Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Happy Birthday Medicare

What government program is known as one of the most successful social programs in the United States? Medicare. Not only does the program provide essential health care to our seniors and disabled, it does so without putting profits first or excluding people based on their health history. How many private insurance companies can make that claim?

No wonder people across the country are celebrating Medicare's birthday today.
President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law on July 30, 1965, to provide access to quality, affordable health care for older Americans. Since then, Medicare has been a cornerstone of the health and security of America’s seniors. Today, more than 44 million Americans depend on the program for health care benefits.
According to AARP, "before Medicare’s enactment, only half of all older Americans had health insurance. Since that time, poverty among that group has dropped by two-thirds. Medicare has proven critical to the health and economic security of the people it serves."

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Medicare still finds itself under attack from Republicans who seek to privatize the program or reduce benefits. A couple weeks ago, Congress overrode President Bush's veto and passed a bill that stopped pending cuts in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients. They were supported by the American Medical Association which came down hard on the President and Republicans who supported these cuts. Had they gone into effect, the AMA predicted as many as 60 percent of physicians would have been forced to stop treating new or current Medicare patients.

We can celebrate Medicare's birthday and successes, but we can't let our guard down. It's important that we vote for the candidate who promises to safeguard and strengthen Medicare, and that candidate is not John McCain.

McCain's record speaks for itself. McCain voted to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67; he voted against protecting seniors from higher Medicare premiums; and he missed a critical vote to reduce prescription drug costs for seniors.

Obama? He fought against cuts to Medicare and worked to lower prescription drug prices for seniors. He also voted to protect seniors from steep increases in their Medicare Part B premiums, an increase they faced because Congress increased Medicare payments to physicians but failed to enact savings from Medicare payments to private health plans. (S. 1932, Vote 287, 11/3/05)

The choice is simple. Obama doesn't want to place added burdens on our seniors. McCain? It takes a lot of chutzpah for a man who's enjoyed a lifetime of government-run health care to treat our seniors this way.

(Cross-posted at BFM.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Should we throw a pity party for McCain?

Poor John McCain. It's no secret he has a "lack of enthusiasm" problem. For example, while Obama was overseas drawing crowds wherever he went, McCain was in Scranton, Pennsylvania drawing flies small turnouts.
According to a video report posted by Scranton, Pennsylvania's Times-Leader, John McCain's town hall event in Wilkes-Barre earlier today featured an underwhelming turnout -- more than half the seats were empty. About seven hundred folks showed up -- a decent sized crowd, perhaps, but it left nine hundred seats empty.
Contrast that to Obama's visit to Wilkes-Barre in April, when more than two thousand people attended and the fire department had to turn people away.

Obama isn't McCain's only problem. Republican Ron Paul is generating quite a bit of enthusiasm among his followers too.
Ron Paul, the former Republican presidential candidate, and his followers have been making plans for their own mini convention when his party gathers in St. Paul to nominate Senator John McCain. Except the Paul-ite gathering is no longer so mini.

Due to popular demand, as the saying goes, Mr. Paul had to scrap plans to hold his event at the nearly 15,000-capacity Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota. Instead, his “Rally for Liberty” will move to the Target Center in Minneapolis, which can hold up to 18,000.
To add insult to injury, Grover Norquist is scheduled to appear at the event. Hmm...Norquist recently said he was happy with McCain, although it's well-known he's been a big critic of him in the past.
Norquist has regularly denounced McCain as a fraud, a flip-flopper, and, on one occasion, a nut job.
Of course, there was no love on McCain's side either. He's condemned Norquist as corrupt and a shill for dictators, and McCain has even refused to sign the Americans for Tax Reform Pledge.

So, even though the two men are telling the public they're BFFs, it sure sounds like Norquist is less enthusiastic about McCain than he's led us to believe. I almost feel sorry for old John McCain - almost.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Failing economy is a health threat

The high gas prices and stagflation conditions in this country are making it difficult for people to buy medicine.
In an ominous sign for drug makers, the number of prescriptions dispensed by pharmacies in the U.S. is growing at its worst rate in at least a decade as consumers are squeezed by both a troubled economy and the growing burden of out-of-pocket health-care costs.
According to the WSJ Blog, sales volume is expected to be down, and a drug retailing analyst at Lehman Brothers told them, “I don’t think you would have seen it this bad ever.”

Ever. That's a pretty strong word, and it indicates just how bad conditions are for average Americans when they have to resort to cutting back on needed medicines.
An April poll from the Kaiser foundation (online here) found that 23% of patients didn’t fill a prescription in the last year because of cost, up from 20% in 2005; 19% split pills or skipped doses, up from 16% in 2005.
And it's not just prescriptions people are cutting back on. According to Kaiser:
More than four in ten (42 percent) say that in the past year, they or a family member have done at least one of the following because of the cost: postponed getting needed health care (29 percent), skipped a recommended test or treatment (24 percent), not filled a prescription (23 percent), cut pills in half or skipped doses of a medicine (19 percent), or had problems getting mental health care (8 percent). Among those who report taking one of these actions, two-thirds (66 percent) say their medical condition got worse as a result. [emphasis mine]
That's not surprising when you consider that people are cutting back on drugs for chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, which increases a person's risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

One in four people now cite paying for health care as a serious problem, 47 million Americans are uninsured and another 25 million are underinsured. There's little argument that the next president needs to tackle health care reform, but what that reform accomplishes and how many people it helps depends on who gets elected. Or, as this blogger puts it:
The difference between the elephant and the donkey can perhaps be best summarized in two slogans.

For McCain, it might be “More expensive, less coverage.”

For Obama “Coverage just like I have, for only a hundred billion.”
One hundred billion to ensure people get the health care they need? That's a deal compared to the $10 billion we spend every month in Iraq and the $300 billion the government plans on lending to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac at below market rates.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Terrorist watch list continues to grow

Following 9/11, the U.S. government compiled a list of 20 known terrorists (19 of them died in the attacks); however, that list quickly grew by 20,000 names a month. It recently hit the one million mark according to the ACLU.
"Members of Congress, nuns, war heroes and other 'suspicious characters,' with names like Robert Johnson and Gary Smith, have become trapped in the Kafkaesque clutches of this list, with little hope of escape," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Congress needs to fix it, the Terrorist Screening Center needs to fix it, or the next president needs to fix it, but it has to be done soon."
Even Assistant Attorney General Jim Robinson, the Justice Department's former top criminal prosecutor, turned up on the list. Just how does the government conclude a name belongs on the list? Are they guessing? It certainly seems that way. From Mother Jones:
The argument for maintaining such an unwieldy and quickly growing list is perhaps best voiced by cliché: better safe than sorry. But that philosophy has spawned a list that a recent GAO study found much too large to be effective, and much too inaccurate to protect the civil liberties of innocent people. The FBI's Terrorist Screening Center manages the list, but to date the administration has failed to establish a clear, consistent methodology for government agencies to use when determining who goes on the list and who doesn't. The criteria vary widely, when they're known at all. The Central Intelligence Agency, for instance, flatly refuses to disclose its criteria for submitting a name to the list. The FBI, on the other hand, generally nominates any and all subjects of ongoing counterterrorism investigations.
No clear criteria or methodology, and the data is inaccurate. Do you feel safer?

Mother Jones said it remains unknown how many names on the list are part of government-designated terrorist groups (Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and affiliates of the IRA and the Tamil Tigers) since that's classified information, but using public information available in November 2007, they figured these groups total about 200,000 people.

Their conclusion? "Assuming every one of those members is on the list — an absurd assumption — it would reflect an accuracy of only 23 percent." That means nearly 77% of the names of that list don't belong there.

Sorry, Charlie...or Gary Smith or Robert Johnson.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Pocketbook issues and landslides

I came across something interesting as I read about McCain's visit to Michigan yesterday. In case you didn't know, McCain met with about 250 invited guests, mostly small-business owners and auto industry employees, to talk about pocketbook issues facing businesses and individuals. The Detroit Free Press gave this account of one person's opinion following the meeting.
Rich Keenan, 48, of Canton said he would never vote for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. But he also was wary of McCain's vote against tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush and the environment. [...]

By the end of the discussion, Keenan said he was closer to a vote for McCain.
I was curious to see how the national media described the meeting so I checked out the Washington Post. This is their description [emphasis mine]:
But a day after a top McCain economic adviser dismissed the nation's struggles as a "mental recession," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's message landed with a thud, as workers sat in stony silence. [...]

But the 100 or so in the crowd sat on their hands throughout most of McCain's speech, especially during his remarks about the need for free trade -- a policy that is generally reviled in manufacturing areas.
That's quite a bit different from the description in the Free Press. However, that's not what I found so interesting. Near the end of the Post's article was this [emphasis mine]:
With most Americans blaming President Bush for their troubles, McCain faced an uphill climb even before his campaign's recent miscues. Macroeconomic Advisers, a St. Louis-based economic forecasting firm, will release a report next week that factors in such variables as the growth rate of real disposable income, unemployment rate, real oil price increases, the power of the incumbent party as well as the impact of party fatigue to forecast the outcome of the election. The result projects a victory of more than 10 percentage points for presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama, said Chris P. Varvares, the firm's president.

"How do you define a landslide?" he asked.
It'll be interesting to see if McCain really loses by a large margin. The latest Pew report has Obama leading McCain 48% to 40%, which isn't a landslide, but give McCain and his advisers a few more weeks and that margin should grow. Voters are quickly being turned off by their flip-flops, insults and jokes.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Democrats waste money on biased media outlets

Could you imagine the media treating McCain this way?
The major news networks are considering cutting back on DNC coverage because Barack Obama will be giving his speech at a separate venue [Invesco Field], thereby increasing their production costs.
You still don't believe the media is biased against Obama? Maybe this fact from The Jed Report will convince you:
Earlier this year, the NFL and NBC announced plans to reschedule the football season opener so as not to conflict with John McCain's convention appearance. If the networks news divisions can't manage a similar degree of flexibility, it will be an outrage.
And a real display of bias.

Monday, July 07, 2008

We all suffer when journalists lower the bar

Christine is right, professional journalists should set a higher standard, and I'm not pointing a finger at any one journalist, I'm pointing a finger at all of them. People like Bob Schieffer, Rick Klein and others criticized General Wesley Clark (and his defenders) for attacking John McCain’s military service record when he actually only questioned the relevance of McCain’s combat experience as it relates to being president. A good journalist would have handled it differently according to the Columbia Journalism Review:
Clark’s comments may (or may not) have been impolitic. But that has no bearing on their validity or lack thereof — which is how the news media should be evaluating them.
In fact, if the media had bothered to look a little, they would have found that McCain himself has argued that military service is not sufficient alone to qualify a person to be president. The Wonkroom found these McCain statements:
  • During an interview with National Journal, John McCain was asked if “military service inherently makes somebody better equipped to be commander-in-chief.” McCain said, “Absolutely not…I absolutely don’t believe that it’s necessary.” [National Journal, 2/15/2003]

  • I believe that military service is the most honorable endeavor an American may undertake. But I’ve never believed that lack of military service disqualifies one from occupying positions of political leadership or as Commander and Chief. In America, the people are sovereign, and they decide who is and is not qualified to lead us. [American Legion Speech, 9/7/1999]

  • Earlier this year at Washington’s Gridiron Club, where humor is the required fare, McCain lay bare what underlies his candidacy. Wearing a jacket outlandishly festooned with dozens of fake military medals, McCain said, “The question I ask myself every morning while shaving in front of the mirror is: OK, John, you’re an incredible war hero, an inspiration to all Americans. But what qualifies you to be president of the United States?” [Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/7/1999]
  • In fact, there's reason to believe McCain even questioned his own military accomplishments or lack thereof. The NY Times wrote in 2000 that McCain did a little soul searching back in 1979 and lamented that he would never make admiral like his father and grandfather. The Times said...
    ...he had always dreamed of doing something great, of imprinting his name on the history books, but at age 42 he found himself with a stuttering military career and no base from which to go into politics.
    Shortly after that soul searching, McCain found a way to jump start his political career. He met Cindy at a cocktail party, divorced his first wife the following year, and then married Cindy, heiress to the one of the largest Anheuser-Busch beer distributors in the country. It was her father's business and political contacts that helped McCain gain a foothold into Arizona politics, and McCain's war hero status helped give him name recognition.

    The media was so busy slamming Wesley Clark that they failed to mention those points. They also failed to mention that the General had actually been shot four times in Vietnam, and left the country on a stretcher. If anyone had a right to question McCain's military service, Clark did. A good journalist would have mentioned that.

    In fact, a good journalist would have quoted McCain from an interview on NPR on May 1, 2004, when he said, “some of our greatest presidents have not [had military experience]. … And all of them turned out to be fine commanders in chief.”

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

    Tuesday, July 01, 2008

    McCain, you can't have my social security

    In case you haven't been paying attention to the stock market, this will make you sit up and take notice. (my emphasis)
    Stocks struggled Monday at the end of the worst June for the S&P 500 and the Dow industrials since the Great Depression, amid rocketing oil prices and ongoing financial market woes.
    How's your 401K doing? Thank heavens we still have social security to depend on in our old age - today. If McCain wins the election, all bets are off. McCain recently told the Wall Street Journal that "as part of Social Security reform, I believe that private savings accounts are a part of it - along the lines of what President Bush proposed."

    I thought McCain wasn't McSame? He sure does embrace a lot of Bush's failed policies for someone who claims he's a maverick.

    On the other hand, Sen. Obama isn't afraid to be a straight talker:
    Well let me be clear: privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George W. Bush proposed it. It's a bad idea today. It would eventually cut guaranteed benefits by up to 50%. It would cost a trillion dollars that we don't have to implement on the front end, permanently elevating our debt. And most of all, it would gamble the retirement plans of millions of Americans on the stock market. That's why I stood up against this plan in the Senate, and that's why I won't stand for it as President.
    You can read more about McCain's support for privatizing social security here and here (YouTube video).

    Millions of Americans depend entirely on social security in their old age, yet McCain wants to gamble with it. That's because McCain has never had to worry about money, as Joe Conason recently pointed out in the New York Observer:
    As one of the wealthiest men in the Senate, thanks to the highly profitable liquor company bequeathed to him and his wife years ago, Mr. McCain faces no economic difficulty. He never has to worry about how he will afford retirement or the value of his assets, which is why risky schemes like privatization look so brilliant to him. But in the coming campaign, he may find that working families have no desire to turn Social Security over to the same companies now seeking bailouts from the federal government -- or to the politicians who would enact that bankers’ daydream.
    McCain and his wife own at least nine houses across the country valued at an estimated $13,123,269, and like DeVos, Romney and so many other rich Republicans, he has no idea what it means to stretch his money from paycheck to paycheck. Trusting him to look out for my best interests is like trusting Dr. Kervorkian not to pull the plug.