In the USA...United Surveillance America
November 21, 2013In Kennedy’s Death, a Turning Point for a Nation Already Torn
By SAM TANENHAUS
Fifty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the nation seems to be experiencing a kind of fairy tale about itself, alternately bright and dark.
It is inspiring, but also deflating, to see and hear again (and again) the handsome, vigorous president, the youngest ever elected to the office, as he beckons the country forth to the future, to the “New Frontier,” and its promise of conquest: putting a man on the moon, defeating sharply defined evils — totalitarianism, poverty, racial injustice.
This, we have been reminded, was the dream Kennedy nourished, and much of it died with him, when the sharp cracks of rifle fire broke out as his motorcade rolled through the sunstruck streets of Dallas. With this horrific, irrational deed, a curse was laid upon the land, and the people fell from grace.
But this narrative and the anniversary remembrances have obscured the deeper message sent and received on Nov. 22, 1963. In fact, America had already become a divided, dangerous place, with intimations of anarchic disorder. Beneath its gleaming surfaces, a spore had been growing, a mass of violent energies, coiled and waiting to spring.
“The sniper’s bullet left one wound that is not healed, a wound to our consciousness of ourselves as Americans,” the culture critic Dwight Macdonald wrote in December 1963. “Despite all the evidence in the newspapers, the daily stories of senseless brutality and casual murder, we have continued to think of ourselves as a civilized nation where law and order prevail.”
This is not to say America wasn’t a more optimistic place than it is now.
“The sense, one might even say the ‘feeling,’ of being American, was quite different in 1963 from what it would become,” Robert P. George, a professor of politics and law at Princeton who is also the chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said in an interview.
One reason was that the nation’s most powerful institutions were widely seen as “fundamentally good and trustworthy — government, the military, religious institutions. People even trusted big corporations,” Dr. George said. This was before Vietnam, before scandal shook the foundations of the Roman Catholic Church, before the sequence of Wall Street bubbles and meltdowns.
The tumult of the ’60s, including the unraveling of the Johnson and Nixon presidencies, came to be depicted, in part, as a disillusioned reaction to Kennedy’s death. But actually, the seeds had begun to sprout during his administration. Kennedy himself embraced a policy of insurgency. He was fixated on ridding Cuba of its dictator, Fidel Castro. And he backed a coup in South Vietnam that resulted in the murder of its president, Ngo Dinh Diem, and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu — an act Kennedy painfully reflected on in a taped memorandum he dictated three weeks before he was killed.
And while many today mourn the loss of the consensus politics of the Cold War era, the center was already collapsing in 1963. Left-wing groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Students for a Democratic Society, both impatient with the slow pace of social change, were formed at the time of Kennedy’s presidency.
On the right, the John Birch Society was flourishing, and in 1962, 18,000 young conservatives attended a rally at Madison Square Garden at which Kennedy was jeered, and a new tribune, Barry M. Goldwater, took the stage. Soon he would vow to clean out “the swampland of collectivism.”
Had Kennedy lived, he might have found himself contending with these fresh rebellions. Instead his memory was sacralized, and his death seen as a kind of freeze-frame, the moment at which America pivoted away from its better self.
But things looked much different at the time.
The best-selling nonfiction book when he was killed was Victor Lasky’s “J.F.K: The Man and the Myth,” a dubiously researched jumble of smears and innuendo, including the stale rumor that Kennedy, an observant Catholic, had suppressed a previous marriage to a Palm Beach socialite. The book was briefly removed from circulation by its publisher, Macmillan, after Kennedy’s death.
Kennedy hatred was deepest, perhaps, in the South, where civil rights battles had grown increasingly tense. “White violence was sort of considered the status quo,” Diane McWhorter, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and is the author of “Carry Me Home,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the racial unrest of 1963, said recently.
“There had been so many bombings that people had accepted it,” Ms. McWhorter said. But in May, the city’s blacks struck back, attacking the police and firefighters and setting several businesses on fire. In September, only two months before Dallas, white supremacists in Birmingham planted a bomb in a black church, killing four young girls.
Kennedy himself was a reluctant supporter of civil rights legislation, but when at last he called for it, many Southern whites were enraged.
“I was in my gym class at the Brooke Hill School for girls,” Ms. McWhorter recalled. “Someone came in and said the president had been shot, and people cheered.”
Protest and rage advanced on other fronts, too. Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” published in 1961, lampooned the bureaucratization of the modern warfare state. Thomas Pynchon’s “V,” published in 1963, hinted of conspiratorial webs spun in “a howling Dark Age of ignorance and barbarity.” James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” a best seller in November 1963, explored the world of Elijah Muhammad, whose message to whites, Mr. Baldwin reported, was that “the sword they have used so long against others can now, without mercy, be used against them.”
Stephen Harrigan, a novelist and journalist who lives in Austin, Tex., was a teenager in Corpus Christi, Tex., when Kennedy was assassinated. Dallas “was somewhere else,” a world away, Mr. Harrigan said. But when he moved to Austin, in September 1966, the city was recovering from its own catastrophic spasm of gun violence committed a month before when Charles Whitman, like Lee Harvey Oswald a former Marine, killed 17 people and wounded 32 others in a shooting spree from the clock tower at the University of Texas.
“There was a palpable sense that something had been let loose,” Mr. Harrigan said recently. “The Kennedy assassination had opened up this box of horrors.” But what had been let loose were forces already there. After Oswald and Whitman would come the macabre gallery of angry loners who gained celebrity from the famous people they killed or tried to (George C. Wallace, John Lennon, Ronald Reagan) or who went on mass rampages (at Virginia Tech; in Aurora, Colo.; in Newtown, Conn.).
We’re captivated still by the handsome young president, coming to office at the apex of American power, immortalized in an intoxicating sheen of glamour imparted by the new medium of television. And, of course, we can never know what might have been different had he lived. But one who seems to have recognized the malign forces at play, ahead of those around him, was John F. Kennedy himself. He was averse to large crowds, even though he stirred them — perhaps because he stirred them. His celebrated “cool” masked uneasiness and distrust.
In “A Thousand Days,” published in 1965, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who worked in the Kennedy administration, described a president who had “peered into the abyss and knew the potentiality of chaos.” In the summer of 1963, Mr. Schlesinger reported, Kennedy concluded an informal talk by suddenly reading a portion of Blanche of Castile’s speech from Shakespeare’s “King John,” the lines beginning “The sun’s o’ercast with blood,” and ending “They whirl asunder and dismember me.”
Mr. Schlesinger had predicted a new “politics of hope” with Kennedy’s election. But Kennedy’s own hopes were more tempered. While others basked in the excitements of Camelot, Mr. Schlesinger wrote, Kennedy himself had become acutely aware of the difficulties of governing “a nation so disparate in its composition, so tense in its interior relationships, so cunningly enmeshed in underground fears and antagonisms, so entrapped by history in the ethos of violence.”
Click here to read / view an interactive of the death of President Kennedy: http://apps.beta620.nytimes.com/john-f-kennedy-assassination-coverage/issue.html?hp&ref=us
*****************I still getting emotional about the JFK assassination 50 years later
JFK knew how to handle a crisis. We should take inspiration and take back our country from the people who've wrecked it
theguardian.com, Friday 22 November 2013 13.45 GMT
What does it matter? It was 50 years ago! What difference does it make now?
A lot of young people – who didn't live through the 60s, or even the 70s – actually have every right to ask those questions. And they deserve some real answers, too.
To put it bluntly, the assassination of President Kennedy makes all the difference in the world. That tragic day in our history was a determining factor in the type of world we have today.
The founders of this country had a vision of freedom and liberty that they tried to ensure for generations to come. They tried to design a democracy so full of checks and balances that it was bulletproof. So that no matter how many crooks managed to get themselves elected, the republic still prevailed.
There have even been a few brief shining moments when the real potential of that original vision took hold. One such moment was Franklin Roosevelt's presidency. A decimated work force that was shell-shocked from the Great Depression was struggling for its very survival. FDR came to the rescue with the New Deal, a program that redistributed wealth from Wall Street to workers who'd lost their jobs as a result of corporate greed and government corruption – does that sound like a problem you might be familiar with?
Another great moment was the presidency of John F Kennedy in the early 1960s. This time the world was reeling from the Cold War, and a military gone so mad with power and war-like policies (again, sound familiar?) created a very real threat of nuclear annihilation.
But JFK brought us away from the brink of death and destruction by standing up to the war mongers and allowing sanity to prevail. For a moment, we truly seemed to be moving away from the horrors of war and toward a new world where peace between all countries was possible. Then JFK was murdered, eliminated by the same madness he had been fighting against; and it was like the dream suddenly died. We were left with a horrible void and a profound sense of hopelessness. Grown men cried, and with good reason.
So I hope that young people can forgive me for still getting emotional about the JFK assassination 50 years later. We haven't even had full disclosure, let alone closure.
What we have had is unbelievable amounts of lies and obfuscation, something that affects every single American citizen. I have written about and refuted the incredible government lies, lies that are supported throughout Tom Hank's movie Parkland. If you read what those doctors at Parkland Hospital actually said and believed, you'll understand how our government lied to us and is still lying to cover up that crime.
In fact, through my research, I discovered there are hundreds if not thousands of documents that the government won't release to the American people concerning the assassination of our president. If Oswald really did it, if the Warren Commission's findings were 100% accurate, what purpose does it serve to conceal these documents? What are our elected officials hiding, 50 years later?
Perhaps what they're afraid of is that we'll figure it out: they've successfully destroyed our nation. They've looted the treasury, pulled the rug out from under the working middle class, and re-routed our country's resources back to the war machine and the wealthiest 1%.
On top of that, they've destroyed our Fourth Amendment rights, the Bill of Rights, and our basic civil liberties by spying on us. They continue to stand in the way of offering us one form of government-run health care while our tax dollars pay for their four separate options.
Today, we face a crisis almost everywhere we look. Our Congress is an international joke. As Will Rogers said:
We have the best politicians that money can buy.
Now, more than ever, we need real change – and that won't come from either Democrats or Republicans when both parties are bought by the same lobbyists, corporations, and banks. We are being told by our so-called leaders that conflicts are unavoidable, that we must live in a state of perpetual war, and that we must surrender our rights to survive. I'd like to remind you of the words of Ben Franklin:
Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.
22 November marks a crucial moment in American history. Americans have always had the resources to put our country back on track, now we need the resolve. Let's give the 1% the big wake-up call that they truly deserve. There's a time for observing history and there's a time for making it. We can take back our country. And if we don't do it, nobody else will.
November 21, 2013In Landmark Vote, Senate Limits Use of the Filibuster
By JEREMY W. PETERS
WASHINGTON — The Senate approved the most fundamental alteration of its rules in more than a generation on Thursday, ending the minority party’s ability to filibuster most presidential nominees in response to the partisan gridlock that has plagued Congress for much of the Obama administration.
Furious Republicans accused Democrats of a power grab, warning them that they would deeply regret their action if they lost control of the Senate next year and the White House in years to come. Invoking the Founding Fathers and the meaning of the Constitution, Republicans said Democrats were trampling the minority rights the framers intended to protect. But when the vote was called, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader who was initially reluctant to force the issue, prevailed 52 to 48.
Under the change, the Senate will be able to cut off debate on executive and judicial branch nominees with a simple majority rather than rounding up a supermajority of 60 votes. The new precedent established by the Senate on Thursday does not apply to Supreme Court nominations or legislation itself.
It represented the culmination of years of frustration over what Democrats denounced as a Republican campaign to stall the machinery of Congress, stymie President Obama’s agenda and block his choices for cabinet posts and federal judgeships by insisting that virtually everything the Senate approves be done by a supermajority.
After repeatedly threatening to change the rules, Mr. Reid decided to follow through when Republicans refused this week to back down from their effort to keep Mr. Obama from filling any of three vacancies on the most powerful appeals court in the country.
This was the final straw for some Democratic holdouts against limiting the filibuster, providing Mr. Reid with the votes he needed to impose a new standard certain to reverberate through the Senate for years.
“There has been unbelievable, unprecedented obstruction,” Mr. Reid said as he set in motion the steps for the vote on Thursday. “The Senate is a living thing, and to survive it must change as it has over the history of this great country. To the average American, adapting the rules to make the Senate work again is just common sense.”
Republicans accused Democrats of irreparably damaging the character of an institution that in many ways still operates as it did in the 19th century, and of disregarding the constitutional prerogative of the Senate as a body of “advice and consent” on presidential nominations.
“You think this is in the best interest of the United States Senate and the American people?” asked the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, sounding incredulous.
“I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think,” he added.
Mr. Obama applauded the Senate’s move. “Today’s pattern of obstruction, it just isn’t normal,” he told reporters at the White House. “It’s not what our founders envisioned. A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the results of an election is not normal, and for the sake of future generations we can’t let it become normal.”
Only three Democrats voted against the measure.
The changes will apply to all 1,183 executive branch nominations that require Senate confirmation — not just cabinet positions but hundreds of high- and midlevel federal agency jobs and government board seats.
This fight was a climax to the bitter debate between the parties over electoral mandates and the consequences of presidential elections. Republicans, through their frequent use of the various roadblocks that congressional procedure affords them, have routinely thwarted Democrats. Democrats, in turn, have accused Republicans of effectively trying to nullify the results of a presidential election they lost, whether by trying to dismantle his health care law or keep Mr. Obama from filling his cabinet.
Republicans saw their battle as fighting an overzealous president who, left to his own devices, would stack a powerful and underworked court with judges sympathetic to his vision of big-government liberalism, pushing its conservative tilt sharply left. The court is of immense political importance to both parties because it often decides questions involving White House and federal agency policy.
Republicans proposed eliminating three of its 11 full-time seats. When Democrats balked, the Republicans refused to confirm any more judges, saying they were exercising their constitutional check against the executive.
Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, said Democrats had undercut the minority party’s rights forever. “We have weakened this body permanently, undermined it for the sake of an incompetent administration,” he said. “What a tragedy.”
With the filibuster rules now rewritten — the most significant change since the Senate lowered its threshold to break a filibuster from two-thirds of the body to three-fifths, or 60 votes, in 1975 — the Senate can proceed with approving a backlog of presidential nominations.
There are now 59 nominees to executive branch positions and 17 nominees to the federal judiciary awaiting confirmation votes. The Senate acted immediately on Thursday when it voted with just 55 senators affirming to move forward on the nomination of Patricia A. Millett, a Washington lawyer nominated to the Washington appeals court. Two other nominees to that court, Cornelia T. L. Pillard and Robert L. Wilkins, are expected to be confirmed when the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving recess next month.
The filibuster or threats to use it have frustrated presidents and majority parties since the early days of the republic. Over the years, and almost always after the minority had made excessive use of it, the Senate has adjusted the rules. Until 1917, the year Woodrow Wilson derided the Senate as “a little group of willful men” that had rendered the government helpless through blocking everything in front of it, there was no rule to end debate. From 1917 to 1975, the bar for cutting off debate was set at two-thirds of the Senate.
Some would go even further than Thursday’s action. Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, said that he would like to see the next fight on the filibuster to be to require senators to actually stand on the floor and talk if they wanted to stall legislation.
The gravity of the situation was reflected in an unusual scene on the Senate floor: Nearly all 100 senators were in their seats, rapt, as their two leaders debated.
As the two men went back and forth, Mr. McConnell appeared to realize there was no way to persuade Mr. Reid to change his mind. As many Democrats wore large grins, Republicans looked dour as they lost on a futile, last-ditch parliamentary attempt by Mr. McConnell to overrule the majority vote.
When Mr. McConnell left the chamber, he said, “I think it’s a time to be sad about what’s been done to the United States Senate.”
November 21, 2013Partisan Fever in Senate Likely to Rise
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — President Obama will get a short-term lift for his nominees, judicial and otherwise, but over the immediate horizon, the strong-arm move by Senate Democrats on Thursday to limit filibusters could usher in an era of rank partisan warfare beyond even what Americans have seen in the past five years.
Ultimately, a small group of centrists — Republicans and Democrats — could find the muscle to hold the Senate at bay until bipartisan solutions can be found. But for the foreseeable future, Republicans, wounded and eager to show they have not been stripped of all power, are far more likely to unify against the Democrats who humiliated them in such dramatic fashion.
“This is the most important and most dangerous restructuring of Senate rules since Thomas Jefferson wrote them at the beginning of our country,” declared Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee. “It’s another raw exercise of political power to permit the majority to do whatever it wants whenever it wants to do it.”
The decision to press the button on the so-called nuclear option was no doubt cathartic for a Democratic majority driven to distraction by Republican obstructionism. President Obama had predicted his re-election would break the partisan fever gripping Washington, especially since the Tea Party movement swept Republicans to control of the House. It did not.
“Doing nothing was no longer an option,” said Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, one of a new breed of Democrats who have pressed to reform Senate rules.
But the fever is hardly gone. The rule change lowered to a simple 51-vote majority the threshold to clear procedural hurdles on the way to the confirmation of judges and executive nominees. But it did nothing to streamline the gantlet that presidential nominees run. Republicans may not be able to muster the votes to block Democrats on procedure, but they can force every nomination into days of debate between every procedural vote in the Senate book — of which there will be many.
And legislation, at least for now, is still very much subject to the filibuster. On Thursday afternoon, as one Republican after another went to the Senate floor to lament the end of one type of filibuster, they voted against cutting off debate on the annual defense policy bill, a measure that has passed with bipartisan support every year for decades.
“Today’s historic change to Senate rules escalates what is already a hyperpartisan atmosphere in Washington, which is already preventing Congress from addressing our nation’s most significant challenges,” said former Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican, and former Representative Dan Glickman, a Democrat, in a joint statement from the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Republican senators who were willing to team with Democrats on legislation like an immigration overhaul, farm policy and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act will probably think twice in the future.
“We’ll have to see, but I think it was certainly unfortunate,” said Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who has often worked with Democrats.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, made clear that he hoped to exact the ultimate revenge, taking back control of the Senate and using the new rules against the Democrats who made them. “The solution to this problem is at the ballot box,” he said. “We look forward to having a great election.”
David Axelrod, a former top adviser to Mr. Obama, said retaliation by Republicans against the president’s broader agenda would end up hurting them more than Democrats. “If their answer is, ‘Oh yeah, we can make it even worse,’ I think they do that at great risk,” Mr. Axelrod said. “They have to make a decision about whether they want to be a shrinking, shrieking, blocking party, or if they are going to be a national party.”
From the moment Mr. Obama took office, the president who proclaimed that there was no red America and blue America, only the United States of America, has strained to maintain some pretense of bipartisanship — through protracted and fruitless efforts to woo Republicans on his economic stimulus plan and health care law, through dinner dates with some handpicked Republican “friends,” through the nomination of Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, to lead the Defense Department.
In the raucous and dysfunctional House of Representatives, any bill, no matter how inflammatory, has been dubbed bipartisan so long as it attracts a handful of Democratic votes. While Senate leaders have held up for praise any legislation that has secured strong bipartisan majorities — a farm bill, an immigration overhaul, a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act — Democrats have seethed as one presidential nominee after another fell to procedural blockades and major initiatives like gun control collapsed when they could not reach the 60-vote threshold.
Then on Thursday, before a solemn, almost funereal gathering on the Senate floor, the pretense came to an end.
“It became clear even to reluctant members that their strategy of gridlock helped them more than us because we are the party that believes government has to be a force for good,” said Charles E. Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Senate Democrat.
At the White House, officials from the president down came to the same conclusion.
“Enough is enough,” Mr. Obama said after the votes in the Senate. “The American people’s business is far too important to keep falling prey day after day to Washington politics.”
If Harry Reid or future majority leaders extend the new rules to curb filibusters on legislation, a core group of moderates could emerge with new muscle. The Senate is usually narrowly divided, and it would not take a large coalition in the center to hold partisan legislation hostage.
Already, a group of former governors, led by Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, Senator Alexander and Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, have begun banding together.
Mr. Obama expressed hope that a bipartisan spirit “will have a little more space now.” And White House officials said it was still in the interest of Senate Republicans to find a way to legislate, rather than to simply obstruct for the rest of Mr. Obama’s term.
For now, with legislative progress in the House all but doomed by Republican opposition, officials said the president could at least get a full team in place so that he can move forward with executive action, when possible, when Republicans block his agenda in Congress.
That’s what Republicans fear.
“This is nothing more than a power grab in order to try to advance the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda,” Mr. McConnell said.
Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.
November 21, 2013Health Law Is Dividing Republican Governors
By JONATHAN MARTIN
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Republicans are planning to use the troubled health law against Democrats in next year’s midterm elections, but the Affordable Care Act is increasingly dividing their party, too.
At the annual meeting here of the nation’s Republican governors, the ones who are eyeing presidential runs in 2016 say they oppose the health care law. But there is sharp disagreement among those who have helped carry out the law and those who remain entrenched in their opposition.
These early divisions reveal not only the difficult calculations of ambitious Republican politicians as they look to the next presidential campaign, but also the complexities of being a governor rather than a lawmaker at a time when the party’s base is hostile to those who cooperate with Democrats.
The governors who refused the Medicaid expansion money that is part of the health care law — believing they had found a wedge issue — are already boasting about it.
“I said no,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said, “because if I took the Medicaid expansion I’d be dependent on the same federal government that can’t get a basic website up and going even after two and a half years to come through with payments for Medicaid in the future when they start weaning off paying for 100 percent of coverage.”
Under the new law, the federal government pays the entire cost of Medicaid expansion for three years and 90 percent after that.
Mr. Walker, who is seen as a candidate who can potentially bridge the differences between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, said conservatives would have long memories on how the law was carried out.
“I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker, but I think it’s pretty high on the importance list for a lot of voters out there,” he said.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who also turned down the Medicaid money and is thought to be considering a second presidential run, used even more vivid language. “It’s like putting 1,000 more people on the Titanic when you knew what was going to happen,” he said.
He also said in an interview between sessions of the Republican Governors Association meeting that it would matter in a political context.
“I think it’s a factor; I think it’s a philosophical position,” Mr. Perry said of Medicaid expansion, noting that even President Obama had called Medicaid — which is financed by both the states and federal government — part of “a broken system.”
“Whether somebody took it or didn’t, I’ll leave it up to them to justify to their constituents why,” he said of the federal money.
That is not to say that Mr. Perry would not use the issue to his advantage in a presidential primary race. It is not difficult to project how it could play out in the 2016 campaign, said Republican strategists, noting that the governors who accepted the Medicaid expansion could easily be pegged in television ads and mailers as having effectively approved the president’s health care law.
Mr. Walker and Mr. Perry are not the only ambitious Republicans to sound a “Where were you on Obamacare?” line of attack. Senator Rand Paul said this week that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, perhaps the leading 2016 contender among establishment Republicans, would have to answer for his decision to take the Medicaid money.
“On the case of the New Jersey governor, I think embracing Obamacare, expanding Medicaid in his state is very expensive and not fiscally conservative,” Mr. Paul said.
He added, “Many Republican governors I would say are conservative did resist expanding and accepting Obamacare in their states.”
Mr. Paul’s criticism underlines one of the challenges governors face as they contemplate presidential campaigns. House members and senators do not face the same dilemma: While members of Congress vote on legislation, bills can be passed without their support. But governors face decisions that affect the residents of their states.
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio expressed this political fact of life, becoming animated as he was questioned at a meeting with reporters here about his decision to expand Medicaid.
“I always try to put myself in the shoes of somebody else to say: ‘How would I feel if I didn’t have health insurance? Are you kidding me?’ ” said Mr. Kasich, who has been mentioned as a 2016 hopeful, his voice rising. In defending Medicaid, he spoke at length about the scourge of drug addiction and challenges faced by those with mental illnesses.
“It’s going to save lives,” he said. “It’s going to help people, and you tell me what’s more important than that.”
The issue is a particularly delicate one among Republican governors, not only because they have disagreed on whether to take the Medicaid money, but because Mr. Christie, already a leading figure in the party, formally took over the Scottsdale meeting as the association’s chairman.
Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina has made much of her decision to turn down the Medicaid expansion, frequently boasting that “we didn’t just say no, we said never.” But she took a more restrained position here when sitting next to Mr. Christie at a news conference.
“I don’t think that the people of South Carolina will make a decision on one issue,” said Ms. Haley, whose state holds the South’s first presidential primary.
But when asked if she was suggesting that the health law would not be a factor in 2016, Ms. Haley clarified “it is going to be an issue, certainly,” but would not be “the sole issue.”
Some of the Republican governors are still determining how to handle Medicaid expansion. They include Mike Pence of Indiana, who said he would like to take a middle course on the issue, using the new federal money to cover more low-income Indiana residents but do so through a state-run program.
“I believe it could be a pilot program for the kind of health care reform that is grounded in the principles of consumer-driven health care,” Mr. Pence said.
As to whether he would be vulnerable in a presidential primary because he accepted money provided through the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Pence demurred. “The circumstances of each state with regard to Medicaid are different,” he said.
Former Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi made same argument in discussing why conservatives ultimately would not punish governors who took the Medicaid money. “Some people may try to make it an issue, but I think they’re going to find out it’s not the kind of issue they expect it to be,” he said.
Mr. Kasich, asked if taking the funding could hamper his own presidential prospects, shot back, “Is that how you’re going to make a decision?”
But then he offered a prediction that might have been rooted in his hopes: “I think all things kind of fade over time.”
November 21, 2013U.S. Unveils Letters Insurers Must Send About Health Plans
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
WASHINGTON — President Obama said last week that the Affordable Care Act would not stop Americans from keeping their health insurance plans, even if those plans did not meet minimum standards set by the health care law.
But he did not promise to say nice things about them.
On Thursday, the federal government unveiled sample letters that insurance companies will be required to send to anyone seeking to renew one of those policies.
The letters are blunt, declaring that the insurance that is about to be renewed “will NOT provide all of the rights and protections of the health care law.” Renewal letters sent by insurance companies will have to list all the deficiencies in the policy.
The letters, among other things, will have to warn that policies might not:
¶Meet standards for premiums, allowing companies to charge more based on factors like gender or a pre-existing condition.
¶Guarantee the policy’s renewal.
¶Prevent discrimination based on a customer’s health status.
¶Cover essential health benefits or limit annual out-of-pocket spending.
The letters must also make it clear that consumers can still voluntarily switch to a plan offered by the new federal or state insurance marketplaces.
“The Marketplace allows you to choose a private plan that fits your budget and health care needs,” the letters will have to say. “You may also qualify for tax credits or other financial assistance to help you afford health insurance coverage through the Marketplace.”
The letters will be required to give the HealthCare.gov website address and the toll-free number for the federal insurance marketplace.
Under Mr. Obama’s new policy, announced last week, some insurers may still prevent some customers from renewing their policies. In that case, officials said Thursday, companies are urged to include a letter referring such customers to the marketplaces.
“You may shop in the Health Insurance Marketplace, where all plans meet certain standards to guarantee health care security and no one who is qualified to purchase through the Marketplace can be turned away or charged more because of a pre-existing condition,” the letters may say.
******************Here’s How the Media Helps Republicans with Their Sabotage of ObamaCare
By: Sarah Jones
Thursday, November, 21st, 2013, 10:19 am
The media follows Republican direction, even after they’ve been lied to repeatedly by Republicans (Benghazi emails, IRS Tea Party targeting, etc).
A perfect example of just how closely they fall in line with GOP talking points can be seen in a Republican memo outlining their attacks on ObamaCare, via the New York Times.
From providing sample op-eds (nothing says grassroots like a sample op-ed) to instructions to use social media to spread the message, the document lays out a shock and awe campaign against ObamaCare. The main messages are: “Because of Obamacare, I Lost My Insurance”, “Obamacare Increases Health Care Costs” and “The Exchanges May Not Be Secure, Putting Personal Information at Risk”.
They order their troops to “Continue Collecting Constituent Stories” — aka, provide anecdotal backup to the claims they are making so the media has someone to parade in front of the public.
These instructions read exactly like a script for an ad campaign, except the difference is that our media is passing the script off as news. We’ve already seen the news pick up on all three of the Republican ObamaCare narratives, and this is after they got taken in by Republican media plants concern trolling about the website, when it turned out they never even tried to use the website.
Republicans are doing anything they can to sabotage ObamaCare. They’ve sabotaged the website rollout and the website itself by refusing to run the state exchanges and then refusing to fund the federal exchange to handle the added burden. Then they spread instructions on how to DDOS the website, while decrying its lack of safety and instability.
Steve Benen rounded up the Republicans’ scary movie talking points designed to sabotage a law and all of these fit right in with the script:
The quotes from House GOP leaders are rather remarkable. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said health care reform may lead to identity theft; Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) falsely claimed “premiums are going right through the roof”; Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned that consumers who visit healthcare.gov may become victims of fraud; and Caucus Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said vulnerable constituents may be put “on the casualty list.”
All they need to make this a news story is a person willing to say that this happened to them. They have plenty of those, and the media doesn’t bother to vet them to see if they even tried to use the website or if they can get a cheaper plan via the exchanges.
The media hops from one outrage to the next while never turning on the GOP to ask a question about why these stories feed their political agenda and so consistently turn out to be lacking in credibility. That’s not to say there aren’t problems with the rollout — but there is no need to waste space discussing something that was already repeating what any sane person would have expected.
This is a coordinated effort to sabotage a law. Republicans aren’t hiding their efforts, but why should they? Instead of fact-checking Republicans or even showing an ounce of skepticism no matter how many times they are burned by Republican aides leaking a false story to them, the media laps up the GOP’s drama-filled tales.
Each one of these talking points has been a news narrative.
While I can understand why they fell for the IRS and Benghazi fictions, to fall for sabotaging a law is different. And this is a law, not an event or a bill. It’s already been debated, vetted, and double vetted.
The nasty contempt with which the media reports on the alleged failures of this law has been stunning. The sneering reports of failure, the craven jumping from one talking point to another as soon as the first collapses with no accountability while declaring themselves to be the arbiters of accountability reveals just how closely the media falls in line with Republican talking points.
All they need is an actor to get a few quotes from and they’re off to round out the edges of their GOP narrative. That is the formula — the GOP slips them a “story” and an anecdotal actor — with the IRS story, the anecdotal actor turned out to have been a group already found guilty of illegally helping Republicans — but the media still ran with them as the example of Tea Party groups being targeted.
Take that formula and apply it to an already confusing change (all big change is confusing, by the way — see Medicare Part D, which wasn’t nearly so big a change). Groups that wanted to help explain the law to the public were threatened by the Republicans not to get involved or they’d be investigated. The media is totally uninterested in investigating this abuse of power, as they sift through ObamaCare crumbs to see if what stray piece of negativity might have been missed.
Not to worry, media, you’ve only to wait for Republicans to craft your next story and hand it to you on a silver platter so you can feed it to the masses as proof that you really didn’t fail us under Bush. You are very, very important people who take pushing back on a law designed to help protect the people from corporate greed very seriously. We know.
We don’t need the media anymore. Why not just go straight to the source and pass out GOP talking points every morning as the news.
November 21, 2013 07:00 PMObamacare Continues to Outpoll Bush's Medicare Rx Launch
By Jon Perr
While Republicans and their media echo chamber have been quick to pronounce the Affordable Care Act "dead on arrival" and its troubled launch "Obama's Katrina," polling suggests the American people have reached no such conclusion. A Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted last weekend found that 41 percent of respondents approve of the ACA, little changed from a month before. Meanwhile, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found that less than two in five support the law's repeal, "virtually unchanged since last summer."
But lost in the flurry of polls is a helpful bit of context to another major health care program that cost Washington hundreds of billions of dollars and impacted over 40 million people. As it turns out, the numbers show that President Bush's Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, a program that now enjoys 90 percent approval from America's seniors, was far more unpopular during its launch than Obama's Affordable Care Act is now.
The charts from the Kaiser Family Foundation above tell the tale. Since its passage in March 2010, support for and opposition to the Affordable Care Act has been largely unchanged. But KFF's polling of seniors' views of the Bush Medicare drug plan showed it consistently more unpopular than the ACA, with disapproval spiking during its launch in the fall of 2005. And that dismal performance was for a program for which enrollment was voluntary and the coverage fully paid by Uncle Sam.
The headlines in late 2005 and early 2006 explain why. The launch of the enrollment period for 43 million seniors to use their new drug benefit to purchase prescription coverage from private insurers was met with stories like "Medicare prescription drug plan stump seniors" (USA Today), "Officials' pitch for drug plan meets skeptics" (New York Times), "Medicare drug plan still not generating much enthusiasm" and "majority of Americans say drug plan is not working" (Gallup). As Sarah Kliff explained in June, "Part D was less popular than Obamacare when it launched":
Eight years ago, the federal government rolled out Medicare Part D, a prescription drug benefit. For the first time ever, Medicare was launching a benefit administered exclusively through private health insurance plans. The benefit was not popular: In the spring of 2005, when enrollment efforts ramped up, polls showed Medicare Part D to be less popular than the Affordable Care Act. Fewer Americans felt they understood how it worked, too...
Neither was especially popular in the months prior to their launch. Part D was even less liked: 21 percent of the public had a favorable opinion of the program in April 2005 compared to 35 percent in April 2013 for the Affordable Care Act.
Americans' disdain for the Medicare drug plan was understandable, giving its disastrous launch. As I explained previously:
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled that some of the administration's ads promoting the new program were illegal while others were misleading. GAO investigators also found that the White House illegally withheld data from Congress on the cost of the new law. The Congressman who crafted the bill soon left Capitol Hill for K Street, where he made millions of dollars annually as a heath care lobbyist.
The new federal web site allowing people to compare plans and prices was delayed by weeks, while just 300 customer service reps manned the phones to help new enrollees. Yet over six million people immediately lost their coverage, while hundreds of thousands more would be refused treatment because of malfunctions in the computer systems linking providers and insurers. In response to the mushrooming crisis, governors in mostly Democratic states spent billions to continue coverage for their residents, while the President pleaded with insurance companies not to cut off their current policyholders. Nevertheless, the White House sided with insurers and rejected bipartisan calls to delay the enrollment deadline even as public approval plummeted to 25 percent. It's no wonder John Boehner called the rollout of the President's signature domestic policy achievement "horrendous."
But despite its catastrophic rollout, President Bush's Medicare prescription drug plan slowly but surely gained popularity over time. One key reason is that, despite their opposition to a program that was needlessly expensive and a giveaway to private insurers and pharmaceutical companies, Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the states helped make the program a success. Part D also had one other thing going for it. It was better than the alternative: nothing.
So Republicans now tap-dancing on Obamacare's grave would do well to put their celebration on hold. If Medicare's experience is any indication, a year--or two or three--from now the polling numbers will be looking much positive for the Affordable Care Act.
November 21, 2013California Encouraged by Health Plan Enrollment
By KATIE THOMAS and ANDREW POLLACK
Nearly 80,000 people have enrolled in health plans through California’s online marketplace, at a rate of several thousand a day in November — a sizable increase over a month ago, state officials said on Thursday.
Especially encouraging, officials said, was the enrollment of young people, who are considered essential to the success of the Obama administration’s health care law.
Shortly after the numbers were released, the board of Covered California, the state exchange, voted against going along with a proposal by President Obama to consider renewing previously canceled plans, saying the move would undermine the state marketplace’s growing success.
California joins at least seven other states that have declined to go along with the proposal, which Mr. Obama made after a wave of cancellations across the country created a furor and led to complaints that he had reneged on his promise to let consumers keep plans they liked.
“Delaying the transition is not going to solve a single problem, it just pushes the problem down the road,” Susan Kennedy, a member of the five-person board, said just before the vote. “I actually think it’s going to make a bad situation worse by complicating it further.”
The state’s enrollment figures represent a rare bright spot in the unfolding story of the Affordable Care Act. Its rollout has been troubled by technical problems with the federal health care website, lower-than-expected enrollment and a public outcry over its role in the cancellation of millions of insurance plans.
Officials said 18- to 34-year-olds made up 22.5 percent of the nearly 31,000 Californians who selected a private health plan in October. The same age group makes up 21 percent of the state’s population.
The enrollment of young people is important to insurers because their relative good health offsets the costs for people with serious medical conditions.
“Enrollment in key demographics like the so-called young invincibles is very encouraging,” Peter V. Lee, the executive director of Covered California, said in a statement.
Young Invincibles, a health care advocacy group for young people, said in a statement that the news out of California shows “that young adults are engaged and excited about their new options even at this very early stage in the enrollment process.” It noted that California was a crucial state for recruiting young people because 31 percent of those living there lacked health insurance.
Officials said that over 10,000 applications for coverage were now being completed each day, with more than 360,000 applications having been completed through Tuesday. Those numbers include people who are also eligible for Medi-Cal, California’s no-cost health insurance program for the poor.
Like many of the 16 states and the District of Columbia that are operating their own marketplaces, California’s health insurance website has run far more smoothly than the federal website, which handles the online enrollment for 34 states that declined to set up their own exchanges. In November, roughly 2,700 people were enrolling each day, California officials said. That is up from 700 people a day when the site opened last month.
The federal site has been plagued by technical problems since it opened on Oct. 1. In contrast to California, only about 27,000 people enrolled in private plans through the federal website in October, although enrollment reportedly picked up in the first half of November.
People who did not qualify for a subsidy enrolled in significantly higher numbers than those who did. The state reported that 4,852 people who selected a private plan in October were eligible for tax credit subsidies, which are based on income, compared with 25,978 who did not qualify.
Timothy S. Jost, a health care expert at Washington and Lee University, said the same pattern emerged in the federal marketplace statistics released for October. “I suspect this is reasonably well-off people who are losing coverage in the individual market and have found good coverage on the exchange,” he said.
That may be one reason for the California board’s decision against allowing people to renew plans that had been canceled in the state. California had required all carriers that were participating in the exchange to cancel any existing plans that did not comply with the new law by Jan. 1.
The state’s insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, lambasted the Covered California board’s decision as a “disservice to California’s consumers.”
Mr. Jones took issue with the board’s reasoning, saying, “Allowing them to renew as the president has called for will not harm the exchange or the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California, nor will it harm the individual market risk pool.”
Several of the other states that most enthusiastically supported the new health care law, including Massachusetts and New York, have also resisted the president’s proposal, also contending that the move could jeopardize their fledgling state insurance marketplaces.
******************Poll Fishing: How Today’s Media Distorts Data to Drive Ratings
By: Trevor LaFauci
Thursday, November, 21st, 2013, 4:23 pm
In this country today, there are at least 550 people who disapprove of the way our president is doing his job.
And that, my friends, is national news.
As today’s media gathers more and more moss on its “Obama is falling apart” stone, they have been using any and all means to paint this president as one who is teetering on the brink of collapse. His pride and joy, the Affordable Care Act, is broken beyond repair. Never mind the fact that the rollout is extremely similar to that of Medicare Part D. Or that initial enrollment numbers mirror those of Massachusetts in that younger people are most likely not to enroll until late January or February. Focusing on these issues wouldn’t give a national audience a sense of urgency that is needed to sell the news.
Plus, those stories just aren’t that sexy.
And so, here we are nearly a month and half into the most comprehensive piece of social legislation in a generation and the media has yet to say a single positive thing about the new law. Nothing about the new or first time enrollees. Nothing about the state exchanges and how many states that have created their own exchanges are on pace to dramatically increase their enrollment numbers in November. And we certainly haven’t heard anything about how Republican governors like Rick Perry have flat-out refused free federal money for the Medicaid expansion, by putting politics ahead of the health and well-being of the people of their own states.
The latest attempt to smear the Affordable Care Act, and more specifically Barack Obama, has come to us via The Washington Post. In a poll released Tuesday, the Post showed that Barack Obama’s approval rating at an all-time low 42%, a reflection of both the cancelled health policies as well as rocky start to the health care website. CNN’s bottom line ticker today illustrated that President Obama’s approval rating has slipped 8% since October 1st. This was the ticker that was on the screen, for all viewers to see, while they they were waiting for an Obama’s press conference where he wasn’t asked about his approval rating a single time.
But again, the headline draws you in.
Here’s the problem with the media distortion that is so prevalent in 2013: It creates a false narrative. Right now, the major overlying issue in this country is not whether or not the American people approve or disapprove of the president of the United States. In fact, the opinions of people in this country don’t even matter to our elected representatives. We saw this when our government ignored the will of 90% of the American people and refused to pass gun legislation after Newtown. Barack Obama does not make political decisions based on whether or not 42% or even 52% of the American people approve of the job he is doing.
To prove this point, let’s look at the poll from The Washington Post, that is currently at the center of the media news cycle. The 42% number sticks out above all others. However, that number still more than four times better than Congress. In looking at this poll, we have to be critical of exactly who is polled and how they were polled. According to this particular poll, 1,006 random adults were polled by telephone from November 14-17. This statement alone should draw red flags from more critical readers about the validity of this, or any, poll that ends up making national news.
The first issue is the fact that it was random adults who were surveyed. This can be voters or non-voters. It can be high school seniors or it can be elderly couples. Therefore, it’s important to remember that not everybody surveyed will end up voting in future elections. Next, the fact that this survey was done by telephone is a huge red flag. The overwhelming majority of millennials were not contacted for this poll, seeing as they are largely cell phone users. Millennials overwhelmingly support Barack Obama and therefore were not accurately represented. The last issue to consider is who exactly takes the time to respond to a phone poll these days. Most people tend to ignore phone calls from an unidentified number or immediately hang up once a robotic voice comes on. Chances are, the only people who responded to this poll were older, affluent, and were those that had strong opinions about the job the president was doing. In other words, the people who are most upset about Barack Obama’s leadership.
And when people are angry, this shows that the story is worthy of national attention.
This is how today’s media operates. They thrive on controversy. They go for the stories that have sharp divisions between the two dominant political ideologies of the day. They refuse to recognize successes and instead focus on failures. They base every single decision they make not on what is important but what will ultimately create the most buzz on social media. The more buzz, the more advertising dollars. The more advertising dollars, the richer the network executives become. The richer the network executives, the richer the CEOs of major corporations. In other words, the rich get richer.
And, after all, isn’t that the real purpose of news?
**************This is your brain on poverty: Sanders and Warren probe insidious consequences of being poor
By Travis Gettys
Thursday, November 21, 2013 15:32 EST
While most Americans think of poverty in material terms, said the senate’s lone independent, its effects were more insidious and long-lasting.
The U.S. Senate subcommittee on primary health and aging met Wednesday morning to discuss the effects of poverty and stress on children, communities and health in America.
“Stress and poverty, wondering how I’m going to feed my family tomorrow, pay my bills get the income I need to survive, takes a toll on human life,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Recent studies have shown that stress caused by poverty can influence brain development in children and lay the groundwork for physical health problems that show up later in life.
“Lack of choice and the increased stress that low-income people experience increases their level of cortisol (the primary stress hormone), and we know that higher levels of cortisol are correlated with cardiovascular disorders and other chronic illnesses, including diabetes,” said Michael Reisch, a professor of social justice at the University of Maryland.
Another witness testified before the panel that the poor tend to engage in riskier behavior – such as smoking, drinking and eating unhealthy foods – but stress tended to trigger some of those bad habits.
“It’s very clear that behavioral pathways are only part of that,” said Lisa Berkman, director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.
The effects of poverty on health and learning were much greater in the U.S. than other developed countries that had stronger safety nets, testified Dr. Steven Woolf, director of the Center on Society and Health and professor of family medicine and population health at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“Obviously they have poverty in other countries, too, but there appears to be more programming and policies in place in those other countries to buffer the impact of material deprivation on families so that in effect children growing up in poor families in these other countries are more protected from the adverse effects than American children are,” Woolf said.
He also noted a Yale University study that found that other countries spent more on social programs and less on health care than the U.S., yet people in those countries tended to live longer and lead healthier lives.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) agreed that the U.S. wastes “far too much money treating people after they become sick,” rather than spending money on preventative measures.
“Healthy people have stable, safe, clean housing, they live in safe neighborhoods with sidewalks (and) they have lots of outdoor spaces,” Warren said.
“Health people can afford nutritious food, healthy people have clean air to breathe (but) for many Americans, these necessities of good health are luxuries they can’t afford,” she said.
Click to watch:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDO4N40Wvos
***************Warren: We’re in this mess because Washington has ignored the middle class for a generation
By David Ferguson
Thursday, November 21, 2013 10:27 EST
On Wednesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stopped by “The Rachel Maddow Show” to discuss economic populism, wealth inequality and possible ground games for the Democratic and the Republican Parties in the coming years.
Maddow began the segment by discussing the recent decisions to raise the minimum wage in New Jersey and Massachusetts. In New Jersey, voters overwhelmingly agreed to raise the minimum hourly wage in the state to $8.25. The Massachusetts state Senate voted to increase that state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour.
This week, Sen. Warren made a floor speech about how the time has come to stop threatening the popular and successful Social Security program with budget cuts and privatization.