30,000 more troops and promises: Obama’s promise to begin a withdrawal in eighteen months, Karzai’s promise to stop the corruption. So, if Afghanistan is desert and mountains, does that mean it can’t be the Big Muddy?
Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize today, in a decision that surprised many because it came so early in his term. The committee said Obama has created “a new climate in international politics.” Continue reading →
Politifact's Pants-on-Fire is the highest (lowest?) rating for political lies
Lies, damn lies and the right wing Media Matters dissects the lies about the right-wing rally in DC, beginning with Michelle Malkin and continuing forever. Malkin lied about ABC News estimating the crowd at 2 million — ABC never did, and the crowd never exceeded 70,000, at the most generous estimate. Not only did Malkin lie, and not only were her lies picked up and rebroadcast widely, but some rightwing nutcase posted a photo purporting to show the huge crowd. That photo, however, was at least a decade old, according to Politifact.
Lies have legs. The photo and the tweets and the reports about a massive crowd turning out to protest will keep circulating.
Just like the birther nonsense. Repeat a lie often enough, and it creeps into the public discourse. That’s the charitable explanation for a Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz referring to Kenya as “Obama’s native country.” Called on his misstatement in an on-line chat, Kurtz said he meant that Kenya was Obama’s father’s country. That’s not what he wrote, and his actual, published words — still uncorrected by either Kurtz or the Post — give support to the birthers.
Where is the mainstream media? They should be out in front, reporting the lie-of-the-day loudly and prominently. “Balanced” reporting does not mean repeating lies and truths as if they were equal.
Guns for the President As someone old enough to remember exactly where I was when I heard about the assassination of John F. Kennedy — and Martin Luther King, Jr. — and Bobby Kennedy, I cringe at the continuing reports of people taking guns to presidential appearances.
The latest case is right here, with the Star Tribune reporting on a Minnesotan toting a gun to the Saturday rally in Minneapolis. Like the rest of them, he claimed he was exercising his Second Amendment right to bear arms, and stayed just inside the confines of the law.
That’s not really the point, is it? When more people take guns to see the president, the Secret Service has more people to watch, stretching their resources and making it that much easier for a real assassin to slip through surveillance.
I grew up in a family where hunting was a way of life, and no one thought twice about owning or using guns. No one in my family ever brought a gun to church or school or a birthday party or a political rally, or even thought of doing so. We knew that guns were for shooting, and the message of carrying a gun is that you are planning to shoot it. If you carry a gun into the woods, you are planning to shoot deer or squirrels or rabbits. If you carry a gun into war, you are planning to shoot people. If you take a gun to a political rally, you are making a threat. That threat might be protected by the Second Amendment, but that doesn’t make it any less a threat.
Feminizing fish The U.S. Geological Survey studied fish in rivers across the country, and found the highest rate of feminized fish (male fish with female sex organs) right here in Minnesota. MPR reports:
In the Mississippi River, near Lake City Minnesota, 73 percent of the smallmouth bass had characteristics of both sexes.The feminization is thought to be caused by hormone-disrupting chemicals in the environment. They can include pesticides, PCBs, heavy metals, household compounds such as laundry detergent and shampoo, and many pharmaceuticals.
Cause for concern? Maybe — especially if you think that hormone-disrupting chemicals building up the environment could cause problems to more than fish.
Doctors support public optionNPR has the latest word on where doctors stand on health care, from a poll of more than 2,000 doctors published in the New England Journal of Medicine:
Most doctors — 63 percent — say they favor giving patients a choice that would include both public and private insurance. That’s the position of President Obama and of many congressional Democrats. In addition, another 10 percent of doctors say they favor a public option only; they’d like to see a single-payer health care system. Together, the two groups add up to 73 percent. …
“Whether they lived in southern regions of the United States or traditionally liberal parts of the country,” says Keyhani, “we found that physicians, regardless — whether they were salaried or they were practice owners, regardless of whether they were specialists or primary care providers, regardless of where they lived — the support for the public option was broad and widespread.”
War reports | Somalia U.S. commandos entered Somalia and killed a top Al Qaeda operative there, according to the New York Times. Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was a Kenyan Al Qaeda leader, who had been working with Shabab militants in Somalia and training other foreign operatives. He is believed to be linked to the bombing of an Israeli hotel in Kenya in 1998 and to attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa.
“This is very significant because it takes away a person who’s been a main conduit between the East Africa extremists and big Al Qaeda,” said the adviser, who like several United States officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the mission.
The helicopters, with commandos firing .50-caliber machine guns and other automatic weapons, quickly disabled the trucks, according to villagers in the area, and several of the Shabab fighters tried to fire back. Shabab leaders said that six foreign fighters, including Mr. Nabhan, were quickly killed, along with three Somali Shabab. The helicopters landed, and the commandos inspected the wreckage and carried away the bodies of Mr. Nabhan and the other fighters for identification, a senior American military official said.
BBC reports that al Shabab says it will retaliate for the killing.
Madame Speaker, Vice President Biden, Members of Congress, and the American people:
When I spoke here last winter, this nation was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month. Credit was frozen. And our financial system was on the verge of collapse.
As any American who is still looking for work or a way to pay their bills will tell you, we are by no means out of the woods. A full and vibrant recovery is many months away. And I will not let up until those Americans who seek jobs can find them; until those businesses that seek capital and credit can thrive; until all responsible homeowners can stay in their homes. That is our ultimate goal. But thanks to the bold and decisive action we have taken since January, I can stand here with confidence and say that we have pulled this economy back from the brink.
I want to thank the members of this body for your efforts and your support in these last several months, and especially those who have taken the difficult votes that have put us on a path to recovery. I also want to thank the American people for their patience and resolve during this trying time for our nation.
But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came to build a future. So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future – and that is the issue of health care.
I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.
Our collective failure to meet this challenge – year after year, decade after decade – has led us to a breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can’t get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can’t afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or expensive to cover.
We are the only advanced democracy on Earth – the only wealthy nation – that allows such hardships for millions of its people. There are now more than thirty million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage. In other words, it can happen to anyone.
But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem of the uninsured. Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today. More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you’ll lose your health insurance too. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won’t pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.
One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn’t reported gallstones that he didn’t even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it. Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer more than doubled in size. That is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America.
Then there’s the problem of rising costs. We spend one-and-a-half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren’t any healthier for it. This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages. It’s why so many employers – especially small businesses – are forcing their employees to pay more for insurance, or are dropping their coverage entirely. It’s why so many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to open a business in the first place, and why American businesses that compete internationally – like our automakers – are at a huge disadvantage. And it’s why those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it – about $1000 per year that pays for somebody else’s emergency room and charitable care.
Finally, our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. When health care costs grow at the rate they have, it puts greater pressure on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.
These are the facts. Nobody disputes them. We know we must reform this system. The question is how.
There are those on the left who believe that the only way to fix the system is through a single-payer system like Canada’s, where we would severely restrict the private insurance market and have the government provide coverage for everyone. On the right, there are those who argue that we should end the employer-based system and leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own.
I have to say that there are arguments to be made for both approaches. But either one would represent a radical shift that would disrupt the health care most people currently have. Since health care represents one-sixth of our economy, I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn’t, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch. And that is precisely what those of you in Congress have tried to do over the past several months.
During that time, we have seen Washington at its best and its worst.
We have seen many in this chamber work tirelessly for the better part of this year to offer thoughtful ideas about how to achieve reform. Of the five committees asked to develop bills, four have completed their work, and the Senate Finance Committee announced today that it will move forward next week. That has never happened before. Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses; hospitals, seniors’ groups and even drug companies – many of whom opposed reform in the past. And there is agreement in this chamber on about eighty percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been.
But what we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.
Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.
The plan I’m announcing tonight would meet three basic goals:
It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don’t. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. It’s a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge – not just government and insurance companies, but employers and individuals. And it’s a plan that incorporates ideas from Senators and Congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans – and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.
Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan:
First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.
What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies – because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.
That’s what Americans who have health insurance can expect from this plan – more security and stability.
Now, if you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who don’t currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage. We will do this by creating a new insurance exchange – a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers. As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It’s how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it’s time to give every American the same opportunity that we’ve given ourselves.
For those individuals and small businesses who still cannot afford the lower-priced insurance available in the exchange, we will provide tax credits, the size of which will be based on your need. And all insurance companies that want access to this new marketplace will have to abide by the consumer protections I already mentioned. This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right. In the meantime, for those Americans who can’t get insurance today because they have pre-existing medical conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect you against financial ruin if you become seriously ill. This was a good idea when Senator John McCain proposed it in the campaign, it’s a good idea now, and we should embrace it.
Now, even if we provide these affordable options, there may be those – particularly the young and healthy – who still want to take the risk and go without coverage. There may still be companies that refuse to do right by their workers. The problem is, such irresponsible behavior costs all the rest of us money. If there are affordable options and people still don’t sign up for health insurance, it means we pay for those people’s expensive emergency room visits. If some businesses don’t provide workers health care, it forces the rest of us to pick up the tab when their workers get sick, and gives those businesses an unfair advantage over their competitors. And unless everybody does their part, many of the insurance reforms we seek – especially requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions – just can’t be achieved.
That’s why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance – just as most states require you to carry auto insurance. Likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still cannot afford coverage, and 95% of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements. But we cannot have large businesses and individuals who can afford coverage game the system by avoiding responsibility to themselves or their employees. Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part.
While there remain some significant details to be ironed out, I believe a broad consensus exists for the aspects of the plan I just outlined: consumer protections for those with insurance, an exchange that allows individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable coverage, and a requirement that people who can afford insurance get insurance.
And I have no doubt that these reforms would greatly benefit Americans from all walks of life, as well as the economy as a whole. Still, given all the misinformation that’s been spread over the past few months, I realize that many Americans have grown nervous about reform. So tonight I’d like to address some of the key controversies that are still out there.
Some of people’s concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.
There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally. And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up – under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.
My health care proposal has also been attacked by some who oppose reform as a “government takeover” of the entire health care system. As proof, critics point to a provision in our plan that allows the uninsured and small businesses to choose a publicly-sponsored insurance option, administered by the government just like Medicaid or Medicare.
So let me set the record straight. My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. Unfortunately, in 34 states, 75% of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90% is controlled by just one company. Without competition, the price of insurance goes up and the quality goes down. And it makes it easier for insurance companies to treat their customers badly – by cherry-picking the healthiest individuals and trying to drop the sickest; by overcharging small businesses who have no leverage; and by jacking up rates.
Insurance executives don’t do this because they are bad people. They do it because it’s profitable. As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill; they are rewarded for it. All of this is in service of meeting what this former executive called “Wall Street’s relentless profit expectations.”
Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. The insurance reforms that I’ve already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear – it would only be an option for those who don’t have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5% of Americans would sign up.
Despite all this, the insurance companies and their allies don’t like this idea. They argue that these private companies can’t fairly compete with the government. And they’d be right if taxpayers were subsidizing this public insurance option. But they won’t be. I have insisted that like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects. But by avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits, excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers. It would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities.
It’s worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I’ve proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn’t be exaggerated – by the left, the right, or the media. It is only one part of my plan, and should not be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end – and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.
For example, some have suggested that that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others propose a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring. But I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can’t find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.
Finally, let me discuss an issue that is a great concern to me, to members of this chamber, and to the public – and that is how we pay for this plan.
Here’s what you need to know. First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits – either now or in the future. Period. And to prove that I’m serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don’t materialize. Part of the reason I faced a trillion dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for – from the Iraq War to tax breaks for the wealthy. I will not make that same mistake with health care.
Second, we’ve estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system – a system that is currently full of waste and abuse. Right now, too much of the hard-earned savings and tax dollars we spend on health care doesn’t make us healthier. That’s not my judgment – it’s the judgment of medical professionals across this country. And this is also true when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.
In fact, I want to speak directly to America’s seniors for a moment, because Medicare is another issue that’s been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate.
More than four decades ago, this nation stood up for the principle that after a lifetime of hard work, our seniors should not be left to struggle with a pile of medical bills in their later years. That is how Medicare was born. And it remains a sacred trust that must be passed down from one generation to the next. That is why not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan.
The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies – subsidies that do everything to pad their profits and nothing to improve your care. And we will also create an independent commission of doctors and medical experts charged with identifying more waste in the years ahead.
These steps will ensure that you – America’s seniors – get the benefits you’ve been promised. They will ensure that Medicare is there for future generations. And we can use some of the savings to fill the gap in coverage that forces too many seniors to pay thousands of dollars a year out of their own pocket for prescription drugs. That’s what this plan will do for you. So don’t pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut – especially since some of the same folks who are spreading these tall tales have fought against Medicare in the past, and just this year supported a budget that would have essentially turned Medicare into a privatized voucher program. That will never happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare.
Now, because Medicare is such a big part of the health care system, making the program more efficient can help usher in changes in the way we deliver health care that can reduce costs for everybody. We have long known that some places, like the Intermountain Healthcare in Utah or the Geisinger Health System in rural Pennsylvania, offer high-quality care at costs below average. The commission can help encourage the adoption of these common-sense best practices by doctors and medical professionals throughout the system – everything from reducing hospital infection rates to encouraging better coordination between teams of doctors.
Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan. Much of the rest would be paid for with revenues from the very same drug and insurance companies that stand to benefit from tens of millions of new customers. This reform will charge insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies, which will encourage them to provide greater value for the money – an idea which has the support of Democratic and Republican experts. And according to these same experts, this modest change could help hold down the cost of health care for all of us in the long-run.
Finally, many in this chamber – particularly on the Republican side of the aisle – have long insisted that reforming our medical malpractice laws can help bring down the cost of health care. I don’t believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs. So I am proposing that we move forward on a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first and let doctors focus on practicing medicine. I know that the Bush Administration considered authorizing demonstration projects in individual states to test these issues. It’s a good idea, and I am directing my Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on this initiative today.
Add it all up, and the plan I’m proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years – less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration. Most of these costs will be paid for with money already being spent – but spent badly – in the existing health care system. The plan will not add to our deficit. The middle-class will realize greater security, not higher taxes. And if we are able to slow the growth of health care costs by just one-tenth of one percent each year, it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.
This is the plan I’m proposing. It’s a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight – Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.
But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.
Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.
That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed – the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town hall meetings, in emails, and in letters.
I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death.
In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends, his wife, Vicki, and his children, who are here tonight . And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform – “that great unfinished business of our society,” he called it – would finally pass. He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that “it concerns more than material things.” “What we face,” he wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”
I’ve thought about that phrase quite a bit in recent days – the character of our country. One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and sometimes angry debate.
For some of Ted Kennedy’s critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their mind, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.
But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here – people of both parties – know that what drove him was something more. His friend, Orrin Hatch, knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend John McCain knows that. They worked together on a Patient’s Bill of Rights. His friend Chuck Grassley knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.
On issues like these, Ted Kennedy’s passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick; and he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance; what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent – there is something that could make you better, but I just can’t afford it.
That large-heartedness – that concern and regard for the plight of others – is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people’s shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.
This has always been the history of our progress. In 1933, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism. But the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it. In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.
You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, and the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter – that at that point we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.
What was true then remains true today. I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road – to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.
But that’s not what the moment calls for. That’s not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it’s hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history’s test.
Because that is who we are. That is our calling. That is our character. Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless the United States of America.
[Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
Address to a Joint Session of Congress on Health Care
Wednesday, September 9th, 2009, Washington, DC]
Food prices and news spins Are food prices down? Sort of, according to AP, which reports that the Labor Department index for the price of food to be eaten at home has fallen by nine-tenths of one percent over the past year. Of course, that comes after food sellers raised their prices by 6.7 percent in the previous year. And despite the fact that “ingredient costs for major food makers, including Heinz, Kraft and Hormel, are down about 28 percent on average as of Sept. 1, from Sept. 1, 2008.” Continue reading →
The crazies are out again, urging parents: “No school for kids on September 8th due to the beginning of Socialist Indoctrination of Americas children. Keep your kids home September 8th.” Continue reading →
Chicken towns St. Paul may soon have more chickens, reports the Star Tribune. A proposed new ordinance would allow St. Paul residents to keep three or fewer hens without getting permission from their neighbors, and with a reduced license fee of $25. The Strib quotes St. Paul city environmental manager Bill Gunther: “I’m a city kid, and I’m thinking they’re an agrarian animal that belongs on a farm,” he said. “But there’s a shift in thinking. Chickens are nothing more than a big bird.”
Of course, St. Paul already has some backyard chickens. So do Minneapolis, Anoka and Burnsville (but not Hastings.) Minneapolis even has a chicken rescue operation. And, unlike St. Paul, Minneapolis allows roosters in its backyard flocks.
Details: Minneapolis property owners Nick Walton and Daniel Oberpriller have gotten approvals for a two-part development at a highly visible “gateway” into the Uptown neighborhood.
The article did not mention the strong community opposition to the development, or the protest resignation of Lara Norkus-Crampton, ECCO resident and Minneapolis Planning Commission member for the past three years, when the Planning Department and Planning Commission overruled the Uptown Small Area Plan (USAP).
MPR reports that the biggest cuts come from a Revenue Department account, the Human Services Department, and Metro Transit aid. The cuts are widespread, ranging from the governor’s office to public health outreach and education. the Natural Resources Department also received more than a million dollars in cuts.
Lutherans come to MN You thought they were already here? Well, that’s true, but this week, Minnesota’s home-grown Lutherans will be supplemented by 1,000+ delegates to the national gathering of the 4.8 million member ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The most controversial item on the agenda is “rostering” of openly gay, non-celibate pastors. While some gay and lesbian pastors already serve congregations, the synod does not officially recognize them.
Episcopalians also face issues over gay and lesbian clergy, with breakaway groups trying to recruit more congregations to their ranks, as dioceses in Minnesota and Los Angeles plan to consecrate gay or lesbian bishops.
So far, the defections represent only about 5 percent of the 2.3 million total membership. But in July, the spinoff denominations announced an aggressive plan to launch 1,000 congregations in the next five years. …
On Aug. 1 — less than a month after the end of a moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops that was put in place to appease restive congregations — the Diocese of Minnesota announced that one of its three nominees for bishop is the Rev. Bonnie Perry, a Chicago priest who is in a long-term same-sex relationship. The next day, the Diocese of Los Angeles included two openly gay priests on its list of nominees for assistant bishop.
Circus tumble The young performers at Circus Juventas flew through the air with their usual aplomb, but spectators tumbled to the ground last night as half of the bleachers collapsed at the end of the performance. Half of the audience of 900 fell with the bleachers, and seven people were hospitalized. Broken wrist or ankles were the most serious injuries expected, according to the Pioneer Press. The collapse happened as the audience rose to applaud the end of the final performance of the three-week run of “YuLong: The Jade Dragon” at the Circus Juventas academy’s Big Top, in St. Paul’s Highland Park.
Violent police video Minneapolis police say that they used reasonable force in a February traffic stop, but the defendant, David Jenkins, his lawyer, and the squad car video tell another story, according to a report in the Star Tribune. The county attorney’s office dropped assault charges against Jenkins “in the interest of justice” after they reviewed the video, which can be viewed on the Star Tribune website. Jenkins was stopped for allegedly going 15 miles over the speed limit. He was also charged with refusing to submit to a blood or urine test, but a judge dismissed those charges.
After being thrown to the ground by the first police officer on the scene, Jenkins was beaten and kicked and tasered three times by police.
He required seven stitches above his eye after six officers punched and kicked him while he was face-down in a snowbank. He was treated at the hospital and then jailed for four days.
Jenkins said he was the victim of an unprovoked attack simply because he had vigorously questioned Officer Richard Walker about why he was stopped and asked to talk to his supervisor.
Police chief Tim Dolan said he would review the video on Monday.
Public option going down? The New York Times says that the “public option” for health care reform may be abandoned by the administration in favor of nonprofit health care co-ops.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to produce a bill that features a nonprofit co-op. The author of the idea, Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, predicted Sunday that Mr. Obama would have no choice but to drop the public option.
Former Vermont governor and Democratic party chair Howard Dean disagrees, reports AP:
“You can’t really do health reform without [a public option],” he said. Dean maintained that the health insurance industry has “put enormous pressure on patients and doctors” in recent years.
He called a direct government role “the entirety of health care reform. … We shouldn’t spend $60 billion a year subsidizing the insurance industry.”
Gaza Some 13 people were killed in clashes between Hamas government forces and an extremist religious sect, reports the Washington Post:
According to wire service and eyewitness reports of Moussa’s sermon, the cleric said the group drew its inspiration from al-Qaeda, demanded that a strict Salafi form of Islam be imposed in Gaza, and criticized Hamas for its occasional meetings with Europeans and Americans, including former president Jimmy Carter.
Hamas officials said they dealt with the sect as an illegal group possessing guns and weapons.
Suicide bombing in Russia A suicide bomber in the violence-plagued North Caucasus region attacked a police station in the city of Ingushetia, killing 20 and wounding many more, reports the New York Times:
The attack seemed to further undermine the authority of Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, Ingushetia’s populist president who came to power last October vowing a softer approach in dealing with rebel violence than Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of neighboring Chechnya. It was the bloodiest single attack to hit Ingushetia for some time, though violence against police and government officials in this and other North Caucasus republics occurs almost daily. Mr. Yevkurov himself announced last week that he would soon return to work after he was seriously wounded in a suicide attack on his convoy in June. Ingushetia’s construction minister, Ruslan Amirkhanov, was assassinated in his office last week.
Iran Accusations of jailhouse violence, beatings and sexual abuse continue, reports the New York Times. Reformist cleric and presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi refuses to back down despite calls for his arrest by conservative clerics and politicians.
Afghanistan Five days before national elections, reports the Washington Post, s suicide bombing in Kabul killed seven people and wounded dozens more.
Iraq A “witch hunt” against gay men in Baghdad has killed 90 since January, reports BBC, which says that “Mehdi army spokesmen and clerics have condemned what they call the ‘feminisation’ of Iraqi men and have urged the military to take action against them.”
Afghanistan drug money A new Senate report says that the Taliban is getting only about $70 million of the estimated $400 million in drug profits each year, reports the Los Angeles Times. According to the Times:
Al Qaeda’s dependence on drug money is even less, according to the report by the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which found that “there is no evidence that any significant amount of the drug proceeds go to Al Qaeda.” …
In one of its most disconcerting conclusions, the Senate report says the United States inadvertently contributed to the resurgent drug trade after the Sept. 11 attacks by backing warlords who derived income from the flow of illegal drugs. The CIA and U.S. Special Forces put such warlords on their payroll during the drive to overthrow the Taliban regime in late 2001.
MSNBC broadcast interview with gun-toting protester
Your Second Amendment right to protest? Photos of a gun-carrying anti-Obama protester (William Kostric) outside the president’s New Hampshire town hall meeting set off a storm in the blogosphere but didn’t impress the Wall Street Journal, which found nothing alarming about people bringing guns to protests, writing that, “outside Manhattan, citizens’ exercising their Second Amendment rights are nothing unusual.”
The man is carrying a sign that says, “It Is Time to Water the Tree of Liberty.” That’s a reference to a Thomas Jefferson quote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” It was a favorite slogan of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was wearing a T-shirt when he was arrested with a picture of Lincoln on the front and a tree dripping with blood on the back.
Now, this guy is carrying a legal weapon, says NBC News’ Ron Allen. The local chief of police has no objections. …
But let’s be clear: anyone watching the mounting rage over, of all things, health care — perhaps one of the most boring and complex policy subjects — has to worry that these people are going to try to kill Barack Obama.
A more hard-nosed look at Salon.com profiles Kostric’s internet presence:
[In MSNBC’s Hardball interview,] Kostric insisted his intentions were peaceful, and that he’s not affiliated with Birther groups.
But at least one of those statements doesn’t seem to be true. A right-wing activist named “William Kostric,” who’s left a lot of footprints around the Web, is listed as a “team member” of the Arizona chapter of We the People, the far-right group best known for joining a lawsuit challenging Obama’s right to be president based on his not being a U.S. citizen. Kostric told MSNBC he recently moved from Arizona to New Hampshire. (Kostric did not reply to Salon’s e-mail request for an interview.
Kostric’s MySpace profile also lists among his heroes Randy Weaver, the white supremacist and right-wing activist who survived the Ruby Ridge confrontation with federal agents, along with Ayn Rand’s John Galt, Thomas Jefferson, libertarian/GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul and William Wallace, the Scottish resistance leader portrayed in Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart.”
A new book on the history of the Secret Service reports the rate of threats against the President has increased 400 percent since President Obama took office in January as the nation’s first African American president. According to author Ronald Kessler, Obama is the target of more than thirty potential death threats a day. Most of the threats have been kept under wraps, because the Secret Service fears that revealing details of them would only increase the number of copycat attempts.
One budget down, one to come As both Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors continue as undeclared but much discussed possible candidates for next year’s gubernatorial race, their 2010 budget statements take on added significance.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman presented his 2010 budget proposal on Tuesday, and reports in the Pioneer Press and MPR note that his proposal combines a decrease in city spending — from $540 million in 2009 to $538 next year — with a six percent increase in property taxes to cope with an $11.6 million reduction in state funding next year.
Among the specifics of the plan:
• The city will cut 121 positions, which will mean leaving vacant positions unfilled and laying off about 45 current employees.
• Federal ARRA funds will allow hiring of 34 additional police officers and 18 additional firefighters. (MPR notes that St. Paul received $7.5 million in federal funding for police hires, but that Minneapolis received only about half that amount.)
• Hamline Midway library, which saw an outpouring of community support when it was threatened with closure this year, will remain open.
• Front, Sylvan and Prosperity rec centers will be torn down, but their athletic fields will be improved. Baker, Griggs, Margaret, South St. Anthony and Wilder rec centers will be turned over to “community partners” for management in some form. Bonding funds will be used to replace the current Arlington Hills library and recreation center with a new Payne-Maryland combined community center and library.
Next up: Minneapolis. Mayor R.T. Rybak will deliver his budget address on Thursday. MPR notes that Minneapolis is facing a $21 million cut in state aid, and also “an increase in pension obligations for two closed employee funds, which will cost the city an additional $18 million a year.”
Swine flu preparations The flu season is coming and a double whammy of regular, seasonal flu and swine flu is expected to strain health resources across the country and in Minnesota. MPR’s report of a briefing by state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield noted that, “No one knows what will happen with H1N1 this fall. The virus could mutate and become more severe. It could fizzle out. Or it could follow the path it has charted so far.”
What is known:
• In a normal year, seasonal flu kills about 36,000 people in the United States, most of them elderly.
• Young people and children seem to be hardest-hit by swine flu.
• “The Health Department estimates that 30 percent of Minnesotans — about 1.5 million people — may become infected by H1N1 as multiple waves of the pandemic move through the state over the next year or two. Of those, the agency says anywhere from 3,600 to nearly 33,000 could die.”
• Priority for the new swine flu vaccine will go to health care workers, pregnant women, young children and people who care for infants under 6 months of age. No one will be required to be vaccinated. (That should go without saying, but in today’s political climate, it’s an issue.)
Burma Nobel Peace Prize winner jailed again As expected, reports BBC, opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was convicted and sentenced to another 18 months of house arrest.
Ms Suu Kyi was on trial for allowing a US national, John Yettaw, into her lakeside home after he swam there uninvited. Mr Yettaw was jailed for seven years, including four years of hard labour.
Critics of Burma’s military regime say the verdict is designed to prevent Ms Suu Kyi from taking part in elections scheduled for 2010.
4,000 arrests in Iran The Iranian government said that 4,000 protesters were arrested in protests over June’s elections, reports BBC. Opposition leaders say that at least 69 people were killed. The government is now trying 100 of the protesters. Allegations of torture and rape in jail continue to be made.
Activists killed in Chechnya Two human rights activists were kidnapped on Monday and killed in Chechnya, reports BBC:
The case follows July’s abduction and killing of activist Natalia Estemirova.
Ms Sadulayeva and her husband Alek Djabrailov were in their mid-20s and had just got married, reports say.
Law and Order plot? “A man accused of hiring a U.S. Army soldier and another man to kill a Mexican drug cartel lieutenant who was cooperating with U.S. authorities was himself a government informant, police said Tuesday.”
No – it’s not a TV crime drama, but a real-life report from AP. The convoluted Texas scheme resulted n a May 15 murder in El Paso, Texas.
Iraq Two car bombs in a Shia neighborhood in Baghdad killed at least eight people and injured at least 40, reports BBC.
Afghanistan Taliban fighters attacked a government base in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, killing a district police chief and at least one other person in a prolonged gun battle, reports BBC. The attack comes just one week before the Afghanistan elections
NCLB failing schools If I were a Minnesota school principal or teacher, I would have awakened this morning with a mouth full of dread. Another of the many annual school-bashing events is scheduled for today, with the 2009 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report released late last night by the Minnesota Department of Education. With absolute predictability, the AYP report showed more “failing” Minnesota schools. Since this year’s report included 357 more schools than last year, it also showed more “passing” schools. Total numbers:
Despite the late hour of the release, the Star Tribune was prepared with an impressive set of charts and graphs showing the performance of every school district in the state, and every school within each district. For the record, statewide proficiency stands at 64% in math and 72% in reading. In Minneapolis, the figures are 48% in math and 51% in reading. In St. Paul, the figures are 46% in math and 52% in reading.
There has been a 7.6 percent increase in the number of schools making AYP, compared to 2008, due to an increase in the number of schools measured for AYP. The increase in the number of schools not making AYP is the result of more schools being measured and proficiency improvements that have not yet matched the increases necessary to meet the AYP targets under NCLB.
The number of schools not meeting AYP grows each year because the NCLB is meant not to highlight student achievement but to brand schools as failing. AYP is a false measurement of achievement. Even the most ardent of public education’s detractors will find it contrary to common sense that more than half the schools in the state can’t educate their students. These “results” are ludicrous. …
Here’s how NCLB works: States develop a standardized test and give it to all students once each year. Students are divided into subgroups depending on their race or special conditions, i.e. special education or English language learner. If one subgroup fails to meet AYP, the entire school and district fails. Not only must students show proficiency, the school must make sure enough students take the test. If too many students miss the test, the school and district fail to meet AYP.
The bottom line is that AYP doesn’t measure the work of teachers and principals and schools or the achievement of students over time. To measure that work, a test would need to ask how much individual students have learned during the course of a school year or two or three. That would require knowing where students were when they entered a school and how much each of them progressed.
That’s not what the tests are structured to do. The test does not measure how much progress Johnny and Maria and Moua and Jamal, who have now moved on to different schools, made during the years they spent at PS 135. Instead, it measures how well the current population of students performs — regardless of whether they have been in the school for six weeks or six years, regardless of what reading or math level they had when they entered the school, regardless of whether the teachers and school have had time and opportunity to make a difference. If a student enters the school in fifth grade, with a first grade reading level, and moves up two grade levels in one year — that’s still not proficiency and that’s not Adequate Yearly Progress.
Our schools need support and improvement. The NCLB/AYP mess provides neither. NCLB comes before Congress for renewal — or not — later this year.
Mayor vs. Park Board Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak denounced the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s attempt to get taxing authority. The MPRB has turned in thousands of signature sheets to put a referendum on this fall’s ballot, a move the mayor called “half-baked.” According to the Minnesota Independent:
The proposed referendum would grant the city’s quasi-independent (and chronically broke) park board the ability to impose its own levies, without oversight of the city council.
Today is the last day to turn in petitions, and then the city clerk will have 10 days to count and verify signatures. To put the measure on the ballot, signatures must total five percent of the votes cast in the last general election.
No immigration bill until 2010 That’s the Obama message, delivered after a tri-national meeting with Mexican and Canadian heads of state, according to the New York Times:
“Now, am I going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No,” the president said. “But ultimately, I think the American people want fairness. And we can create a system in which you have strong border security and an orderly process for people to come in. But we’re also giving an opportunity for those who are already in the United States to be able to achieve a pathway to citizenship so they don’t have to live in the shadows.”
One in nine That’s the number of Americans using food stamps to help meet basic needs. Another number: $4.50 per day. That’s the average amount of food stamp benefits. Think about it. What do you get for $4.50 a day? Rice and beans, yes. Maybe milk and cheese. Fresh vegetables or fruits? Rarely. And, as NPR reports, you wait for that. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) explained:
Let me point out one other kind of problem we’re finding here and that is because more and more people are eligible and are, you know, trying to enroll and state budgets are being cut back, and the states kind of processed the whole program even though the federal government provides most of the money. But because they’re being short staffed that is taking them, in some parts of the country, up to 57 days between the time somebody applies and between the time that they’re told they’re either qualified or that they’re denied. … And, you know, 57 days is a long time to go without a benefit to be able to put food on the table.
Congo The government troops sent to drive out rebels in eastern Congo and protect the people in fact have become persecutors, escalating the rape epidemic as they take women as spoils of war.
Although all sides in Congo’s messy 15-year conflict have used rape as a weapon of war — particularly the Rwandan rebels — the spike since January is being widely blamed mostly on the army. The number of soldiers roaming these eastern hills has almost tripled to 60,000, and rapes have doubled or tripled in the areas they are deployed. Aid groups said the number of rapes so far this year is probably in the thousands.
Pakistan A rocket attack on Peshawar killed at least two people and wounded more as a dozen rockets sent panicked residents fleeing into the streets. In northwest Pakistan, a U.S. drone attack killed at least ten people. Officials said the attack targeted an insurgent training camp.
Beer Summit Red Stripe for Henry Louis Gates, Blue Moon for the police officer, and Bud Light for the president: beer choices at the White House were all over the news yesterday, along with Congressional admonitions to the president to drink American. Continue reading →
Bragg’s office has been tight-lipped about the investigation and indictment, but plenty of other people are talking, including the biggest mouth on the planet. Trump on Truth Social: “These Thugs and Radical Left Monsters have just INDICATED the 45th President of the United States of America …” What happens next? Probably not a perp walk or […]
Scare stories about crime have been a staple of Republican campaign ads for decades. This year is the worst I’ve ever seen. That’s a big part of the reason that fear of crime is rising, even when crime is not. In Minnesota, lying Republican ads attack Governor Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison. Even […]
Georgia celebrated a record first-day early voting turnout of more than 131,000 on October 17. In contrast, armed and masked vigilantes intimidated voters at ballot drop boxes in Arizona. Georgia’s turnout represents the best of U.S. democracy. Arizona represents the dark future if election deniers and proponents of the Big Lie win.
Attacks on voting rights began long before the 2020 election, with moves by Congress and the Supreme Court to gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The attacks continue in this electoral cycle, with intimidation of voters, restrictions on absentee voting, and laws designed to make in-person voting more difficult, especially for voters of color and […]
Elections depend on loyal election officials, many of them volunteers, all committed to free and fair elections. Some are paid, full-time government employees, working year-round to make sure that elections run smoothly. Some are your neighbors, volunteering from 6 am to 9 pm in polling places on election days. Now more than one in five U.S. […]