Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scary Stuff

If you're afraid of snakes, Science has found a visceral cause. There exists in our primate brains something called a pulvinar -- clusters of neurons specifically designed to make us fear the slithering legless reptiles.

So I ask myself: do our brains also contain special neuronal pockets making us fear spiders, bears and sabre-tooth tigers? And before Homo sapiens goes entirely extinct, will evolution go into speed-dial emergency survival mode and gift us with a special place in our cerebral cortices which enable us to spot a slimy politician from a mile away?

While you're pondering that one, I hope you've decided what to give out to your trick-or-treaters tonight. Since I am personally partial to Three Musketeers, I bought several bags of the "Fun Size" in anticipation that the usual lone child from my apartment complex will show up at my door and daintily pick out only a few from my 10-pound decorative pumpkin bowl. (I live on a busy highway with no sidewalks, not amenable to pedestrians, unfortunately.)

I was going to give out Kludgies in honor of Obamacare, but couldn't find any at ShopRite. Turns out the little goodies are still under development in the Neoliberal Confection Lab. From what I hear, the preliminary tests are not going well. For starters, the fake sugar they're using  leaves a bitter aftertaste. And tasters are paradoxically reporting that the candy either melts in their mouths too quickly, or gets stuck in their throats, making them gag. Maybe the glitches will be worked out in time for next  Halloween. People will have different reactions. Some will think they've been tricked. Others will be abjectly grateful for the treat, any treat. Still others will nod sagely and pontificate that the Kludgie sensation was always designed to be a different experience for different people. The poor person's poison is the better-off person's candy.

One thing's for darn certain. Kludgie portions will be pitifully small, but the marketers will try to fool us by calling them "fun size."

Oh well. They couldn't possibly be worse than Candy Corn and its close relative, Pumpkin Boobs (those orange sugar globules with the telltale green nipple), or Mary Janes, (which you could only possibly crave after first indulging in some real Mary Jane), Other most-hateds are Bit o'Honey and Tootsie Rolls. And watch out for those Whoppers. They might just remind you of your favorite worst politician.

And if these images aren't scary enough for you, 60 Minutes ran a segment that actually includes pornographic footage of Dick Cheney's ex-heart lying in an O.R. emesis basin like a slab of rotten bloated meat. You can see it here while gorging yourself on your imaginary Kludgies.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Crises, Real and Imagined

This week's edition of inside-the-Beltway angst centers around the pressing question:

Is Temp Emp (temporary emperor) Obama ignorant, detached, or just plain mendacious?

Look at the following four crises, and examine how they are affecting you personally in your own daily slog. What did you know about them, and when did the corporate media let you know it? (hint: #4 has not yet been deemed officially pressing) Look into your souls, Proles, and decide whether, in the grand scheme of things, the resolution of any of these crises would make your lives even one smidgen better.

1) Barack Obama was either aware or he wasn't that the renegade NSA is a shadow state unto itself before Angela Merkel called to complain. Reports that he initially couldn't hear what she was kvetching about because of the annoying echo feedback effect from those hidden Oval Office speakers could not be confirmed. But we can confirm for you that while not upset that the NSA is vacuuming up billions of our phone call records and emails, Intelligentrix Dianne Feinstein is hopping mad that the crème de la crème is being unfairly targeted. She could be next, heaven forfend.

2) Despite millions of subscribers getting cancellation notices, Barack Obama is still out there telling people that if they like their health insurance, they can keep it. Pundits are divided as to whether he's deliberately lying about this, or is simply as dumb as a box of rocks. Worst of all, are his handlers giving him plausible deniability on this too? The White House insists that he meant that if you like the insurance provided by predatory profiteers, you will never, on his neo-liberal watch, be forced into Medicare for All or even given the option of a public option. Also, who'd want to keep crap insurance anyway since O-Care forces some of the crappiness out, like kicking you off for getting sick. Plus, incisive legal eagle that he is, Obama also could have meant that if you like the way your shiny Blue Cross card looks in your wallet, by all means keep it for old times' sake. The plastic card police will not be raiding your house with scissors to make you cut it up into a million tiny pieces. As he has stated time and time again, your need for privacy is extremely important to him. Keeping a crap insurance card does not interfere with national security, after all. (defined as the overweening need for corporations and plutocrats to feel secure in their personhoods and their own wallets.

3) The White House is blaming the Republicans are blaming Kathleen Sebelius is blaming the contractors are blaming the White House for Obamacare website glitches. (The estimated 31 million Americans potentially being left out of the ACA? They are not part of the official circular firing squad, as far as the corporate media are concerned. Are you among the 8 million denied entry to the segregated Obamacare Pool in red states just because you're poor enough to qualify for expanded Medicaid? What do you know about this, and when did you know it? Or, are you so glued to your electronic gadgets and TVs, that you remain still blissfully unaware of your own slow boil in the simmering neo-liberal pot?)

4). Beginning Friday, almost 50 million people receiving assistance under the SNAP (food stamp) program will automatically lose the equivalent of 18 meals a month because neither right wing of the Money Party gives a flying f**k. Most importantly, the corporate media conglomerates controlling 90% of everything that you see and hear do not even consider the imminent starvation of a fifth of the population in the richest country on earth a crisis of the magnitude of Dianne Feinstein's angst, or Glitchgate, or even Benghazi. It's not on the Times' homepage anyway, where Beltway heartburn over Obama's personal remoteness trumps the hunger pangs of the masses.

Snatching food from the mouths of real people is the real crisis, people. The reason you're not hearing about it is the media are just having a hard time framing it around the needs and wants and interests of the rich. They can't frame it around political personalities. It's not a contrived Dem vs. Pub thing amenable to dueling talking heads.

 And there's a reason that the Temp Emp himself is stonily silent about it, and that very few Democrats are bothering to raise a stink about it. They're complicit. You see, part of the stimulus funding allocated for SNAP after the financial crisis was later "borrowed" to help pay for Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative of healthier school lunches. It was Democrats robbing one poor segment of the population to give to another. And it's a given that the poor themselves always end up paying in the end.

And here's a scandal on top of a crisis. Guess who else is benefiting mightily from the first lady's healthy choices public relations campaign? Big business and corporate lobbies. As I have written about before, Flotus's current public-private partnership spiel is telling "folks" to drink more water -- preferably bottled water that you purchase from such corporate welfare giants as Coke and Pepsi. (their soda sales are down.) Go to the grocery story looking for beverages, and you're immediately assaulted by the sight of Evian and Poland Spring in toxic petroleum-based bottles bearing Michelle's Drink Up! imprint.

Apparently, testifying before Congress on national TV for the purpose of publicly shaming them into restoring food stamp funding is not on her neo-liberal agenda. Let Them Drink Water, meanwhile, is a recipe for a reprise of 1789.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Dangling Conversations

Bill Keller, New York Times executive editor-turned-columnist, devotes an unprecedented seven digital pages to his most recent piece, an apparently unedited email exchange with Glenn Greenwald on the role of contemporary journalism. Read the whole thing and see if you don't agree that Greenwald comes out the more lucid, fair-minded and even-handed.... despite Keller's pretty laughable claim that Glenn espouses a "partisan point of view."

So, journalism is activist.... who knew? I always thought the stories just kinda wrote themselves. And of course, every reporter in America has a duty to squelch his/her inner, inborn allegiance to one of the two right wings of the American uniparty, and fairly present the two equal sides of every argument. And Greenwald does not fall into this category, and Keller is out to find out why, why, why.

If you don't have time to read the whole thing, here's a brief synopsis:

Keller: So, you're an activist journo, who came into our exalted territory by way of lawyering and blogging. Ecccchhhhh!!!!! And now you're hypocritically going to work for a billionaire foreigner who started an internet marketplace (EBay) for the lower classes.  Ewwwwww.

Greenwald: Establishment journalism can be toxic, suffocating, neutering, boring, and conceited. Journalists are human beings with points of view. Get over it. All journalism is activist. The only things that count are accuracy and reliability.

Keller: We're more serious than you. We have editors in suits. We often respect our government. And ditto for national security (whatever that means.) So Nonny nonny boo boo.

Greenwald: Unquestioning fealty to authority is a clear and present danger. We should not value American lives more than non-American lives, and not mistake national security (whatever that is) with a government's desire for secrecy.

Keller: Stop pretending that nationalism and patriotism are dirty words! Stop it, stop it, stop it! And Julian Assange is a callously indifferent indiscriminate dumper and I can prove it! And by the way, how does it feel to sell out and become a star, a brand, for a foreign upstart?

Greenwald: WikiLeaks didn't dump all that false info on Saddam's WMDs. Or help elect Bush by withholding the story on his illegal wiretaps. Our new venture will operate on the premise that the purpose of journalism is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted and treat the powerful not with reverence, but with skepticism. By the way, your own reporter, James Risen, is being threatened with prison over his refusal to name names. By the way, our new venture will include both liberals and conservatives, but not in the vein of David Brooks.

Keller: Leave my David alone!! He is a compassionate plute in a suit.  Your scorn for fraudulent moderation is quite telling.... and extreme. Now I'll let you have the last word, because I am a standup guy and unlike some people around here, reasonable and reasoned. Good luck in your venture selling out to a foreign billionaire who caters to the underclass.

Greenwald: Brooks, like the paper that hired him, is a tool for the military industrial complex and the plutocracy controlling it and enriched by it. ("And with some noble  exceptions, The Times, by design or otherwise, has long served the interests of the same set of elite and powerful factions. Its reporting is no less 'activist,' subjective or opinion-driven than the new media voices it sometimes condescendingly scorns.")   This so called email debate was so much semantic gymnastics and weasel-wording on your part. But thanks anyway for wishing me luck.

My (somewhat ironic) comment:
I have to compliment Bill Keller for printing verbatim his exchange with Glenn Greenwald, when he very easily could have turned his column into another establishment smear job on a non-traditional journalist. (see the Julian Assange story by Keller from a few years ago, in which Assange's skipping and socks and personality quirks trumped his whistleblowing and leaks in the public interest.)
The conversational framing of this column is an indication that the Times is taking to heart some of the recent criticism about its proclivity to act as a mouthpiece for the government, too often giving unwarranted anonymity and protection to elected officials, the better to spread their propaganda.
Much of the credit for this seeming turnabout is also due to the Times's outstanding public editor, Margaret Sullivan. She has been at the forefront of criticizing everything from the paper's coverage of drone strikes, to the NSA revelations, and yes -- even David Brooks, when in a recent column he referred to mixed-race families as "mutts." (he said it was OK, because biracial people sometimes refer to themselves as mutts.)
Brooks had also attempted to pettily marginalize Edward Snowden as a misfit with girlfriend issues as soon as Glenn Greenwald broke the first NSA story. If anything, Glenn's criticism of him is way too mild. Brooks is a menace in centrist clothing, and a disgrace to journalism.
For further reading, here's a piece on Greenwald's de facto exile and the distinct possibility of his arrest should he ever venture back to the mainland of the Homeland. Were it not for Edward Snowden and Greenwald's reporting, Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world, would never have learned that the United Stasians are listening in to her conversations. The international reputation of Barack Obama has been left dangling like a severed land line.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Grand Bargain Bait & Switch

When is a Grand Bargain not a Grand Bargain?

When the movers and shakers of the Beltway realize that "Grand Bargain" is now one of the most loathed phrases in America. When the bipartishits realize that the whole country is on to their collusion to defy the wishes of 80% of the American public by "reforming" the great social insurance programs of the 20th century. When they resort to weasel words and to Grand Bargain Denialism to throw the AARP and various progressive groups off the scent.

The liberal blogosphere was orgasming today over the news that Majority Leader Harry Reid has finally grown a pair and vowed to protect Social Security and Medicare from the budget chopping block!
 “If you give a bully a dollar today, they ask for a dollar and a half tomorrow,” he said in a radio interview with Nevada's KNPR. “It has taken a while for all my caucus to come to that understanding. And quite frankly, the president, wonderful man that he is, he doesn’t like confrontation and he likes to work things out with people.”
“I was too lenient. Don’t blame it all on him,” Reid added. 
He also ruled out the possibility that a budget conference committee convening next week will reach a "grand bargain" that would cut entitlements, raise taxes and reduce spending. 
“We are not going to have a grand bargain in the near future,” he said. 
Not so fast with the congratulations to Give Em Hell Harry, liberals. Read the fine print. By "near future," Reid means in the next six weeks, or until mid-December when the latest bipartisan gang has deadlined itself into striking another nibbler of a deal to only temporarily stave off disaster.

There's always early next year. The government could shut down again on January 17th, and the debt ceiling is again in danger of being breached right before Valentine's Day. And thus, in only a few short months, Reid will again be open to some grand-bargaining on "entitlements":
The Democratic leader signaled that he could be open to minor trimming of some Medicare or Social Security spending as part of deal that involves tax revenue. Obama in his last budget included more means testing for Medicare and lower Social Security benefits as part of a new inflation calculation. 
“The president has stuck his neck out ... there has to be some reciprocity here,” he said. 
Asked about entitlements, Reid said: “I am happy to do that on some grand bargain ... that is not going to happen this time.”
Reid said this even while admitting that Social Security is "the most successful program in the history of the world. It's not about to go broke."
Thus does Harry Reid echo the sentiments of chief GOP budget negotiator Paul Ryan, who has once again pivoted from Tea Party Crazyville and is safely back in Third Way New Democrat (centrist plutocrat cult) territory. Remember, it was only a couple weeks ago that Ryan, too, was heavy into Grand Bargain denialism.  Of course, it's just a matter of employing the right semantics and weasel words. Although, like Reid, he proclaims himself opposed to a Grand Bargain, he, too, still wants a grand bargain of entitlement cuts in the not-so-distant near future:
"If we focused on doing some big grand bargain, like those prior efforts ... then I don't think we'll be successful because we'll focus on our differences. Each party will demand that the other compromises a core principle and then we'll get nothing done."
Ryan, who will lead Republicans on the 29-member negotiating panel that convenes on October 30, said there is a better chance of finding common ground with Democrats on "smarter" spending cuts to replace the across-the-board reductions to discretionary spending. He said these include reductions and reforms to expensive federal benefits programs known as entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare and some farm subsidy programs. (Karen here: he means cutting food stamps to starve people, but is too cowardly to say so right out loud.)
And don't despair, all ye who entered here in hopes of finding a stocking-full of cat food for Christmas. Because President Obama is suddenly agreeable to cutting reforming Social Security Disability in the current negotiations. (I knew there was a reason 60 Minutes just ran a propaganda hit piece falsely claiming that hordes of malingerers are bilking the system.)

And now I know what Obama really meant when he appeared before a group of disabled people last year and promised he would "have their backs."

As an antidote to the Grand Bargain propaganda campaigns of Plutopundit Tom Friedman and his pluto-pal Stan Druckenmiller, and all manner of Doomsday Coots in Suits, Paul Krugman has written a great column ripping them all a new one. My response:
Druckenmiller belongs to the Forbes 400 billionaires who now possess more wealth than 150 million other Americans combined. Yet there he goes, touring the country, whining to college kids and scapegoating Grandma as the Cruella DeVil stealing their hopes and dreams and puppies. Not he and the austerian masters of high finance!
They've got a bad case of plutocratic paranoia -- fear that the old, the disabled, poor families, and veterans are scraping by at their expense.
Druckenmiller, Pete Peterson and the whole gang of media-dubbed "thought leaders" think they own the place. Well, actually they do own the place. And they want to own the people inhabiting the place. They're the ideological descendants of feudal lords, plantation owners and robber barons. They want their labor free or cheap, and they want the right to discard it when it's outlived its usefulness.
And the people at the bottom are starting to get restless. McWorkers are demanding a living wage. Retirees are refusing to accept chained CPI cuts to their earned benefits. Teachers and students and other victims of privatization are striking. The SEC is threatening to enforce a Dodd-Frank rule that CEOs must reveal the obscene gap between their wealth and the peanuts they pay in wages. (average ratio is now 350 to 1 and climbing.)
The paranoid plutocrats know they've gone too far, but they're powerless to overcome their own addictions. It's past time to give them some hefty taxation therapy, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Known Knowns and Unknown Unknowns Strike Again

Whenever public officials want to pass one of the many bucks that keep fluttering toward their desks, they go to the propaganda cabinet and drag out their trusty Word Salad Spinners.  Perhaps the most famous example of this defense mechanism was when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave his tortured explanation for the debacle in Iraq:
There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know.
And now that Obama administration flacks are flailing like mad against the fluttering flustercuck that is the Healthcare.Gov website, those trusty word salad spinners are spinning to the fullest extent of the news cycle. Only problem is, the little spinners trying to defend their virtual health insurance Laundromat of a website are a tad unbalanced in their own logic. Their spin is not going at all smoothly. Thumps abound as spittle flies.

The Spinner-in-Chief himself is being forced to clunk along. From his latest heavy duty load cycle:  
Of course, you've probably heard that the new website where people can apply for health insurance and browse and buy affordable plans in most states, hasn't worked as smoothly as it was supposed to work, (putting it self-servingly and mildly) and the number of people who've visited the site has been overwhelming, (too many towels stuffed in the low capacity delicate cycle?) which has aggravated some of these underlying problems. (the machine was designed only for low-suds detergent!). Despite all that, thousands of people are signing up and saving money as we speak. (Keep feeding the broken machine your quarters and maybe it'll fix itself) Many Americans with a preexisting condition, like Janice, are discovering that they can finally get health insurance like everybody else. (um.... how about those 15 million uninsured people not included in "everybody else." How about the majority of poor and minority women being denied admission to the health insurance washateria?)  

As Ezra Klein points out,
The best news for Obamacare is that almost everyone -- including the Obama administration -- realizes the crucial online portal is currently a disaster. 
That's not a universally held view. Salon's Joan Walsh chides those reporting on the law's failure, arguing that the law's problems "are real, and disturbing, and must be fixed asap," but "the president knows that without my telling him."
Actually, that's been the problem: President Obama didn't know that. Nor did White House chief of staff Denis McDonough. Nor did Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who will be testifying to that fact next week.
It would be one thing if Obamacare's problems had been unknowable. But they weren't. Staff at HHS and CMS saw this coming for months. Insurance companies began predicting a mess long ago. But the bad news was shaded and spun as it made its way up the chain of command. The alarming failures seen in the (inadequate) load tests were written off as bugs that would soon be fixed.
Klein says that even staffers who knew about the knowns were terrified to speak out about them. He and other reporters "got a wall of denials" on problems, and the White House seemed to believe its own denials.

This is what happens when the most transparent administration in history has a program in place called Insider Threat. As McClatchy Newspapers revealed last summer, Obama has mandated that all federal government employees spy on each other and report their co-workers for incipient or suspected whistleblowing, or even the voicing of concerns that something in the bureaucracy might not be working correctly. Disgruntlement on the job is listed among the red flags. Those staffers Klein talks about who knew about the unknowns of the Obamacare website were terrified to speak up simply because they're all terrified about losing their jobs for the crime of facing reality and for fear of bursting Obama's sacrosanct bubble.

The Ministry of Fear operating at the very highest levels of the government is seriously hampering the ability of American consumers to shop for health insurance product. Therefore, the president seriously needs to get his act together and give another speech about the need to balance our rights to become victims of health insurance predators with his need to look good. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Treading Water Underwater

That's the excellent metaphor used by Binyamin Applebaum of the New York Times today in describing the most recent jobs report. We're drowning while continuing to flail.

And as per usual, the experts proclaim themselves mildly surprised and disappointed that we aren't bursting from the depths and performing a water ballet. They're still a little bummed that austerity for the masses and corporate welfare and quantitative easing for the plutocrats has not caused a sonic boom in hiring. All they can come up with to describe the destructive effects of the class war is that the situation continues to be "lackluster."

 The jobs stats, released 18 days late because of the partial government shutdown, don't even reflect the massive furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal employees. And many government contract employees are either still not working or have had their hours cut. Some will get back pay, others will not. Even those who've have been promised back pay have been hit with late charges on their bills.

 So come November, the metaphor for the jobs report could well be this: Gasp and Gurgle.

The only true trickle-down is the shit that flows downhill. The richest of the rich are still raking in the dough, and they won't be happy till they swallow the very last crumb.

We know this because the Pain Caucus of the richest of the rich is still very much in charge of the bipartisan economic enhanced torture program. Dick Durbin, the aptly named Democratic Whip, lashed out against the mythical hordes of greedy geezers on Fox News the other day. He used his best threatening mob boss voice. Because when it comes to fomenting fear about retirees, it is simply no longer enough for deficit scolds like Dick to call them greedy. As pawns in the Grand Bargain for the Grandees, earned benefit recipients have become terrorists armed to the dentures. According to Dick, it's the invasion of the Body-Snatching Boomers Who Bomb!

"Social Security is gonna run out of money in 20 years," he lied. "The Baby Boom generation is gonna blow away our future. We don't wanna see that happen."

Millionaire Politician Warns America: The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Grandma Herself!!!

Of course, even if deficits mattered, Social Security has never contributed a dime to the deficit. It actually has a surplus, and could be rendered solvent into perpetuity if the cap on FICA taxes was scrapped. Even taxing income up to $250,000 would ensure the program's solvency for another 75 years. Durbin the Democrat does not tell you this. He wants you to believe that there's a generational theft conspiracy going on, rather than tell the truth about the blatant ongoing theft of every single generation by a tiny handful of oligarchic robber barons.

Durbin, of course, is not really a mob boss. He's merely the consigliere of the Teflon Don in the White House who smilingly presides over the neighborhood block parties even as he orders the hits. Michael Hoexter has a penetrating piece on what it is, exactly, that could be making Boss Obama tick. What's with that paradoxical shtick of voicing concern for people at the same time he throws them under the bus?

Hoexter recommends that we pick all, some, or none of the following: Obama sincerely believes austerity is a virtue and helps to grow the economy. He sincerely believes that the free market is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that government is only secondary. He sincerely believes, like most fiscal conservatives, that the private sector owns the currency and that government is "borrowing" from the owners to fund social insurance programs, thus putting the owners at risk for bankruptcy. He sincerely believes in the Confidence Fairy (h/t Krugman) -- that only giving the oligarchs whatever they want will make them want to create jobs.

Obama does not believe any of the above, but is pretending to be a true believer in his capacity as official trickster and "front man" for Wall Street. He could suffer from a genuine psychological disorder, similar to the anorexic who equates starvation with good health. Perhaps, as the child of divorce, he is desperately searching for stern father figures in the Republican Party, seeking to appease them and win their approval. He really is a Prag-Prog ("pragmatic progressive") who thinks he can only succeed at nibbling around the liberal edges. Or, he's been a closet Republican all along.

In short: Obama is either an idiot, a borderline personality, a fraud, a coward, or a psychopath. Pick none, pick one, pick some, pick all. Or add your own.

In short: Obama and his minions need an intervention, pronto.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Health Care Is Hell

While we're waiting* for The Presider to give out bouquets to a few lucky duckies who've beaten the odds and already acquired their golden tickets to Obamacare Nirvana, let's take a gander at Health and Human Services' online apologia for its glitch-ridden rollout.

The first sign that these people are still not ready for primetime is their pledge to scour the earth to find "the best and the brightest" minds to fix the troubled HealthCare.Gov. site. The Best and the Brightest, as you may recall, is the title of a scathing book by David Halberstam about how a group of so-called White House intellectuals made a total botch of Vietnam. Think Team Obama is sending us a subliminal message?

The rest of their announcement is just simply Orwellian, if not weirdly jingoistic. Some snippets:
 Initially, we implemented a virtual “waiting room,” but many found this experience to be confusing.  We continued to add more capacity in order to meet demand and execute software fixes to address the sign up and log in issues, stabilizing those parts of the service and allowing us to remove the virtual “waiting room.” 
The earth-tone Naugahyde couches and ratty copies of People magazine have been removed in the interests of your mental clarity. Because we know that when you're feeling ill, you really need the fixes to be executed. So while you're waiting to see an actual health care provider in our maze of confusion, you may now proceed to shop around for your middleman in the thousand aisles in the virtual Walmart. And then on to the next phase of your medical shopping experience: The Tech Surge!!!!!
To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering.
Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve  We're also putting in place tools and processes to aggressively monitor and identify parts of where individuals are encountering errors or having difficulty using the site, so we can prioritize and fix them.  We are also defining new test processes to prevent new issues from cropping up as we improve the overall service and deploying fixes to the site during off-peak hours on a regular basis.
Oh jeeze. In America, you are not automatically entitled to medical care as your basic human right. You're a soldier on the virtual battlefield who has to spill blood for it, a consumer in the marketplace who forks out the cash to buy it, a team player who has to compete in the arena for the prize, a loyal citizen ready and willing to even jump off the operating table to help your own surgeons scrub up!  Just as the troops are forever deployed by the American hegemon, so too are the Obamacare fixes. And the monitoring, of course, will be aggressive.

For a country embroiled a forever War on Terrah, I guess the bellicose symbols are bound to extend to our grand public-private partial insurance program. In his column yesterday, Ross Douthat wrote:
Like the Bush administration in Iraq, the White House seems to have invaded the health insurance marketplace with woefully inadequate postinvasion planning, and let the occupation turn into a disaster of hack work and incompetence.......
Where, Ross moans, is there a tech-savvy David Petraeus to save us from the terror?

Just what we need. Another wanker with a surge to throw gasoline on the sectarian flames of a civil war that never really ended.

* Update: Obama now has spoken for the consumers and wounded civilian warriors of America. Some money quotes:
"And I think it's fair to say that nobody's more frustrated by that than I am. Precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work, I want the checkout lines to be smooth, so I want people to be able to get this great product."
"They're reaching out. They're offering to send help. We've had some of the best IT talent in the entire country join the team. And we're well into a tech surge to fix the problem. And we are confident that we will get all the problems fixed."
"But I just want to remind everybody, we did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a website. That's not what this was about. (Cheers, applause.) We waged this battle to make sure that millions of Americans in the wealthiest nation on Earth finally have the same chance to get the same security of affordable quality health care as anybody else. That's what this is about." (Applause.)
Got that, virtual consuming citizen soldiers of America? Some of you, not all of you, will have the chance and the privilege of purchasing health care product under the aegis of a virtual three-tiered class system. So please do not confuse this equality of opportunity with fairness of outcome. Depending on where you live, your money will either be gladly accepted by the free market of the wealthiest enclave of wealth on earth -- or it won't. Because like all wars, Class War is Hell. (Applause.)

"A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.” --  Obama Administration Best and Brightest HHS IT Special Ops George S. Patton Jr.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Dude Presides

I was so busy actively blogging for not-profit yesterday morning that I missed the Presider's post-traumatic stressor of a presser, and had to settle for reruns later in the day. And then this morning I read the transcript. Big mistake. The pabulum totally cancelled out the caffeine in my coffee. So I have to warn you that I am striving mightily to even remain conscious as I type out yet another unprofitable blog-post from the extreme hinterland. 
In case you missed it, here's the part of his preachy little lecture that I'm referencing: 
And now that the government has reopened and this threat to our economy is removed, all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio and the professional activists who profit from conflict, and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do, and that's grow this economy, create good jobs, strengthen the middle class, educate our kids, lay the foundation for broad-based prosperity and get our fiscal house in order for the long haul. That's why we're here. That should be our focus.
 Now, that won't be easy. We all know that we have divided government right now. There's a lot of noise out there, and the pressure from the extremes affect how lot of members of Congress see the day-to-day work that's supposed to be done here.
I assume that who the Presider meant by professional activists and extremes (sic) who profit from conflict were the likes of the Koch Brothers and Newt Gingrich, and not outfits like Organizing for Action, which did offer to put my name on the virtual Obama Wall if I'd just chip in $5 to help him make money off the shutdown. I'm sure he wasn't talking about his own little band of money-grubbing activist plutocrats in the Fix the Debt lobby, whose talking points he appeared to read verbatim during his class lecture to the Nation. I am not so self-important that I actually think he meant the likes of me and the hordes of other fringe-dwellers of the Internet.  But still, it's fun to pretend that he actually reads the non-profits, and that we're getting under his skin.

The rest of the speech was typical self-contradicting Obama. Some examples:
These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy. We don't know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it's slowed our growth..... But probably nothing has done more damage to America's credibility in the world, our standing with other countries, than the spectacle that we've seen these past several weeks. It's encouraged our enemies, it's emboldened our competitors, and it's depressed our friends, who look to us for steady leadership. (On the Other Hand), Now the good news is, we'll bounce back from this. We always do. America's the bedrock of the global economy for a reason. We are the indispensable nation that the rest of the world looks to as the safest and most reliable place to invest, something that's made it easier for generations of Americans to invest in their own futures.
And here's the part where he still thinks cutting somehow magically leads to growth:
And we shouldn't approach this process of creating a budget as an ideological exercise, just cutting for the sake of cutting. The issue's not growth versus fiscal responsibility. We need both. We need a budget that deals with the issues that most Americans are focused on, creating more good jobs that pay better wages.
And remember, the deficit is getting smaller, not bigger. It's going down faster than it has in the last 50 years. (On the Other Hand), The challenge that we have right now are not short-term deficits; it's the long-term obligations that we have around things like Medicare and Social Security.
In case you missed it, the Presider just announced that cutting the great social insurance programs of the 20th century is his Numero Uno priority. Number Two is immigration reform with its defense industry, private-prison enriching border patrols to catch and jail undesirables fleeing one kind of misery for another, and on the other hand supply imported cheap labor to our tax-evading job creators. Number Three is passing the Farm Bill. He only vaguely mentions the endangered food stamp program, and puts the emphasis on the millionaire compromisers rather than their struggling victims.

The Presider closed thusly, giving due deference to the Invisible Guy in the Sky as he ushers in a reprise of the Era of Good Feeling among the battling plutocratic factions of the Beltway, urging the R's and the D's to come together as one for the sole purpose of placating the restive herds in the hinterland as the wealth grows ever more concentrated among the Ruling Class:
The American people's hopes and dreams are what matters, not ours. Our obligations are to them. Our regard for them compels us all, Democrats and Republicans, to cooperate and compromise and act in the best interests of our nation, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
And speaking of those hopes and dreams, here's my response to Paul Krugman's column today:
 The pain caucus lives despite the debunking of austerity. The Big Lie that the country is broke and so people must suffer spreads like a virus from the six media giants feeding us 90% of everything we read and hear.
The plutocrats continue to hoard nearly half the wealth in "the one indispensable nation." The stock market soars while the hopes and dreams of ordinary people plummet. CEOs kvetch about uncertainty for failing to hire, even as they rake in an obscene 350 times the salary of the average worker. And both right wings of the Money Party agree that the answer to record income inequality, wage stagnation and the jobs crisis is to cut our earned benefit programs and "reform" the tax code, all the while jingoistically pouring money down the drain of the war machine and the surveillance state.
Nobody's talking about jobs and a living wage. Nobody's talking about stimulus. Nobody's talking about our lost generation of student debt slaves. The D's and the R's of One Percent Nation are starting current budget negotiations born in the Randian brain of Paul Ryan -- $1 trillion in cuts over the next eight years.
Even President Obama, fresh as he is from his own partisan victory over the Cult of the Cruzians, persists in his allegiance to the billionaire cult of Fix the Debt. As he blasted "bloggers" and "extremes" at his presser on Thursday, I swore I could see Simpson & Bowles hovering just behind the curtain, whispering their toxic catfood nothings in his ear.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mismanaged Care

While we're enjoying our brief intermission between acts of Fake Fiscal Crisis Theater, we can finally give some belated attention to that other sideshow called The Obamacare Rollout.  It would be a comedy of errors if not for the fact that so many people's lives are literally on the line for their inability to even get online to sign up.

And now that the Republicans and Democrats have agreed to reinstate that "minor tweak" of enhanced income verification to the digital hot mess, look for even more roiling in the roll-out. There was a reason the Obama administration initially decided to delay income verification, and it wasn't to allow hordes of fraudsters to sign up for junk health insurance on the public dime. It's because income verification is, by its very nature, fraught.

When so many low-wage or unemployed people have no way to show their assets because they lack bank accounts and jobs and tax returns, it seems cruelly designed to shut even more people out of health care. The most vulnerable people will be asked to prove a negative. The most vulnerable people will be victimized all over again. Ten million American households are now deprived of the basic economic right of a bank account. I'm willing to wager that most of these households also lack basic medical insurance.

Then again, maybe I'm worrying about nothing. According to the deal signed last night, HHS will not have to report to Congress on the "effectiveness" of income verification requirements until next July. It's really quite cynically meaningless and Orwellian -- the truth of verification is pending verification of the truth.

But still, is it just me, or does being forced to show how much money you have or don't have before getting health care smack of discrimination? Isn't this "meaningless" requirement every bit as draconian as being forced to provide a photo ID in order to vote? Maybe I'm just not sufficiently attuned to the symphony of the free market, and the exceptionalism of the United States being the only advanced country in the world without universal health care. Maybe I'm not sufficiently suspicious of my fellow human beings.

And maybe it's even more of a moot point, given that so few people have actually been able to sign up for insurance on the federal exchange in the first place, even without having to prove their income. Out of an estimated 50 million uninsured Americans, only 20 to 40 new applications on the federal site a day are being reported by the insurance industry. One health care policy wonk calls the Affordable Care sign-up process "like an astronaut on the tip of a rocket." Ouch. This brings up visions of oxygen deprivation, and Ground Control desperately trying to raise a comatose Major Tom floating somewhere in space. (You actually get a clue about their desperation when the first thing you see upon visiting the Enroll America gateway site for purchasing insurance is a request for donations to help facilitators sign more people up. They have neither competence nor shame.)

 Robert Lasziewski of Health Policy and Strategy Associates tells the Washington Post that the HealthCare.Gov site is so messed up that "what I’m worried about is that when people go to their doctor in January they may walk in, and the doctor and hospital won’t find them in the insurer’s computer system or their bank account won’t be appropriately debited or they’ll be signed up for the wrong plan. I’m worried about all these things. Now, we have a few weeks to get this straightened out. But only a few weeks."

He said one insurance company got a message enrolling and dis-enrolling the same person over ten times in a row. Multiply that one little glitch a hundred thousand-fold and it becomes uncontrollable. Affordable Care morphs quickly into Unmanaged Care. A real Tragedy of Errors:
This project is one of the single biggest IT projects in American history. When and Facebook started they came up as a small company and came up slowly. This had to become prime time on day one. And this business about building it for 50,000 people? You have 50 million people uninsured and 19 million in the individual market and a few hundred million who aren’t eligible for Obamacare but have been hearing about it for years! Did they not think a few of those would go take a look? I think it gets back to oversight. It was a lack of oversight on the part of the Obama administration. They needed to bring in the same kind of heavyweights in IT that the Obama administration brought in to sell this from the campaign.
Laszieweski recommends that people just refrain from signing up on the federal exchanges for the time being. That's how messed up it is. The problem with the Obamacare website, he says, is that it was designed as a public relations gimmick rather than a functional enrollment vehicle.

For even wonkier and headache-inducing ways that the ACA is a fraud wrapped in obfuscation surrounded by free market profiteering, read this run-down by economist Paul Craig Roberts. In order to understand what securing health care in the Age of Obama is all about, you really do have to be a certified public accountant or a tax lawyer.

The Affordable Care Act is 2,000 pages long for a reason. The Canadian law that enacted single payer health care, on the other hand, comprises a mere 13 concise pages. In humane societies, people are patients. In inhumane societies, people are "consumers."

The Republicans shut down the government for no good reason. They wanted to destroy Obamacare by defunding it. They needn't have worried. Obamacare is well on the way to destroying itself without their help. It's being debunked, in real time.

An upstate New York physician named Dr. Andrew D. Coates succinctly notes that the current D vs. R. debate over health care in Washington is actually a debate between the D One-Percenters and the R One-Percenters. Regular people are simply not part of the equation:
Because the debate in Washington is among, on the one side, a right wing that believes there should be no government intervention in health care whatsoever. This side believes that some individuals deserve to be sick, even deserve to die – that they deserve to go without health care because of the choices they may have made in their lives.
Meanwhile, on the other side – among the “left” of the 1 percent – there’s an idea that any government intervention could be a good thing, even if it’s government intervention to manipulate a profit-driven health insurance marketplace in a way that recruits more customers for private health insurance companies.
Underneath it all, health care is becoming an industry. It’s becoming a business. And there are myriad new forces within the system, each trying to extract their tiny profit, and this drives all of us crazy. But it also drives prices and costs ever upward.
It doesn’t have to be this way, and everybody knows that. So when the discussion takes place in Washington, the disconnect kicks in. The 99 percent of us continue to have those undignified experiences. The consequences, of course, are grave in the short run. But in the long run, I believe that we will together build the kind of health system worthy of us as a people.
Enroll America? More like Get Rolled, America.

How about we start our own exchange, and call it Get Roiled, Citizens! Because the lives you save may be your own. And your lives are worth it. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Eve of Destruction

Don't forget to hang up your stockings by the chimney with care tonight, kiddies, because the Default Elf will be making his rounds.* It's the Nightmare Before Halloween! The whole world is watching, waiting and scared. So you might want to leave him a pot of hot water and some tea bags as a sacrificial offering. Or maybe you don't believe in default Armageddon any more, because your own personal catastrophe has already struck. Maybe you're so broke you can't see the dentist and your teeth have started falling out. If so, you might try putting them under your pillow in hopes that the Trickle Down Fairy will pay you a visit and slip you a few nickels. Of course, any tax is your responsibility, not theirs.

In any case, you do begin to suspect that this whole crisis is just a bigger than usual headfake when you read Thomas Friedman's New York Times column today. He already sees the day (tomorrow) when the fear abates, the crisis temporarily ends, and the real business of destruction can get underway with a vengeance before the next crisis hits in six weeks.

 His personal Santa and his close personal friend is one Stan Druckenmiller, Forbes billionaire and self-promoting philanthropist whose claim to fame is urging debt-enslaved college kids to blame Grandma for their world of economic woe instead of.... well, him and his band of plutocratic predators. You get the awful rancid taste of Bowles-Simpson Catfood in your mouth the minute you start reading:
Wait! Who is that speaking to crowds of students at Berkeley, Stanford, Brown, U.S.C., Bowdoin, Notre Dame and N.Y.U. — urging these “future seniors” to start a movement to protect their interests? That’s Stan Druckenmiller, the legendary investor who made a fortune predicting the subprime bust, often accompanied by Geoffrey Canada, the president of the Harlem Children’s Zone, of which Druckenmiller is the biggest funder. What are they doing on a Mick Jagger-like college tour where they don’t sing, don’t dance, and just go through a set of charts showing young people how badly they’ll be hammered if our current taxes, growth rates, defense spending and entitlements stay where they are?
As I pointed out in my published response,
Thomas Friedman doesn't tell you that the mass movement of young people against the greedy geezers is, in reality, an astroturf scam funded by billionaire Pete Peterson. It's called "The Can Kicks Back," and it comes to life every time there's a new manufactured crisis.
With another episode of Disaster Capitalism upon us, Druckenmiller, himself a multibillionaire hedge fund mogul, is joining fellow plutocrats Al Simpson and Erskine Bowles in their zombie propaganda campaign aimed at slashing the safety net. They just can't get enough of the wealth of a nation. More and more seniors are falling into poverty, and the Fix the Debt scare-mongers have shamelessly used young people as human shields in their pathological quest for more, more and more.
Under their “chained CPI” proposal, over the next 25 years the average retired federal employee would lose $48,000. The average Social Security recipient would lose $23,000; the average military retiree would lose $42,000, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Why not suggest to your greedy plutocratic pals, Mr. Friedman, that they do away with their carried interest deductions and pay their fair share in taxes if they're so interested in saving the kids? How about scrapping the cap on their own FICA contributions to protect Social Security?
Because, make no mistake -- this is not generational warfare. It's class warfare, of the pathological rich versus the rest of us. And we plan on fighting back, every step of the way.
To get all fired up and ready to fight, be sure to watch the latest Simpson and Bowles comedy routine here, followed by an excellent takedown of their geriatric antics by cartoonist Mark Fiore. 

We've grown a little leaner, colder, sadder, older, so haul out the holly, and say bah humbug to catfood. We need a little Christmas, right this very minute. 

Update* -- thanks to some Congressional can-kicking tonight, the government will soon be open for business and default has once again been averted. So it looks like the next opportunity for the Grinch to shoot us up with another bolus of shock doctrine will be 'round about Valentine's Day. But until then, the anticipatory drama and fear-mongering will continue.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Bleat Before the Croak

Let's see.... we now live in a representative democracy where about 95 out of every hundred citizens have lost faith in Congress and just want them gone. But they won't leave! They are some of the most loathed people in America, yet there they still are, being treated with all due deference and respect by the six corporate media conglomerates bringing you 90% of all the news you're fit to hear. Any subliminal messages that may be coming through your TVs and newspapers are your problem.

In other news, the New York Times has a retrospective of Dolly the Sheep. Dolly, you may remember, was a clone. A long time ago in the 20th century she made people very, very afraid that they too might be turned into clones. She made people so fearful, in fact, that her creator didn't even win the Nobel Prize that year. It went instead to the guy who cloned frogs. Apparently they are much safer than sheep, and don't bleat when they are boiled very, very slowly.

Oh, and I hate to keep taking back everything I write in these blog-posts, but you can go ahead and disregard my entry on Paul Ryan now too. He lost his official centrist status as Wunderkind phoenix rising from the ashes over the weekend because, after he was apparently dissed by the big kids in Congress, he went back to playing Tea Party.

 The latest official word on the Shutdown is that it was never about Obamacare at all! Now they tell us.

As a matter of fact, the whole script has been thrown out the window and they're all ad-libbing. The latest episode includes the attack of the weird hybrid clone of Weimar Germany and Civil War secessionStage sets for the Sunday matinee included confederate flags and militarized police in riot gear.

Bah, bah, bah. Ribbit.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Paul Ryan, New Democrat

Okay, scratch that last post about the two sides of the Money Party probably not being able to make a deal to save the world and screw the people before Default Apocalypse. I spoke/wrote in haste and despair. Paul Ryan has emerged from the ashes of defeat as the New Democrats' (a/k/a Wall Street/centrist branch of the party) wet dream, a knight in shining armor to help forge the grand bargain with Barack the Feckless. Ryan, almost universally lambasted in the past few years for his fraudulent Budget to Nowhere, is now being hailed by "moderates" as the latest hot new pragmatic star.

You know you're in trouble when Paul Ryan emerges from anywhere. But even without his august presence now suddenly eclipsing that of Ted Cruz, the Democrats had already started their current negotiations with the Ryan budget. Austerians are now going to deal with austerians.

Ryan is beginning to sound like Obama. In a Wall Street Journal (paywalled) editorial, he wrote of the need for "modest reforms to entitlements" and was careful to deny that this equates with any Grand Bargain. Both sides of the Money Party now realize that the phrase "Grand Bargain" has a negative connotation for those they are trying to screw.

From what I can glean from the corporate media, talks are back on to kick the debt ceiling can for another six weeks or so -- right up until the usual hectic holiday time, when nobody is paying much attention and all the political players will be anxious to do anything and sign anything in their haste to blow town for their Christmas vacations on the slopes or the beaches.

The good news, of course, is that the almighty Koch machine might be losing some of its steam and a few of its well-oiled parts are crumbling and falling by the wayside. These polluting plutocrats are finally being forced to distance themselves from their own decades-long crusade to destroy the government. The bad news is that the almighty Pete Peterson plutocrats of Fix the Debt are taking up the slack, still slithering around like giant boa constrictors, ready to put the Wall Street squeeze on the squeezed Republicans. The bad news is that the now-weakened Tea Party was the only thing standing in the way of the last Grand Bargain attempt by Boehner and Barack in 2011. As I responded to Paul Krugman's column today,
All it will take to destroy the Tea Party movement is that magic moment when the co-opted astroturfers suddenly connect the dots between their misery and their libertarian heroes' sedition. Grandma's Social Security check is M.I.A. Junior breaks a bone, and the local E.R. has closed for lack of government reimbursements. Uncle Joe's heart medication kills him because FDA inspectors were furloughed, and Big Pharma just can't seem to resist cutting corners with quality control.
Of course, the ultimate irony is happening right now. People are getting sick from eating salmonella-tainted chicken -- all because of the dangerous game of chicken the GOP is playing. Even before the shutdown, the government cut back on poultry plant inspectors, leading the Southern Poverty Law Center to issue a dire warning. You know that our democracy is in deep trouble when a group known for exposing domestic terrorism and hate groups warns that even our sustenance is an imminent threat.
And you know that when even "liberal" pundits start viewing Paul Ryan as reasonable, willing to help the president out with "entitlement reforms", the real progressives need to start coming out of the closet, pronto. It's not enough to "just say no" to the extremists.
How about an end to the carried interest deduction and a tax on high speed trades to fund education and infrastructure? How about scrapping the cap on FICA contributions to protect retirement into perpetuity?
We have to fight fire with fire.
Although Obama is pretending to adhere to his pledge not to be extorted with the threat of default, he is perfectly willing to be extorted with the government still shut down. Putting furloughed federal employees back to work is not a condition for slashing the safety net. At least, not according to the latest leaks. Stayed tuned, but don't stay too riveted. It's bad for your health, and it makes you feel like a yo-yo that keeps getting played.