend vastly expanding the size of Afghanistan's own security forces.

Later in September, Obama may be asked to approve several thousand more troops for next year. A record 62,000 U.S. troops are now in the country, with 4,000 more due to arrive before the end of the year.

National security adviser James Jones and others have made plain the White House distaste for a troop increase, and the expected request will force Obama to decide whether to further expand the war.

A runoff also would mean changes to the military plan for the fall, when fighting typically subsides. U.S. military planners said American forces presumably would replay their roles helping to secure polling places in formerly Taliban-held reaches of Helmand province and elsewhere, but Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to spell out details before election results are known.


Associated Press writer Robert H. Reid in Kabul contributed to this report.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Real Choice? It’s Off Limits in Health Bills DAVID LEONHARDT

Real Choice?

Consider the following health insurance plan.

It refuses to pay for certain medical care and then doesn’t offer a clear explanation. It does pay for unhelpful care that ends up raising premiums. Its customer service can be hard to reach or unhelpful. And the people who are covered by this insurer have no choice but to remain with it — or, at best, to choose from one or two other insurers that are about as bad.

In all likelihood, I have just described your insurance plan.

Health insurers often act like monopolies — like a cable company or the Department of Motor Vehicles — because they resemble monopolies. Consumers, instead of being able to choose freely among insurers, are restricted to the plans their employer offers. So insurers are spared the rigors of true competition, and they end up with high costs and spotty service.

Americans give lower marks to their health insurer than they do to their life insurer, their auto insurer or their bank, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Even the Postal Service gets better marks. (Cable companies, however, get worse ones.) No wonder President Obama’s favorite villain is health insurers.

You might think, then, that a central goal of health reform would be to offer people more choice. But it isn’t.

Real choice is not part of the bills moving through the Democratic-led Congress; even if the much-debated government-run insurance plan was created, it would not be available to most people who already have coverage. Republicans, meanwhile, have shown no interest in making insurance choice part of a compromise they could accept. Both parties are protecting the insurers.

That’s a reflection of the thorny politics of health care. On one hand, big interest groups are lobbying hard to keep some form of the status quo. Insurers don’t want people to have more choice. Neither do employers and labor unions, which now control huge piles of money spent on health care. Nor do hospitals and drug makers, which benefit from all the waste now in the system.

On the other hand, the people who stand to benefit most from having more choice — all of us — are not agitating for change, because the costs of the system are hidden from us. A typical household spends $15,000 each year on health care. But most of it comes in the form of taxes or employer deductions from paychecks, which means insurance can seem practically free.

As a result, people may not like their insurer, but they don’t hate it, either. If anything, they are more anxious about losing their insurance than they are eager to be given more choice. And that anxiety has driven the White House’s decision to pursue a fairly conservative form of health reform.

To be clear, the versions of reform now floating around Congress would do a lot of good. They would make it far easier for people without an employer plan to get health insurance and would make some modest attempts to nudge the health system away from its perverse fee-for-service model.

Yet they would not improve most people’s health care anytime soon. Giving people more control over their own care would. White House advisers, however, decided against that option long ago. They worried that opening up the insurance market would destabilize employer-provided insurance and make Mr. Obama’s plan vulnerable to the same criticism that undid Bill Clinton’s: that it was too radical.

They may well have been right. Then again, given all the flak they have been taking anyway, they may have been wrong.

The best-known proposal for giving people more choice is the Wyden-Bennett bill, named for Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Robert Bennett, a Utah Republican, who introduced it in the Senate in 2007. There are other broadly similar versions of the idea, too. One comes from Victor Fuchs, a Stanford professor sometimes called the dean of health economists, and Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and an Obama health-policy adviser.

In the simplest version, families would receive a voucher worth as much as their employer spends on their health insurance. They would then buy an insurance plan on an “exchange” where insurers would compete for their business. The government would regulate this exchange. Insurers would be required to offer basic benefits, and insurers that attracted a sicker group of patients would be subsidized by those that attracted a healthier group.

The immediate advantage would be that people could choose a plan that fit their own preferences, rather than having to accept a plan chosen by human resources. You would be able to carry your plan from one job to the next — or hold onto it if you found yourself unemployed. You would never have to switch doctors because your employer switched insurance plans.

The longer-term advantage would be that health insurance would become fully subject to the brutal and wonderful forces of the market. Insurers that offered better plans — plans that drew on places like the Mayo Clinic to offer good, lower-cost care — would win more customers.

“That’s the way the rest of the economy works,” says William Lewis, former director of the McKinsey Global Institute.

Politically, though, the full voucher plan is still too radical, which is why the Wyden-Bennett bill has attracted support from only 13 other senators — four Republicans, eight Democrats and Joe Lieberman. So Mr. Wyden has come up with a narrower version.

It expands the exchange that Democratic leaders are already planning to create for the uninsured so that many more people would be allowed to use it. (If the exchange were limited to the uninsured, any government-run insurance plan, a crucial part of reform for many liberals, would not be available to most people.) But Mr. Wyden isn’t having much luck with this idea, either. The support for the employer-based system is simply too strong.

And the defenders of the employer system have some legitimate arguments. An insurance exchange may end up having some of the same pitfalls as 401(k) plans, in which some workers make poor choices. Having employers navigate the complex landscape of insurance, the defenders say, may be better for employees.

Here’s what I would ask those defenders, however: Given all the problems with health care — the high costs and decidedly mixed results — how comfortable are you defending the status quo? Why force people into a system you think is better for them?

If people were instead allowed to choose, all but a small percentage might indeed stick with their employer plan. In that case, a Wyden-like proposal wouldn’t amount to much. It certainly would not destabilize the employer-provided insurance system.

Then again, if lots of families did switch to a plan on the exchange, the impact would be quite different. With fewer employees signing up for on-the-job insurance, companies might shrink their benefits departments. The number of companies offering insurance would keep dropping. The employer insurance system could begin to crumble.

But wouldn’t that be precisely the fate that the system deserved?

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Without health care reform, health insurance premiums could almost double by 2020, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, a 90-year-old non-profit health care charity.

According to "Paying the Price: How Health Insurance Premiums Are Eating Up Middle-Class Incomes," employer-sponsored family plans will rise from an average cost of $12,298 in 2008 to $23,842 in 2020 (the same coverage would have cost close to $9,200 in 2003) if health-care costs continue to rise at the current rate.

The study found that:

The rapid rise in health insurance premiums has severely strained U.S. families and employers in recent years. This analysis of federal data finds that if premiums for employer-sponsored insurance grow in each state at the projected national rate of increase, then the average premium for family coverage would rise from $12,298 (the 2008 average) to $23,842 by 2020--a 94 percent increase. However, if health system reforms were able to slow premium growth by 1 percentage point in all states, by 2020 employers and families together would save $2,571 per premium for family coverage, compared with projected trends. If growth could be slowed by 1.5 percentage points--a target recently agreed to by a major industry coalition--yearly savings would equal $3,759. The analysis presents state-by-state data on premium costs for 2003 and 2008, as well as projections, using various assumptions, for costs in 2015 and 2020.
The author of the study, Cathy Shoen, senior vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, said in a news release:

"With health spending projected to double if we stay on our current path, middle- and lower-income families are at high risk of losing their coverage or facing long-term stagnant incomes. Employers and employees share premium costs, but we know that take-home pay and retirement savings are being sacrificed to maintain health benefits. Reforms that slow the growth of health-care costs could go a long way toward health and financial stability for working families."
Employer-based premiums for family coverage increased an average of 33 percent between 2003 and 2008, ranging from a low of 25 percent in Michigan, Texas and Ohio to a high of 45 percent in Indiana and North Carolina.

Figure 3. Premiums for Family Coverage, 2003, 2008, 2015, and 2020
U.S. average Lowest state Highest state
2003 2008 2015 2020
Health insurance premiums for family coverage
1 2003: Lowest is North Dakota; highest is District of Columbia. 2008, 2015, and 2020: Lowest is Idaho; highest is Massachusetts.
Data sources: Medical Expenditure Panel Survey–Insurance Component (for 2003 and 2008 premiums); Centers for Medicare
and Medicaid Services, Office of the Actuary, National Health Statistics Group, national health expenditures per capita annual
growth rate (for premium estimates for 2015 and 2020

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Media Matters: Press should take finger off button in "nuclear option" health care coverage

Weeekly UpDate from:


Media conservatives aren't content to merely misinform regarding the content of progressive health insurance reform legislation. They want to misinform about the legislative process used to pass that legislation, too. Just think of it: Death panels passed using a nuclear option. What American could support that?

In recent days, talk of Senate Democrats using the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform legislation has grown. According to Senate rules, bills advanced through the process can't be filibustered, and so the 60-vote threshold that must be met to defeat a filibuster would not apply. Republicans used reconciliation in exactly this way during the Bush years to pass tax cuts in 2001, 2003, and 2005. Senate Republicans also used the reconciliation process to pass a bill permitting oil drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (The final version of that bill signed by Bush did not contain the provision on drilling.) So long as the legislation in question impacts the budget, doing so is within regular Senate order.

Conservatives in the media, however, have now chosen to portray such a course of action as the dreaded "nuclear option." As usual, a little history reveals a lot of hypocrisy. The phrase was actually coined by former Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) in 2003 during the Democratic filibuster of U.S. Court of Appeals nominee Miguel Estrada. At the time, Republican aides discussed changing the rules of the Senate to make filibusters of judicial nominees out of order. Lott, reflecting the drastic nature of such a change, called it a "nuclear option." Starting in 2005, Republicans noted that the term polled badly. They began referring to such a rules change as the "constitutional option," and claimed that only Democrats called it a "nuclear option." The media quickly fell in line, repeating the falsehood.

Unsurprisingly, the hypocrisy has continued. Passing budget-related legislation through the reconciliation process and the "nuclear option" have nothing to do with each other.

This hasn't stopped the conservative media from conflating the two. The goal is to portray progressives as a group of anti-democratic radicals, forcing through a supposedly unpopular bill using procedural tricks -- or, in Chris Matthews' words, "blow[ing] up the Senate rules." Fox News vice president and Washington managing editor Bill Sammon was one of the first to draw the false equivalency back in June, and in recent days, the chorus has only grown. Dick Morris did the same on August 10, and Sean Hannity has repeatedly pushed the distortion. The Fox Nation website even chose to illustrate the story using a mushroom cloud.

Just as they did several years ago, multiple mainstream media figures have taken up the right's deceitful talking point, among them A.B. Stoddard of The Hill, Matthews, and even CNN hosts Anderson Cooper and Kiran Chetry. Thus far, factual explanations, such as the one provided by CNN's Josh Levs, have been few and far between.

This distortion has jumped from the media to the highest levels of the Republican Party. When Hannity hosted RNC chairman Michael Steele, he asked about the "by any means necessary" approach Democrats were considering. "Does this mean the will of the American people," Hannity asked, "as evidenced by just about every credible poll, means nothing to them?" (It seems as though NBC/Wall Street Journal polls are no longer credible to Hannity.) Steele agreed: "If it means the nuclear option, it's going to be the nuclear option."

The right-wing distortion here is obvious and blatant. For the sake of its credibility, the media needs to take its finger off the "nuclear" button.

Other major stories this week
Tom DeLay joins Dancing with the Birthers

Disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) has had quite a week. First, it was announced that he will be joining the new cast of ABC's Dancing with the Stars. Appearing on ABC's Good Morning America, DeLay told Chris Cuomo: "I love dancing. ... You've got to love dancing if you're from Texas." He's right -- we all remember DeLay's deft ability to dance around congressional ethics rules. CNN's Campbell Brown called it DeLay's "second act," but I'm pretty sure his curtain was called years ago.

Far from finished, DeLay made the rounds on cable and network television promoting his new venture as a reality star. On MSNBC's Hardball, DeLay aligned himself with CNN's Lou Dobbs by saying, "I would like the president to produce his birth certificate."

Maybe ABC should rename the show Dancing with the Birthers, because Tom DeLay is apparently a master of el tango loco.

Beck's advertiser exodus continues

Last week we noted:

There was an encouraging development in the ongoing campaign to get hate off our public airwaves. After a host of progressive groups, among them Media Matters and, publicized Beck's recent rant accusing [President] Obama of racism, multiple companies announced that they would no longer advertise on his program -- among them: ConAgra, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, Radio Shack, GEICO, Travelocity, and Sargento. Reflecting on the development, The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart said that it might "pump the brakes on some of these wild statements." We can only hope.

Well, Beck's advertiser exodus continues. This week, Farmers Insurance reportedly said it had "ceased placing [ads] on Glenn Beck a week ago." Likewise, GMAC Financial Services, parent company of Ally Bank, announced that it, too, had "ceased advertising on the Glenn Beck program."

The conservative media chattering class is none too pleased with these developments. Radio host Rose Tennent called GEICO "idiots" for pulling Beck's ads, while radio talker Jim Quinn said Color of Change has "kowtowed" advertisers into ditching Beck. On his radio program, Fox News' Sean Hannity even claimed that accusations that radio hosts want the president dead (I, for one don't, remember anyone of prominence making this charge) were part of a "strategy to silence," like "people go[ing] after advertisers."

In other sponsor news, JC Penney reportedly said it has a "policy" that prohibits advertising on Rush Limbaugh's show -- but Media Matters was able to produce audio from El Rushbo's broadcast containing an ad for the retailer. Home Depot also reportedly claimed it doesn't "support" Limbaugh's program, and Media Matters was also able to produce audio of a Home Depot ad airing during the conservative leader's show. We welcome the policies announced by JC Penney and Home Depot, but perhaps now would be a good time for them to state publicly that they will no longer run ads on Rush's show.

When claimed that "the pressure on advertisers has become a politically charged debate about the right to free speech, censorship and what constitutes hate speech," Media Matters' Eric Boehlert responded: "Do editors at not understand what 'censorship' means in terms of free speech? ... Of course, only the government can censor free speech." In other words, the First Amendment doesn't guarantee anyone the right to his own show.

Conservative media: Barney Frank is soooo rude

At a town hall meeting in Massachusetts, a woman took to the mic and asked Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who is both Jewish and gay, "why do you continue to support a Nazi policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?" Frank responded: "When you ask me that question, I'm going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question. On what planet do you spend most of your time?" Frank went on to say, "You want me to answer the question? As you stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis, my answer to you is, as I said before, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. ... Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to have an argument with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.

For conservatives in the media, this was over the line. No, I'm not talking about the Nazi nonsense; I'm talking about Frank's response to the lunacy.

Fox News' Brian Kilmeade blasted Frank's "arrogance" and "smugness" and wondered why the Massachusetts Democrat couldn't just say, "I understand where you're coming from, but ... " His Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy repeatedly defended the woman, claiming that Frank's response to her was "rude," out of touch, and laden with "attitude," while never noting the content of the woman's question. Limbaugh called the woman's Nazi sign and question "fabulous" before telling his listeners that Frank "spends most of his time living around Uranus."

In the words of Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, "I've been watching these town hall meetings, and I've had enough of these uncontrollable outbursts by members of Congress. Hey, congressmen, how are people supposed to scream their questions if you keep interrupting with your answers? And Democrat Barney Frank is the latest culprit."

Competition lacking among private health insurers

Associated Press Writer

One of the most widely accepted arguments against a government medical plan for the middle class is that it would quash competition — just what private insurers seem to be doing themselves in many parts of the U.S.

Several studies show that in lots of places, one or two companies dominate the market. Critics say monopolistic conditions drive up premiums paid by employers and individuals.

For Democrats, the answer is a public plan that would compete with private insurers. Republicans see that as a government power grab. President Barack Obama looks to be trapped in the middle of an argument that could sink his effort to overhaul the health care system.

Even lawmakers opposed to a government plan have problems with the growing clout of the big private companies.

"There is a serious problem with the lack of competition among insurers," said Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of the highest-cost states. "The impact on the consumer is significant."

Wellpoint Inc. accounted for 71 percent of the Maine market, while runner-up Aetna had a 12 percent share, according to a 2008 report by the American Medical Association.

Proponents of a government plan say it could restore a competitive balance and lead to lower costs. For one thing, it wouldn't have to turn a profit.

A study by the Urban Institute public policy center estimated that a public plan could save taxpayers from $224 billion to $400 billion over 10 years by lowering the cost of proposed subsidies for the uninsured, while preserving private coverage for most people.

"Right now, there's no incentive for insurers or big hospital groups to negotiate with each other, because they can pass higher payments on through premiums," said economist Linda Blumberg, co-author of the report. "A public plan would have the leverage to set lower payment rates and get providers to participate at those rates."

"The private plans would come back to the providers and say, 'If you don't negotiate with me, you're going to be left with only the public plan.'" Blumberg continued. "Suddenly, you have a very strong economic incentive for them to negotiate."

Insurers contend their industry is extremely competitive, and a public plan is unnecessary. About 1,300 carriers operate across the country, although many only have a small share of the market in their states.

"You can have a very competitive market and still have companies with a high market share," said Alissa Fox, a top Washington lobbyist for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

Fox points to the federal employee health program, which also covers members of Congress. It offers a total of more than 260 options and 10 nationwide plans. Despite all the choices, about 60 percent of federal workers pick a Blue Cross plan.

"Insurers need to be of a significant size to best serve their customers and make sure that people get the best value," Fox said.

Nonetheless, lawmakers are concerned. Big insurers are getting bigger. Small businesses in particular have fewer and fewer options for getting coverage.

Congressional investigators this year looked at insurers catering to small employers around the country. The Government Accountability Office found that the median _or midpoint — market share of largest carrier increased to 47 percent in 2008 from 33 percent in 2002.

There's widespread recognition among lawmakers that a health care overhaul should foster more competition among insurers. The debate is over how far to go.

The basic framework lawmakers are looking at would encourage competition, even without a government plan. It calls for setting up a big insurance purchasing pool called an exchange. It would be open, at least initially, to individuals and small businesses. The government would offer subsidies to make premiums more affordable.

Consumers would find it much easier to shop for a plan through the exchange. For one thing, they would be able to readily compare benefits and premiums in different plans. Also, participating insurers would have to take all applicants and not charge higher premiums to those in poor health.

Offering the option of a public plan would supercharge the competition, supporters say.

Blumberg envisions a plan that pays medical providers more than Medicare, but less than private insurance. Her study estimated it could grow to 47 million members, leaving 161 million with private insurance. Even so, that would make the new public plan one of the largest insurers in the country, rivaling Medicare, Medicaid and big private companies such as Wellpoint and UnitedHealthcare.

It's a scenario that gives pause even to traditional adversaries of the insurance companies.

"The fear and concern is that the public plan could become the market-dominant plan," said Dr. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association. "When you've got the federal government involved, it can infuse money into a plan to keep it solvent even if the premiums are lower than its actual costs."

Snowe, among the few Republican senators still trying to come up with a bipartisan compromise, wants to hold back on creating a public plan for now and give insurers one last chance to show if they can keep costs in check.

That's doesn't go far enough for liberals, who are loath to give the insurance industry tens of millions of new customers supported by taxpayer subsidies.

"It would give the industry a windfall without any countervailing force to require them to lower their costs," said Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for the advocacy group Health Care for America Now. "The insurance companies could continue to jack up premiums while getting a whole new market."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time cover: 'The Real Cost of Cheap Food

'The Real Cost of Cheap Food ...

Why the American food system is bad for our bodies, our economy and the environment,' by Bryan Walsh:

'The crop is heavily fertilized-both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop-at least until corn ethanol skewed the market-artificially low.

That's why McDonald's can sell you a Big Mac, fries and a Coke for around $5-a bargain, given that the meal contains nearly 1,200 calories, more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults. ...

[F]ruits and vegetables don't receive the same price supports as grains.

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit.

With the backing of the government, farmers are producing more calories-some 500 more per person per day since the 1970s-but too many are unhealthy calories

Given that, it's no surprise we're so fat;
it simply costs too much to be thin. Our expanding girth is just one consequence of mainstream farming.
Another is chemicals.'

Standing Rules of the United States Senate

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Standing Rules of the Senate are the rules of order adopted by the United States Senate that govern its procedure. The rules are set by the Senate itself, as set down in Article One, Section 5 of the United States Constitution. The stricter rules are waived by unanimous consent. There are currently 43 rules; the latest version was adopted on April 27, 2000. The Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006 lobbying reform bill introduces a 44th rule on earmarks.

The Constitution provides that a majority of the Senate constitutes a quorum to do business. Under the rules and customs of the Senate, a quorum is always assumed to be present unless a quorum call explicitly demonstrates otherwise. Any senator may request a quorum call by "suggesting the absence of a quorum"; a clerk then calls the roll of the Senate and notes which members are present. In practice, senators almost always request quorum calls not to establish the presence of a quorum, but to temporarily delay proceedings. Such a delay may serve one of many purposes; often, it allows Senate leaders to negotiate compromises off the floor. Once the need for a delay has ended, any senator may request unanimous consent to rescind the Quorum Call.

During debates, senators may only speak if called upon by the presiding officer. The presiding officer is, however, required to recognize the first senator who rises to speak. Thus, the presiding officer has little control over the course of debate. Customarily, the Majority Leader and Minority Leader are accorded priority during debates, even if another senator rises first. All speeches must be addressed to the presiding officer, using the words "Mr. President" or "Madam President." Only the presiding officer may be directly addressed in speeches; other Members must be referred to in the third person. In most cases, senators do not refer to each other by name, but by state, using forms such as "the senior senator from Virginia" or "the junior senator from California."

There are very few restrictions on the content of speeches; there is no requirement that speeches be germane to the matter before the Senate.

The Standing Rules of the United States Senate provide that no senator may make more than two speeches on a motion or bill on the same legislative day. (A legislative day begins when the Senate convenes and ends with adjournment; hence, it does not necessarily coincide with the calendar day.) The length of these speeches is not limited by the rules; thus, in most cases, senators may speak for as long as they please. Often, the Senate adopts unanimous consent agreements imposing time limits. In other cases (for example, for the Budget process), limits are imposed by statute. In general, however, the right to unlimited debate is preserved.

The filibuster is a tactic used to defeat bills and motions by prolonging debate indefinitely. A filibuster may entail long speeches, dilatory motions, and an extensive series of proposed amendments. The longest filibuster speech in the history of the Senate was delivered by Strom Thurmond, who spoke for over twenty-four hours in an unsuccessful attempt to block the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The Senate may end a filibuster by invoking cloture. In most cases, cloture requires the support of three-fifths of the Senate; however, if the matter before the Senate involves changing the rules of the body, a two-thirds majority is required. Cloture is invoked very rarely, particularly because bipartisan support is usually necessary to obtain the required supermajority. If the Senate does invoke cloture, debate does not end immediately; instead, further debate is limited to thirty additional hours unless increased by another three-fifths vote.

When debate concludes, the motion in question is put to a vote. In many cases, the Senate votes by voice vote; the presiding officer puts the question, and Members respond either "Aye" (in favor of the motion) or "No" (against the motion). The presiding officer then announces the result of the voice vote. Any senator, however, may challenge the presiding officer's assessment and request a recorded vote. The request may be granted only if it is seconded by one-fifth of the senators present. In practice, however, senators second requests for recorded votes as a matter of courtesy. When a recorded vote is held, the clerk calls the roll of the Senate in alphabetical order; each senator responds when his or her name is called. Senators who miss the roll call may still cast a vote as long as the recorded vote remains open. The vote is closed at the discretion of the presiding officer, but must remain open for a minimum of 15 minutes. If the vote is tied, the Vice President, if present, is entitled to a casting vote. If the Vice President is not present, however, the motion is resolved in the negative.

On occasion, the Senate may go into what is called a secret, or closed session. During a closed session, the chamber doors are closed, and the galleries are completely cleared of anyone not sworn to secrecy, not instructed in the rules of the closed session, or not essential to the session. Closed sessions are quite rare, and usually held only under certain circumstances where the Senate is discussing sensitive subject-matter such as information critical to national security, private communications from the President, or even to discuss Senate deliberations during impeachment trials. Any Senator has the right to call a closed session as long as the motion is seconded.

Budget bills are governed under a special rule process called "Reconciliation" that disallows filibusters. Reconciliation was devised in 1974 but came into use in the early 1980s.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Debit Card Trap New York Times

Not many people would knowingly pay more than $35 for a cup of coffee. But far too many people are getting saddled — with no warning — with outsized bills for minor purchases, under a euphemistically labeled “overdraft protection program” that most major banks have adopted over the last 10 years.

Before that, most banks would simply have rejected debit transactions, without a fee, when the card holder’s account was empty. Now, they approve the purchase and tack on a hefty penalty for each transaction.

Moebs Services, a research company that has conducted studies for the government as well as some banks, reported recently that banks will earn more than $38 billion this year from overdraft and bounced-check fees. Moebs also estimates that 90 percent of that amount will be paid by the poorest 10 percent of the customer base.

Federal regulators who stood idly by while this system evolved are considering new overdraft rules that could provide more transparency. If they do not move quickly and aggressively to protect consumers, Congress should step in.

Banks have historically covered bad checks for valued clients, who were invited to opt in to overdraft protection or to link their checking accounts to savings accounts or to lines of credit. But as more people began to use debit cards, the banks started to view overdraft fees as a major profit center and started to automatically enroll debit card holders into an overdraft program. Some banks instituted a tiered penalty system, charging customers steadily higher fees as the overdrafts mount.

A study by the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonpartisan research and policy group, describes what it calls the “overdraft domino effect.” One college student whose bank records were analyzed by the center made seven small purchases including coffee and school supplies that totaled $16.55 and was hit with overdraft fees that totaled $245.

Some bankers claim the system benefits debit card users, allowing them to keep spending when they are out of money. But interest rate calculations tell a different story. Credit card companies, for example, were rightly criticized when some drove up interest rates to 30 percent or more. According to a 2008 study by the F.D.I.C., overdraft fees for debit cards can carry an annualized interest rate that exceeds 3,500 percent.

The banks, which have grown addicted to overdraft fees, will almost certainly resist new regulation in this area. But there are several things that federal regulators must do to protect the public.

First, banks must be barred from automatically enrolling customers in overdraft programs. This must be a service that customers opt in to — and only after they are provided full information about the fees and the penalties they will incur. These disclosure statements must meet the same rules laid out in truth-in-lending laws, since overdraft charges are essentially short-term loans.

Banks must also be required to warn customers in real time when a debit card charge will overdraw their accounts — and what fees they will incur if they still decide to proceed with the purchase.

This will require new technology. But there is almost no chance that the banks will invest in it unless they are legally required to do so. Until that happens, buyers beware. That cup of coffee may be even more expensive than you realize.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

House Dems seek info from health insurers

DAVID ESPO APCorrespondent

Democrats on a House committee are seeking detailed financial records from dozens of large insurance companies, officials disclosed Tuesday, part of an investigation into "executive compensation and other business practices" in an industry opposed to President Barack Obama's plan to overhaul health care.

The request included records relating to compensation of highly paid employees, documents relating to companies' premium income and claims payments, and information on expenses stemming from any event held outside company facilities in the past 2 1/2 years.

The requests were made in letters signed by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who guided a portion of health care legislation through the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month as chairman, and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who heads the Energy and Commerce investigations and oversight subcommittee.

They wrote that the committee was "examining executive compensation and other business practices in the health insurance industry." The Associated Press obtained a copy.

The requests were issued at a time when Obama's health care proposal is under intense attack from Republicans and other critics, including the health insurance industry. Much of the opposition focuses on proposals for the government to sell insurance in competition with private carriers.

Obama and other supporters of a so-called government option argue it would help control costs and keep insurance companies honest by forcing them to grapple with competition.

Opponents say it gradually would undermine the present insurance structure, which is built around private insurers, and lead to a system controlled by the government.

The issue drew intense focus over the weekend, after Obama speculated aloud about the possibility that legislation might omit the government role in selling insurance.

The White House said there had been no change in position. But liberals, in particular, expressed dismay, giving rise to increased speculation that Senate Democrats could soon abandon all talk of bipartisanship and draft legislation tailored to their own rank and file. Any such measure would inevitably jettison many of the compromises crafted in weeks of bipartisan Senate talks, and it was unclear whether the talk was a ploy to persuade Senate Republicans to agree to a compromise.

A spokesman for the insurance industry declined to comment on the letter sent by Waxman and Stupak.

Nick Choate, a spokesman for Stupak, said 52 letters were sent late Monday to the nation's largest health insurers, those with $2 billion or more in annual premiums. He said letters were not sent to other industry groups, some of which have been airing television advertising in support of Obama's call for legislation.

The letter from Waxman and Stupak requested the information be provided by early September. While companies are not under legal obligation to comply, the committee could respond to a refusal by voting to subpoena the information at a later date.

Among the documents requested were records relating to compensation paid to any company executive earning more than $500,000 in any year from 2003 to 2008.

Waxman and Stupak also sought documents relating to premiums paid by policy holders, claims payments, sales expenses, administrative expenses and profits, broken down by categories such as employer-provided coverage; individual coverage, Medicare and Medicaid.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It’s Hip to Be Round

THIS summer the unvarying male uniform in the precincts of Brooklyn cool has been a pair of shorts cut at knickers length, a V-neck Hanes T-shirt, a pair of generic slip-on sneakers and a straw fedora. Add a leather cuff bracelet if the coolster is gay.

In truth this get-up was pretty much the unvarying male uniform last summer also, but this year an unexpected element has been added to the look, and that is a burgeoning potbelly one might term the Ralph Kramden.

Too pronounced to be blamed on the slouchy cut of a T-shirt, too modest in size to be termed a proper beer gut, developed too young to come under the heading of a paunch, the Ralph Kramden is everywhere to be seen lately, or at least it is in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene, the McCarren Park Greenmarket and pretty much any place one is apt to encounter fans of Grizzly Bear.

What the trucker cap and wallet chain were to hipsters of a moment ago, the Kramden is to what my colleague Mike Albo refers to as the “coolios” of now. Leading with a belly is a male privilege of long standing, of course, a symbol of prosperity in most cultures and of freedom from anxieties about body image that have plagued women since Eve.

Until recently, men were under no particular obligation to exhibit bulging deltoids and shredded abdominals; that all changed, said David Zinczenko, the editor of Men’s Health, when women moved into the work force in numbers. “The only ripples Ralph Kramden” and successors like Mike Brady of “The Brady Bunch” had to demonstrate were in their billfolds, said Mr. Zinczenko, himself a dogged crusader in the battle of the muffin top. “But that traditional male role has changed.”

As women have come to outnumber men in the workplace, it becomes more important than ever for guys to armor themselves, Mr. Zinczenko said, with the “complete package of financial and physical,” to billboard their abilities as survivors of the cultural and economic wilds.

This makes sense, in a way, but how does one account for the new prevalence of Ralph Kramdens? Have men given in or given up? Are they finished with asserting the privileges that have always accrued to men. Or is the Ralph Kramden Barack Obama’s fault?

Hipsters, by nature contrarian, according to Dan Peres, the editor of Details, may be reacting in opposition to a president who is not only, as the press relentlessly reminds us, So Darn Smart, but also hits the gym every morning, has a conspicuously flat belly and, when not rescuing the economy or sparring with Kim Jong-il, shoots hoops.

“If we had a slob in the White House, all the hipsters would turn into some walking Chippendales calendar,” Mr. Peres said. Instead, the streets of Williamsburg are crowded with men who are, as he noted, “proudly rocking a gut.” Mr. Peres’s magazine has a term for these people: the new “poor-geoisie.” But the people lining up for $13 lobster rolls at the Brooklyn Flea last weekend hardly looked as if they were worried about making the rent.

“I sort of think the six-pack abs obsession got so prissy it stopped being masculine,” is how Aaron Hicklin, the editor of Out, explains the emergence of the Ralph Kramden. What once seemed young and hot, for gay and straight men alike, now seems passé. Like manscaping, spray-on tans and other metrosexual affectations, having a belly one can bounce quarters off suggests that you may have too much time on your hands.

“It’s not cool to be seen spending so much time fussing around about your body,” Mr. Hicklin said.

And so guys can happily and guiltlessly go to seed.

Women have almost never gotten a pass on the need to maintain their bodies, while men always have, said Robert Morea, a personal fitness trainer. (Full disclosure: my own.) It would be too much, he added, to suggest that “potbellies are suddenly O.K.,” but as lean muscle and functionality become the new gym mantras, hypertrophied He-Men with grapefruit biceps and blister-pack abs have come to resemble specimens from a diorama of “A Vanished World.”

“When do you ever see that guy, anyway?” Mr. Morea asked, referring to those legendary Men’s Health cover models, with their rippling torsos and famished smiles. “The only time you really see that guy, he’s standing in front of an Abercrombie & Fitch store.” Perhaps, he suggested, there is really only one of them. “It’s the same guy. They just move him around.”

PAUL KRUGMAN The Swiss Menace

It was the blooper heard round the world. In an editorial denouncing Democratic health reform plans, Investor’s Business Daily tried to frighten its readers by declaring that in Britain, where the government runs health care, the handicapped physicist Stephen Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance,” because the National Health Service would consider his life “essentially worthless.”

Professor Hawking, who was born in Britain, has lived there all his life, and has been well cared for by the National Health Service, was not amused.

Besides being vile and stupid, however, the editorial was beside the point. Investor’s Business Daily would like you to believe that Obamacare would turn America into Britain — or, rather, a dystopian fantasy version of Britain. The screamers on talk radio and Fox News would have you believe that the plan is to turn America into the Soviet Union. But the truth is that the plans on the table would, roughly speaking, turn America into Switzerland — which may be occupied by lederhosen-wearing holey-cheese eaters, but wasn’t a socialist hellhole the last time I looked.

Let’s talk about health care around the advanced world.

Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.

The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of health care in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That’s how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It’s also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are.

Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French health care is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their U.S. counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program.

Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.

In this country, the Massachusetts health reform more or less follows the Swiss model; costs are running higher than expected, but the reform has greatly reduced the number of uninsured. And the most common form of health insurance in America, employment-based coverage, actually has some “Swiss” aspects: to avoid making benefits taxable, employers have to follow rules that effectively rule out discrimination based on medical history and subsidize care for lower-wage workers.

So where does Obamacare fit into all this? Basically, it’s a plan to Swissify America, using regulation and subsidies to ensure universal coverage.

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialized medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.

Correction: In Friday’s column I mistakenly asserted that Senator Johnny Isakson was responsible for a provision in a House bill that would allow Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling. In fact, he is responsible for a provision in a Senate bill that would allow a different, newly created government program to pay for such counseling.

BOB HERBERT This Is Reform?

It’s never a contest when the interests of big business are pitted against the public interest. So if we manage to get health care “reform” this time around it will be the kind of reform that benefits the very people who have given us a failed system, and thus made reform so necessary.

Forget about a crackdown on price-gouging drug companies and predatory insurance firms. That’s not happening. With the public pretty well confused about what is going on, we’re headed — at best — toward changes that will result in a lot more people getting covered, but that will not control exploding health care costs and will leave industry leaders feeling like they’ve hit the jackpot.

The hope of a government-run insurance option is all but gone. So there will be no effective alternative for consumers in the market for health coverage, which means no competitive pressure for private insurers to rein in premiums and other charges. (Forget about the nonprofit cooperatives. That’s like sending peewee footballers up against the Super Bowl champs.)

Insurance companies are delighted with the way “reform” is unfolding. Think of it: The government is planning to require most uninsured Americans to buy health coverage. Millions of young and healthy individuals will be herded into the industry’s welcoming arms. This is the population the insurers drool over.

This additional business — a gold mine — will more than offset the cost of important new regulations that, among other things, will prevent insurers from denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions or imposing lifetime limits on benefits. Poor people will either be funneled into Medicaid, which will have its eligibility ceiling raised, or will receive a government subsidy to help with the purchase of private insurance.

If the oldest and sickest are on Medicare, and the poorest are on Medicaid, and the young and the healthy are required to purchase private insurance without the option of a competing government-run plan — well, that’s reform the insurance companies can believe in.

And then there are the drug companies. A couple of months ago the Obama administration made a secret and extremely troubling deal with the drug industry’s lobbying arm, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. The lobby agreed to contribute $80 billion in savings over 10 years and to sponsor a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in support of health care reform.

The White House, for its part, agreed not to seek additional savings from the drug companies over those 10 years. This resulted in big grins and high fives at the drug lobby. The White House was rolled. The deal meant that the government’s ability to use its enormous purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices was off the table.

The $80 billion in savings (in the form of discounts) would apply only to a certain category of Medicare recipients — those who fall into a gap in their drug coverage known as the doughnut hole — and only to brand-name drugs. (Drug industry lobbyists probably chuckled, knowing that some patients would switch from generic drugs to the more expensive brand names in order to get the industry-sponsored discounts.)

To get a sense of how sweet a deal this is for the drug industry, compare its offer of $8 billion in savings a year over 10 years with its annual profits of $300 billion a year. Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, wrote that the deal struck by the Obama White House was very similar to the “deal George W. Bush struck in getting the Medicare drug benefit, and it’s proven a bonanza for the drug industry.”

The bonanza to come would be even larger, he said, “given all the Boomers who will be enrolling in Medicare over the next decade.”

While it is undoubtedly important to bring as many people as possible under the umbrella of health coverage, the way it is being done now does not address what President Obama and so many other advocates have said is a crucial component of reform — bringing the ever-spiraling costs of health care under control. Those costs, we’re told, are hamstringing the U.S. economy, making us less competitive globally and driving up the budget deficit.

Giving consumers the choice of an efficient, nonprofit, government-run insurance plan would have moved us toward real cost control, but that option has gone a-glimmering. The public deserves better. The drug companies, the insurance industry and the rest of the corporate high-rollers have their tentacles all over this so-called reform effort, squeezing it for all it’s worth.

Meanwhile, the public — struggling with the worst economic downturn since the 1930s — is looking on with great anxiety and confusion. If the drug companies and the insurance industry are smiling, it can only mean that the public interest is being left behind.

More Business as Usual


As Wall Street returns to profitability, it is eagerly returning to business as usual. Most notably it is preparing to pay enormous bonuses, like those that encouraged the sort of risk taking that set off the financial crisis.

That point was underscored in an article in The Times on Sunday by Gretchen Morgenson, which described a new study by James F. Reda & Associates, an independent compensation consultant in New York.

The study used proxy filings to analyze the pay plans at 191 of the nation’s largest companies in the first half of 2009. Instead of seeing a greater reliance on long-term incentive programs, the report found that most companies have actually made short-term incentive pay a bigger part of the compensation package.

The report covered 21 financial firms. Three, including Goldman Sachs, had reported no changes to their pay policies. JPMorgan Chase, in contrast, had put more conditions on pay, generally allowing the bank to attach more performance benchmarks and to impose a longer wait before pay is awarded.

Ideally, banks would be free to compensate employees as they saw fit. But that must be accompanied by reforms that ensure that banks can no longer profit from primarily speculative activities or other excessively risky transactions — including regulating the opaque derivatives markets and imposing limits on the use of borrowed money to increase profits.

The Obama administration unveiled a broad reform plan in June. But Congress has yet to tackle the most far-reaching issues. Meanwhile, despite the recent evidence to the contrary, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told The Wall Street Journal last week that he did not think the financial system was reverting to past practice, adding, “and we won’t let that happen.”

In the absence of comprehensive reform, however, rules are urgently needed to ensure that pay, at least, does not invite outsized risk taking. A recent House bill largely punted on the issue. The Senate has yet to act.

Mr. Geithner seems to think that Americans begrudge Wall Street its profits out of ignorance of the importance of healthy banks. That misses the mark.

They begrudge profits that come at the expense of others, like taxpayers, who do not share in them but are on the hook for the losses. Until the financial system is reformed — to ensure that the old mistakes are not repeated — they have every reason to be angry.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

BARACK OBAMA Why We Need Health Care Reform

OUR nation is now engaged in a great debate about the future of health care in America. And over the past few weeks, much of the media attention has been focused on the loudest voices. What we haven’t heard are the voices of the millions upon millions of Americans who quietly struggle every day with a system that often works better for the health-insurance companies than it does for them.

These are people like Lori Hitchcock, whom I met in New Hampshire last week. Lori is currently self-employed and trying to start a business, but because she has hepatitis C, she cannot find an insurance company that will cover her. Another woman testified that an insurance company would not cover illnesses related to her internal organs because of an accident she had when she was 5 years old. A man lost his health coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because the insurance company discovered that he had gallstones, which he hadn’t known about when he applied for his policy. Because his treatment was delayed, he died.

I hear more and more stories like these every single day, and it is why we are acting so urgently to pass health-insurance reform this year. I don’t have to explain to the nearly 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance how important this is. But it’s just as important for Americans who do have health insurance.

There are four main ways the reform we’re proposing will provide more stability and security to every American.

First, if you don’t have health insurance, you will have a choice of high-quality, affordable coverage for yourself and your family — coverage that will stay with you whether you move, change your job or lose your job.

Second, reform will finally bring skyrocketing health care costs under control, which will mean real savings for families, businesses and our government. We’ll cut hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and inefficiency in federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid and in unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies that do nothing to improve care and everything to improve their profits.

Third, by making Medicare more efficient, we’ll be able to ensure that more tax dollars go directly to caring for seniors instead of enriching insurance companies. This will not only help provide today’s seniors with the benefits they’ve been promised; it will also ensure the long-term health of Medicare for tomorrow’s seniors. And our reforms will also reduce the amount our seniors pay for their prescription drugs.

Lastly, reform will provide every American with some basic consumer protections that will finally hold insurance companies accountable. A 2007 national survey actually shows that insurance companies discriminated against more than 12 million Americans in the previous three years because they had a pre-existing illness or condition. The companies either refused to cover the person, refused to cover a specific illness or condition or charged a higher premium.

We will put an end to these practices. Our reform will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of your medical history. Nor will they be allowed to drop your coverage if you get sick. They will not be able to water down your coverage when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime. And we will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. No one in America should go broke because they get sick.

Most important, we will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups, preventive care and screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and prostate cancer on the front end. It makes sense, it saves lives and it can also save money.

This is what reform is about. If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. If you have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. You will not be waiting in any lines. This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance. I don’t believe anyone should be in charge of your health care decisions but you and your doctor — not government bureaucrats, not insurance companies.

The long and vigorous debate about health care that’s been taking place over the past few months is a good thing. It’s what America’s all about.

But let’s make sure that we talk with one another, and not over one another. We are bound to disagree, but let’s disagree over issues that are real, and not wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that anyone has actually proposed. This is a complicated and critical issue, and it deserves a serious debate.

Despite what we’ve seen on television, I believe that serious debate is taking place at kitchen tables all across America. In the past few years, I’ve received countless letters and questions about health care. Some people are in favor of reform, and others have concerns. But almost everyone understands that something must be done. Almost everyone knows that we must start holding insurance companies accountable and give Americans a greater sense of stability and security when it comes to their health care.

I am confident that when all is said and done, we can forge the consensus we need to achieve this goal. We are already closer to achieving health-insurance reform than we have ever been. We have the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association on board, because our nation’s nurses and doctors know firsthand how badly we need reform. We have broad agreement in Congress on about 80 percent of what we’re trying to do. And we have an agreement from the drug companies to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. The AARP supports this policy, and agrees with us that reform must happen this year.

In the coming weeks, the cynics and the naysayers will continue to exploit fear and concerns for political gain. But for all the scare tactics out there, what’s truly scary — truly risky — is the prospect of doing nothing. If we maintain the status quo, we will continue to see 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day. Premiums will continue to skyrocket. Our deficit will continue to grow. And insurance companies will continue to profit by discriminating against sick people.

That is not a future I want for my children, or for yours. And that is not a future I want for the United States of America.

In the end, this isn’t about politics. This is about people’s lives and livelihoods. This is about people’s businesses. This is about America’s future, and whether we will be able to look back years from now and say that this was the moment when we made the changes we needed, and gave our children a better life. I believe we can, and I believe we will.

Barack Obama is the president of the United States.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Media Matters checks the media!

Media Matters: Please give a warm welcome to our death panelists

The role of rationality in our republic was again called into question this week, as the newest conservative lines of attack against health care reform embraced an equally new level of madness.

As you surely know by now, Sarah Palin loves Facebook, and last Friday, she wanted to make sure her friends knew the terrible secret hiding in H.R. 3200.

"The America I know and love," she wrote, "is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of [President] Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

The idea that government bureaucrats will soon create "death panels" that will encourage the killing of Americans with disabilities as well as the elderly has now officially entered the conservative media's playbook. The notion is apparently rooted in an extremely selective reading of past writings by Ezekiel Emanuel, coupled with a total misreading of Section 1233 of the House health care legislation, which aims only to reimburse doctors who provide voluntary end-of-life counseling for those on Medicare.

As usual, media conservatives didn't let the facts get in the way of fear. Glenn Beck defended Palin's "death panel" statement on Monday, as did Fox News' Andrew Napolitano. That same day, Rush Limbaugh cited an op-ed that, while raising concerns about the end-of-life consultations, called euthanasia talk "rubbish." Then he ignored that statement and proceeded to talk about euthanasia.

The narratives continued unabated and were repeatedly given attention by Fox's Brian Kilmeade. (Fox & Friends, it turns out, is a bad place to go for accurate analysis of health care reform.) Beck dismissed the unconvinced, warning that they would "laugh all the way to the death panels," and Ann Coulter said that Emanuel was on her "death list." Beck and Limbaugh also revisited the Nazi theme of the previous week, equating the principles and tactics of the Third Reich to those being employed by congressional Democrats and the media. When the Senate Finance Committee indicated that the end-of-life counseling provision would be removed from its version of the legislation, The Fox Nation impartially reported the news by declaring victory.

By the way, in case you had any doubt about how hard the conservative media are working to defeat health care reform (and I know you did), just take a look at this study Media Matters for America conducted. Over a two-day period (August 10 and 11), we tallied up the guests on Fox News who discussed health care. The result: 10 supported progressive reforms, and 63 opposed them. As always, fair and balanced.

So what's the good news?

Despite it all, there was actually a host of accurate coverage concerning health care reform this week -- a reminder of just how shockingly irresponsible most conservative media outlets are. ABC's Kate Snow dismissed the end-of-life controversy as misinformation started by Betsy McCaughey, and Joe Scarborough put the smear out to pasture as well. The "death panel" assertion was further debunked by CNN's John Roberts, MSNBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman, David Shuster, and Willie Geist, NBC's Anne Thompson, and ABC's chief medical editor, Dr. Tim Johnson.

CBS and NBC also ran stories illustrating the urgent need for health care reform, and CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta addressed the right-wing "rationing" canard, explaining how rationing occurs all the time under our current system. There was even pushback against the claim that Democrats were advocating a "Canadian-style" system.

Sadly, there was also some backsliding. USA Today falsely claimed that the "estimated cost of a health care overhaul" would be $1 trillion, and one CNN report cited Heritage Foundation research while ignoring estimates from the CBO. Most telling was an ABC piece that contradicted the network's own reporting and portrayed the end-of-life issue as still being an open question. It was a classic example of the mainstream media's desire to avoid criticism by presenting both sides of a story -- even when one side doesn't make any sense. Let's hope this Sunday's Meet the Press won't follow suit (David Gregory has promised it won't).

Don't show me the money!

There was an encouraging development in the ongoing campaign to get hate off our public airwaves. After a host of progressive groups, among them Media Matters and, publicized Beck's recent rant accusing Obama of racism, multiple companies announced that they would no longer advertise on his program -- among them: ConAgra, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, Radio Shack, GEICO, Travelocity, and Sargento. Reflecting on the development, The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart said that it might "pump the brakes on some of these wild statements." We can only hope.

Anti-democratic Democrats continue hosting public forums

Town hall protests continued this week, all of which were given extensive coverage by Fox News and other conservative outlets (respectful meetings were ignored). Andrew Breitbart attempted to blame any past or future violence on Democrats and their thuggish union allies, while Fox's Megyn Kelly allowed protester Mike Sola to claim that Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer had sent goons to his house to intimidate his family. No, there simply aren't any provocations coming from the right these days. "[W]e need to be very, very careful," Beck warned his audience while appealing for calm. "Somebody's going to do something stupid, and it will change the republic overnight." Nor does Lou Dobbs want anyone to misinterpret his assessment of Howard Dean ("[H]e's a bloodsucking leftist -- I mean, you gotta put a stake through his heart to stop this guy"). When a guest criticized him for calling Dean a "bloodsucking liberal," Dobbs defended himself. "I called him a bloodsucking leftist," he repeated. And just for good measure, Beck and Bill O'Reilly derided an 11-year-old girl's question at Obama's town hall in New Hampshire. Just a normal day at the right-wing office.

Conservatives, seeking to exploit the town halls to full effect, also aimed to portray Democrats as being anti-democratic. In a Monday op-ed, Pelosi and Hoyer made a simple declaration: "Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American." It seemed clear enough -- if you attend a town hall, you shouldn't shout people down. But that's not how the right -- as well as the mainstream media -- spun it. The line was twisted, and both representatives were attacked for calling the protesters "un-American." Dobbs chastised their "hypocrisy." Kilmeade repeated the distortion, as did Politico and Fox's Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy. Even NBC's Chuck Todd and NPR's Diane Rehm got into the mix. Sean Hannity, of course, wasn't to be topped, saying that "we've had hardworking Americans called Nazis and brownshirts and un-American by Nancy Pelosi." It seemed as though the CNN's Errol Louis and MSNBC's Contessa Brewer were the only ones who took the time to read the editorial before commenting on it.

Barack Obama is just like Richard Nixon

How, you ask? Why, they both have enemies lists, of course! That's how Beck and Dobbs described the White House's request that supporters pass along emails containing erroneous smears about health care reform. Indeed, Rush nailed the administration's true intent: It's a "snitch website" he declared. It's Obama's "own exclusive, private domestic spying program" -- forget that whole FISA thing. In order to ensure the program's secrecy, the president chose to publicly address the attack during a town hall meeting. Then he asked for everyone's Social Security number and something embarrassing he could blackmail them with.

Down the rabbit hole

At a few points this week, words were exchanged that simply don't fit the rubric of normal conservative misinformation. Specifically: Michael Savage again warned the public of the "internment camps" that Obama is now readying for his political opponents; Hannity derided the "sick, psychotic, twisted individuals in their underwear in a basement" who monitor Fox and right-wing talk radio (he means us!); Limbaugh once again dismissed a report on the growing threat of right-wing militia violence (because there were no consequences the last time that was done); and Beck explained that health care was not a God-given right for all Americans -- not unless Jesus himself is conducting the physicals.

But in the end, it was Beck who truly broke new ground when he said something that was so crazy that even his panel of yes-men were left speechless. He's really hitting his stride.

Friday, August 07, 2009

MediaMatters.Org WEEKLY update of the weird righty WACKOS!

Media Matters: A long, hot summer of hate

It was an ugly week, and a telling one.

"Global warming is no different than health care, is no different than cap and trade," Rush Limbaugh explained on Monday. "It is simply another branch of liberalism, statism, that is designed to expand government control over individuals and their liberty and their freedom and their income."

"And if this plays out right ... you can do some great damage, culturally, to liberalism," he concluded.

The next five days showed how seriously the right wing is taking those words and how far it is willing to go to confuse and manipulate the public, and to capitalize on the ensuing fear and rage. The goals: the complete delegitimization of Obama and the wholesale destruction of the progressive movement he leads.

Glenn Beck is anti-violence, pro-poison

On Monday, Glenn Beck made clear that he does not support violence in the name of political causes. Sure, he's advocating civil disobedience if need be. Maybe 70 million people voted for Barack Obama less than a year ago, but who cares? "It is time to go to Washington!" he preached on Wednesday. "It is time to stand or sit in the middle of the street if you have to!" But remember: no violence.

Then on Thursday, he poisoned the speaker of the House. Not literally, of course -- just in effigy. On live television. What's the problem? Can't you liberals take a joke?

It was a perfect example of the game conservatives in the media are playing: pouring gasoline on the fire, and then, once they are criticized, saying that they were only kidding. But what does Beck expect his viewers to take away from his broadcasts? After a week of increasingly violent protests at town halls around the country, including one such event at which protesters reportedly mentioned Beck by name when explaining what inspired them, he cannot seriously contend that his rhetoric isn't having an impact, isn't stirring up the rage and confusion that is defining opposition to Democratic reforms. How many times can Beck portray Obama as a traitor who is destroying our national sovereignty, or compare the president's health care proposals to those of the Nazis, before the anger spills over? He calls for calm, and then describes the Obama-led "brownshirts" who are silencing dissent and the "enemies list" the White House is compiling of those who dare to voice their opinions. Meanwhile, it is the Democrats, we are told, who are the irresponsible ones. It is Democrats who are using the language of "pure hate," as Frank Luntz told Beck, to describe the brave patriots who are shouting down members of Congress in defense of liberty. Why are they doing it? Beck's answer? They want to create "more problems" so "they can use the iron fist and crush people." In the meantime, Beck urged his supporters to continue pressuring their members of Congress, even if they have to "hold a meeting ... in front of their house."

There was a hint of accountability this week after several of Beck's advertisers canceled their contracts with his show in the wake of his accusation that Obama hates white people. But the provocation continued. "When will someone stand up and say, "Traitor'?" Beck ranted on August 5. "When will someone stand up and say, 'Thieves'? ... The American way of life is being systematically dismantled and destroyed! The republic is in danger!"

Beck is right. If he gets his way, it is in danger. Reason will have been replaced by rage.

With Obama in office, Lou Dobbs claims to be an independent no more

Lou Dobbs took aim at everyone this week -- and CNN still has his back.

In spite of fresh criticism from sources as diverse as the NAACP and Don Imus, CNN alone among the major cable channels decided that it would refuse to run the ad Media Matters put out calling for the network to address Dobbs' promotion of the "birther" conspiracy theory. Predictably, Dobbs tried to make the entire issue about Media Matters itself, saying the ad "really reveals a lot about" who we are. He continued the theme throughout the week, portraying Media Matters as one of the White House's "attack dogs" and asking Obama to call us off, something Ann Coulter agreed with when she was a guest on his radio show.

It was actually a banner week for Lou. In fact, he officially abandoned his stance as "Mr. Independent," using his radio show to inform Obama (a regular listener, to be sure) that he was "moving from being an independent, sir, to being absolutely opposed to ... any policy you can conceive of!" Dobbs celebrated his newfound opposition by spreading misinformation on health care reform (it's socialism, by the way, because Obama's a socialist), hosting a Michelle Malkin lovefest, defending Limbaugh, raising the specter of incipient fascism, and repeatedly attacking Keith Olbermann, whom he described as a "cretin" and a "psycho" who was "psychologically scarred" from beatings by "girls" that he supposedly suffered as a child. No wonder, then, that Olbermann works at MSNBC, the network Dobbs called a "coven of thugs."

And not to be left behind by his fellow right-wing media celebrities, Dobbs offered support to a caller who threatened to "brawl" with health care reform advocates at a town hall, encouraging others like him to make their "voice heard."

But whatever you do, don't say "birther" on his show.

Rush Limbaugh hates Nazis, which is why he hates Nancy Pelosi

It's hard to imagine, but in certain ways, Rush was actually the most reasonable of the conservative heavy hitters this week ... except for his repeated comparisons of the Democratic leadership to the Nazi high command. Whoops -- never mind.

With the precision the right-wing echo chamber provides on a daily basis, Rush reiterated his heartfelt belief that if Democrats have their way, senior citizens -- the very same group that benefits exclusively from that evil government-run program known as Medicare -- will spend their last days on a "Statist Farm," where they will be unable to see a doctor and suffer at the hands of heartless bureaucrats whose job it will be to "make sure certain people die." On the other hand, if you were a loyal Obama supporter, you know, like an HIV patient, you might get special treatment. Limbaugh also mocked the voice of Kathleen Sebelius (he sure hates it when women talk) and described her work promoting reform as a "campaign of pure fraud and deceit." And he had a warning for some of the crooks in D.C.: "You Blue Dogs are about to see your last days if you vote for this bill." At least he's giving them one more chance to get it right.

Predictably, Limbaugh decried the idea that anti-reform town hall protests were anything other than the work of self-informed citizens. "It's not ginned up, it's genuine. It's real," he explained. Sure, there isn't a single shard of evidence that any well-funded conservative organization has spent a single second spreading lies and advocating aggressive tactics in the hope of furthering the disruptions.

"There is no manufactured anger," Limbaugh said the next day. "The anger is legitimate and real and it is boiling over."

There's that idea again: The anger is boiling over.

In order to truly manipulate people, you need to convince them that they are fighting pure evil. And on Thursday, Rush finally got down to business.

"[T]he Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo," he said on air. He went on to explain "the similarities between the Democrat Party of today and the Nazi Party in Germany." Key among them: "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate." On Friday, he did it again, but blamed Nancy Pelosi for "starting it" because she had pointed out that one conservative protester had made a sign featuring a swastika. There was plenty of photographic evidence to back her up, but Limbaugh still called her "deranged."

Sounding the same call as Beck and Dobbs, Limbaugh explained that Obama's "brownshirts" were coming, sure to make use of the "snitch website" he had set up. He warned of "union thugs" who had "roughed up" a protester -- "Mussolini-type stuff." He accused a St. Louis SEIU local of violence, and then gave out the office's address.

He even latched onto a recent fad in conservative circles: comparing Obama to the Joker, the sociopathic anarchist from the most recent Batman movie. "His goal was to undermine the whole system," Limbaugh said of the character, while actually explaining himself.

He wasn't kidding. The conservative playbook has been laid bare, and it is ugly. In the face of this summer of hate, progressives must persevere. And in so doing, they must be driven not by anger at the thought of who they are fighting against, but by devotion to who they are fighting for: everyone the conservative movement is so content to leave behind.

Bill Maher: New Rule: Smart President ≠ Smart Country?

Bill Maher: New Rule:

Just because a country elects a smart president doesn't make it a smart country.

And before I go about demonstrating how, let me just say that ignorance has life and death consequences.
Take the health care debate we're presently having:

members of Congress have recessed now so they can go home and "listen to their constituents." An urge they should resist because their constituents don't know anything.
At a recent town-hall meeting in South Carolina, a man stood up and told his Congressman to "keep your government hands off my Medicare," which is kind of like which is kind of like driving cross country to protest highways

RUSH on MEDS? Nobody can take him serious!

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No, it's right out of Adolf Hitler's playbook! Now, what are the similarities between the Democrat party of today and the Nazi Party in Germany? Well, the Nazis were against big business. They hated big business. And of course, we all know that they were opposed to Jewish capitalism. They were insanely, irrationally against pollution. They were for two years' mandatory voluntary service to Germany. They had a whole bunch of makework projects to keep people working, one of which was the autobahn. They were against cruelty and vivisection of animals, but in the radical sense of devaluing human life. They banned smoking. They were totally against that. They were for abortion and euthanasia of the undesirables, as we all know, and they were for cradle-to-grave nationalized health care!

"Hitler said he didn't even meat with his cabinet. He represented the will of the people. He was called the messiah. He said the people spoke through him. Do you know that the very first law that Hitler ordained was? Very first law was a law declaring how to cook lobsters. They were to be boiled. That was deemed to be the least painful. The law was sent all around to all the restaurants."

The Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo. There are far more similarity between Nancy Pelosi and Adolf Hitler than between these people showing up at town halls to protest a Hitler-like policy that's being heralded by a Hitler-like logo. Oh, another similarity. Obama is asking citizens to wrap each other out, like Hitler did.

Gas Hogs

NYTimes:Culling the Gas Hogs

The “cash for clunkers” program seems to be doing its job: people flocked to dealerships to use the rebates and trade in their old vehicles for new, more efficient ones. Dealers estimate they sold nearly a quarter million cars under the plan, almost exhausting the program’s $1 billion budget in about 10 days. The new cars achieved 10 miles per gallon more, on average, than the trade-ins.

This was an encouraging sign that incentives can persuade drivers to ditch gas hogs for smaller and more fuel-efficient cars. Congress was right to add $2 billion to extend the program until Labor Day. But the success of the program cannot obscure the fact that many Americans remain wedded to the guzzlers and that their enthusiasm for smaller, more efficient vehicles is likely to diminish once the clunkers money runs out.

Sales of pickup trucks and S.U.V.’s, which tumbled as gasoline reached $4 a gallon last year, started recovering market share as soon as gas prices receded. In June, before the clunkers program was switched on, about 25 percent fewer pickup trucks were sold than a year earlier. But June sales of compact cars were down by 42 percent. The Ford F-Series pickup, which was briefly bumped last year from its long-standing position as the nation’s top-selling brand, regained its perch.

The fuel-efficiency goals announced by the president in May could be a big step forward: a fleetwide average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, a significant increase from today’s fleetwide average of about 28 m.p.g. These standards will theoretically be reinforced by new limits on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

But some experts worry that loopholes could yet undermine Mr. Obama’s goals. This has happened before. The original fuel economy standards enacted in the mid-1970s were later weakened by the so-called S.U.V. loophole, allowing carmakers to redefine S.U.V.’s and minivans as light trucks, which face much lower fuel-efficiency standards than ordinary cars. Consumers, enjoying cheap gasoline, flocked to the big vehicles, which soon dominated the market.

Under the Obama plan, cars and light trucks would, as before, be governed by separate standards. But this time the manufacturers should be required to meet an overall target for their entire fleet.

Policy makers could do even more to push consumers in the right direction by giving them a clear financial incentive to buy fuel-efficient vehicles. And that, in turn, could mean a gas tax — the most effective way we can think of to keep fuel prices high enough to make people think twice before buying a guzzler. One study of car sales from 1999 to 2007 concluded that a $1 increase in the price of gas cut the market share of S.U.V.’s by more than 11 percent and raised the market share of compacts by about 17 percent.

Any gas tax scheme should include some mechanism like tax credits to protect low-income consumers. But coupled with the new fuel economy standards, such a tax could take this country a long way toward reducing carbon emissions.

Drivers embrace fuel economy when gas hits $4 a gallon. Some device is needed to encourage them when it drops below that.

Is Bush still relevant?

Politico Andie Coller

President Barack Obama may “own” the economy now — but he’s not ready to let anyone forget who left it to him.

Supporters and defenders of George W. Bush have been waiting for the shot clock to run out on Bush’s critics since before the 43rd president left office; a headline on a Washington Times opinion piece in December trumpeted, somewhat over-optimistically, “Only 26 days left for Bush bashing.” But with six months in the Oval Office behind him and Congress off for its milestone summer recess, Obama shows no sign of letting the prior administration or its advocates off the hook.

At a recent town hall in Raleigh, N.C., Obama ripped his detractors thusly: “You hand me a $1.3 trillion bill, and then you’re complaining six months later because we haven’t paid it all back.” And last weekend, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and economic adviser Larry Summers flooded the TV talk shows with reminders that they had “inherited” a $1.3 trillion deficit and an economy “in free fall.”

“The battle for the history is always an essential part of winning the future,” says Republican strategist John Feehery. “From that perspective, I think that is what Obama is trying to do.”

To those who contend that the administration’s regular references to the provenance of its woes is nothing more than a blame game, Democratic strategist Phil Singer replies that the president would have to engage in advanced yoga not to refer to the policies of his home’s prior resident.

“Obama has to talk about it, because it helps explain the agenda that he’s advancing every day,” Singer says. “The legacy of the Bush administration is driving the agenda of the Obama administration.”

If that’s the case, then the task for Team Obama is to walk the line between explaining and complaining, says former Democratic National Committee Communications Director Karen Finney. She agrees that the administration has to put its efforts in perspective, but she notes that it also must be cautious, particularly while people are still suffering from the effects of the economic crisis and unlikely to have much sympathy for anything perceived as whining from the top.

“I think it is very fair to make that point, but I think you have to do a way that acknowledges people’s pain and frustration,” she says. “It is a delicate balance, and I think that’s why it has to be done in a very pragmatic way and not in a way that sounds like an excuse.”

And indeed, lately most administration references to the previous management have been carefully calibrated to convey the message that Obama is taking responsibility for the economy without being responsible for it. Officials don’t speak of “having” problems but of having “inherited” them — and always in the context of what they are doing to try to solve them. And although he alludes to Bush and his impact often, the president has mentioned his predecessor by name only a handful of times in his prepared remarks since taking office.

Democratic candidates for governor in New Jersey and Virginia have been less circumspect. As POLITICO reported last month, both N.J. Gov. Jon Corzine and Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds kicked off their candidacies with broadsides against Bush — a strategy that, if effective, will likely encourage other Democrats to follow suit.

Which leaves those who have long chafed at Bush bashing to ask: How much longer can it possibly last?

With respect to Obama, at least, reasonable minds may disagree.

It’s already over, says Feehery — at least in terms of its effectiveness: “My own personal opinion is that six months is an eternity in politics, and it’s never about what happened six months ago — it’s about what’s happening right now.”

It might last another month or two, but that’s it, opines Republican strategist Ed Rollins: “I think you may have a little bit more time, but certainly by September, October, that story’s not going to fly. It’ll be Obama’s war in Afghanistan, Obama’s economy,” he says. “Whether it’s legitimate or not, that’s the way it works.”

The public is already holding Obama responsible, says Democratic strategist Douglas Schoen, who stamps a fall sell-by date on the tactic. “When asked the question, 'Who’s more to blame?' the American people say, ‘Bush is more to blame than Obama — but we’re looking to Obama for solutions.’” Schoen says the strategy may still be useful now, but it won’t be indefinitely: “Do I think they can get through the midterms with that? No, I don’t.”

Not so fast, counters Democratic pollster Paul Maslin; it all depends on what happens between now and then.

“If, next year, as we head into the midterm elections, the economy really starts to turn around, then he’s got a story line that begins with 'We inherited this' that works for him, and there’s no reason why he couldn’t take it all the way through the midterms and even through reelection.”

Or perhaps even longer. Muses Maslin: “Ronald Reagan ran against Washington pretty much the whole eight years, and he was in D.C. the whole time, as the head of our government.”

On the flip side, notes Singer, the political risk to the president is relatively low. “One of the ironies about the Obama administration is, for all of the accusations that it’s all rhetoric and talk, a lot of its success will be determined on nuts and bolts metrics,” he says. “If the economy is stagnant in 2012, people aren’t going to be saying, ‘I’m not going to vote for the president because he only wants to bash Bush.’ They’re going to say, ‘I’m not voting for the president because the economy is stagnant.’”

The main caveat, says Maslin, is that even if the president can safely continue to score points off the previous administration, he should be aware that the buzzer on Bush himself has sounded.

“I’m a partisan Democrat, but even I don’t want to kick him anymore,” he says.