In the USA...United Surveillance America
October 13, 2013Privacy Fears Grow as Cities Increase Surveillance
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
OAKLAND, Calif. — Federal grants of $7 million awarded to this city were meant largely to help thwart terror attacks at its bustling port. But instead, the money is going to a police initiative that will collect and analyze reams of surveillance data from around town — from gunshot-detection sensors in the barrios of East Oakland to license plate readers mounted on police cars patrolling the city’s upscale hills.
The new system, scheduled to begin next summer, is the latest example of how cities are compiling and processing large amounts of information, known as big data, for routine law enforcement. And the system underscores how technology has enabled the tracking of people in many aspects of life.
The police can monitor a fire hose of social media posts to look for evidence of criminal activities; transportation agencies can track commuters’ toll payments when drivers use an electronic pass; and the National Security Agency, as news reports this summer revealed, scooped up telephone records of millions of cellphone customers in the United States.
Like the Oakland effort, other pushes to use new surveillance tools in law enforcement are supported with federal dollars. The New York Police Department, aided by federal financing, has a big data system that links 3,000 surveillance cameras with license plate readers, radiation sensors, criminal databases and terror suspect lists. Police in Massachusetts have used federal money to buy automated license plate scanners. And police in Texas have bought a drone with homeland security money, something that Alameda County, which Oakland is part of, also tried but shelved after public protest.
Proponents of the Oakland initiative, formally known as the Domain Awareness Center, say it will help the police reduce the city’s notoriously high crime rates. But critics say the program, which will create a central repository of surveillance information, will also gather data about the everyday movements and habits of law-abiding residents, raising legal and ethical questions about tracking people so closely.
Libby Schaaf, an Oakland City Council member, said that because of the city’s high crime rate, “it’s our responsibility to take advantage of new tools that become available.” She added, though, that the center would be able to “paint a pretty detailed picture of someone’s personal life, someone who may be innocent.”
For example, if two men were caught on camera at the port stealing goods and driving off in a black Honda sedan, Oakland authorities could look up where in the city the car had been in the last several weeks. That could include stoplights it drove past each morning and whether it regularly went to see Oakland A’s baseball games.
For law enforcement, data mining is a big step toward more complete intelligence gathering. The police have traditionally made arrests based on small bits of data — witness testimony, logs of license plate readers, footage from a surveillance camera perched above a bank machine. The new capacity to collect and sift through all that information gives the authorities a much broader view of the people they are investigating.
For the companies that make big data tools, projects like Oakland’s are a big business opportunity. Microsoft built the technology for the New York City program. I.B.M. has sold data-mining tools for Las Vegas and Memphis.
Oakland has a contract with the Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, to build its system. That company has earned the bulk of its $12 billion in annual revenue from military contracts. As the federal military budget has fallen, though, SAIC has diversified to other government agency projects, though not without problems.
The company’s contract to help modernize the New York City payroll system, using new technology like biometric readers, resulted in reports of kickbacks. Last year, the company paid the city $500 million to avoid a federal prosecution. The amount was believed to be the largest ever paid to settle accusations of government contract fraud. SAIC declined to comment.
Even before the initiative, Oakland spent millions of dollars on traffic cameras, license plate readers and a network of sound sensors to pick up gunshots. Still, the city has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country. And an internal audit in August 2012 found that the police had spent $1.87 million on technology tools that did not work properly or remained unused because their vendors had gone out of business.
The new center will be far more ambitious. From a central location, it will electronically gather data around the clock from a variety of sensors and databases, analyze that data and display some of the information on a bank of giant monitors.
The city plans to staff the center around the clock. If there is an incident, workers can analyze the many sources of data to give leads to the police, fire department or Coast Guard. In the absence of an incident, how the data would be used and how long it would be kept remain largely unclear.
The center will collect feeds from cameras at the port, traffic cameras, license plate readers and gunshot sensors. The center will also be integrated next summer with a database that allows police to tap into reports of 911 calls. Renee Domingo, the city’s emergency services coordinator, said school surveillance cameras, as well as video data from the regional commuter rail system and state highways, may be added later.
Far less advanced surveillance programs have elicited resistance at the local and state level. Iowa City, for example, recently imposed a moratorium on some surveillance devices, including license plate readers. The Seattle City Council forced its police department to return a federally financed drone to the manufacturer.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California described the program as “warrantless surveillance” and said “the city would be able to collect and stockpile comprehensive information about Oakland residents who have engaged in no wrongdoing.”
The port’s chief security officer, Michael O’Brien, sought to allay fears, saying the center was meant to hasten law-enforcement response time to crimes and emergencies. “It’s not to spy on people,” he said.
Steve Spiker, research and technology director at the Urban Strategies Council, an Oakland nonprofit organization that has examined the effectiveness of police technology tools, said he was uncomfortable with city officials knowing so much about his movements. But, he said, there is already so much public data that it makes sense to enable government officials to collect and analyze it for the public good.
Still, he would like to know how all that data would be kept and shared. “What happens,” he wondered, “when someone doesn’t like me and has access to all that information?”
October 13, 2013World Leaders Press the U.S. on Fiscal Crisis
By ANNIE LOWREY and NATHANIEL POPPER
WASHINGTON — Leaders at World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings on Sunday pleaded, warned and cajoled: the United States must raise its debt ceiling and reopen its government or risk “massive disruption the world over,” as Christine Lagarde, the fund’s managing director, put it.
The fiscal problems of the United States overshadowed the official agendas for the meetings, with representatives from dozens of countries — including two of Washington’s most important economic partners, Saudi Arabia and China — publicly expressing worries about what was happening on Capitol Hill and in the White House.
The leaders came to Washington to talk about the international recovery, Ms. Lagarde said in an interview on the NBC News program “Meet the Press.” “Then they found out that the debt ceiling was the issue,” she added. “They found out that the government had shut down and that there was no remedy in sight.”
“So it really completely transformed the meeting in the last few days,” Ms. Lagarde said.
With only three days left before a potential default, Senate leaders failed on Sunday to reach agreement on a plan to reopen the government and raise the debt limit.
Many leaders at the World Bank and I.M.F. meetings said they believed the impasse would be resolved before Thursday, when the government would be at severe risk of not having enough money to pay all its bills on any given day going forward.
But they pressed Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke — who were both at the I.M.F. meeting — on the issue, predicting that even a near-default would lead to higher borrowing costs and a slowdown of the global economy.
“This cannot happen, and this shall not happen,” Baudouin Prot, chairman of the French bank BNP Paribas, said at a meeting of the Institute of International Finance also being held in Washington. “The consequences of this would be absolutely disastrous.”
Mr. Lew acknowledged the threat. “Our work begins at home,” he said. “We recognize that the United States is the anchor of the international financial system. With the deepest and most liquid financial markets, when risk rises, the flight to safety and to quality brings investors to U.S. markets. But the United States cannot take this hard-earned reputation for granted.”
Participants at the meetings remained on edge, given the gravity of the threat. Ms. Lagarde said “that lack of certainty, that lack of trust in the U.S. signature” would disrupt the world economy.
Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, issued his own urgent appeal. “The fiscal standoff has to be resolved without delay,” he said in a statement released by the I.M.F.
Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, painted a bleak picture of the days ahead if there is no resolution.
“As you get closer to it, the panic will set in and something will happen,” Mr. Dimon said at the international institute event. “I don’t personally know when that problem starts.”
He added that JPMorgan had been “spending huge amounts of time and money and effort to be prepared.”
Many of the high-ranking officials present in Washington for the meetings made open appeals to Congress, with warnings coming from many of Washington’s allies and creditors. Ms. Lagarde’s counterpart at the World Bank, the American physician Jim Yong Kim, said the world was “days away from a very dangerous moment.”
“The closer we get to the deadline the greater the impact will be for the developing world,” he said.
Fahad Almubarak, governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, said “urgent political agreements on budget and debt issues are necessary to preserve and, indeed, reinforce the modest recovery.” And Yi Gang, an official with China’s central bank, said the fiscal uncertainties “must be addressed promptly.”
Concern over the impasse has already led to a slide in stocks — including the worst two-day dip in months. American economic confidence has taken the worst hit since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. And investors have dumped certain short-term Treasury debt because of fears that the Treasury might not pay them back on time.
Markets ended last week with a burst of optimism, after House Republicans took the first steps toward a compromise. But that optimism faded over the weekend. On Sunday, with negotiations in the Senate stalled, the value of the dollar was sliding.
In the Asia-Pacific region early Monday, stock markets moved lower in Singapore, Taiwan and Australia. Markets in Hong Kong and Japan were shut for holidays.
On Monday, all eyes in the American and European markets will be focused on the negotiations in Congress. Big American companies will announce their quarterly results this week, normally a significant event for Wall Street. But that is likely to attract little attention until the political negotiations are settled.
There has been much debate about how quickly problems will ripple through the economy before and after the deadline. The Treasury Department will continue to take in money and might be able to pay its bills for as long as two weeks. Some House Republicans have said that even if the Treasury misses some payments, it will have enough money to avoid defaulting on its debt, the most frightening outcome for financial markets.
The I.M.F., which lends to governments that have trouble finding financing on the sovereign debt markets, said it had been planning for any market disruptions. Mr. Kim of the World Bank said that the United States’ flirtation with default in 2011 raised borrowing costs for many poor countries.
Much of the attention has been on the enormous outstanding pool of Treasury bonds and bills. Short-term government bills are used to grease the wheels for many financial transactions and provide a benchmark from which other assets are priced. If the value of that debt was suddenly drawn into question, markets could quickly seize up.
Money market funds, the popular mutual funds that own large amounts of Treasury bills, have been selling those that are scheduled to pay out in late October and November.
Anshu Jain, the co-chief executive of Deutsche Bank, said on the international institute panel that his executive team had been trying to make contingency plans in case of a default, but it had struggled to come up with measures that would significantly stem the losses.
“You don’t want to go into all of it,” he said. “This would be a very rapidly spreading fatal disease.”
Annie Lowrey reported from Washington, and Nathaniel Popper from New York.
******************China Calls For a ‘De-Americanised’ World Thanks to GOP Shutdown & Default Threat
By: Sarah Jones
Sunday, October 13th, 2013, 3:35 pm
China’s official news agency wonders why America is in charge when it’s creating mayhem in the financial markets, according to International Business Times. They write, “… the cyclical stagnation in Washington for a viable bipartisan solution over a federal budget and an approval for raising debt ceiling has again left many nations’ tremendous dollar assets in jeopardy and the international community highly agonised.”
The official news agency of China, which is seen as the pretender to the world’s superpower crown, then rubbed in more salt, calling American economic pre-eminence just a seeming dominance.
It asks why the self-declared protector of the world is sowing mayhem in the financial markets by failing to resolve political differences over key economic policy.
This led the Xinhua news agency to gleefully call for a “de-Americanised world”, noting that the world would be better off in the hands of folks with a functioning government.
This isn’t just political posturing, as IBT reports that per the Treasury, “China is the biggest foreign owner of US Treasuries at $1.28 trillion as of July.”
According to the Treasury, next up to feel the pain of Republican economic terrorism would be Japan, Carib Banking Centers, and Oil Exporters. Good going, GOP.
This will impact more than just large holders of our bonds. According to PolitiFact, your mutual fund could be invested in what used to be considered “safe” t-bills.
If you hold a savings bond your grandmother gave you on your 10th birthday, or if you go to www.treasurydirect.gov
to purchase Treasury bills, then you are loaning money to the government, with the promise of receiving your principal plus interest at a specified future date. Alternately, if your mutual fund buys a Treasury bill, you indirectly own that security. Investment banks, sovereign wealth funds and other large investors purchase Treasury debt all the time in auctions held by the Treasury. If you hold a U.S. security in this way, “it means that you have loaned money to the U.S. government, and it has borrowed from you,” said Neil H. Buchanan, law professor at George Washington University and author of The Debt Ceiling Disasters.
This is what the President meant when he explained that the the bond market is boss. President Obama told reporters, “Ultimately, what matters is: What do the people who are buying Treasury bills think?”
The Xinhua news agency called for an end to the US dollar as the international reserve currency in order to protect the international community from Republicans’ economic jihad.
This must be what conservatives mean by “USA! USA! USA!” Kill the exceptionalism, violate the Constitutional mandate to pay our debt, and turn America into an international joke, causing America to lose its world standing even when W isn’t in office. Check, check, check and check.
This is WINNING, Tea Party style. Meanwhile, Tea Partiers are calling for a non-violent revolution against this President and demanding that he put his “Quran” down.
Political Ticker reported on the folks Republicans brought to the dance:
“I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up,” said Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, a conservative political advocacy group.
This country had better get a handle on these Republicans, or they are going to do what Al-Qaeda never managed to do to the US.
October 13, 2013Spending Dispute Leaves a Senate Deal Elusive
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — With a possible default on government obligations just days away, Senate Democratic leaders — believing they have a political advantage in the continuing fiscal impasse — refused Sunday to sign on to any deal that reopens the government but locks in budget cuts for next year.
The disagreement extended the stalemate that has kept much of the government shuttered for two weeks and threatens to force a federal default.
The core of the dispute is about spending, and how long a stopgap measure that would reopen the government should last. Democrats want the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration to last only through mid-November; Republicans want them to last as long as possible.
The Democrats’ demand shows a newfound aggressiveness. Previously, they had favored a so-called clean bill that would reopen the government and lift the debt ceiling without any policy changes attached. With Republicans on the defensive, it remains unclear whether the Democrats are using a negotiating ploy to raise the likelihood that any final deal will include their priorities as well as the Republicans’.
Democrats said Sunday that Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader — who spoke only briefly by telephone — were inching forward, and that a breakthrough was possible before the debt default deadline on Thursday.
“They had a good conversation,” Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat, said on Sunday evening. “They are moving closer together, and I’m hopeful the Senate can save the day.”
Republicans accused Democrats of accepting nothing short of capitulation without offering anything in return. “The Democrats keep moving the goal posts,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the lead Republican negotiators. “Decisions within the Democratic conference are constantly changing.”
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, warned on the CBS News program “Face the Nation” that the Democrats “better understand something.”
“What goes around comes around,” he said, “and if they try to humiliate Republicans, things change in American politics.”
A rally on the National Mall, led by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, was intended to show that Tea Party activists — supporters of the House Republicans who forced the shutdown over their opposition to the new health care law — were in no mood to give in. Some waved Confederate flags and called for President Obama to be impeached.
The dispute may involve debt ceiling technicalities, but at the core of the fight is a more fundamental question: with polls showing that Republicans are carrying the brunt of the blame for the shutdown, can Democrats demand total surrender, or should they offer concessions to complete the deal?
“You can’t just demand pure capitulation,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. “Negotiations don’t work that way.”
Republicans once said that they would finance the government only if the president’s health care law was gutted. A bipartisan Senate framework drafted by Ms. Collins and Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, started with a face-saving move for Republicans of a repeal of a tax on medical devices that helps pay for the Affordable Care Act. When Senate Democratic leaders objected, that was tempered to a two-year delay of the tax.
Republicans had also insisted on tightening income verification rules for the health care law’s subsidized insurance exchanges. Now Democrats are rewriting that language as well.
“What am I getting?” Ms. Collins said. “I’m serious. I’ve bent over backward.”
Democrats have agreed to engage in formal budget negotiations — where, they acknowledge, Republicans may have the upper hand once the government is reopened and the threat of default is lifted. Both sides say they want a deal that reduces the deficit over the long term.
Republicans have one advantage: if no deal is reached during those talks, the next round of automatic cuts, even deeper than the first, go into force on Jan. 1.
“We know that come 10 years from now, Medicare is not sustainable financially,” Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, said on the NBC News program “Meet the Press.” “We’ve got to do something.”
“And I have to say to the Republican side, ‘For goodness’s sakes, we cannot find some savings, closing some loopholes, quote, raising revenue?’ Well, of course we can,” he said.
The Collins plan would maintain sequestration-level spending through Jan. 15, when formal budget negotiators would be required to complete a House-Senate agreement on spending and taxation over the next decade. That date was already a concession. Ms. Collins, along with Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both Republicans, initially wanted to finance the government for six months at those levels. The initial proposal by Ms. Collins would also have extended the debt ceiling only to Nov. 15, but at the request of Senate Democratic leaders, she and Mr. McConnell pushed it back to Jan. 31.
Mr. McConnell formally endorsed the Collins proposal on Sunday.
“It would reopen the government, prevent a default, provide the opportunity for additional budget negotiations around Washington’s long-term debt, and maintain the commitment that Congress made to reduce Washington spending,” he said in a statement. “It’s time for Democrat leaders to take ‘yes’ for an answer.”
But Democratic leaders have balked, and they flexed their muscle Sunday with a group of Democratic and independent senators negotiating with Ms. Collins.
Ms. Collins said eight Democrats were now involved in negotiations, including Mr. Manchin, and Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats.
“The Democratic leadership is clearly very strong and has a lot of sway over its members,” Ms. Collins said.
Underscoring those concerns, six of the senators negotiating with Ms. Collins — Mr. Manchin, Mr. King, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — released a joint statement acknowledging involvement in the talks but saying they could not support the proposal “in its current form.”
“There are negotiations,” they said, “but there is no agreement.”
October 13, 2013Obamacare: The Rest of the Story
By BILL KELLER
Unless you’ve been bamboozled by the frantic fictions of the right wing, you know that the Affordable Care Act, familiarly known as Obamacare, has begun to accomplish its first goal: enrolling millions of uninsured Americans, many of whom have been living one medical emergency away from the poorhouse. You realize those computer failures that have hampered sign-ups in the early days — to the smug delight of the critics — confirm that there is enormous popular demand. You have probably figured out that the real mission of the Republican extortionists and their big-money backers was to scuttle the law before most Americans recognized it as a godsend and rendered it politically untouchable.
What you may not know is that the Affordable Care Act is also beginning, with little fanfare, to accomplish its second great goal: to promote reforms to our overpriced, underperforming health care system. Irony of ironies, the people who ought to be most vigorously applauding this success story are Republicans, because it is being done not by government decree but almost entirely with market incentives.
Using mainly the marketplace clout of Medicare and some seed money, the new law has spurred innovation and efficiency. And while those new insurance exchanges that are now lurching into business will touch roughly 1 in 10 Americans (the rest of us are already covered by private employer plans or by government programs like Medicare), these systemic reforms potentially touch every patient, every taxpayer.
“This is the 90 percent of the story that doesn’t make the headlines,” said Sam Glick, who follows health care reform for the Oliver Wyman consulting firm.
Since the Affordable Care Act was signed three years ago, more than 370 innovative medical practices, called accountable care organizations, have sprung up across the country, with 150 more in the works. At these centers, Medicare or private insurers reward doctors financially when their patients require fewer hospital stays, emergency room visits and surgeries — exactly the opposite of what doctors have traditionally been paid to do. The more money the organization saves, the more money its participating providers share. And the best way to save costs (which is, happily, also the best way to keep patients alive) is to catch problems before they explode into emergencies.
Thus the accountable care organizations have become the Silicon Valley of preventive care, laboratories of invention driven by the entrepreneurial energy of start-ups.
These organizations have invested heavily in information technology so they can crunch patient records to identify those most at risk, those who are overdue for checkups, those who have not been filling their prescriptions and presumably have not been taking their meds. They then deploy new medical SWAT teams — including not just doctors but health coaches, care coordinators, nurse practitioners — to intervene and encourage patients to live healthier lives.
Advocates of these reforms like to say that they are transforming medicine from the treatment of disease to the treatment of patients — and ultimately the treatment of populations.
At Cornerstone Health Care, a 250-doctor organization in North Carolina, patients with a history of congestive heart failure get a daily phone call from a nurse asking them to step on a scale and report their weight, the best early indicator of an impending emergency. The next stage, Grace Terrell, the president of Cornerstone, told me, will be to give these patients scales that automatically transmit their weight directly to the nurse. (“If the N.S.A. is Big Brother, we’re Big Mother,” Terrell says of the weight surveillance program.) Diabetes patients are invited in for low-cost pedicures. Why? Because diabetics are notoriously vulnerable to infections that lead to amputation, and a common cause of those infections is ingrown toenails. (Both of these practices were pioneered by CareMore, a California-based company that runs clinics for Medicare patients and that has become a major role model since Obamacare.)
The Heritage Provider Network, a huge accountable care organization in California, offers Medicare patients free dance lessons, healthy cooking classes and casino excursions that feature “brain power” activities on the bus. The Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network, a new, seven-doctor practice in upstate New York, is building a gym and a teaching kitchen for its patients, who are mostly inner-city minorities.
“Most doctors were on treadmills,” plodding through their routines, said Raul Vazquez, the chief executive of the Buffalo venture. Now they’re reinventing health care for the inner city with an invigorated sense of mission.
This is not the heroic medicine that turns surgeons into gods and emergency rooms into Hollywood material. Don’t expect to see a toenail-clipping episode on “Grey’s Anatomy.” But these services address the embarrassing fact, reiterated in study after study after study, that Americans pay much more for medical care than other developed countries, with no better results. Obamacare addresses this problem by going, as Willie Sutton famously advised, where the money is. It concentrates resources on the unhealthiest. According to Kaiser Health News, the sickest 1 percent of patients account for 21 percent of health care costs; 5 percent account for half of the total costs.
“There are organizations that are bringing emergency room visits down by 15 to 20 percent,” Glick said. “Hospital admissions, you see numbers like 20 and 30 percent. That can make a huge difference not only in the cost of care but also in the quality of care.”
The best sign that these innovations are beginning to go viral is that they have caught the attention of some giant businesses. Drugstore chains like Walgreens and CVS are now partnering with hospitals or accountable care organizations to give patients convenient points of access and to coordinate treatment. Companies that spend heavily on employee health care plans are learning the best lessons of the Obamacare laboratory. Walmart, the country’s biggest private employer, will fly workers who need transplants or heart or spinal surgery to premier facilities like the Mayo or Cleveland Clinics to assure that their problems get fixed right the first time, avoiding costly readmissions.
Obamacare has also had some important indirect consequences. According to Catherine Dower of the Center for the Health Professions at the University of California at San Francisco, since the Affordable Care Act states have become more aggressive about challenging some of the protectionist laws that prevent well-qualified medical professionals — pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, emergency medical technicians — from offering some kinds of primary care. California just passed a law that will allow pharmacists to check your blood pressure and cholesterol level and to dispense prescription birth control and antismoking drugs. Letting pharmacists perform services that don’t require seven years of medical training makes those services cheaper and more convenient, increasing the chances consumers will take better care of themselves.
Dower said that while the formal doctor lobby continues to resist this as a threat to the M.D. cartel, many physicians have embraced it, recognizing that outsourcing some of these services leaves them more time to do what only doctors can do. And with an estimated 29 million new clients expected to join the ranks of the insured, there is a lot of work to share.
The emerging system is far from perfect. As Elisabeth Rosenthal reported in The Times on Sunday, Congress buckled to drug company lobbying and refused to let Medicare use its purchasing power to bring down obscenely inflated drug prices. And like any upheaval, the reform of health care will produce some losers. Not all of the new organizations will make a go of it. Since hospitals account for about a third of our health care bill, they are a particular target of cost-cutters; some will fail to adapt and will go out of business. Taking costs out of the system means taking money out of somebody’s pockets. This is what the business world calls “creative destruction.”
Grace Terrell of Cornerstone said that of its 250 doctors, “20 percent are still, ‘Down with Obamacare,’ though even they like the private-enterprise approach; 30 percent really get it; and the others are moving faster than the market. We may ultimately fail, but we’re pretty far ahead of the curve.”
One reason you may not have heard much about this part of the Obamacare story is that it is numbingly complicated. (Stephen M. Davidson of Boston University has written a concise and accessible guide to the law and its consequences.) But I suspect another reason is partisan spite. The Democrats were passionately in favor of enrolling the uninsured, but many would have preferred a government-run program, or at least a public option. What Obamacare has wrought is the kind of market-driven reformation that Republicans pretend to believe in. Which makes you wonder how much of their opposition rests on the merits, and how much is just a loathing for anything associated with Barack Obama.
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October 13, 2013Pulling Aid Away, Shutdown Deepens Indians’ Distress
By DAN FROSCH
CROW AGENCY, Mont. — Worlds away from Washington, Audrey Costa wondered aloud about keeping her family warm. A mother of three, she relies on lease payments from the Bureau of Indian Affairs on land owned by her family, which can run up to a few hundred dollars a year, to pay for food and electricity. But since the partial shutdown of the federal government began on Oct. 1, Ms. Costa, 41, has not received a check.
“We’re having such a hard time,” she said outside her tattered clapboard home in this poor prairie town deep in the heart of the Crow reservation. “I don’t know what I’ll do. Just tough it out, I guess.”
Like other largely impoverished Indian tribes that lean heavily on federal dollars, the Crow have been battered by the shutdown.
Some 364 Crow members, more than a third of the tribe’s work force, have been furloughed. A bus service, the only way some Crow are able to travel across their 2.3-million-acre reservation, has been shuttered. A home health care program for sick tribal members has been suspended.
Though the tribe has enough money to keep a skeleton government operating for now, it is running out.
“They don’t have a clue what’s going on out here,” the tribal chairman, Darrin Old Coyote, said of politicians in Washington from his office in Crow Agency, which sits in the shadows of the Little Bighorn battlefield, itself closed because of the shutdown. “It is hurting a lot of people.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which provides a vast sweep of services for more than 1.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, has kept essential programs, like federal police and firefighting services, running. But it has stopped financing tribal governments and the patchwork of programs and grants that form the thin blanket of support for reservations racked by poverty and other ills.
“You’re already looking at a good number of tribes who are considered the poorest of our nation’s people,” said Jacqueline Pata, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. “When you are dealing with cutting off food supply programs and even nominal payments to tribal members, it creates a dangerous impact immediately.”
The Yurok tribe in Northern California, for example, relies almost solely on federal financing to operate. Its reservation, which spans parts of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, already has an 80 percent unemployment rate, said Susan Masten, the tribal vice chairwoman. With money suddenly unavailable, the tribe has furloughed 60 of its 310 employees, closed its child-care center and halted emergency financial assistance for low-income and older members.
Financing for an environmental program that ensures clean drinking water on the reservation is running low. A second round of furloughs could affect tribal police officers, Ms. Masten said.
“The saddest thing about this is that the federal government has an obligation to the tribes,” she said. “In times like this, where it’s already extremely difficult, any further damage to our budget would be devastating.”
On the reservation of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in northern Minnesota, all nonemergency medical procedures have been placed on hold, said Dave Conner, a tribal official who helps manage the Red Lake’s government services.
The Red Lake were supposed to have received about $1 million from the Bureau of Indian Affairs this month to help operate their government, but the money was not released before the shutdown, Mr. Conner said.
The tribe has budgeted enough money to keep the most critical services running until the end of the month.
“This is a poor, rural, isolated reservation,” Mr. Conner said. “A lot of people rely on our services, so there’s a lot of fear right now.”
For some tribes, the pain of the shutdown has been sharpened by federal budget restrictions this year, known as sequestration, that imposed 5 percent cuts to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.
Aaron Payment, the chairman of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan, said his tribe had already shut down its H.I.V. prevention program and furloughed employees for its Head Start program for a month because of sequestration.
Now, with nearly $1 million in federal money lost since the shutdown, the tribe is scrambling to shift casino revenue from other programs to keep its government afloat.
“We’re in turmoil right now,” Mr. Payment said. “The impact here is going to be felt by the people who need the services the most.”
Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian affairs, said the shutdown could have long-term effects on tribes and tribal members. Financial deals and economic programs have been suspended. Environmental reviews of tribal projects will be delayed. And the impact on the thousands of Bureau of Indian Affairs employees who have been furloughed is compounded because many support poor relatives, he said.
“The cushion that tribes might have had to help them get through tough times is gone because of sequestration,” Mr. Washburn said.
In Hardin, Mont., a gritty reservation border town, Presina Grant has been caring for her sister, who broke both of her wrists in a fall. Until recently, Ms. Grant, who is Crow, had been reimbursed $8 an hour as part of the tribe’s health care program.
But after the program was suspended because of the shutdown, Ms. Grant, 43, found herself in a long line of other tribal members applying for food stamps. Her daughter is a high school cross-country runner and craves nutrition. But with money tight, she often must feed her three children frozen food.
“Everyone was just sad — you could just feel it,” Ms. Grant said, recalling the day this month when she collected her final paycheck from the tribe. “People are worried. We’re praying every day.”
*************The Zombie Apocalypse is Here and it is Called the Tea Party
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Monday, October 14th, 2013, 7:52 am
Tea Party ApocalpyseZombies are mindless killers. Everybody agrees on that. They just do what they do, which is bite people in order to spread their contagion. They serve no useful purpose. They are not interested in the common good because they don’t think. It seems, rather, that they are driven by a mindless hate.
Hmmm, sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Zombies and Zombie apocalypses are popular in our culture. But they’re popular not because the zombies eat your face, but because you get to shoot the zombies. Or hit them with baseball bats.
Kill the zombies; end the apocalypse.
The problem is, we cannot so easily deal with our real zombie apocalypse, which we know as the tea party.
Yes, zombies have overrun Washington, D.C.. The White House and the Senate chamber are safe zones but they are under siege, and other than those havens, the nation’s capital is mayhem, and as they say in the zombie thriller World War Z, about to “go dark.”
But where did the Zombie apocalypse come from? What can we do? These are questions that is always asked by people facing a zombie apocalypse.
The first thing to understand is that zombies are not born, but made. As in another thriller, Resident Evil, these zombies were manufactured, and as in Resident Evil, by big business. In Resident Evil the culprit is the Umbrella Corporation. In the real world, it is Koch Industries.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) present as a public service zombie preparedness 101. If you can deal with a zombie apocalypse, the reasoning goes, you can deal with any catastrophe. The CDC examines potential disease vectors:
In movies, shows, and literature, zombies are often depicted as being created by an infectious virus, which is passed on via bites and contact with bodily fluids. Harvard psychiatrist Steven Schlozman wrote a (fictional) medical paper on the zombies presented in Night of the Living Dead and refers to the condition as Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndromecaused by an infectious agent. The Zombie Survival Guide identifies the cause of zombies as a virus called solanum. Other zombie origins shown in films include radiation from a destroyed NASA Venus probe (as in Night of the Living Dead ), as well as mutations of existing conditions such as prions, mad-cow disease, measles and rabies.
But in real life, the cause of the disease is much easier than this and far more frightening: the vector is fear and anger. Well, and catastrophic levels of ignorance. And sadly, these things are as contagious as any fictional agent, as contagious as cholera. Victims are everywhere; sadly, we have about as much chance of finding Patient Zero and manufacturing a cure as the protagonist did in the film World War Z.
And attractive as the thought is (imagine the House chamber sealed for all time to become the problem of future archaeologists), we cannot isolate and quarantine the infected as the CDC recommends.
In World War Z, Brad Pitt found a way to make people “invisible” to zombies but that won’t help us here. They have the means to hurt us even if they don’t see us. We can run, but we cannot hide.
The only real measure available to us is to stop the spread of the contagion. This means education. But as anyone knows, zombies are education resistant. It turns out that being mindless is a real impediment to learning.
As a result, we can’t save those already infected. All we can do is to immunize those people who have not succumbed. Facts immunize against ignorance and without ignorance fear and anger are helpless to effect change.
So please, as a public service, help those around you. Introduce them to something other than Fox News. Present them with facts and help us stop this disease while there is still time. We need to stop it before to save itself the rest of the world is forced to perform triage on the United States.
Zombies don’t have Big Brothers; sad as it is, it is too late for them. But it is not too late for the rest of us; there are others we can save. So please, do whatever you can to help. Let’s take away the zombie’s food source: ignorant people. Let’s save America from the zombie apocalypse.
October 13, 2013 01:00 PMTea Partiers March To White House To Protest Monument Shutdown They Caused
Narcissists Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Sarah Palin joined flag-waving lunatics outside the White House today to protest their own work. Funny how they give a damn about veterans when it comes to memorials but not when it comes to the Veterans Administration or health benefits for veterans, or GI Bill benefits for veterans or housing assistance for homeless veterans. Those things? Meh. But memorials are a BFD.
Also, there are a couple of interesting points to make about CNN's coverage of this protest. Notice how they keep the shot very tight and focused on the American flags carried by a few?
Here's what they missed:
That Confederate flag at the White House today is really a nice touch: pic.twitter.com/avXiBME6Xd
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) October 13, 2013
Yeah, really great form there, teaBirchers. I think it's great that you're outside the White House protesting with a Confederate flag. Sort of highlights all the racism pouring out of you onto the airwaves quite nicely. Kudos to CNN for covering their backsides by keeping the shot aimed straight in and missing that little piece.
Also? I'd like some clarity from Candy Crowley about why she is so sympathetic to people whining about national parks being shuttered during the shutdown, but had nothing whatsoever to say about senior citizens getting their benefits cut if chained CPI is passed, or people having to worry about whether Medicare benefits will be delayed until they're 67. Those things are worth protesting, but instead we get this crap about monuments.
At least they didn't mention the Narcissist Brigade (CruzLeePalin) showing up to play to their 'dozens' of protesters:
WTOP Radio (http://bit.ly/GXQKGV
) reports Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas were among those who gathered Sunday morning, along with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Cruz says President Barack Obama is using veterans as pawns in the government shutdown.
Please do click into that article and have a look at the photo they've got. Trust me, it's worth the click.
As the mom of a veteran, these people need to STFU and quit using them like blankets to wrap their evil in. I've had it with the lot of them. But according to NRO's Robert Costa, Congressional nutcases think this protest is a game-changer.
This is a big story; House conservatives tell me it's a "game-changer," gives Right new momentum ahead of this week http://t.co/QRzlHrjOcf
— Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 13, 2013
Maybe, but the game changer I'm looking for is the one where a giant sinkhole opens right in front of the White House and/or Capitol building and swallows them all whole. It would be delicious divine retribution.
It's going to be a rocky ride, no thanks to the likes of Candy Crowley and CNN, who can't be bothered to actually talk about facts when they're gazing upon all those fabulous Americans bravely waving their Confederate flags.
Update: Buzzfeed has a great collection of photos. All hail the flag, Mom and apple pie laced with poison.
**************Million Vet March Organizers Condemn Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, and the Tea Party
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, October 13th, 2013, 10:53 pm
The tea party, Sarah Palin, and Ted Cruz tried to hijack the Million Vet March for political and personal gain, and event organizers condemned them for politicizing the march.
According to a message on their website, the problem began when a local DC organizer turned the march into a tea party rally, “The political agenda put forth by a local organizer in Washington DC was not in alignment with our message. We feel disheartened that some would seek to hijack the narrative for political gain. The core principle is about all Americans honoring Veterans in a peaceful and apolitical manner.”
In a post on their Facebook page, organizers went into more detail,
It is our official position that the purpose of this march and the accompanying rallies is focused on the re-opening of the Veterans memorials and keeping them open. While we understand that a Constitutional republic requires the equilibrium of checks and balances to maintain the democratic process, the memorials, monuments and parks built in honor of Veterans should NEVER be closed, blocked or restricted from use. We take the official position that no government office holder shall have ability to abridge the freedom of access to these hallowed grounds.
We have, as a group, been prevented from certain groups that have piggy-backed off our grassroots efforts, to effectively create a comprehensive media message campaign. We made the mistake of trying to partner with some Washington insiders that thwarted many of our genuine concerns for keeping this apolitical and grassroots. While we support many of those groups common causes for Veterans, we do not support the manner in which they go about it. We chose instead to not incite or create panic.
We chose to listen to all Americans and all Veterans that have asked us to keep going on despite the disingenuous politicians, political action committees, talking heads on the televisions and press reports attempting to hijack the message. This included many threats of personal and political attacks on our group’s character, businesses, colleagues and our true intentions. While our hearts were heavy by the disheartening acts of a few powerful Washington elite and political extremists jumping on the opportunity to make money, we decided to stay true to our message of a non-partisan effort to assist Veterans.
A few powerful Washington elites? I believe that would be Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and the political extremists are Sarah Palin and the tea partiers. The “incite or create panic” line refers to those tea partiers who tore down the barricades at the WWII memorial and marched to the White House. The extremists waved the confederate flag in front of the White House and chanted things like impeach Obama.
I suspect that Cruz and Palin were not invited, and a Facebook account of their behavior for one vet who was there fits the description of using the event for political gain, “I was disappointed when Ms. Palin and Mr. Cruz walked up to us to say hello but then walked down to the center to try to use us for they’re own purpose so I left to visit the viet nam memorial ty Brats.”
Tea partiers are proud of themselves for taking an event about veterans and turning it into another platform to showcase their hatred of this president, but they should be ashamed of themselves. The people who turned the march into an anti-Obama rally shamed and humiliated our veterans. Every vet knows that it doesn’t matter what political party a president is from, they are still the Commander in Chief. The organizers of this event may or may not be conservatives, but it is clear that they didn’t want the tea party mob, or Palin and Cruz’s grandstanding at their event.
Veterans are about honor and sacrifice. The Republicans who politicized the event brought dishonor to the very values that our veterans embody. To self-promoters like Palin and Cruz, veterans are nothing more than props to be used for political and financial gain, and they have proud to have tarnished our nation’s veterans with their selfish extremism.
The Christian Science Monitor How 'reasonable Republicans' could oust Speaker Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner has spent much of his speakership placating tea party conservatives. Now, he should worry more about the 23 mainstream Republicans who hate debt-ceiling brinkmanship and government shutdown. They could join with Democrats to oust Boehner.
By Jeremy R. Mayer / October 10, 2013 at 12:58 pm EDT
The word in Washington this morning is that House Speaker Boehner has a deal in the works to temporarily raise the debt ceiling limit. This is good news, as it would avoid default. But it won’t eliminate the debate over spending and Obamacare that will surround budget negotiations. And there’s still no guarantee the tea party members of Mr. Boehner’s party will agree to support this deal, putting him right back in the position he is in now – reluctant to bring a bill to the House floor without the majority support of his party.
Boehner has spent much of his speakership worried about placating tea party conservatives. But if he again bows to their demands over a short-term debt-ceiling extension, he should be more worried about those in his caucus who hate this shutdown and the debt-ceiling brinkmanship. There are at least 23 of them – “reasonable Republicans” who could join with Democrats to occupy a powerful middle ground – and even oust Boehner as speaker.
Removing a speaker has actually never been done before, but neither has America seen this level of rancorous/reckless obstructionist politics exerted by the tea party to the threat of the entire government – and even the economy. Desperate times may just call for desperate measures.
The procedure to oust the speaker gets to the floor as a privileged motion. It takes one member to put it on the calendar, and there’s really no way of stopping the motion if the votes are there to support it. Boehner, to stay as speaker, would need the support of a majority of all members present and voting.
Why would any honest Republican support such a move and risk being branded a traitor, a RINO (Republican in Name Only), or worst of all, an Obama-enabler? Recent primary elections have seen tea party candidates defeat incumbent Republicans deemed not conservative enough.
But the favorability of tea party candidates in the eyes of the electorate may be shifting. We’ve seen examples of this at the state level, in Michigan for example.
And state-level budget crises have forced radical bipartisanship, which voters have rewarded. Look at what happened in the Senate in Washington State not too long ago. Three Democrats walked across the aisle, and worked with minority Republicans to craft a compromise budget, breaking a months-long deadlock. The anger of the Democratic leadership and base was fierce. But the state benefited. And voters and editorial boards around the state sang the legislature’s praises.
Peter King (R) of New York, Frank Wolf (R) of Virginia, Charles Dent (R) of Pennsylvania, and 23 other House GOPers have already let it be known in some form that they would likely vote for a “clean” continuing resolution. What if one of them were to walk into Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office and say: “What would you give me for reopening the government? How about the speakership for me? And some committee chairs for all the other independent Republicans behind me and some committee chairs for the Democrats?”
With a united Democratic caucus behind them, the rebellious Republicans would only need 17 solid GOP votes to take the speakership.
The Democrats would be eager for that deal, since it would allow them to gain some influence in a chamber that has been hostile to the initiatives of the minority party. And it would get the government working again, and avoid a default. And both the Democrats and these reasonable Republicans would get to share the credit.
Would those 17 Republicans willing to work with Democrats and oust Boehner be committing political suicide? Not necessarily. Many of them come from districts that don’t take kindly to tea party extremism. Peter King, for example, is a blue-collar Republican from Long Island. His constituents are practical people who support practical problem-solving.
In all but the most hard-right districts, the government shutdown is wildly unpopular. And economists are almost unanimous that a default by the United States risks a global recession, a run on the dollar, and hundreds of billions of dollars in higher interest payments for the US for decades to come.
National polls show that 60 percent of Americans blame Republicans for the government shutdown. It’s fair to assume that spearheading the solution that gets the government running again and avoids default is more likely to improve voters’ esteem of these Republicans than not.
As the Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson suggested, these more moderate Republicans should adopt a moniker for their renegade caucus like “True Republicans” or “Independent Republicans.”
If a successful breakaway movement emerges, it could become, at least for the next year, a fixture in the House, the necessary part of any winning coalition if the Democrats or tea party Republicans want to pass anything. They would become the deciders, much like Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.
These rebel Republicans would also have something to show their districts: national headlines and editorials praising their judgment and daring; perhaps a chairmanship of a key committee; and a chance to continue to find workable solutions between left and right up until election day.
And out on the campaign trail, these Republicans would have great speeches: “I rose above partisan bickering, and saved America. I put country first.”
Jeremy D. Mayer is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University.
October 13, 2013 06:00 PMDavid Gregory: Entitlements are 'Cannibalizing' the Budget
By Nicole Belle
Why does David Gregory hate seniors and poor people so much?
In a discussion over the government shutdown, Gregory laments that the intransigence preventing a debt ceiling agreement is also keeping congresspeople from sitting down to deal with the great, looming problem of "entitlements cannibalizing" the budget.
Why is it that those cushy, isolated and well-off Beltway denizens ignore that thirty years of kowtowing to irresponsible Republican policies have resulted in the worst level of income inequality in the developed world and the only answer that occurs to them is to make those who can least afford it suffer even more? We're creating more and more people who need to be able to rely on the government for a minimal level of subsistence, and David Gregory thinks taking more out of their mouth and reducing their health care options is what the congress should really be focusing on.
And while I'm at it, Dick Durbin, don't let the door hit you on your way out, you neo-liberal traitor. Simpson/Bowles didn't put everything on the table. It was a budget spending plan; nowhere did they address investment to grow the economy. It couldn't even get the approval of the "Catfood Commission", for crying out loud. On what planet do you have to reside to believe it could get through this Congress?
You're not helping, Dick. And Gregory? You're just flat out hating on the people in this country who are not at your socio-economic level (which is 95% of us, you insular hack). What's cannibalizing this country is the unmitigated greed and ignorance of Beltway chumps like you.
Methinks it's time for another "Modest Proposal". Let's start with Beltway pundits.
October 13, 2013 03:00 PMDavid Gregory, King of the False Equivalencies
By Nicole Belle
It's David Gregory's dumb luck that I drew the "Meet the Press" straw this morning, because I really feel compelled to highlight what a toxic presence this man is to the six decades-long institution that was "Meet the Press".
I can't decide if it's willful ignorance, partisanship or a concerted plan to turn every issue into "he said/she said" between the Democrats and Republicans without bringing in any context. But in speaking to Leon Panetta, David Gregory let fly the mother of false equivalencies:
As you hear all of this, I want to come back to this one hundred percent point. Is part of the real problem in Washington that you have two sides, who are not interested in really negotiating, but really digging in and saying, look this is truly, a hundred percent the other side’s fault?
No, no, no....the real problem in Washington are hacks like David Gregory who pose questions like this, without any information, without any context, without any facts.
Let me quote Steve Benen, whom David Gregory could potentially run into in the halls of NBC News:
It's been nearly two weeks since congressional Republicans shut down the government, and we're just days from a debt-ceiling calamity, suggesting policymakers should theoretically be working towards some kind of resolution. But while there was a flurry of activity yesterday, it was largely a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.
House Republicans, for example, thought they'd presented the White House with a credible offer: Congress would temporarily raise the debt ceiling, the government would remain closed, Democrats would accept Medicare and/or Social Security cuts, and the severity of the sequestration cuts that neither party likes would be eased. President Obama declared this a joke, told House GOP leaders he could probably get a better offer from Senate Republicans, and so dejected House members promptly left Capitol Hill yesterday.