Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chafee to Issue Talk Radio Ban

State officials in Rhode Island will soon be ordered to stay off the airways, provided the interviewer happens to be a talk show host.

A spokesman for Gov. Lincoln Chafee tells the Providence Journal that talk radio is essentially “ratings-driven, for-profit programming,” and “we don’t think it is appropriate to use taxpayer resources” to have state employees use work time to “support for-profit, ratings-driven programming.”

Chafee intends to stay off the air, too, reversing something of a trend. His predecessor, Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri, was a frequent talk radio guest, as are many current and former governors and big city mayors across the country.

A former mayor of Providence, who happens to be one of the biggest talk show hosts in the state, sharply disagrees with the governor’s stance.

“Chafee is – I don’t want to be critical – but he’s not exactly Demosthenes,” says Buddy Cianci, who hosts the afternoon drive program on WPRO-AM. “The fact is that he’s got some issues that he maybe doesn’t have the answer to [on the air].”

“But how do I take it? I take it as a total slap in the face to the public of the state of Rhode Island. There are thousands of people who listen to our radio shows. For him to ban all these people from coming on talk radio is certainly an affront to open government, and certainly is an affront to transparency,” Cianci tells ABC News.

The governor’s office has issued a clarification, saying the policy will not apply in “emergency situations,” like impending snow storms. Nor will the rule apply to interviews with news reporters or on the local NPR station, Christian Vareika, a Chafee spokesman said.

WPRO-AM, which airs Cianci’s afternoon talk show, says it intends to have state emergency management and transportation officials on Cianci’s show later today ahead of the winter storm that is closing in on Rhode Island.

But talk station executives are particularly stung by the notion that their programming is to be avoided by state officials because the stations are “for-profit.” More than 90 years after broadcasters were first licensed to sell commercial time with a mandate that they serve the public interest, Chafee’s position strikes many in the business as novel and worrisome

Missing From Loughner Debate: Soul Searching

There's been quite a bit of back and forth this week about who should share the blame for the actions of alleged Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner. Some on the left have pointed to incendiary rhetoric from Sarah Palin and others on the right, while some on the right have sought to tie Loughner to the beliefs of the left.

Palin was blamed in part for using of a bullseye icon to identify political targets - including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords - before the midterm elections. Recently-retired Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, for one, pointed to the bullseye imagery and said, "There are consequences to violent rhetoric."

A representative for Palin, meanwhile, said that the imagery was typical of political rhetoric and not meant to encourage violence. The right has also aggressively complained that Democrats are falsely placing blame on them alone for the vitriolic political speech of the last few years.

In an email to supports, Judson Phillips of the Tea Party Nation decried what he cast as political attacks by the left as inappropriate - right before making a political attack on the left.

"Now we hear from them, in the plaintive voice of Rodney King, 'can't we all just get along?' No, we can't," he wrote. "First, you liberals want to destroy liberty and freedom in this country. We in the Tea Party movement are not going to let that happen."

Earlier this week, Phillips argued that the Tea Party should try to brand Loughner - who appears to hold fringe, incoherent political beliefs -- as a "liberal lunatic."

"In a decent world, we could all take a moment to mourn for those killed by a liberal lunatic. Political civility is long since dead and the left will not let us do this. So be it. The left is coming and will hit us hard on this. We need to push back harder with the simple truth. The shooter was a liberal lunatic. Emphasis on both words," Phillips wrote Sunday.

The Conservative blog RedState, meanwhile, had this headline today: "The Left Puts a Bullseye on the Right." The site argued that "If this weekend has taught us anything politically, it's that the left is not interested in facts."

Indeed, many on the right, including talk show host Rush Limbaugh, have attacked left for what they characterize as jumping to the conclusion that Palin, or the heated rhetoric, is partially responsible for the Tucson shooting. They largely neglect to mention that such an accusation, of course, is a form of politicization of the tragedy.

There have been exceptions. Mark Meckler, co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, responded to the heated debate with a call for humanity.

"Anybody that would take an incident like this and try to turn it into political points as far as I'm concerned, they've lost their humanity," he said on CBSNews.com's "Washington Unplugged." "It's outrageous that the media and some folks in politics jumped to that immediately. They looked to gain political points out of something that's an enormous human tragedy...It shows how dehumanized our political system and our media have become."

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), who faced down nasty political rhetoric from the creatively-named "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" and others in his 2004 presidential campaign, tried to clear the air today in a speech in Washington.

"In the weeks and months ahead, the real issue we need to confront isn't just what role divisive political rhetoric may have played on Saturday - but it's the violence divisive, overly simplistic dialogue does to our democracy every day," he said.

Kerry praised House Speaker John Boehner for suspending House action this week and asked for a new mentality in Washington - one that is focused on solving the nation's difficult problems.

"So, in this time of crisis and mourning, in this time of challenge and opportunity, we need to commit to reaching across the aisle, as colleagues did before us, to unite to do the exceptional things that will keep America exceptional for generations to come," he said.

For Kerry and Meckler, the point is that while there is a healthy history of debate woven into the fabric of America, political rhetoric has gone too far in recent years.

Indeed, one word not much heard in the debate over who - if anyone - should be blamed for Loughner's alleged actions (other than Loughner himself) is "sorry." You haven't heard it from Loughner, who didn't utter more than a "yes" at his initial court appearance yesterday, and you haven't heard it from Sarah Palin, Judson Phillips, liberal DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas (who Tweeted "mission accomplished, Sarah Palin" following the tragedy) or anyone else whose rhetoric has pushed the bounds of acceptable discourse.

The apology would not be for Loughner's actions, but for contributing to a political discourse that has grown increasingly nasty in recent years. We don't know what drove the Tucson shooter, whose heinous act may have come no matter what was coming out of politicians and pundits. But the shooting does offer those politicians and pundits a chance to step back and consider the nasty rhetoric that has become a lamentable constant in American politics. And a simple "sorry" sure seems like a good place to start.

OOOPS! golden voice arrested.

Ted Williams, the Ohio homeless man whose golden voice made him a YouTube sensation and brought him offers of work, was detained by the Los Angeles Police Department Monday night at a Hollywood hotel.

According to law enforcement sources, Williams and a unidentified family member were detained after police were called to the Renaissance Hotel on a disturbance call.

The sources described the incident as an altercation with his daughter, but declined to provide further details.

Williams was eventually released, and the sources said the investigation was continuing. The sources stressed it's unclear if any arrests would result from the probe. Sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.

Williams was in Los Angeles for several televisions appearances, including "Entertainment Tonight." Earlier Monday, he visited the Lakers.

"It was good. It was the first time," Kobe Bryant told The Times' sports blog. "I had never seen him before, but I had heard a lot about him. It was pretty cool."

the dangers of high-capacity magazines (in an angry country)

Arizona shootings underscore the dangers of high-capacity magazines

"High Capacity Magazines . . . When ten rounds isn't enough," the Internet site offers.

When, exactly, would that be? Enough for what?

Jared Lee Loughner arrived at a Tucson Safeway on Saturday morning with a Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol outfitted with an oversized magazine that police say allowed him to get off 31 shots before he had to stop. The pause for reloading gave 61-year-old Patricia Maisch the chance to grab the new magazine from Loughner.

Guns don't kill people, bullets kill people - and gunmen intent on killing a lot of people tend to think 10 rounds is not enough.

Maj. Nidal Hasan, the accused Fort Hood shooter, told a curious clerk at Guns Galore that he wanted the extended-capacity clips because "he didn't like spending time loading magazines when he was at the range," according to court testimony. A few months later, Hasan, armed with 16 magazines and nearly 400 rounds of ammunition, allegedly killed 13 people.

For all the focus on weaponry, one of the most useful parts of the now-lapsed federal ban on assault weapons was that it prohibited the manufacture of magazines of more than 10 rounds. If the law, which expired in 2004, were still in effect, it would not stop crazed gunmen from inflicting damage, but it might limit the amount of damage they could inflict.

The modern politics of gun control do not favor those who back restrictions. Success, such as it is, consists of defending existing limits, not imposing new ones. Democrats were scared off from the issue after passing the assault-weapons ban and then losing control of Congress in 1994. Candidate Obama vowed to reinstate the assault weapons ban; President Obama, after a single year in office, had signed into law more repeals of federal gun-control policies than did President George W. Bush during his two full terms, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

As a matter of political self-preservation, I would not advise Democrats to mount a full-scale push for new gun-control measures.

But with six dead in Tucson, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, can we not as a society agree that these high-capacity magazines have no business in general commerce? New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg and New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting, plan to introduce legislation to reinstate the 10-round limit.

Glock, which manufactured the gun that Loughner used, doesn't want to discuss the issue; the company did not return phone calls. The National Rifle Association is hiding behind protestations of respect for the victims. When I asked about the use of high-capacity magazines and proposals to limit them, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam had only this to say: "At this time, anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate."

At Gun Owners of America, which manages the astonishing feat of making the NRA look reasonable, John Velleco, the director of federal affairs, came up with two arguments against limiting magazines to 10 rounds. One, the classic slippery slope: First, they'll take our 30-round magazines . . .

"There is no okay number with Carolyn McCarthy and her allies in the Congress," Velleco said. "They will only start with the number. . . . If the government can ban magazines with 10 or more rounds, it can ban a magazine that holds five or more rounds. There is no way to stop the arbitrariness of that sort of legislating."

Two, the self-defense fallacy. "Who knows how many rounds a law-abiding person might need to protect themselves?" Velleco asked. "The lesson that a lot of Americans may take from this incident and others like it is that, as brave and quick as the police are, they can't be everywhere all the time and maybe we need to take another look at our own self-protection."

So a gun-carrying citizen is at the shooting, tries to stop Loughner and 10 rounds isn't enough? A high-capacity magazine in the hands of such a bystander would be more likely to inflict more damage on other innocent observers than to take down the shooter.

Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, safe districts and swing seats: Look at the pictures of Christina-Taylor Green, shot dead at age 9. Imagine that she was your daughter, and she was hit by the 15th bullet or the 25th.

And ask yourself: Isn't 10 rounds more than enough?


California insurance chief expands inquiry into healthcare rate hikes
Dave Jones says he's reviewing planned premium increases on individual policies by Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross and PacifiCare in addition to Blue Shield of California.

California's new insurance commissioner has expanded his inquiry into rate hikes by major insurers, calling on them to delay pending increases for 60 days while he examines paperwork submitted to his office.

Commissioner Dave Jones had already urged Blue Shield of California to refrain from raising rates for a third time in five months. The increases would drive up consumers' bills as much as 59% cumulatively.

On Tuesday, Jones notified Aetna Inc., Anthem Blue Cross and PacifiCare that he also was focusing on them. The insurers said they could not comment because they had not seen letters sent by the commissioner.

Under review are individual policies overseen by the state Department of Insurance. Jones has limited power to review such filings; he can block them only if insurance companies spend less than 70% of their premiums on healthcare expenses.

"The state's largest health insurers have submitted multiple premium increases for early 2011, and I am very concerned about the impact these increases will have on policyholders, especially since I have not had sufficient time to review these filings," Jones said in a statement. He took office last week.

Spiraling insurance rates are coming under review for a second year in a row, after a national uproar over Anthem Blue Cross' attempt last year to raise individual rates as much as 39%.

Anthem was forced to withdraw its rates after the state found mistakes in its filing. It settled for smaller increases, but not before a six-month delay led to losses of as much as $150 million for the Woodland Hills company.

This year, Anthem said, rate hikes to take effect April 1 will average 9.8% for 638,000 individual policyholders. The insurer did not disclose its maximum increases. Jones asked Anthem to postpone the April 1 hike and a separate one that was scheduled to start Jan. 1.

Jones also wants Aetna to put on hold an April 1 increase averaging 20.7% for a portion of its individual business. It raised individual rates an average of 19% in October after delaying the increase for three months. Its maximum increase was 30%.

Also targeted by Jones are increases by PacifiCare. The firm planned to raise premiums 2% to 9% as of Jan. 1, a spokeswoman said.

State insurance officials said Health Net Inc. would face no further scrutiny for its own Jan. 1 increase. A review showed that the policies met the 70% requirement for spending on healthcare, an official said.

Health Net's increases will average 4% for 37,000 policyholders, a spokesman said. About 150 members will see the largest increases of 29.6%. In October, the insurer raised rates an average of 16% and as high as 25% after a three-month delay.

Also after a three-month delay, Blue Shield raised premiums in October an average of 19% and as much as 29% — the first annual increase in more than 15 months, the nonprofit company said.

Blue Shield had planned to raise rates Jan. 1 and again March 1. The company said higher rates were necessary to keep up healthcare costs, the increased use of medical services by its members and new mandates in state and federal healthcare laws, among other factors.

Even with higher rates, the company said, it lost as much as $20 million on individual policies in 2010 and would lose up to $30 million this year.

"We regret the premium increases that our individual and family plan members have experienced during the past several months. Unfortunately, the rates reflect what it costs to pay for the medical expenses of those members," Chief Operating Officer Paul Markovich said in a statement last week.

Markovich added: "We are working closely with our members, business customers and care providers to improve healthcare quality while holding the line on costs. It will take a gargantuan effort on the part of government and the private sector to reverse the trends that are making healthcare unaffordable for millions of Americans. We intend to play an active role in that effort."

A Blue Shield spokesman said Tuesday that the company was still in discussions with Jones' office about the request for a 60-day delay. Jones said he planned to push ahead to enforce a new California law that requires regulators to review the actuarial basis for rate increases.

"I have an obligation to California policyholders and to the law to closely scrutinize any rate filings, and that is what I intend to do," Jones said. "The request I have made for additional time from these insurers is one that I believe to be both fair and reasonable. I hope they will comply."

Michael Jackson's doctor to stand trial in manslaughter (The Talent was silenced!)

L.A. County judge revokes Conrad Murray's medical license and orders him to stand trial.
One medical expert testifies that it's possible the pop star administered the fatal dose of propofol himself.

A judge stripped Dr. Conrad Murray of his state medical license Tuesday after ruling that prosecutors have sufficient evidence to try him for manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said testimony presented during a six-day hearing into Murray's treatment of the pop icon had convinced him that allowing the cardiologist to keep his license "would constitute an imminent danger to public safety."

Evidence presented by prosecutors, the judge said, showed "a direct nexus and connection between the acts and omissions of Dr. Murray and the homicide in this case," Pastor said.

The judge's decision to send the case to trial was widely expected, including by Murray's attorneys, but the defense had strongly contested the suspension of his license, with one of his lawyers calling it a "nuclear option" that could destroy the 57-year-old doctor's ability to support his family and mount a criminal defense.

Murray is licensed in California, Texas and Nevada, but does not practice in California, his attorney said. As part of his ruling, Pastor gave the doctor 24 hours to inform medical authorities in the two other states that the court had suspended his California license until the conclusion of the criminal case. The notifications could have repercussions on his practice in the other states, his attorney said.

The judge denied a request by prosecutors to raise Murray's bail from $75,000 to $300,000. Murray is to return to court for arraignment Jan. 25 and is expected to again plead not guilty.

Jackson died June 25, 2009, from an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol. Murray acknowledged to police that he had used the drug for two months to treat the 50-year-old singer's chronic insomnia, but insisted that on the day of Jackson's death he had only administered a small amount that should not have been fatal.

How lethal levels of propofol got into Jackson's system was the focus of the final day of testimony in the case. Through the testimony of 20 previous witnesses, including police officers, paramedics and the performer's household staff, the defense had hinted that Jackson might have given himself the fatal dose.

But with the last two witnesses — both medical experts — the defense delved directly into the issue, with a lawyer suggesting that Jackson either injected himself with propofol or drank it when Murray wasn't looking.

The medical examiner who ruled the death a homicide said that he would stand by the classification even if it turned out that the pop star gave himself the fatal dose. Dr. Christopher Rogers, chief of forensic medicine for the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said Murray's "substandard" treatment in using propofol to treat insomnia in a home setting without proper monitoring remained key to his opinion.

The final witness, Dr. Richard Ruffalo, an anesthesiologist and pharmacologist, said his review of Murray's treatment suggested numerous deviations from the standard of medical care, from "simple" deviations such as a lack of understanding of the interactions between drugs to "extreme" deviations such as performing "totally useless" CPR with one hand.

He initially said that small amounts of propofol found in Jackson's stomach were not consistent with ingesting the drug, but under cross-examination, he acknowledged making a math error in his analysis and said ingestion "would seem to make sense."

But Ruffalo maintained that such a scenario only increased Murray's culpability given the doctor's claim that his famous patient was addicted to the drug he called "milk."

Rush Limbaugh says a dozen incredibly offensive things (Anyone who still listens to his nut is beyond hopeless!)

Rush Limbaugh said many awful, offensive things today, because he was defending himself from people who say that hateful, ugly rhetoric leads to violence. Well, he wasn't really "defending himself" from anything, so much as just spewing his usual free-associative garbage.

He "jokingly" suggested that Democrats had purposefully orchestrated a mass murder for their own political benefit. He incorrectly asserted that "every association that any act of violence has been made with the conservative right has fallen on emptiness."
He said that now the government will take away your guns, along with "as many political freedoms as they can manage." (So you'd better stock up on guns, and you'd better fear and hate the government!)

Then he said that Democrats and liberals are doing everything in their power to aid and help the man who tried to assassinate a Democratic member of Congress, because the sheriff said something mean about Rush Limbaugh.

“This guy clearly understands he’s getting all the attention and he understands he’s got a political party doing everything it can, plus a local sheriff doing everything that they can to make sure he's not convicted of murder.”

Yes. Right. The Democrats don't want Jared Loughner to be convicted of murder, because Democrats are objectively pro-murdering Democrats.