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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bill Maher Speaks to the President

"Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you any more. There's no money to spend--you used up all of that. You can't start another war because you used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people. Listen to your Mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit cards maxed out. No one's speaking to you.
'Mission accomplished.'

"Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or space man? Now I know what you're saying: there's so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in. Please don't. I know, I know. There's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela. Eliminating the sales tax on yachts.

"Turning the space program over to the church and Social Security to Fannie Mae. Plus giving embryos the vote.

"But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poorly I'm surprised that you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire city to rising water and snakes.

"On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans. Maybe you're just not lucky. I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.

"So, yes, God does speak to you. What he is saying is: 'Take a hint.'"

- Bill Maher, from his HBO show (as sent to me by six different Madman readers)

An Uncommon Thief Speaks

"absolutely innocent"
-Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling in regard to the 28 conspiracy charges against him

Well that's good enough for me. Case over. (Does my sarcasm show through?)

Isn't it amazing. If you listen to anyone in Enron former hierarchy, there is no one who did anything wrong ever. The mere fact that thousands of people lost their retirement fund and millions more did without electricity or heat due to the practices of Enron means nothing to these people. There is no sympathy. There is no remorse (unless you count getting caught as
remorse). These people are scoundrels and deserve the worst penalty the law has to offer. Too bad there's no death penalty for their deeds. Maybe there ought to be.

Skilling knew that Enron's stock was dropping and dumped  it (we call that "insider trading" folks) while extolling that same stock's virtues to other investors and would-be investors. Many of those investors were Enron employees who were relying on that stock for their retirement.

"I guess in some ways my life is on the line."

Only if it were, then maybe the likes of a Jeffrey Skilling or a Ken "Kenny-Boy" Lay would think twice before doing the things they did.

Skilling sold Enron stock as early as September, 2001, according to taped recordings and testimony by his broker. He told the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) that the falling
stock market, due to the terror attacks of 9/11, was the reason.

Blaming everything on 9/11 is the "G"reed "O"ver "P"eople party and the ultra-rich excuse for everything. It is their version of the "punt".

Skilling, sounding a lot lot Michael Corleone (Al Pacino in the Godfather III) kept telling anyone who would listen that he wanted to get out of his job and obligations with Enron.

My life was "totally out of whack,"
"I didn't want to come back,"
"I was ready to move on,"
"life was short,"

"Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in!"
-Michael Corleone, The Godfather, Part 3

Sounding like a true Republican, Skilling blamed Enron's collapse on just about anything and anyone he could. He even blamed the wall Street Journal for an "organized" effort and series of articles aimed at damaging the value of Enron.

"thrilled with the operating performance,"
-Skilling regarding his state of mind as he turned over the reigns of Enron

That's sounds strange due to the timing of the stock dump.

Skilling said that he told Lay to "get Enron's story out" in relation to the Journal articles. He even offered to come back and help "clean up" the mess that, as he sees it, was not of his doing in the least.

"All of a sudden it dawned on me... my company was struggling for its life. We went back to the
hotel, and I cried."
-Skilling referring to an episode in his Florida vacation hotel room (suite? Villa?), where he began drinking heavily

His girlfriend and former secretary, now wife was with him at the time. His ex-wife and new wife were both at the trial.

Skilling can tap dance all he wants to, but he's got a long way to go and a whole lot of lies to tell and convince everyone of before he can escape his fate.

-Noah Greenberg


My daughter recently gave birth at home, using a team of experienced nurse-midwives, who did a great job. Their bill for 8 months of prenatal care, including all lab work, etc., postnatal care, and handling the birth was $5000 total. The insurance company paid $1700 of the bill, period. If she had gone to a dr. and given birth in a hospital, and had a C-section (up to 40% of births in some areas are C-sections), and had to stay several days, and if the baby had to go to a special care nursery, which many do -- the bill would have been tens of thousands of dollars. Here is a way to save money, using your own home and a trained and experienced midwife -- and they won't pay for it. They only paid the prenatal care portion.

-Pat Thompson

In response to Madman's health care ideas, Billie M. Spaight writes:

I like the doctor plan to help medical students and the pro bono doctor plan. They used to have that in clinics and emergency rooms when I was a child and that's where I received almost all of my medical care. It worked out well.

With the plan for the consumers, there are some areas I disagree with.

First, you have made a distinction between generics and brand drugs. I would say that distinction is fair if the choice is simply a patient preference. But in other cases, brand is either a necessity or it is the result of there being no generic. In my case, 3 of the 7 prescriptions I take have no generics. One of the generics produces excess acid in my stomach and that overrides my acid blocker. In my husband's case, he tried generics to control a brittle seizure disorder and had terrible seizures. His condition is so brittle that the tiny bit of difference in the generics failed to give him the kind of control he needs, so he must take 2 brand drugs to get the kind of control he needs. In cases like these, I feel that we should not be penalized for it.

Spending 1 tenth of income for healthcare is something we already do WITH coverage. To take out another tenth to pay for a plan that would not be as good as the plan from my husband's union would be pretty tough. But at least your plan is opt in or opt out, which is better than the Massachusetts plan.

People who are freelancers, like myself, pay double taxes. I have to freelance because I cannot physically go out and work in an office. Also, people with disabilites have extra added expenses that don't happen to people who do not have disabilities. These things would be good to factor in.

I'm glad your ultimate idea is the single-payor universal health care. Sometimes these incremental steps, while well-intentioned do hurt people who fall between the cracks. My husband and I generally tend to do that, so that is why we pick up concerns about that.

And Dorothy Schwartz adds:

Maybe if we identified the best young people who want to be doctors
Advanced Practice Nurses provide excellent primary care, and are much cheaper to educate. They refer to specialists when necessary, and are much more inclined to treat the whole person instead of the symptom or disease. Additionally, more APN's are oriented to spending more time with the patient rather than seeing how much money can be made. I know those are generalizations, but my experience has found them to be true.

In response to the Massachusetts plan for health care, Robert Scardapane writes:

The Mass plan is interesting ... not exactly what I want to see but much better than HSA's and high deductible health care plans.

And in response to "I am part of the movement for a single-payer system that does not blame the victims. This plan does. It squeezes the middle class like hell. It is murder on working poor or middle class people with disabilities. As it is I am paying double taxes because I am self-employed! ", Robert Scardapane writes:

I am a believer in HR676 - John Conyer's plan for expanding Medicare to all Americans. I think that the Massachusetts plan is yet another bandaid that will help some and hurt others. It's certainly a better plan than Dumb-Ya Bush's - namely, don't get sick. However, I am dubious that it is the real answer.

HR676 is funded by 3% income tax matched by the employer. It's insurance that can never be taken away even when you are unemployed. The costly middle man, namely the insurance companies, are effectively eliminated. This plan has been scored by a leading economist - Dean Baker. It can work right here in the U.S. of A.

In response to "Remove the undocumented workers and there will also be no seamstresses, no piece workers, no kitchen staff in restaurants, no car wash workers, no delivery people, no stockers in supermarkets and other shops. And is there a gardener in America who is native-born? Most large cities in America would have a huge shortage of workers for a large retinue of jobs if all the undocumented workers were rounded up tomorrow." Robert Scardapane writes:

I just can't let this comment go unchallenged. Before the illegal immigrant, were there no restaurants, car washes, pizza delivery or garment factories? This line of reasoning is just wrong and in fact hurts the American worker. According to the Congressional black caucus, unemployment among African Americans is on the rise. There is little doubt in my mind that competition from illegal immigrants, who will work off the books for less than minimum wage, is one factor (there are other factors of course).

It's not a matter of jobs that Americans won't do but a matter of jobs that Americans can't do because the wages are too low and it's harder for them to work beneath the radar (off the books that is thus avoiding taxation).

In response to the immigration debate, Billie M. Spaight writes:

I read the debate and I read what Victoria Brownsworth said and I think Victoria seems to have made the most sense. There are some basic points I would like to suggest for consideration.

The very first settlers here were not welcome. They were, in a sense, illegals too. According to what I have read, many settlers came and committed genocide against the Native Americans. Forests were torn down and the land was overused and made difficult to reuse. Animals, such as the buffalo, were overhunted. That's a whole lot worse than coming up here and just working.

Does anybody remember reading about Prohibition? It was a failure. There are just some things that are almost impossible to stop. When that happens, it might be worth considering if there is perhaps a better way of dealing with the problem. For example, liquor was legalized again and then it was taxed and made to bring in revenue. Might we offer any illegals that are discovered "work permits" that allow them to work here? Maybe we can provide them with basic social services and also make their employers pay double taxes for them. It would be the reverse of what freelancers do. If the employers don't cough up the funds, then the IRS could step in.

Whatever is done, there is one thing that I am totally against--penalizing people who offer these immigrants social services or help with things such as housing, schooling, medicine, etc. Social services should be available to everyone--no matter where they come from. That is the humane thing to do.

And, I shall end with a quote from Dickens in Oliver Twist, quoting Mr. Bumble: "The law is a ass." Laws are only as good as the people they help and they are only as bad as the people they harm and that, in my view, would seem the most prudent and humane way to regard the law. It is not sacred.

I agree it is not necessarily racist to be concerned with how immigration affects one's country. This is normal as long as one is not thinking in stereotypes. Some anti-immigration people are racists and others are not. It's important to look carefully at how the discussions are framed before making judgments about racism. For example, the ports deal brought out a lot of concern and it wasn't just among people who hate Arabs. I am much more comfortable thinking about the issue in terms of how it affects all of the people involved on both sides of the border.

I come from a port city (New York) so we get all kinds of people here. I've never really stopped to think about their legal status. I am just used to them being here however they got here. To me immigration is as American as apple pie. I am used to waves of immigration so I just expect to have immigrants all over the place. My complex is full of them and my husband works with a warehouse full of people who all come from places outside the U.S. (those are legals). Within a 10-block radius one can find signs in Russian, Spanish, Korean, Hebrew, and Arabic. So what else is new?

Eventually, immigrants manage to integrate themselves into our society, keeping some of their favored customs while adapting to the ones necessary for living here. They contribute to society. And who is to say that one wave is worse than another? Our country has so many hyphenated people. It's a source of pride to me anyway.

I don't mean to make a stupid sound byte or anything, but welcoming immigrants is on our Statue of Liberty and it doesn't say anything about legal or illegal.

And Jenny Hanniver adds:

All my ancestors came to these shores before there were any rigidly enforced immigration laws. The proto-Shawnees simply walked in 10,000+ years ago, and nobody gave a damn except maybe some tribes that had gone before, if there were any. The Catholic hired soldier Miles Standish and his wife Rose came over on the Mayflower (unless my nouveau-riche great-aunt Priscilla's dubious family tree of her Hogan family was faked to get her into D.A.R., which my dad suspected). My Jewish ancestress, name unknown, fled early 18th century England with her Protestant husband, surname Sanders, lest their intolerant families murder them. Families of persecuted and impoverished Irish and Scots-Irish Presbyterians named Fulton, Rimer, Hogan, Cochrane, McGillicuddy, Huey, Cooper, etc., sailed from Belfast, Tipperary and Sligo at the end of the 18th century and the early 19th, worked as Philadelphia washerwomen and laborers, then moved out to the West Pennsylvania mountains to become pioneer farmers, conductors in the Underground Railroad, coal miners, steel workers, CPAs, engineers, and so on. My German great grandfather fled as a draft dodger with a Lutheran communal group from Greis Erbach, Hesse, giving up on Southwest Africa and coming here about 1875 after he'd married another communalist, an illiterate peasant from the Upper Schwarzwald. Together they helped settle a farming village called German Corners, Iowa, which--out of fear--changed its name to Liberty Corners during World War One.

The Germans were the last of my people to arrive, but even they only had to give some bored official their names when they got off the ship, and most didn't bother with formal naturalization. Ellis Island came into being in 1892. The Naturalization Law of 1870 saw the beginning of tightening, but its enforcement affected primarily Asians. Immigration rules didn't become truly restrictive against Europeans until the rise of jingoism and whipped-up fear of foreign radicalism at the end of the 19th and on into the 20th century. My son has only one ancestor who went through strict immigration procedures (at Ellis Island), my ex-husband's immigrant father, who arrived in the early 1920s from Italy.

My dad used to say proudly, "Luckily there were no strict laws when our people arrived, for they'd never have let in chicken-pluckers and horse-thieves like us!"

Unless they have been deliberately kept poor and segregated, which is not their fault, immigrants have seldom done anything but contribute positively to American prosperity and culture--and I heartily include the Mexicans. Every Mexican I've ever known I've liked enormously, and that's not just from travel in Mexico and living in Southern Cal and Texas, but also because several members of La Raza and their families were members of my UU church in Alexandria, VA. Latin American culture has flaws that should be addressed--chief of which is machismo--but in most aspect it's deep and beautiful.

The reason for the slippage and dismal showing of our economy is not because immigrants are competing for low-paying jobs, but because there are fewer and fewer low-paying jobs that can lead to improved living standards. For that, don't blame technology, don't blame immigrants. Blame outsourcing, ridiculous tax laws that favor companies setting up shop overseas, the downsizing of jobs in the US, and all the other Congressionally-mandated measures that have served the super-rich and ruined the middle class and working class in this country. As long as the ones who've been hurt by these laws continue to blame immigrants they will continue to be suckers for all kinds of political propaganda and manipulation.

Mitchell Seidman contributes this:

Let the ones here stay here, then put up a sign that says:


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-Noah Greenberg