Saturday, August 15, 2009

Do we miss something by watching just Fox or MSNBC?

A recent email discussion among a group of my fraternity brothers (we were in college together over forty years ago) has centered on the issue of whether Fox News or MSNBC news presents a truthful image of what is going on in the world. I wrote the following:

Have you missed something important (by not watching Bill O’Reilly, Keith Obermann, Sean Hannity, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, or Rachel Maddow)? I don't know.

I believe that truth is relative to each individual and that we perceive "truth" through filtered eyes. We are prejudiced in favor of those values we hold and which have been incorporated in us throughout our life.

Theologically, I have been taught that arriving at the truth meant trusting an authoritative source (Scripture and Church tradition) and tempering them with Reason and Experience. Politically we do something similar: grounded in authoritative documents and historical figures and events, we use our Reason to arrive at values which are ratified by our Experience.

But, we all utilize those factors based on our own unique understanding of what is true. Are people basically good or bad? Can we trust a particular political leader or news commentator? Is "Big government" and/or "Big Business" good or bad? Is life black or white, good or evil (disjunctive) or is it a blending, both black and white, good and evil (conjunctive)? How we respond to issues like those, form the bases for our individual value systems.

And we seek out, as conduits for our link with the outside world, those sources who share to some degree our basic values. So, they reinforce our prejudices, our relative understandings of what is going in the body politic.

My prejudice is that all entities operate in their own best interest. And those which have tremendous power (both government and business) pursue goals which insure their own self-interests. At the moment, the forces aligned with Obama are battling with the health insurance industry. In the middle are the members of Congress, the lobbyists and all of us (the people). Each side, I am certain, believes in the "rightness" of its efforts. Each wants to preserve its own existence. The basic issue is, which "side" has a set of values and goals which will produce the most good for most of the people?

And we all line up on one side or the other based on our own prejudiced opinions. Or, we stand in the middle of all the stormy propaganda, not sure what is best. Or, we simply do our best to ignore the whole mess.

I choose to listen to Rachel Maddow and take her for my most trusted commentator. She is very intelligent, researches her stories very well, has authoritative persons as interviewees, and speaks the truth to power. But those evaluations are based on my own prejudice. Others might say the same for Bill O'Reilly. Of course, we do not give complete trust to them, but they are trusted to tell us the "truth".

I could give you a long list of reasons why I think our lives will be negatively impacted if the health insurance companies win. Others could balance my thoughts with their own.

If you or I limit our news input primarily to Fox or MSNBC we may or may not have missed something by not listening to the other commentators I named. But, if an informed citizenry is important, some means of being connected to the body politic and it's issues is important. Unfortunately, in our polarized political environment, polemics dominate all news, and that means we all must listen and evaluate with sharp discernment--knowing that, at best, what we hear is only partial truth.

I do believe I am right. But then, John Wesley said, "No man will hold an opinion which he thinks is wrong."


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Reconciliation, the Perilous Road to Health Care

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Friday used the word Republicans do not want to hear: reconciliation. That word, as used in the US Congress, is not an attempt to build harmony or friendship, bur is a demand that the minority party submit unwillingly to the majority.."It is certainly on the table", said Schumer*.

Reconciliation is a legislative procedure whereby passage of the pending health care legislation could require, not 60 normal votes, but instead only 51. It would also cut off the possibility of any filibuster of the matter before Congress.

While the hope has existed for a compromise plan in various Senate committees, Democratic leaders have been careful not to talk about reconciliation. But when the Senate recessed this past week, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont), Chairman of Senate Finance, had not been able to forge a consensus from his committee members. That deadlock brought forth some talk about the use of the reconciliation procedure.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nev) said Friday that “We don’t want to use reconciliation unless we have to. I hope we don’t have to.” The White House insisted on Thursday (8-6) that it was open to the use of a parliamentary procedure that would prevent health care reform from being filibustered by the GOP.

The idea of imposing reconciliation is not comforting to Senator Mike Enzi a Wyoming Republican. He said, “I’m afraid that if reconciliation winds up in the [health care] budget bill, it’ll be like a declaration of war.”

Some Senators have expressed the idea that a "Reconciliation Bill" could be brought to the floor of the Senate if it were reported out of committe in that form. That is correct, but what happens at that point is debatable. When the bill reaches the floor, any Senator may offer amendments or rise to a point of order and challenge whether any part of the bill is "extraneous". Any challenged "extraneous" part would be striken from the bill if less than 60 Senators (assuming 100 preent) voted to support it. This activity is called the "Byrd Bath" (see below).

The remaining bill can then get only twenty hours of debate, and amendments are limited. An up-and-down vote then follows with fifty-one (51) votes carrying the bill. There are some restrictions imposed on budget-related portions of the bill.

What is the Byrd Bath?

In 1985-1986 a procedure called the "Byrd Rule" was adopted by the Senate. The rule provided six definitions that judge a provision of a reconciliation bill to be "extraneous". They are

  1. if it does not produce a change in outlays or revenues;
  2. if it produces an outlay increase or revenue decrease when the instructed committee is not in compliance with its instructions;
  3. if it is outside the jurisdiction of the committee that submitted the title or provision for inclusion in the reconciliation measure;
  4. if it produces a change in outlays or revenues which is merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision;
  5. if it would increase the deficit for a fiscal year beyond those covered by the reconciliation measure, though the provisions in question may receive an exception if they in total in a Title of the measure net to a reduction in the deficit; and
  6. if it recommends changes in Social Security.

Again, any provision of the bill determined to be extraneous will be stripped from the bill, unless 60 Senators vote to waive the objection. The process of "scrubbing" through the original bill in search of extraneous provisions is referred to as the Byrd Bath.**

Because of the possibility that numerous items, based on the above provisions, could be striken from a reonciliation bill Senator Kent Conrad, (D-ND) has said the end result with be a Health Care bill that looked like Swiss cheese, because there could be so many holes in it.*** The Republicans could be so angry over the attempt to force through a sweeping Health Care plan that they would probably nit-pick the legislation to death.

“Most of the big public policy stuff, which is really important, would not survive the Byrd Rule,” said Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the senior Republican on the Budget Committee and someone who could be counted on to use his expertise to make reconciliation as difficult as possible for Democrats.

But there is a potential way around the Byrd Rule:****

Democrats are examining an unusual "two-track" approach. First, some of the most controversial parts of the health plan--taxes, fees, savings from existing federal programs---would be packaged in one "extraneous-free" reconciliation bill and passed by a simple majority. Second all the policy changes and program expansions would be treated like an ordinary bill. As such it would be subject to filibuster and amendment. But these parts of the bill would be popular enough to get the 60 votes, overcome a filibuster, and,what-do-you know: a health care bill.

Of course, there are still bumps in the road. If some senators are angry that the first bill squeaks through, they might not want to help to pass the second one, whether they like it or not

“No matter what happens, we’re going to enact health care reform by the end of the year,” Sentor said Schumer.

Major questions still remain unanswered: Will there be some form of public option in that bill?” Will the final form of the bill have some means of limiting the costs of the health insurance policies? Will people be protected from having their policies terminated if they become sick with a "high-treatment-cost" illness?

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*** c. 8-07-9
**** copied 8-08-09.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Whose Side Are You On, Senator Nelson?

A very interesting piece I first saw on Rachel Maddow's show, August 5, puts the question to Senator Ben Nelson, (D-Nebr): Are you on the side of the small business owners of Nebraska, or, are you on the side of the Health Insurance Companies?

An ad is running in Nebraska, "Who's side are you on?" addressed to Senator Nelson. It features a restaurant owner in Ralston, Nebraska who just received notice that his insurance premiums were going up 42% the coming year. Here is a realistic look at the plight of the small business owner. Check out the ad .

So, Senator Nelson says that if this type of publicity about Health Care reform continues, the whole project may be dead by the end of August. In essence he is saying: Attack my position and I might just kill the entire thing.

President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers* last Saturday (August 1) stressed these points:

  • Small businesses (those with less than 100 employees) employ around 30% of all uninsured Americans.
  • If small businesses are able to insure their employees, they pay 18% higher premiums than large companies pay.
  • Right now (the status quo) health care is priced out of reach for most small businesses.

That’s why President Obama is arguing for a public option in the current debate. Unless some means of making insurance companies compete is included in the proposed plans, the insurance companies will have free reign to raise premiums and deductibles and refuse service. Those practices are absolutely necessary in order for them to increase profits and satisfy shareholders---and pay legislators to do their bidding.

Your comments below are appreciated.
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* copied on 8-7-09..

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Moore, Obermann, Stewart: Health Care

While corporate lobbying firms instruct people how to disrupt town hall meetings across America, the fate of a fair and effective Health Care system continues to be debated outside the range of angry voices.

I hope you have seen Bill Moyers Journal episode featuring a former Cigna executive, Weldon Potter. If you have not seen it, go to the next article down and click on the link to Moyers' Journal. It is the best information available on the methods used by health insurance companies to protect their profit margins at the expense of human life and health.

Below are three clips about health care. A couple of years ago, Michael Moore appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and they discussed the movie Sicko and American healthcare. So here's the first clip: Michael & Oprah (This video requires Quicktime 7, which you can download free here.)

The second clip is last Monday’s “Special Comment “ by Keith Obermann, Countdown, MSNBC, in which he takes on a number of congressmen who take beaucoup dollars from health care companies. Those companies, in turn make decisions that greatly harm the congressmen’s true constituents. That clip can be seen at: Legislators for Sale

The last video is from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart looking at various cable commentators discussing the importance of Obama passing a health care plan.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~THANKS to ONE GOOD MOVE ( ) for these clips.

The movie Sicko is available at Netflix, probably at Blockbusters and other DVD rental stores. You may remember the Health Care Insurance companies spent a lot of money bashing Michael Moore and the movie.

The Health Care debate is the most important issue before the Congress since the discussion over the Iraq war. I have been on Medicare for the past three years and am very pleased with it. I would be okay with a single-payer plan for all, like Medicare.

If you have an insurance plan, and you develop some costly illness, you may find yourself in economic quicksand. This is not true for everyone; but it is true for many. And the cost of your insurance. What was it five years ago? What will it be five years from now? I can remember when I was working that we would get a pay raise, and at the same time our insurance would go up more than the raise. Has that happened to you? We really cannot keep on with the way things are. More and more people are losing their insurance (can’t afford it; or, their employer cannot afford it), or finding their deductions going up and up. Talk with folks around you and see what their experience with health care insurance is.

The level of distortions and untruths being spread about the various proposals in Washington is appalling. Even more distressing are the number people who believe that “killing grandparents” is in the works, or that our current system is the best in the world, or that the government would decide if you got a certain kind of treatment.

Scary? Are you afraid? That’s what the fear-mongers want. Their propaganda is designed to build a level of paranoia and fear. If they can keep us from making any changes in our health care system, they win. You lose. They know that. Do you?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bill Moyers on Health Care

Health Care reform is currently the most crucial item before our nation for debate. Unfortunately, much of the information we get is produced and published by Health Insurance interests.

The clip below will take you to Bill Moyers' Journal and give you the opportunity to hear the other side. If you will take the time to watch a couple of the videos you will learn some sides of this debate you may not have yet heard.

Click on Moyers' Journal

[at the site, click on "archive" thenthe "Wendall Potter" video, and, the small white arrow on the bottom band of the video.