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Spencer Blog Archives 08-02

Spencer Blog Archives




SLOUCHING TOWARDS 9/11 -- ANOTHER EXCELLENT OP-ED FROM FRANK RICH 8-31-02

Frank Rich has done it again. He's written another good editorial piece in the New York Times about the lessons of the last year and how we apparently haven't learned them. He also warns us that the media orgy approaching is only helping to desensitize us and distract us from what's important. Rich, once again, makes some excellent observations -- and forces me to post something to the blog on a Saturday, on a holiday weekend no less!

I will give you one quotation from it:"But let's posit that the Iraq drumbeating is not a cynical effort to distract the country from the stalled war against Al Qaeda or the stalled economy. Let's posit that the administration rationale, set out by Mr. Cheney when he emerged from the Halliburton witness protection program this week, is solid. If indeed"there is no doubt" that Saddam Hussein already"has weapons of mass destruction" to use against us and"time is not on our side," then why these months of dithering that allow our enemy to lay his traps? Why doesn't a president with a high approval rating rally the country at once and count on it to follow? Is it that Mr. Bush doesn't trust the evidence against Saddam, or is it that he doesn't trust us — or is it that he still thinks terrorists can be fought on a schedule we dictate?" You really should read this.

BEST HEALTHCARE SYSTEM IN THE WORLD -- ARE YOU KIDDING ME? 8-30-02

I'm going to start with something that drives me crazy.

You know the healthcare system is a mess when you're happy that a 3-hour (from arrival to departure) outpatient surgical procedure for your daughter only cost $5,000. Is that crazy or what? But wait, it gets better. Once the bill gets sent to the insurance company they whack off another $1,000 that they claim are essentially overcharges. They then refuse to pay another $800 worth of stuff claiming it isn't covered by your benefit plan and tell you that you'll have to pay it. This, of course, sends you over the edge and you begin to gird for battle with the insurance company (I've done this many times in my young life already). You start out by calling the hospital to make sure that we're looking at the right paperwork and they inform us,"don't sweat it. We've adjusted all of those charges off your bill. Just pay what the insurance company says you owe us." Is all of that nuts or what?

Now who's wrong here? The hospital and doctor that clearly are overcharging or the insurance company that is whacking away at the bill in such a draconian manner? I don't really have a good answer. Can no hospital or doctor in this system actually charge a reasonable price in the first place? I have friends who have doctors in the family who go on and on about how unfair insurance companies are. I always tell them,"Well, why don't you guys start charging what you're willing to accept in the first place? If you would do that, we wouldn't have any of this stuff going on at all." The worst part of all this is that people without insurance have to pay the"sticker" price instead of the insurance company's bargained-down price.

Of course, the most amazing thing about the whole thing is the fact that the nurses, doctors, and healthcare workers keep themselves so blissfully ignorant of this ugly part of healthcare so they essentially have no idea what the charges are for things. When we were at the hospital for the pre-operative appointment, my wife asked the doctor's nurse,"Now, how much is this going to cost?" And she had no idea and then began to hem and haw about how it depends on your situation and what your insurance company will pay, etc., etc. This is a damn crazy way to run a healthcare system. The left hand has no damn idea what the right hand is doing -- and clearly likes it that way.

Admittedly, the fault is not entirely that of the doctors at all. Is there any group of people who are less helpful and potentially more malevolent than an insurance company? These folks have designed their company (and their phone menus) so that you never get to talk to anyone who actually makes a decision. My favorite was one insurance company that I called a couple of years ago when I was appealing a decision that told me"the folks in appeals do not take phonecalls" and"will not talk to you." I, of course, asked the obvious question:"And why the hell not?" Silence. This is the sort of lunacy that can drive you over the edge at times. And I really wonder how people who work in actual decision-making positions at insurance companies can sleep at night. Many of them apparently spend their days actively trying to screw people. I really don't know how they live with themselves. I know I couldn't.

That's one of the things that makes me the angriest about the Clinton years. Clinton had a chance to do something about all of this. Better yet, he had the public support to do something. Yes, I know the insurance companies demagogued it to death. Every time I see a flashback to the"Harry and Louise" propaganda commercials, I just want to scream. I also know he shouldn't have put Hillary"Lightning Rodham" Clinton in charge of it because that just allowed conservatives to deride it as her plan and be demagogic about it. But Clinton messed this up too. He said he was going to do it and he didn't. Of all the things that happened during the Clinton years, it's this one that actually makes me angry at Clinton, a man I've met several times in my life as a child and believe was a solid president. However, when he began to reinvent himself in 1994 as a more conservative president and therefore healthcare reform disappeared from the agenda it made me angry -- as I'm sure it did many others folks.

All these years later, the healthcare system is still a mess and I'm sure it's not going to improve any time soon. I'm sure, like most things, we'll wait until there's an absolute crisis to do anything about it. I do have one suggestion for a way to make our politicians a little more understanding about these issues. I think it's time to cancel their very nice health insurance (that they don't pay one penny for) and make them buy health insurance on their own. In fact, I think they should be forced to be insured on a bad plan, that is extremely expensive, with tons of loopholes, a bad prescription benefit, and denies claims based upon the barometer reading on a particular day. I've been on many like that. Don't you suspect the folks in Washington would become a great deal more sympathetic if they were in the same boat as the rest of us? Hey, I know it would be great to just cancel their insurance but don't you think it might actually be more effective to put them on a bad plan and let them deal with the headaches that come from it? It's just a thought.

A FEW FINAL NOTES FOR THE WEEK 8-30-02

There's an excellent Krugman article on the federal deficit in the New York Times today. It's definitely worth a look. The whole point of the article is to point out how the administration has lied to us about the federal budget for a year and a half and now wants us to trust them.

My wife made a very interesting observation today. When I told her about some of the plans for local observations of the September 11th tragedy anniversary she asked me a good question:"Do our lives have so little emotional meaning that we all have to try to insinuate ourselves into the pain and grief of the victims of that horrible attack? Do we have to work as hard as possible to wring as much emotion out of ourselves as possible so that we can show that we really care for our fellow human beings?" My answer:"Yes. And don't forget that the Republicans have tough mid-term elections to win."

Here's yet another article that exposes how hypocritical W is about family values and restoring honor and dignity to Washington. To review, it was only last week that"Mr. Corporate Reponsibility" campaigned for a corporate criminal who's running for governor in California. Yesterday, W came to Arkansas, the state of my birth and childhood, to raise money for Tim Hutchinson, a senator that James Carville recently described as a "toothpick" in"a forest of senatorial timber." Hutchinson recently divorced his wife of 28 years to, a la Newt Gingrich, marry a twenty-something staffer. Hutchinson, of course, spent months decrying Clinton's ethics although he became astonishingly quiet during the actual impeachment trial. The hot word on the streets of Little Rock at the time (and I heard this from several sources) was that his wife caught him with his young sweetie in his office. Therefore, he thought it best to hush about that for a while. Despite this obvious hypocrisy on his part, he did, like Newt, vote for Clinton's impeachment. Now he's down 10 points to David Pryor's son, Mark Pryor. I sure hope that lead for Pryor holds.

That's all folks. Have a good holiday weekend. I'll see you Tuesday.

AN ALTERNATE BUSHIAN UNIVERSE 8-29-02

I'm really busy, so it'll be a short blog today. I also haven't really seen that much that gets me going with the exception of what's below. If I do see something else, I might do more.

Anyway, on to my one subject of interest today -- and it's a doozy. I can't believe the story in the Washington Post this morning about the two-faced political game that the administration is playing on the latest tax cut bill. The shrubbers, who spent the entire campaign telling us how Bush would return honor and dignity to the White House, are, once again, lying through their teeth. The administration supports a bill entirely for Republican mid-term re-election purposes. They have told the few actually concerned fiscal conservatives in their party that they support this latest tax cut bill (which includes tax cuts on capital gains, larger stock loss deductions, etc.) but only so it will help Republican representatives win re-election. They have promised these conservatives that they won't actually sign the bill.

BTW, who are these fiscal conservatives? I haven't seen them. If they really were committed to fiscal conservatism they would have opposed Bush's tax cut bill last year. Of course, the interesting thing is that Bush's tax cut has turned out just as Gore said it would: it has created a deficit, did nothing for the economy, and has only enriched Bush's benefactors and no one else. Anyone enjoying their extra Diet Coke every day? Some folks are getting thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands of dollars this year in tax cuts, but the vast majority of us are getting an extra Diet Coke per day.

But I digress. The administration has acknowledged to these conservatives that the president would never sign such a bill because it would bust the federal budget wide open. However, the administration wants the bill passed in the House of Representatives so that it can die in the Democrat-controlled Senate and they can use it against senators and representatives who are up for re-election. Now this is an amazing example of an administration playing a weaselly, two-faced, political game for political advantage in mid-term elections. All this lying by the same folks who swore they'd never do such a thing and that they'd restore honor and dignity to the White House. I don't think lying about a major tax cut bill is very dignified or shows much honor at all. In fact, I would argue that Clinton's folks never tried something this brazen and, if they had, the press would've been all over them. To quote cultural conservative chickenhawk Bill Bennett,"where's the outrage?"

Amazing stuff, huh? I don't know how the shrubbers get the balls to lie so fervently through their teeth. And, by the way, this is an administration that, in my opinion, lies on a daily basis. And not about unimportant personal matters involving cigars and where one puts them but about matters of public policy. These folks exaggerate, equivocate, or tell outright falsehoods about important policy matters on a daily basis more than any administration I can remember. However, for some reason, this administration is allowed to get away with it. Remember how there was"no warning" of impending hijackings? Remember the exaggerated"dirty bomber" case? In fact, this trumped-up case the administration is trying to make against Iraq so we can go to war (while ignoring allies of ours who have even bigger problems in the area of democracy) is the perfect example of an administration that wouldn't know the truth if it struck it upside its proverbial head. This is an administration of spin much more than Clinton's ever was. This is an administration that appears to live only in a world of its own making, an alternate Bushian universe if you will, but clearly not the one that the rest of us live in. Having lived through the prior eight years during which Clinton couldn't get the slightest break from the press even when a particular story circulating in the press was demonstrably false, this is astonishing.

Sigh. That's all for now. I guess it might be enough though. I'm spent.

DESPERATION BECOMES PANIC 8-28-02

After a slow day yesterday, today I can't figure out what to talk about first! Let's start with the war news. With what W, Cheney and Rumsfeld are saying, it appears the war is coming for sure. If not, Cheney and Rumsfeld are in full panic mode. I loved what Rumsfeld said yesterday:"It's less important to have unanimity than it is making the right decision and doing the right thing, even though at the outset it may seem lonesome." Rumsfeld went on to argue that"Leadership in the right direction finds followers and supporters." Is this guy scary or what?

I know I'm going to date myself here but every time I see Rumsfeld he reminds me of Dr. Anrak in the 1981 animated movie Heavy Metal. In his one scene in the movie, Anrak began saying these enormous lies and, because of his calm and reasonable manner, people in the Pentagon believe him. I wish I could post a picture of Anrak so you could see the uncanny resemblance as well. Okay, okay, I know that Anrak was a cartoon character but, then again, at times Rumsfeld appears to be a cartoon character too. His world is a sort of cartoon universe where most traditional assumptions, maybe even physical laws, don't apply. Wile E. Coyote doesn't believe in gravity until he finds himself off the cliff and hanging in mid-air. I suspect Rumsfeld won't believe in the need for allies until we've gotten ourselves into such a mess we'll really need them.

Maureen Dowd's column this morning is hysterical. She suggests, in her sarcastic and biting fashion, that it's time to go to war -- with Saudi Arabia! Dowd's columns are usually devoid of much substance or anything but they can be fun. This one has a little more evidence to back up her assertions than most.

I always enjoy reading foreign press coverage of events in the United States because many times it can give you an entirely different perspective. This morning, the Guardian has an interesting article by Julian Borger entitled "Daggers drawn in the house of Bush." Borger says that the argument over the Iraq war is"a family row conducted by proxy." Again, the different spin on things is always interesting to read.

The New York Daily News today has a bit more detail on the rather surprisingly bitter remarks by Bush's special envoy to the Middle East, General Anthony Zinni. At one point in his speech on Friday, Zinni caustically remarked that"All the generals see this the same way, and all those that never fired a shot in anger are really hell-bent to go to war." How's that for calling the Chickenhawks out? Boy, this one smacked the administration right upside the head!

This morning there's a New York Times editorial that takes the position that the administration appears to be moving forward with war plans despite the fact that the administration has in way convinced Americans or allies of the case for war as of yet. Nothing profound here but it's a good solid opinion piece on the wisdom of the administration's policy toward Iraq.

WHICH ORWELL IS IT? ANIMAL FARM OR 1984? 8-28-02

I love debates like this. The big debate on left websites right now is whether the Bush/Ashcroft Department of Justice is leading us toward a state that is more like that depicted in Orwell's Animal Farm or 1984. There's a good piece on tompaine.com by Daniel Kurtzman that argues for 1984. Dwayne Eutsey on bartcop.com writes an essay contending the administration's actions are more like Animal Farm. I wisecracked about the administration's Orwellian vision of the state a couple of days ago but I didn't know quite how hip I was until I found writers on other websites doing the same thing. Both of the essays are quite interesting. I would suggest you take a look.

Speaking of the administration's trampling of the constitution as well as its secretive and authoritarian ways, there are a couple of good editorials today, in the New York Times and the Washington Post about recent federal court rulings that have stopped the administration from conducting secret deportation trials for those caught up in the enormous post-9/11 dragnet. This secret trial and military trial stuff really makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It's just not something that is supposed to happen in America. The Post editorial quotes from the opinion of Judge Damon Keith:"The Executive Branch seeks to uproot people's lives, outside the public eye, and behind a closed door...Democracies die behind closed doors...When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation. The Framers of the First Amendment . . . protected the people against secret government." The Post goes on to say that"the Justice Department should stop litigating and accept" that it's not going to get secret trials. Amen to that. You know, the more I think about it, how many times during September and October of last year do you suppose that John Ashcroft violated the constitution? Thousands of times? Hundreds of thousands?

DEFICITS AS HIGH AS AN ELEPHANT'S EYE (AND AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE), MIDTERM ELECTIONS, WAGGING THE DOG, ETC. 8-28-02

The budget reality is finally coming home to roost. There were news stories yesterday in the New York Times and the Washington Post about the ballooning federal deficit. I love the careful attempt not to place blame on Bush's budget priorities and tax cuts in these stories. It's like an unwanted dinner guest at the table. These journalists are ignoring the obvious. However, both of the stories acknowledge that these budget predictions are actually too optimistic and don't include large spending proposals or the cost of the boondoggle war that we'll be paying the full cost of to the tune of at least $100B. The Post also ran a painfully-carefully-worded editorial that, while acknowledging that Bush was lying to us when he was pushing for tax cuts last year, still pretends that this turn of events isn't really Bush's fault.

Please, give me break. This is Bush's deficit and Bush's recession. Many people told us that all of this was going to happen during the campaign in 2000. This is not some unforseen turn of events. Bush's people knew they were being dishonest. As I've always told my students, a president always gets more credit than is due and more blame than is due. It's time for Bush to change his policies to become the moderate he claimed he was during the campaign or prepare to take his lumps. I can almost guarantee the Republicans in congress will pay for W's mistakes this November -- unless Bush wags the dog. And I fully expect him to try to do so if he believes he needs to. Unless the gut-wrenching and flag-waving Republican-patriot-fest that is to come around September 11th gives Republicans in congress a large enough bounce that Bush can put off wagging the dog until closer to the presidential election in 2004. We shall see. However, Rumsfeld's and Cheney's speeches make it sound like they're not planning on waiting that long.

THE WHIFF OF DESPERATION 8-27-02

It's a bit of a slow newsday today. I'm also pretty busy. So I guess I'll just post the good stuff I've found so far and call it a day.

I can't stop myself from commenting on the rather desperate speech yesterday by Dick Cheney. My goodness, there was more than just a whiff of desperation in that speech! Cheney, the first VP in our history who is less accessible to Americans than a CEO is to his workers, is wheeled out when the administration wants to chastise us. I have an important question: is Cheney really a public official? Since he's the guy making all the important decisions this is particularly troubling. We essentially have the major decision-maker in the government hidden from the voters. That's just not right.

Bush is just the PR guy in this administration. We all know that Cheney is the real power. Nonetheless, I am growing tired of this Texas two-step by the administration. If Bush can't convince people he's serious, out comes the guy the administration thinks Americans really have faith in. How much more evidence do you need that even his own administration thinks that W is a lightweight. By doing this, the administration is acknowledging that the public thinks he's a lighweight too.

Let's move on to the few links of interest today. There's a good Krugman piece this morning on Bush's ridiculous"Healthy Forests" policy initiative. As usual, it's a good article. Here's a tasty quote from it:"George W. Bush's new 'Healthy Forests' plan reads like a parody of his administration's standard operating procedure. You see, environmentalists cause forest fires, and those nice corporations will solve the problem if we get out of their way. Am I being too harsh? No, actually it's even worse than it seems."Healthy Forests" isn't just about scrapping environmental protection; it's also about expanding corporate welfare." Good stuff. Krugman's articles always use evidence quite well. It's nice to read someone in our media who actually knows how to use evidence to make an argument. Many pundits and columnists simply omit that little important thing.

There's also an excellent piece by James Bamford entitled "Washington Bends the Rules" on Ashcroft's continued efforts to create a police state in the New York Times. A good quote:"'Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.' So begins 'The Trial,' Franz Kafka's story of an ordinary man caught in a legal web where the more he struggles to find out what he did wrong, the more trapped he becomes. 'After all,' says Kafka's narrator, 'K. lived in a state governed by law, there was universal peace, all statutes were in force.' With increasing speed, the Justice Department of Attorney General John Ashcroft is starting to resemble the 'always vengeful bureaucracy' that crushed Josef K." I still can't believe Ashcroft hasn't gotten himself fired yet. Even W should be able to see what an embarassment he is by now.

You will be happy to know that congressional leaders from both parties are finally speaking up on how the president needs to seek congressional approval before going to war with Iraq. I'm glad to finally hear them do this. I'm hoping the administration is about to start backing up but Cheney's comments have made me lose hope on this. He sounded just as committed to this foolhardy war yesterday as ever.

That's all I can find at the moment. If I find other cool stuff to chat about I'll post it.

IS THERE ANYONE IN WASHINGTON WHO STILL SUPPORTS THIS WAR? 8-26-02

Boy, is there anyone left who supports this war? James Baker, secretary of state during the Gulf War and Bush family fixer-upper, came out against the war as it is currently conceived this weekend. Baker argued"we should try our best not to go it alone, and the president should reject the advice of those who counsel doing so."

While Bush and his allies try to act like this is all the press's fault, a good analysis by Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times puts the blame where it should be: on the administration itself. They have talked themselves into a dangerous position that could lead the administration to putting young Americans in harm's way. It is safe to say that the administration will look foolish in the international arena if they back away from this war. However, I think most Americans simply want support from allies and want more information before moving toward war. It is safe to say, as one unnamed Republican aide does in this article, that the"administration has allowed its rhetoric to get ahead of events." Even the Moonie-owned ravenous right-wing Washington Times argues that this is all "self-inflicted silliness" by the administration. Bush's special envoy to the Middle East, General Anthony Zinni, also came out against the current war plans over the weekend. Now we've got folks within Bush's administration who are publicly against this thing.

However, you'll be happy to know that the administration has decided it doesn't need to seek the permission of congress to start the war. Ah, you got to love the expansion of the presidency in the last 50 years. Even though the constitution specifically says congress must approve going to war, no president since Franklin Roosevelt has worried about that little inconvenience.

OKAY, I FOUND ONE. DICK CHENEY COMES OUT OF HIS PRESS-PROOF HIDEY HOLE TO LECTURE US ABOUT HOW THIS WAR IS A GREAT IDEA. 8-26-02

You know the political situation is grave when Dick Cheney appears on your TV screen. They've rolled him out of his undisclosed location this afternoon to try and save the administration's bacon on Iraq. Cheney's speech demonstrated that the Bush folks still just don't get it. He actually outwarmongered Rumsfeld! That's amazing. Here's a quote:"What we must not do in the face of a mortal threat is to give in to wishful thinking or willful blindness. We will not simply look away, hope for the best and leave the matter for some future administration to resolve.... The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action." Nice try, Dick. I don't think anyone who actually knows anything about the situation is convinced. You might bring a few congressional conservatives on board but few other folks.

You heard it here first: the airstrikes are coming in mid-October. President Cheney just essentially said so. The invasion, I suspect, is set for February or March. That's just my opinion of course. I could be (and hope to be) wrong.

BUSH AND ASHCROFT'S ORWELLIAN VISION 8-26-02

One of my biggest concerns today is the way civil liberties are being whittled away by Ashcroft's Justice Department. The war on terrorism has provided a convenient excuse for Mr. Ashcroft to expand the power of the state at the expense of civil liberties. Many journalists are beginning to wake up about this. There was a good piece by Marie Cocco of Newsday this weekend about Ashcroft's attempt to institute a police state. As she puts it:"We say we are a nation of laws, not men. That used to mean that no man of power [Ashcroft] could ignore those laws he found inconvenient, or not to his liking." There's another good op-ed in the Washington Post about why we should oppose Ashcroft's policies.

One of the best op-ed pieces over the weekend about this was in the Sunday Washington Post entitled"Democracy as Afterthought" that points out the rather major hypocrisy on our part in ignoring the situation in Pakistan while decrying Saddam's anti-democratic depredations. A colleague of mine who's more in the know recently described Musharraf as more a"warlord" than president.

The federal budget deficit is soaring out of control. It looks like at least a $200B deficit next year. Thanks George for that tax cut for


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