Having it both ways

Tom Jensen on PPP's latest Montana polling, showing Baucus with shrinking support from Democrats, and popularity among Republicans long gone:

Baucus' plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end. Blanche Lincoln's stance, among other issue positions, alienated her base so much that she nearly lost her party's nomination. And it certainly didn't help her to win Republican votes in the fall, leading to her overwhelming defeat in November. Joe Lieberman's actions on health care have helped to put him in a most unusual position- his approval rating is under 50% with Democrats, Republicans, and independents, one of very few Senators who's managed to pull off that trio. And on the other side of the aisle Olympia Snowe's vote for the health care bill at one point in committee, even though she voted against it in the end, infuriated the Republican base in the state and has many folks hankering for a primary challenge against her.

Every voter has his or her issue that is, to them, indisputably the most important issue ever, but Jensen's conclusions show that every party also has a set of issues that support for (or opposition to) is a nearly foregone conclusion in the minds of voters.  Affordable health care was such an issue for Democrats.  Opposition to that same reform was a given for the GOP.

Baucus lost any popularity he held with Montana Republicans the minute he even acknowledged there was a health care reform effort to be a part of.  So you follow that up with a plan to water down the bill, weakening not only the reform, but support from the base you need even more, having lost the Republicans?  Genius strategy.

You're losing one side either way.  Why not give the side you still have everything they really want?

The choice was always either complete support of the strongest bill possible, or complete opposition to any reforms at all, and the electorate had shown that clearly in poll after poll leading up to Max's two month long delay crusade to be everyone's hero. 

Baucus' antics during the health care reform debate exemplify the Democratic Party's obsession with moderation (as defined by David Broder!) for moderation's sake and bipartisanship (as defined by Fox News!) for the media's sake, and now, for Baucus, it's coming home to roost.

Time to bypass this Liebermann/Blue Dog strategy for electoral "success."

Weekly Pulse: The Coming War on Health Reform, Government Cheese, and how CPCs Incubate Anti-Choice Violence

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Republicans don’t have the votes to repeal health care reform, but they are determined to use their newly-won control of the House to fight it every step of the way. Marilyn Werber Serafini gives Truthout readers a sneak-peek at the GOP playbook to attack healthcare reform in 2011.

Who are some of the top contenders in this coming battle? Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is a leading candidate to chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton is vowing, if elected chairman, to use the oversight powers of the committee to hold a flurry of hearings on alleged misconduct in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. Barton plans to show that budget experts “covered up” the true projected costs of health care reform. In Barton’s world, the fact that there’s no evidence to support this allegation is all the more reason to investigate.

Other key players include James Gelfand, the director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has already compiled a wishlist of 31 investigations that he wants the newly Republican-controlled House to undertake. The Chamber spent millions to elect Republicans this cycle. Barton’s hearings will have to compete for political oxygen with those of Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the chair apparent of the Investigations Committee, who is promising to gum up the works of government with at least to seven hearings a week for 40 weeks, a projected rate nearly triple that of his predecessor Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca).

Health care freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

If they can’t undo health reform in the corridors of Washington, conservatives are looking to the states and the federal courts. In The Nation, Nicholas Kusnetz reports on how a coalition of hard right groups are organizing against health care reform at the state level.

A group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is at the forefront of the drive to pass so-called “health care freedom acts” in the states to preemptively outlaw federal health reform before it can be implemented. ALEC claims to have filed or pre-filed bills in 38 states and passed 6 so far. Few expect these laws to stand up in court, if challenged, but they are part of ALEC’s long term strategy to fight health reform itself in the federal courts. A Virginia judge recently ruled that an ALEC-sponsored “freedom” law gave the state standing to challenge federal reform.

Kusnetz shows the close ties between ALEC officials and Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and other Koch-Industries-funded conservative activist groups that are campaigning against health care reform in various capacities.

What about Medicare?

At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes that many Republicans, including Senator-Elect Rand Paul (R-KY) successfully campaigned on a platform of repealing health care reform to save Medicare. Benen explains that repealing the Affordable Care Act would actually put Medicare in worse financial straights than staying the course. The Republican rhetoric of defending Medicare and railing against socialized medicine is a flagrant self-contradiction. It’s not hard to see which of these two projects they are more committed to.

As Brie Cadman points out at Change.org, the self-proclaimed “Young Guns” of the Republican Party are keen to privatize Medicare all together.

Government cheese: Corporate welfare edition

The USDA is scheming to make you eat more cheese. Tom Philpott of Grist explains how it works. Big Dairy produces more milk than Americans care to drink. Plus, consumers are increasingly demanding reduced-fat milk. That leaves a lot of milk left over to make cheese, but Americans aren’t eating enough cheese to make a dent in the national milk fat surplus.

Unsold milk fat could become a toxic asset on the books of Big Dairy. So, the USDA created a non-profit corporation called Dairy Management (DM) to convince fast food companies to spike their products with millions of tons more cheese every year. With the help of DM, Domino’s Pizza created a line of “Legend” pizzas with 40% more cheese. Who can forget the epic 2002 “Summer of Cheese” when DM teamed up with Pizza Hut to boost cheese consumption by an astonishing 102 million pounds? The average American now eats 33 pounds of cheese per year, three times as much as in 1970.

Officially, the USDA is supposed to help Americans eat better and support the agriculture industry. Cheese can be part of a healthy diet, but not in ever-increasing quantities. In practice, supporting the profits of Big Agra should not take precedence over preventing obesity or reducing the incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

CPCs: Incubators for anti-choice violence

In Ms. Magazine, Kathryn Joyce explores the shadowy world of “crisis pregnancy centers,” anti-choice ministries that pose as full-service reproductive health clinics, but offer no real health services. CPCs have a business model built on deceit. They seek to prevent abortions by tricking women seeking comprehensive reproductive health care, which might include abortion.

Activism rooted in such deceit and contempt for women’s autonomy can flare into violence. Joyce reveals that CPCs also serve as incubators for radical anti-choice activism. Radical groups like Operation Rescue encourage their supporters to volunteer. Scott Roeder, the assassin of Dr. George Tiller, got his start accosting women on the street outside abortion clinics as a volunteer “sidewalk counselor” for a crisis pregnancy center.

Just the presence of a CPC near an abortion clinic is correlated with increased violence against the clinic, as Joyce reports:

A recent survey by the Feminist Majority Foundation of women’s reproductive-health clinics nationwide found 32.7 percent of clinics located near a CPC experienced one or more incidents of severe violence, compared to only 11.3 percent of clinics not near a CPC. (Severe violence includes clinic blockades and invasions, bombings, arson, bombing and arson threats, death threats, chemical attacks, stalking, physical violence and gunfire.)

Doctors on the front line see the overlap between CPCs and more virulent forms of anti-choice activism every day. “[CPCs and violent anti-choice activists] have two different spheres,” OB-GYN Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation’s last remaining specialists in late-term abortions, told Joyce. “The underlying theory of both is never let the truth stand in the way of getting your point across. If you distort facts to women, there is no difference.”

Flip Benham’s slap on the wrist

One of the activists Joyce interviews in her piece is Rev. “Flip” Benham, director of Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. Robin Marty of RH Reality Check reports that Benham was found guilty of stalking an abortion provider and posting “Wanted” posters with the doctor’s picture on them, accusing him of being a baby killer. Benham was sentenced to 24 months probation.

In his defense, Benham claimed that this was a harmless gesture that never killed anyone. In fact, “wanted” posters for abortion doctors are a time-honored intimidation tactic that has been used repeatedly before the murders of abortion providers. Benham is deliberately cultivating a climate of fear and rage is conducive to violence.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Twitter and the Cowardice of Sarah Palin

Originally posted at Cagle.

When I joined Twitter in July 2006 I was the 3,365th person to sign up for the 140-character message streaming social network. Now, with more than 190 million users having taken the plunge, I guess you could call me an early adopter of sorts.

See, I've always believed that the Internet -- and by extension new online tools like Twitter -- have the ability to create change because it levels the political playing field tearing down walls that have traditionally separated the powerless and the powerful.

It turns out I may have been wrong -- at least when it comes to a certain half-termer from Alaska.

There's more...

Weekly Pulse: Insurance, Dispersants, and Teen Botox

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Is the IV Bag half-empty or half-full? Theda Skocpol, the author of a forthcoming book on President Barack Obama’s health care reforms, argues in the Nation that progressives are underrating reform.

Skocpal urges progressives to get over their disappointment over the lack of a public health insurance option and rally around the president to support health care reform in the midterm elections. Skocpol maintains that, for all its flaws and limitation, the Affordable Care Act will be a powerful antidote to rising inequality in American society:

[T]he White House certainly had to make choices about what to emphasize in the brief time it likely had to make headway. The administration chose comprehensive health care reform and a few other measures with profound economic import—and those will make an enduring difference for millions of ordinary Americans.

Keeping insurers in line

In the American Prospect, Jon Cohn warns of a potential loophole in the health care reform legislation. In theory, health insurers are now required to do various things they find unpalatable (read: less profitable), like making sure that all plans cover a basic array of treatments and limiting out-of-pocket expenses.

However, Cohn notes, the law allows for “grandfathering” of existing health care plans that don’t meet the new standards. It’s up to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to interpret what the grandfathering clause means in practice.

In June, the Secretary issued an interim ruling that existing health insurance plans will only be subject to the new rules if employers make significant changes in the coverage—such as dramatically increasing deductibles. If employers try to slash benefits or hike rates on their existing plans, they will lose the privilege of the grandfather clause and become subject to the tougher new rules.

The federal government can only do so much. Suzi Khimm of Mother Jones wonders who will keep insurers in line at the state level, the front lines of health care reform. She notes that 13 states don’t have the legal authority to scrutinize excessive rate hikes, like the 39% jump in premiums that insurer Anthem proposed last year.

Some states are taking the new regulations and running with them, but others are still fighting health care reform in the courts. This state-level recalcitrance is a major potential stumbling block. As Jonathan Cohn argued in his Prospect piece, above, health care reform will only work if it changes the behavior of insurers nationwide. State-level foot-dragging could be a serious threat to the success of the initiative as a whole.

Untested dispersants in the Gulf

You can’t see most of the 4 million barrels of oil that BP spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Researchers at the University of Georgia estimate that 70%-79% of the oil is still in the Gulf, hidden in the water column or on the seabed. As Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones, the oil is invisible because of chemicals known as dispersants.

So far, BP has released over 1.8 million gallons of these chemicals into the Gulf. These substances have never been tested for safety. Sheppard explains that the public isn’t even legally entitled to know exactly what’s in Correxit and other dispersants because the formulas are protected by trade secrets. When pressed, the maker of Correxit admitted that the fluid contains 2-butoxyethanol, a chemical that can cause kidney damage.

Teen Botox

Julie Zellinger of the Ms. Magazine blog reacts to the news that 12,000 American teenagers received botox injections last year, a 2% increase from 2008. Botox is used to paralyze muscles—sometimes for medical reasons like neck spasms and twitchy eyelids, but also for cosmetic purposes, like erasing wrinkles.

Teens don’t usually have wrinkles, but that doesn’t stop enterprising cosmetic surgeons from figuring out how to sell them botox injections to relieve other body image anxieties. Some teens are using botox to make their faces look less round.

As Zellinger says, it’s not so much the procedure itself that’s cause for alarm, but rather the underlying lack of self-esteem that these doctors are capitalizing on. I don’t know if teens are more insecure about their looks today than they were a generation ago, but cosmetic surgeons are busily developing techniques to exploit that insecurity.

Weekly Pulse: Insurance, Dispersants, and Teen Botox

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Is the IV Bag half-empty or half-full? Theda Skocpol, the author of a forthcoming book on President Barack Obama’s health care reforms, argues in the Nation that progressives are underrating reform.

Skocpal urges progressives to get over their disappointment over the lack of a public health insurance option and rally around the president to support health care reform in the midterm elections. Skocpol maintains that, for all its flaws and limitation, the Affordable Care Act will be a powerful antidote to rising inequality in American society:

[T]he White House certainly had to make choices about what to emphasize in the brief time it likely had to make headway. The administration chose comprehensive health care reform and a few other measures with profound economic import—and those will make an enduring difference for millions of ordinary Americans.

Keeping insurers in line

In the American Prospect, Jon Cohn warns of a potential loophole in the health care reform legislation. In theory, health insurers are now required to do various things they find unpalatable (read: less profitable), like making sure that all plans cover a basic array of treatments and limiting out-of-pocket expenses.

However, Cohn notes, the law allows for “grandfathering” of existing health care plans that don’t meet the new standards. It’s up to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to interpret what the grandfathering clause means in practice.

In June, the Secretary issued an interim ruling that existing health insurance plans will only be subject to the new rules if employers make significant changes in the coverage—such as dramatically increasing deductibles. If employers try to slash benefits or hike rates on their existing plans, they will lose the privilege of the grandfather clause and become subject to the tougher new rules.

The federal government can only do so much. Suzi Khimm of Mother Jones wonders who will keep insurers in line at the state level, the front lines of health care reform. She notes that 13 states don’t have the legal authority to scrutinize excessive rate hikes, like the 39% jump in premiums that insurer Anthem proposed last year.

Some states are taking the new regulations and running with them, but others are still fighting health care reform in the courts. This state-level recalcitrance is a major potential stumbling block. As Jonathan Cohn argued in his Prospect piece, above, health care reform will only work if it changes the behavior of insurers nationwide. State-level foot-dragging could be a serious threat to the success of the initiative as a whole.

Untested dispersants in the Gulf

You can’t see most of the 4 million barrels of oil that BP spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Researchers at the University of Georgia estimate that 70%-79% of the oil is still in the Gulf, hidden in the water column or on the seabed. As Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones, the oil is invisible because of chemicals known as dispersants.

So far, BP has released over 1.8 million gallons of these chemicals into the Gulf. These substances have never been tested for safety. Sheppard explains that the public isn’t even legally entitled to know exactly what’s in Correxit and other dispersants because the formulas are protected by trade secrets. When pressed, the maker of Correxit admitted that the fluid contains 2-butoxyethanol, a chemical that can cause kidney damage.

Teen Botox

Julie Zellinger of the Ms. Magazine blog reacts to the news that 12,000 American teenagers received botox injections last year, a 2% increase from 2008. Botox is used to paralyze muscles—sometimes for medical reasons like neck spasms and twitchy eyelids, but also for cosmetic purposes, like erasing wrinkles.

Teens don’t usually have wrinkles, but that doesn’t stop enterprising cosmetic surgeons from figuring out how to sell them botox injections to relieve other body image anxieties. Some teens are using botox to make their faces look less round.

As Zellinger says, it’s not so much the procedure itself that’s cause for alarm, but rather the underlying lack of self-esteem that these doctors are capitalizing on. I don’t know if teens are more insecure about their looks today than they were a generation ago, but cosmetic surgeons are busily developing techniques to exploit that insecurity.

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