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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, April 9, 2007

 

Stuff from "Ask the White House"

One of my favorite places to visit on the web is the "Ask the White House" page at www.whitehouse.gov (click the link under "interactive"). On this past April 3, it was Julie Goon's (what an appropriate name), the special assistant to the President for Economic Policy, Health Care.

Here is Ms. Goon's resume prior to joining the government, as printed in her whitehouse.gov bio:
"Prior to joining HHS, Ms. Goon served as Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the oldest and largest trade association representing the health insurance industry, for over ten years. In this position, she was responsible for AHIP’s Congressional lobbying strategy, grassroots outreach, coalition building and the association’s political activities.
"Prior to joining AHIP, Ms. Goon was Director of Federal Relations for Humana Inc. She began working for Humana in 1986 in the Corporate Public Affairs Department in Louisville, KY, and then moved to Washington, DC in 1990 to open Humana’s Washington office."

In other words, Ms. Goon was a paid lobbyist doing the business of the health care industry. Under her leadership(?), the health care insurers of America have gained giant, unprecedented profits such as have never been had before.

Regarding her hiring by the Bushies, much like many other former lobbyists "policing" their former industries comes as no surprise to me. After all, this is "the administration of no conflict of interest". Just ask them.

So. Ms. Goon took questions from the American public regarding health care. (Funny how my questions never get published or answered). Here's some of the high(low)-lights:

Question 1 from Michael in Powell, TN:
MICHAEL: How will the accounts work?
GOON: In order to qualify for an HSA, you need to purchase a high deductible health plan with a deductible of at least $1,100 for an individual ($2,200 a family). High deductible health plans generally have lower premiums and do not cover first dollar medical expenses.
MADMAN: What Ms. Goon fails to tell us is that today many, if not most employer health care plans, especially those which don't qualify as HMO's, require their subscribers to pay more than the HSA deductible of $1,100 ($2,200 per family) right out of the box. For an administration which promotes "choice" (only as it pertains to his "base" of "haves and have mores" medical choices, of course), there is little of that "choice" for the average American. If you don't have the limited "Choices" which HMO's offer you (go to OUR doctor - go to OUR hospital), then you get to pay the huge deductibles offered by "choice" programs; you get to pay the high out-of-pocket expenses which come in the form of:
-excess of the "usual and customary" amount which insurers are willing to pay for "out-of-network" doctors
-the ever-growing percentage which you'll pay if you have to go "out-of-network" hospital (in some cases, 40% or more of the total bill)
-the growing price you pay for your prescription drug deductible and co-pay

Robert, from Liberty, MS:
ROBERT: Will this money stay in my account, or will I lose it every year? What would be the tax advantage.
GOON: HSA's provide triple tax savings! First, you receive a tax deduction when you contribute to your account. Second, any investment earnings in your account are tax-free. And third, withdrawals from the account for qualified medical expenses are tax-free.
MADMAN: A great follow-up question would have been, "And what if I can't afford to put money away into HSA's? Then What, Ms. Goon? And what if I get sick now? Then what, Ms. Goon? And what if I have to choose between feeding my family and saving for my future health care, Ms. Goon? What then?"

In response to, but not really answering the next question, Ms. Goon's response included this gem:
GOON: The current tax code is unfair to Americans who do not get health insurance through their jobs because they are forced to purchase health insurance with after-tax dollars.
MADMAN: This is not true. Your employer can take your share (employee participation) of your medical insurance out of your taxes prior to your taxes being taken out. It's called "cafeteria-style". Of course, the Bushies are now attempting to tax that money as regular income, as the President stated in numerous speeches recently.

Here's a gem from Julie in Marion, Indiana:
JULIE: Please let the President know that I am most definitely in favor of medical savings accounts, and support him in his efforts on this subject.
MADMAN: I have a rebuttal. Care to publish it, Ms. Goon?

As you can probably tell, the questions, and answers continued along this vein. Ask the White House should be frequented by all of us who really want to ask the White House. Too bad we'll never see our concerns published there.

-Noah Greenberg



John McCain's Propaganda Catapult

"Over and over and over again, I'm trying to make the point that we are making progress,"
-Senator John McCain (REPUBLICAN-AZ), from his 60 Minutes interview after touring (with a bevy of soldiers and a couple of Apache attack helicopters) the Shorja market in Baghdad

"Over and over and over again," huh? Sounds like Bush here doesn't he?

"You Have To Keep Repeating Things To Catapult The Propaganda,"
-President Bush

I guess that Senator McCain needs to keep telling us "over and over and over again" so HE can catapult the Bush's propaganda as well.

The "Maverick McCain" has been tamed by a Bush administration which has apparently, somehow, gotten to him. Has, in McCain's estimation, this presidency done a great job in the past year or so or has something else - say the Bushie list of "Pioneers" for example - made him see things the Neo-Con way? In any event, it's good to see that the American people aren't buying the same old "stay the course" crap from a different, yet oddly similar, Republican.

-Noah Greenberg

So John McCain now calls parts of Baghdad safe to walk through. All we need to do is provide each Iraqi citizen with an escort of 22 armored Humvees and a flak jacket, and we can call it a day. -Eddie Konczal



A Book from Inside Iraq

A "shocking" mismanagement of Iraq. a performance so bad hat Iraqis had "turned their backs on their would-be liberators," by 2007.
-Ali A. Allawi, the "New" Iraq's former trade, defense and finance minister, from his 500-page book, The Occupation of Iraq

Here are so more notes from the book:
"The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt state of the new order,"
"monumental ignorance" without "the faintest idea" of Iraq's realities. "More perceptive people knew instinctively that the invasion of Iraq would open up the great fissures in Iraqi society,"
"rank amateurism and swaggering arrogance" of the occupation, under L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA),
-The Americans disbanded Iraq's army, which could have helped quell a rising insurgency in 2003. Instead, hundreds of thousands of demobilized, angry men became a recruiting pool for the resistance.
-Purging tens of thousands of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, from government, school faculties and elsewhere, left Iraq short on experienced hands at a crucial time.
-An order consolidating decentralized bank accounts at the Finance Ministry bogged down operations of Iraq's many state-owned enterprises.
-The CPA's focus on private enterprise allowed the "commercial gangs" of Saddam's day to monopolize business.
-Its free-trade policy allowed looted Iraqi capital equipment to be spirited away across borders.
-The CPA perpetuated Saddam's fuel subsidies, selling gasoline at giveaway prices and draining the budget.
-The Bush administration's "insipid retelling of `success' stories" merely hid "the huge black hole that lay underneath."
-"America's only allies in Iraq were those who sought to manipulate the great power to their narrow advantage. It might have been otherwise."

So tell us something new.

-Noah Greenberg


Tell Me Why, Again?

Tell me again why we are spending the lives and the physical well-being of our children, not to mention billions of dollars on which our children and grandchildren will be paying interest for generations to come, in a nation that doesn’t want us. Even the statements by the “elected” leadership of Iraq are no better than lukewarm in their support of whatever mission our president is trumpeting for the day. The media reports “tens of thousands” of demonstrators against the US, and I have seen pictures of the US flag being burned in protest. Why are we continuing in this madness?

And, did anyone notice the irony of his criticism of the Congress for going on recess before approving the war appropriation? Does anyone remember what our president was doing while a major American city and the nearby countryside was drowned during Katrina? If memory serves, he was on vacation at Crawford. Couldn’t be bothered to deal with it, as we know. Did a flyover, well photographed from inside the cabin of Air Force 1, on his way back to Washington a few days later. Guess that vacation was not a problem. Unless you were in New Orleans or the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

-Anonymous


The “New” Republicans
by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

The news last week from the mainstream media focused on how much money the leading Democratic contenders had raised in the first quarter of the presidential campaign for 2008. Despite the extraordinary amount those three, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards raised, the story had a negative spin. Nowhere was it stated how unequivocally this massive fundraising reflects the disenchantment of the American people over the current Administration and its myriad disasters, scandals and mistakes.

Since George Bush took office in 2000, the mainstream media (the same has not held true for online news media in the blogosphere) has had a fairly succinct hands-off policy regarding the President, his hierarchy and Republicans in general.

If and when Republicans make the news, it is always well behind the same news appearing online: the recent Gonzales scandal being a case in point. Even the appalling Mark Foley scandal was broken on a Friday afternoon and by Saturday morning the Republican Congressman accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with underage congressional pages was in rehab. We have literally never heard about Foley since.

Given this history of not taking on the Bush White House or their cronies, it comes as no surprise to some that the mainstream media is once again attempting to shift the focus and re-set the agenda away from the Republican spoilers to the Democrats attempting to clean up the mess made in Washington in the past seven years.

On April 6th one conservative columnist referred to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as “our Neville Chamberlain” because of her trip to Syria to establish relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. President Bush has denounced the Speaker’s actions, intimating that they damage national security because the President considers Syria to be a supporter of terrorism.

The recent bi-partisan Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State to the first Bush Administration, James Baker, advised the President to establish relations with Assad. And numerous moderate Republicans have agreed. In fact, in the week Pelosi was in Syria, so were five Republican Congressmen. Pelosi did nothing but underscore U.S. policy regarding terrorism. From an international vantage point, Pelosi was viewed as heroic for her visit. But the mainstream media, from NBC’s Matt Lauer to pundit Ronald Kessler, who made the Chamberlain comment, merely repeated Republican talking points, rather than take a close look at what the visit accomplished.

When Nixon went to “Red” China and established relations with the heretofore utterly isolated nation, many considered it his greatest achievement as a statesman. Isolationism is dangerous. We have seen that through the isolation of North Korea, Iran and Syria. Pelosi’s trip was yet another step in her attempts to rectify the wrongs of the Bush Administration.

The media focus on anything and everything Democrat ignores the reality of how much damage the Republicans have done and continue to do.

Thus far in the presidential campaign the entire focus of the mainstream media has been on the Democratic contenders, always with an eye to them eating their own. The media has created a virtual war between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama where none exists and has leapt to find chinks in the armor of either. The media even reported that John Edwards was withdrawing from the campaign when his wife’s cancer returned, then had to rescind that statement when the couple gave a press conference to the contrary.

Media attention on the Republican candidates has been limited at best–perhaps because the three front runners are such a sorry, dangerous, flip-flopping lot.

Take Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). In 2000, before Karl Rove’s Swift Boat tactics spiraled the Senator’s presidential bid into the muck, McCain was known as both a maverick and a moderate. No more. McCain made the same mistake others have made and hitched his wagon to the fallen star of George Bush–and now that wagon carries nothing but the awful baggage of the Bush Administration’s scandals and failures–and wars.

Remember the “straight talk express?” McCain’s metaphoric train was derailed last week when he went to Baghdad.

While the conservative media was denouncing Pelosi’s trip to Syria, they were also ignoring the pathetic attempt by McCain to “prove” that Iraq is safer since the troop surge began.

In a cleared and cordoned-off Baghdad market, with numerous Blackhawk helicopters whirring overhead and military personnel positioned on every rooftop in the Green Zone arena, McCain pronounced the place safe for democracy.

Unfortunately, the day after McCain’s visit, the Times of London reported that “21 Shia market workers [from the market John McCain visited the day before] were ambushed, bound and shot dead.” Each had participated in the photo op for the Senator, which is estimated to have cost the U.S. military in the tens of thousands of dollars to stage.

So much for the straight talk express.

McCain’s support for the war puts him at odds with many in his own party, let alone the American people. McCain would also be the oldest president since Ronald Reagan, whom we now know was afflicted with Alzheimer’s when he was elected. What’s more, McCain has failed to raise much money in the first quarter money primary. Only three months ago McCain was the front-runner and slated to be the presidential nominee running against Hillary Clinton. But while Clinton raised the most capital of any candidate–a record $26 million–McCain raised less than half that amount.

In March, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had moved into first place among Republicans in the polls, replacing McCain. Giuliani raised $15 million–less than Edwards who came in third in the financial primary among the Democrats.

Giuliani seems an unlikely choice for a Republican presidential nominee. His one claim to fame is his handling of the 9/11 crisis, and even that “record” has been tarnished by all the recent revelations of his stonewalling of efforts by sick first-responders and volunteers at Ground Zero to get health care benefits for their deadly lung diseases.

The former mayor has other problems as well. There are his three marriages, his extramarital affairs, his ties to the Mob through Bernie Kerik, former New York City Police Commissioner and one-time candidate (proposed by Giuliani) for the post of head of Homeland Security. Kerik currently faces indictment for wiretapping and tax evasion and has been linked to the Mob.

Giuliani’s Mob ties are likely of less concern to Republican voters, who seem inured to corruption in their candidates, than his morality issues. Although he is currently attempting to shift or at the very least down-play the liberal-leaning politics that won him his mayoralty in largely Democratic New York City, in the recent past he has been known to support abortion rights and gay rights, both of which are hot-button issues for conservatives. As recently as March, the Giuliani campaign was asserting that the former mayor still supports not just choice, but public funding for abortions. It seems unlikely that the same folks who voted in the man who is against even stem cell research will now vote for a man who wants public funding for abortions. Rev. Jerry Falwell wouldn’t even commit to McCain, who has always been anti-abortion. How would evangelicals support a pro-choice Republican? (Ask Arlen Specter.)

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage while he was governor, is also changing his liberal-leaning stances. The same politics that got him elected in what is often considered the most liberal state in the Union, are now shifting to the right. (Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau has featured Romney for the past week in his strip–and Romney’s political shift which in a Democrat would be called “flip-flopping” by the media.)

Romney, a Mormon, is the only one of the top three Republican candidates who hasn’t been divorced. He is currently the top money-maker among the candidates, having grossed $23 million–not far behind the top-seeded Hillary Clinton. (Romney is extremely wealthy and comes from a rich family; his run for governor of Massachusetts was the most expensive in history. There he spent more than $9 million–and spent nearly $7 million of his own money in a eight-month period.)

Romney, however, has his own baggage and will certainly win over no independent voters. Until 2006, Romney was declaratively pro-choice. Until 2006, Romney was also pro-gay rights. Yet last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Romney was introduced by and given the support of far-right pundit Ann Coulter, who called John Edwards a “faggot” in her speech.

The slur received overwhelming applause among the attendees, which included Romney and Giuliani.

Later Giuliani called the remark “completely inappropriate.” Romney did not comment, nor did he reject Coulter’s endorsement of his candidacy. Her endorsement is considered to have helped his fundraising efforts among the far right.

The shifting of political views for political expediency is hardly new among Republicans. Bush himself ran on a moderate platform in which he utterly eschewed “nation-building,” although his entire presidency has been a refutation of that.

What’s of more concern–or should be–is the manner in which these former moderates have moved so dramatically to the right.

The divesting of their civil rights agendas for women and queers is disappointing, but even more disturbing is the fact that each of the top three Republicans supports the war on Iraq, supports the clearly ineffectual troop surge and supports the manner in which the Bush Administration has hijacked American civil liberties.

The 2008 election represents the first time since Jimmy Carter faced off against Ronald Reagan that an incumbent had no obvious successor, like a Vice President, in the running. Many would argue that McCain–in 2000 seemingly diametrically opposed to Bush and all he stood for–is the heir apparent to the failed Bush legacy. That, of course, would explain why his poll numbers and fundraising ability have plummeted. And Romney is clearly riding what might be called the Obama wave–the new kid on the block about whom not too much is known.

(Alas, this week it was revealed that Sen. Obama renounced his former best friend from high school about whom he wrote so glowingly in his memoir; Ray has fallen on hard times and is currently homeless. When Ray reached out to the Senator for help, he was rejected–his tearful upset recorded on ABC’s Nightline. Apparently the “Audacity of Hope” does not extend to other blacks who are literally living on the streets, even if they were once your best friend and you used them to make points in your memoir.)

Romney and Giuliani share more than their political flip-flop, however. Both have embraced Bush’s sidelining of the Constitution on matters of habeus corpus. In a recent article in the conservative magazine The National Review, Romney was asked if the President should have the authority to arrest U.S. citizens with no review. Romney said–rather unbelievably–that he “would want to hear the pros and cons from smart lawyers before he made up his mind.”

What?

Giuliani, himself a smart lawyer (having been U.S. Attorney in New York prior to being mayor), was asked the same question by the same magazine. His response is equally chilling: Giuliani said he would want to use this authority “infrequently.”

Well that’s good news for the American serfs, is it not?

The major problem of the Bush presidency–much like that other scandal-ridden Republican presidency, the Nixon Administration–is that George Bush has acted more like a king with all the powers of monarchy, rather than a ruler in a democracy with three equal branches of government. Since he took office, Bush has done repeated end-runs around the judiciary (which he calls “activist” when it votes against him and “non-political” when he appoints judges without congressional review) and the Congress and continues to do so.

Clearly the “new” Republicans will be taking a page from his monomaniacal playbook. For example, on April 4th President Bush–after Congress had rejected the appointment because it was politically tainted and questionable–named Republican fundraiser Sam Fox as U.S. ambassador to Belgium using the little used (except by Bush who has done it numerous times) “interim appointment” clause to appoint Fox after he was rejected by Congress while Congress was on spring break.

The problem with Fox? He was a major donor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group of far-right conservatives who asserted that Sen. John Kerry’s military record was a lie.

The ads were perceived as the central reason Kerry lost the election by one percent of the vote. Since the ads were run, the term “swiftboating” has become common parlance for telling lies about a candidate or individual that besmirches their heroism or status.

Fox’s appointment–an obvious quid pro quo–is utterly tainted by his ties to Karl Rove, the engineer of the ad campaign. During the recess, Bush also appointed Andrew Biggs as deputy director of Social Security. Biggs was rejected by the Congress in February. Biggs supports Bush’s failed Social Security privatization policy.

Swiftboating will likely be a means to an end for McCain, who himself was swiftboated by the Bush team in 2000 (with claims he had an illegitimate black love child and that his wife was a drug addict). McCain—this is how desperate he now is–announced April 4th that hisnational finance co-chair will be Fred Malek, who has a disturbingly sleazy history dating back to the Nixon years.

According to David Corn, “Nixon summoned the White House personnel chief, Fred Malek, to his office to discuss a ‘Jewish cabal’ in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ‘cabal,’ Nixon said, was tilting economic figures to make his Administration look bad. How many Jews were there in the bureau? he wanted to know. Malek reported back on the number, and told the President that the bureau’s methods of weighing statistics were normal procedure that had been in use for years.”

In case this isn’t disturbing enough, Malek was once arrested for killing, skinning, and barbecuing a dog. Which dovetails nicely with Karl Rove’s “joke” about his own hobby of “ripping the heads off small animals” at the Correspondent’s dinner two weeks ago. And we wonder why these guys don’t flinch at torture?

The mainstream media will likely continue to play bait and switch when it comes to the presidential campaign, but the first debate is in May, which means cards will be on the table and clay feet will be revealed.

One thing is certain. Since the November election when voters overwhelmingly decided that they wanted Republicans out and Democrats in, Pelosi and her Congress have been attempting to create change and fix problems wrought by the Republicans in Congress and the Bush Administration. And they have been stymied every step of the way by Bush and his henchmen.

Nevertheless the polls are clear. Americans of both parties overwhelmingly approve of Pelosi’s trip to Syria. If the vote were held today, the Republicans would fare badly: on April 6th polls showed Democrats with an 18 percent lead over Republicans for the presidency. That would be the kind of landslide victory Bill Clinton won over both George Bush, Sr. and Bob Dole. The bottom line for those of us who want the U.S. out of Iraq and who want the U.S. to take an international lead in attempting to stop global warming, a lead in diplomacy regarding nuclear weapons, a lead against genocide in Darfur, Congo and Somalia and a lead in the fight against world poverty is that the Democrats are way out in front and we put them there.

Leftists like myself might complain that the Democrats are not liberal enough, and they aren’t. But in the two party system under which we live, the most moderate Republican is still at best a centrist. The most moderate Democrat is, like myself, a socialist.

That tells you all you need to know about 2008. The American people are fed up with subversion of the Constitution, spying on average Americans, the Patriot Act, the selling of the judiciary, pretending global warming is fiction, the wars and torture. We want a different America. The three top Republicans represent the worst elements of the Bush Administration woven together whereas the top three Democrats represent something most of us have dared not consider: change.


In response to, "We Americans should move to a military base inside of the Kurdish territory and start protecting the porous borders which exist between Iraq and Syria and Iraq and Iran," Rhian writes:

The hell with the middle east. Let's start protecting the borders of the US
and developing alternate fuels and energy solutions and stop buying middle east oil.


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-Noah Greenberg