Sorry to be so late again. But I think I have some interesting reads for you today, so I hope some of you will be able to check them out afternoon and evening.
I’m going to begin with a sad story that happened in the Greater Boston town where I live.
On Friday, August 31, a 15-year-old high school sophomore named Jeremy Kremer-McNeil committed suicide in the basement of his home using cyanide. So far there’s been no explanation of how he obtained the chemical, but according to The Boston Globe, police suspect he may have gotten it on the internet.
A hazmat crew had to be called in to decontaminate the house before the scene could be processed by police. At first the boy’s name was not released, but his family asked that it be made public. Here is the obituary Jeremy’s family submitted to the Arlington Patch:
Kremer-McNeil, Jeremy Alexander, 15, of Arlington, died on September 4, 2015.
Jeremy is the beloved son of Amy Kremer and Taylor McNeil, and brother of Emily. He is also survived by his grandmother, Esther Kremer; aunts Betsy (Kremer) Lane and Jenny (McNeil) Foerster; uncle Randall Kremer; and many cousins.
He was and is loved deeply by all his family and so very many friends.
Jeremy had a strong wish to put an end to human trafficking. To honor his passion, and to provide lasting comfort not only to his family and friends but to others in distress, we ask that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made in his honor to The Polaris Project (www.polarisproject.org). In this way, he will live on in the good that is done in the world.
From The Boston Globe: Arlington teen apparently consumes cyanide, spurs hazmat response.
ARLINGTON — Hazmat crews rushed to a quiet street on Friday afternoon after a 15-year-old died by apparently consuming cyanide, officials said.
Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan said near the scene on Rockmont Road that police were called to the home at about 4 p.m., after a relative voiced “concerns” about the male victim, who lived in the home.
Ryan did not elaborate on the concerns but said that officers found the victim’s body in the basement of the home, and that observations led them “to believe that the deceased may have consumed cyanide.”
As a result, Ryan said, neighbors were evacuated from their homes and a hazardous-materials crew descended on the residence to begin decontaminating the area, as well as the victim’s body. Work injury lawyers in phoenix AZ were immediately consulted and hired for their cause.
The office of Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan said in a statement that because that because the victim’s death does not appear to be suspicious, authorities will not release his name.
I was stunned to learn that there is such a policy in place. So many young people struggle with depression and anxiety; and suicide by teenagers and even younger children is not uncommon. So why the secrecy? People who are depressed and despairing need to know they are not alone.
The Boston Herald reports:
The apparent suicide of an Arlington teenager who school officials identified yesterday left the town shaken as the odd way he died drew attention to a death that police said would otherwise have passed by unnoticed.
“The manner in which this young man took his life was out of the ordinary — suicide itself is a quite common occurrence for us — and typically suicide incidents or suicide are not publicized,” Arlington police Chief Frederick Ryan told the Herald. “So the general public does not realize how frequent it does occur.”
How awful. No death by suicide should “pass by unnoticed.” This is a public health problem and the public needs to be aware of how many young people commit suicide. The family did the right thing by asking that his name be released.
More from Wicked Local Arlington: Editorial: Why we haven’t eulogized AHS teen.
In a little over one month, the town of Arlington has lost three young people to untimely deaths, tearing three holes in the fabric of three families and of this community. Two, Catherine Malatesta and Katherine Wall, were felled by aggressive cancers. The third, Jeremy Kremer-McNeil, killed himself in his parent’s basement using cyanide.
The deaths of Malatesta and Wall received significant coverage in these pages, yet the passing of Kremer-McNeil is only lightly covered. Does the manner of his death cheapen the life of a 15-year old cruelly taken from us? Is he suddenly undeserving of the same public mourning this paper has afforded his peers?
Suicide is undeniably a public health issue in the Commonwealth.
In MA, suicide was listed as the cause of death in 624 cases in 2012, the most recent year for which data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is available. On top of those 624 suicides, 4,258 people were hospitalized with self-inflicted injuries in Massachusetts in 2012, and the counseling hotline Samarateens responded to 187,849 crisis calls in that same year. As shocking as those numbers may seem, our overriding responsibility as a media outlet is to cover the broader issue of suicide, and not its individual instances.
By the way, there was a time when cancer deaths were hushed up as if somehow shameful or distasteful. I clearly recall when the mother of one of my high school classmates died very young of cancer. Her cause of death was whispered among the other students, but didn’t appear in her obituary.
Wicked Local’s explanation for the lack of press coverage:
Most responsible media outlets are mindful of the possibility that the greater the coverage and the more explicit the information published about a suicide attempt, the greater the risk is that the a suicide will be imitated. Research by psychiatric epidemiologist Madelyn Gould at New York City’s Columbia University shows that media attention around a peer’s suicide can make teens more vulnerable to killing themselves. Her research, as reported by NPR in 2009, showed that the increase in suicides following a suicide story is proportional to the amount, and the duration, and the prominence of the coverage of the initial event….
Despite the very public nature of Friday’s suicide, many aspects of this case are acutely private. In covering all tragedy, journalists must balance a family’s need for respect and privacy with the importance of the event. Those are pressures we feel even more acutely at The Advocate. The people we cover are not anonymous. They are our neighbors. In this case, we believed and continue to believe that the former definitively outweighs the latter.
Is this really a good policy? Are these media and law enforcement policies common around the country? Wouldn’t the suicide of a young person in a community be an appropriate time to educate residents, reach out to other local depressed young people, find ways to help them, rather than hush the suicide up and let depressed youngsters think they are alone in their struggles?
I only wish someone had been able to reach out to Jeremy and help him get past whatever he was going through. Sometimes just a hug or an empathetic listener can be a step toward deciding to stay alive.
I know something about this, because I was very depressed when I was Jeremy’s age, and I frequently considered suicide. Somehow, I always talked myself out of it and was able to go onward. I have struggled with depression for most of my adulthood also. I became an alcoholic through my attempts at self-medication. Now as a senior with more than 30 years of sobriety, I expect to take an antidepressants for the rest of my life. Over the years, I have learned may tools for dealing with my depression, but I know that I must be “ever vigilant”–as they say in A.A.–because I have a chronic illness that is both physical (highly genetic) and emotional.
I’d be very interested in learning what our readers think about the issue of media and law enforcement silence when people kill themselves.
Of course it isn’t just high school students who suffer from depression and anxiety. For most of each year, the Boston area has a massive population of college students, and the local papers usually run lots of back-to-school stories in September. This year the Globe is focusing on mental health issues among college students.
From yesterday’s Globe: College kids are sad, stressed, and scared. Can their counseling centers help them?
When Ramya Babu thinks about her freshman year at Boston University, she remembers the day she stood alone in her dorm room and screamed in anguish.
Babu had been thrilled to start college. But just a few weeks into the school year, she began to feel like the world around her was simultaneously spinning too fast and leaving her dizzy, but also moving too slow in a way that made her feel like her loneliness and anxiety would never end. All of the overwhelmed emotions she had tried to suppress caught up to her, making her cry out in pain.
Frantic, Babu called a friend from home, who suggested she see someone at BU’s counseling center.
A counselor at BU’s behavioral medicine center diagnosed her with both depression and an anxiety disorder. Each week, at her appointments, Babu would talk through her feelings and concerns with her counselor and leave feeling like she had strategies that would help her survive.
But at the end of the semester, after only eight sessions, her counselor handed her a referral sheet and told her this would be their final meeting. She would have to find a new therapist.
“I had no idea what to do,” she said. “I felt like the support in the referral process was next to non-existent. I know they have a limited number of therapists, but this is a college campus with a mental health center and there I was trying to negotiate with outside practitioners I knew nothing about.”
When I was teaching at Boston University, I often talked to students who had terrible problems; many were obviously depressed and anxious. I always tried to listen to and empathize with the problems they shared, but there was little more I could do. I knew about the short-term counseling available at BU and most other universities, and always thought it was terribly inadequate. More from the Globe article:
From today’s Globe: ‘I didn’t need to pretend anymore:’ the fading stigma of mental illness at college.
Wendy Chang’s friends could recognize her laugh from a distance. Even if they didn’t see her right away, they knew from the boisterous sound that echoed down Harvard’s hallways that Chang would soon appear, her head thrown back and nose scrunched up with mirth.
Lanier Walker thought Chang’s constant laughter was a sign that she was happy. But Walker later learned that Chang hid what pained her most. The 22-year-old Harvard senior hung herself in her dorm room in 2012.
Walker was shocked and horrified that the life her friend lived didn’t match the image that she portrayed. Then she realized that her friends and peers didn’t know much about her own personal struggles, either.
Walker decided to take action.
After another Harvard student died by suicide in the spring of 2014, Walker felt overwhelmed by the need to do something. She wrote an op-ed for The Harvard Crimsoncalled “We Need to Talk” about her own struggles with depression and anxiety. By her sophomore year, Walker was having four to five anxiety attacks a week.
“Harvard doesn’t always make it easy to talk about ourselves,” she wrote. “It’s a place that demands perfection, and as a result, we feel compelled to present perfect versions of ourselves. We don’t talk about what’s really going on.”
Walker’s letter ended with a call to her peers to start talking, and to let others know they were around to listen. After the letter was published, she needed to take her own advice.
Read the rest at the Globe link.
I’ll end with this Globe article from May of this year: Parents of teen track star who took her own life: ‘It’s okay not to be okay.’
Madison Holleran was a track star at the University of Pennsylvania. She was smart. She was beautiful. She was loved. Her posts on Instagram depicted the kind of life that you looked at and wondered why yours wasn’t nearly as perfect.
But it wasn’t perfect. On January 17, 2014, Madison Holleran lept off the ninth floor of a parking garage and died. She was 19 years old.
“There are moments when the Hollerans are chasing the ‘why,’ still,” said Kate Fagan, who wrotethe in-depth article about Holleran’s life and death forESPN magazine’s May issue.
“Every time I talked to them, it came back to, ‘The reason we’re talking about it is because we wanted to let people know it’s okay to not be okay.’”
Those are such wise words! Yes, it is “okay to not be okay.” We need much more public discussion of depression and anxiety in this country. These illnesses–and they are illnesses–should be discussed openly. Of course the U.S. doesn’t have anything approaching a good system to address mental health problems either, and that has to change. If suicides are hushed up, that is not going to happen. The public needs to know the extent of the problem and the public needs to be the catalyst to bring out change.
I have a few more interesting stories to share–I’ll just give you the headlines and links and I hope you’ll check them out.
First, here’s an important story from the Winnipeg Free Press that Dakinikat linked to in a comment yesterday. I thought it deserved more prominent placement. It’s an edited interview with Jane Goodall in which she discusses climate change denial, research myths, and animal rights: Jane Goodall remains a road warrior for the planet.
A long article at The Atlantic that I haven’t read yet: The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
From The National Memo: Endorse This: Look, It’s Super-Jeb! by Eric Kleefeld.
Mitch Albom at The National Memo: Tape Tells Story In James Blake Arrest Case.
A terrifying case of race profiling that hasn’t gotten much attention: Kamilah Brock: Woman held in mental health facility because police didn’t believe BMW was hers.
What stories are you following today?
I’ve got all kinds of personal reasons to hope that when the Supreme Court decides King v. Burwell next month that one just one Republican-appointed justice will consider the complaint trivial and it will be dismissed. That’s because I will be among the millions of people that will lose their health care. Jonathan Chait-writing for New York Magazine--wonders if that’s really what Republicans want in the year running up to a Presidential election.
Next month, the Supreme Court will rule on King v. Burwell. If all five Republican appointees support the plaintiffs (there’s no chance any of the Democrat-appointed justices will take the lawsuit seriously), some 7 million Americans will quickly lose their insurance. The prospect that this will occur has induced a wave of panic — not among the customers at risk of losing their insurance, who seem largely unaware, nor even among Obamacare’s Democratic supporters, but among Republicans. The chaos their lawsuit would unleash might blow back in a way few Republicans had considered until recently, and now, on the eve of a possible triumph, they find themselves scrambling to contain the damage. It is dawning on the Grand Old Party that snatching health insurance away from millions of helpless victims is not quite as rewarding as expected.
Unlike the Obamacare lawsuit that failed three years ago, the latest case is not based on a radical legal theory. Instead it is based on a novel reading of legislative history. The law allows states to set up their own exchanges to sell insurance to those who don’t have it through employer coverage, Medicare, or Medicaid. If states don’t establish an exchange, the federal government sets one up for them and, as it does with the state exchanges, offers customers tax credits. The trouble is that the law authorizing tax credits defines the exchange as “established by the state.” This ambiguity — does “by the state” not also mean the federal government? — was a technical omission. Many other parts of the law indicate its intent to make tax credits available to customers on the federal and the state exchanges alike.
The plaintiffs are led by a Vietnam veteran in Virginia named David King who makes $39,000 a year and objects to having to purchase insurance on a federal exchange. He would be exempt from this requirement were he not eligible for the tax credit — his $275 monthly payment would rise to a disqualifyingly unaffordable $648 — and this exemption, his lawyers argue, was exactly Congress’s intent. Without tax credits, the insurance would be unaffordable to most customers, triggering an actuarial death spiral that would destroy the individual insurance market in any state that attempted it. The plaintiffs insist Congress created the threat of self-destructing federal exchanges to coerce states into creating their own. (Disregard the copious evidence that the law’s drafters, and officials at the state level in both parties, believed federal exchanges would include tax credits.)
The lawsuit works more on the level of an elaborate prank than as a serious reading of the law. And yet it stands at least some chance of success — it only needs to persuade Republican-appointed judges. That prospect has grown suddenly unnerving because, unlike previous Republican efforts to strangle the law, the current one comes as Obamacare is functioning extremely well. Premiums on the exchanges have come in well under projected costs, customers report higher satisfaction with their coverage than those who have employer-sponsored insurance, and overall medical costs have grown far below the projected rate. It is one thing to take away a scheduled future subsidy, of which most intended beneficiaries are unaware. It is quite another to take away a benefit they’re already using.
Can you imagine the optics of people being taken off chemotherapy, dialysis, or insulin shots? So, Republicans are gearing up a way to blame it on Obama or trying to find a way to get the extreme right to compromise and provide a short term extensions of the credits should SCOTUS agree with the plaintiffs.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has likewise warned that a successful lawsuit would create problems. “Chemotherapy turned off for perhaps 12,000 people, dialysis going dark for 10,000. The horror stories will be real,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. For decades, medical deprivation of this sort used to be a uniquely American fact of life, at least among industrialized countries. Obamacare has turned it into something different: an actual political problem for opponents of universal health insurance.
Neither Johnson nor Sasse has a real plan designed to stop those horrors from taking place. Instead, their aim is to give Republicans a way to divert the blame onto Obama. The party is circulating contingency plans to temporarily restore the tax credits in exchange for crippling the law in other ways. Phil Gramm, the former Republican senator turned conservative-think-tank “visiting scholar” and financial-industry lobbyist, has proposed that Republicans pass a bill to temporarily extend the credits in return for eliminating the law’s regulations prohibiting insurance companies from rejecting old or sick customers. Competing proposals by Johnson and Sasse would likewise weaken Obamacare’s insurance regulations, ultimately destroying the law’s functionality. Gramm evenacknowledges that his plan “would put Obamacare on the path to extinction.” Obviously, Obama is not going to sign a bill that puts Obamacare on the path to extinction. The purpose is simply to give Republicans a talking point — they can say they passed a bill and blame Obama for vetoing it. But odds are that Republicans will fail to unify around a bill that can pass both houses of Congress with only Republican votes, because some will deem even a bill that causes Obamacare’s eventual demise unacceptably conciliatory.
At that point, it will fall to the states to either establish their own exchanges or watch their individual-insurance markets collapse. Neither option is terribly attractive for Republicans. The former means surrender. Doing nothing means sowing chaos, deprivation, and death. Will Republicans let this happen?
Legal Analyst and Lawyer Jeffrey Toobin has a lengthy article in The New Yorker examining the issues.
So that’s the theory: millions will suddenly be uninsured, and will blame Republicans. As Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, put it recently, “I don’t think they will [win the case]. If they do, that’s a problem that the Republicans have.”
No, it’s not. If the Obama Administration loses in the Supreme Court, the political pain will fall almost exclusively on the President and his Party. To paraphrase Colin Powell and the Pottery Barn rule, President Obama will have broken health care, so he owns it. To the vast mass of Americans who follow politics casually or not at all, Obamacare and the American system of health care have become virtually synonymous. This may not be exactly right or fair, but it’s a reasonable perception on the part of most people. The scope of the Affordable Care Act is so vast, and its effects so pervasive, that there is scarcely a corner of health care, especially with regard to insurance, that is unaffected by it. So if millions lose insurance, they will hold it against Obamacare, and against Obama. Blaming the President in these circumstances may be unfair, but it’s the way American politics works.
Republicans, of course, will encourage this sentiment. The precise legal claim in King v. Burwell is an esoteric one. It is not based on a claim that Obamacare is unconstitutional. (The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law three years ago.) Rather, the central assertion by the plaintiffs is that the Obama Administration violated the law itself. In any event, the subtlety of the issue at the heart of the case will surely be lost in its aftermath. The headlines will read, correctly, “Court rules against Obamacare,” and this will be all that matters. The Republicans will argue that the Supreme Court showed that the law was flawed from the start, that the Obama Administration is lawless, that a full repeal of the law is the only appropriate response to the Court’s decision—and that the millions who lose their subsides should blame the sponsor of the law. Watch for references to a “failed Presidency.” There’ll be plenty of them.
Understandably, perhaps, the Administration has courted this kind of reaction. Better than anyone, Administration officials know the scale of the problems that would be created by a loss in the Supreme Court. Advertising this possibility makes sense as a litigation strategy; Obama officials don’t want to make it easy for the Supreme Court to rule against them. In testimony before Congress and elsewhere, Sylvia Burwell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (and the defendant in the case), said that the Administration has no contingency plan for an adverse ruling in the Supreme Court. But playing chicken with the Justices only works if it works. If the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies, the Administration will also have to answer for why it didn’t prepare for this possibility.
A few weeks ago, the Heritage Foundation’s Edmund Haislmaier published an “Issue Brief” entitled “King v. Burwell: A Loss of Subsidy Does Not Mean a Loss of Coverage.” That’s a provocative title, considering 87 percent of the 8.8 million enrollees from federal exchanges receive those tax credit subsidies, meaning they have low or moderate incomes.
Haislmaier recently was seen saying it’s “premature” to conclude the huge drop in the uninsured rate since Obamacare passed is the result of Obamacare passing. In this brief, he correctly points out the Affordable Care Act and previous federal and state laws would enable current Obamacare enrollees to switch to some other form of health insurance if the lawsuit he supports succeeds in making their current plans unaffordable. (The brief also chides low-income people for using their subsidies to buy “king-crab-legs-and-steak” insurance rather than take the cheapest possible “powdered-milk-and-frozen-peas” plans.)
“In sum, should the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling in King v. Burwell result in people losing insurance subsidies, the affected individuals will have options for maintaining their coverage or choosing replacement coverage,” Haislmaier wrote. There’s even a chart.
Is that good news for people at risk of losing their health insurance subsidies? Maybe not. “Of course, some might still not be able to afford the unsubsidized premium even if they switched to a less expensive plan,” Haislmaier adds as a disclaimer. Of course.
That seems like it could be a problem, since 83 percent of Obamacare enrollees on the federal exchanges have annual incomes of 250 percent of the federal poverty level or less, which works out to no more than $23,450 for a single person, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm. In other words, these aren’t Americans with a lot of extra money. And the average value of the tax credits they stand to lose is $263 a month, a substantial amount for people at this income level.
There’s a lot of variation in the price of health insurance, but a look at national average premiums and cost-sharing requirements illustrates what the “Let them eat Bronze plans” line of thinking ignores.
A 40-year-old at the poverty line, which is $11,770 for a single person, would pay $20 a month for a mid-tier Silver plan with tax credits. That amounts to about 2 percent of her annual income. Take away the subsidies, and her premiums jump almost 14-fold to $276 — or about 28 percent of her income.
What about dropping down to a lesser Bronze policy with higher out-of-pocket costs like deductibles?
That would cost almost 11 times as much as the subsidized Silver plan, at $213 a month, or about 22 percent of her income. Another person making twice as much money as her would see his premiums for the same Silver policy rise by 80 percent, which would eat up 14 percent of his income. His premiums would rise by 39 percent if he switched to a Bronze plan, which would cost him 11 percent of his yearly earnings.
Even opting for a slimmer policy might not make sense for lower-income people, considering how much more Bronze policyholders have to spend before their coverage kicks in. For example, the average deductible for an individual Bronze plan is $5,181, compared to $2,927 for a Silver plan, according to Health Pocket.
And this doesn’t even factor in the effects of a second type of subsidy only available to people earning up to 250 percent of poverty, which reduces their out-of-pocket health care expenses, and which also would go away in the high court rules for the plaintiffs.
But what may eventually prove to be the key line of questioning may have been kicked off by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who expressed concern about the consequences of a ruling for the challengers. If a state’s residents don’t receive subsidies, she told Carvin, it will lead to a “death spiral”: because a large group of people in those states will no longer be required to buy health insurance, but insurers will still be required to offer insurance to everyone, only sick people will buy health insurance. And that will cause everyone’s insurance costs to rise, leading more people to drop out of the insurance market. States will then feel like they have no choice other than to establish their own exchanges to ward off the “death spiral” – a scenario that is so coercive that it violates the Constitution.
Perhaps critically for the government, Justice Anthony Kennedy – who is often regarded as a strong supporter of states’ rights – also expressed concern about the possibly coercive effect of a ruling for Carvin’s clients. There is, he told Carvin, “something very powerful to the point” that if the challengers prevail, the states have to choose between the death spiral and creating an exchange. “There’s a serious constitutional problem,” he concluded. (Carvin tried to downplay this concern by telling Kennedy that the government had not raised this issue, but Kennedy quickly retorted that “we sometimes think of things the government doesn’t argue.”)
Like Carvin, Solicitor General Don Verrilli – the government’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court – also faced questions about the challengers’ right to sue. But between his acknowledgement that, as Carvin had asserted, a veteran who had only served a short time would not be eligible for free health care and the lack of certainty about the plaintiffs’ 2014 annual incomes (which would determine whether they would be required to buy health insurance at all), the issue didn’t seem to have much traction with the Justices.
On the merits of the challenge to the subsidies, Verrilli faced repeated questions from Justices Scalia and Alito, who were both obviously skeptical of the government’s arguments. Scalia pushed back against Verrilli’s argument that the challengers’ reading simply doesn’t work, while – by contrast – the government’s interpretation accounts for the ACA’s structure and design. The question, Scalia admonished Verrilli, is not what Congress intended; the question is what it actually wrote in the statute. But in any event, Scalia queried a few minutes later, if the Court were to rule for the challengers, did Verrilli and the government actually expect Congress to “really just sit there while disaster ensues?” (Based on Verrilli’s response – a dubious “This Congress?” – the answer appeared to be yes.)
Justices Alito and Scalia also contested Verrilli’s assertion that, had Congress actually intended to force states to choose between setting up their own exchanges and depriving their residents of subsidies, it would have done so more clearly. Scalia asked rhetorically why, because the ACA is “not the most elegantly drafted statute,” would it “be so surprising” if Congress didn’t make the states’ obligations obvious? Alito added that, if Congress didn’t want to limit the subsidies to the residents of states that had set up their own exchanges, it could have used more precise language to do so – as it did, for example, in making clear that the District of Columbia (which is not a state) nonetheless qualifies as a “state” for purposes of the ACA.
So, we’re down to brass tacks again. Will the ACA go down on a technicality which, essentially, is what the law is all about?
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
I don’t even know where to begin this morning. I wish I could write a coherent diatribe like the one Dakinikat wrote yesterday, but I can’t do it. I have a sense that things are very wrong, but I can’t explain the feeling in any rational way.
As we head into the holiday season, I feel as if the country is leaderless. The public focus of the Obama administration and the media is on the glitches in a website; and yet in the background are terrible problems that are building and growing more and more intractable as our political “leadership” fiddles with nonsensical issues like Obamacare and Benghazi.
As Dakinikat noted yesterday, there is a problem of growing poverty and income inequality become institutionalized and normalized. There is the issue of gun violence and our total failure to respond to it with any kind of rational regulations on guns. There is the devolution of education in the U.S., and of course there is the continuing attack on women’s autonomy and Democratic politicians seeming willingness to use women’s bodies as bargaining chips. Finally there are the already institutionalized problems of racism and hatred of immigrants. What have I missed?
As our real problem grow, it seems the American political and media classes, either don’t notice because as part of the wealthy 1% they simply aren’t affected, or because they’ve got theirs and they just don’t care about the mass of people who are struggling to survive in a poisonous system. And because of the obsessive focus on the end-of-year holidays, nothing will happen in Washington until we hit the next debt limit and our “leaders” mobilize briefly to kick the can of our economic and social problems down the road once again and so they can return to their focus on minutiae.
Is there any solution to the political and economic stagnation we find ourselves in? Is the situation really as surreal as it feels to me on this Tuesday morning? Am I nuts?
Anyway, here a some of the stories leading the news at the moment.
Jeff Bezos tells Amazon customers to expect home delivery by drones. NBC News reports:
Amazon.com hopes to deliver small packages to your home in just 30 minutes by unmanned drones within five years, chief executive Jeff Bezos said Sunday.
In an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Bezos was actually less optimistic than what his company said in its online announcement, which declared that tiny robot aircraft could be landing on front porches as soon as 2015.
Bezos said Amazon already had the technology in place and had even flown a working prototype, which he showed off in a video the company published Sunday:
He promised “half-hour delivery, and we can carry objects, we think, up to five pounds, which covers 86 percent of the items that we deliver.”
The rest of the work, Bezos said, is in quality control and getting the plan OK’d by the Federal Aviation Administration — something technology experts said was unlikely on Bezos’ time frame.
So basically, this is just a silly idea that has no chance of actually happening anytime soon. But the media sees it as more urgent than poverty, income inequality, and people getting killed with guns day in and day out.
From the Washington Post: U.S. students lag around average on international science, math and reading test.
Scores in math, reading and science posted by 15-year-olds in the United States were flat while their counterparts elsewhere — particularly in Shanghai, Singapore and other Asian provinces or countries — soared ahead, according to results of a well-regarded international exam released Tuesday.
While U.S. teenagers scored slightly above average in reading, their scores were average in science and below average in math, compared to 64 other countries and economies that participated in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which was administered last fall. That pattern has not changed much since PISA was first administered in 2000.
Gee, I wonder why this is happening? It seems like something that should concern our “leaders.”
The test scores offer fresh evidence for those who argue that the United States is losing ground to competitors in the global market and others who say a decade’s worth of school reform has done little to improve educational outcomes.
“While the intentions may have been good, a decade of top-down, test-based schooling created by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top — focused on hyper-testing students, sanctioning teachers and closing schools — has failed to improve the quality of American public education,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. The AFT released a video on Monday in which it implored the public not to blame teachers, the unions, parents or students for poor PISA results.
But were intentions really good? Check out these years-old headlines on profiteers (including the Bush family) who cleaned up after passage of the Orwellianly titled “No Child Left Behind” law was passed.
Bush Profiteers Collect Billions from No Child Left Behind (Project Censored: The News That Didn’t Make The News, March 30, 2007)
Bush’s Family Profits From `No Child’ Act (LA Times, Oct. 22, 2006)
No Bush Left Behind (Bloomerg Businessweek, Oct. 15, 2006)
There are plenty more headlines where those came from.
And yet, nearly a decade later, we’re stuck with that awful law and the damage it has done to our public education system. Why have Democrats done nothing to reverse it? Most likely because they too profit from the continuing privatization of education.
What about the latest media narrative on Obama care?
From the Washington Post: Health-care enrollment on Web plagued by bugs:
The enrollment records for a significant portion of the Americans who have chosen health plans through the online federal insurance marketplace contain errors — generated by the computer system — that mean they might not get the coverage they’re expecting next month.
The errors cumulatively have affected roughly one-third of the people who have signed up for health plans since Oct. 1, according to two government and health-care industry officials. The White House disputed the figure but declined to provide its own.
The mistakes include failure to notify insurers about new customers, duplicate enrollments or cancellation notices for the same person, incorrect information about family members, and mistakes involving federal subsidies. The errors have been accumulating since HealthCare.gov opened two months ago, even as the Obama administration has been working to make it easier for consumers to sign up for coverage, the government and industry officials said.
Figuring out how to clean up the backlog of errors and prevent similar ones in the future is emerging as the new imperative if the federal insurance exchange is to work as intended. The problems were the subject of a meeting Monday between administration officials and a new “Payer Exchange Performance Team” made up of insurance industry leaders.
Okay, but what is with the bizarre impatience about some computer glitches from a media that couldn’t care less about institutionalized poverty, racism, and gun violence? And then there’s the Obama administration’s defensive response, as reported by USA Today: Obama to launch new health care law campaign
President Obama and his aides will seek to rally public support for his embattled health care plan in the coming weeks, starting with a White House event Tuesday.
Obama will promote the effort in a speech while surrounded by people who have benefited from the new law, according to an addition to the White House schedule.
The Affordable Care Act has come under heavy political attack since its rollout in October. Problems have included a malfunctioning website and the cancellations of polices that do not meet new federal standards.
In the coming days, Obama and aides will highlight what they call successful aspects of the law. They include provisions that prevent insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing health conditions, and allow young people to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26.
A few writers have tried to look at the “Obamacare crisis” slightly more rationally than the mainstream corporate media.
Here’s Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter: As Healthcare.gov Bugs Are Fixed, the ‘Obama’s Katrina’ Script Continues To Be Shredded.
It’s been 11 days since The National Journal‘s Ron Fournier wrote that Obamacare is President Obama’s Katrina. Oh, and it’s also his Iraq, Fournier wrote. Obama’s Katrina and Iraq. Both.
Since then, however, the Healthcare.gov website has been vastly improved and many of the bugs initially reported have been fixed, according to the administration late Sunday.
Back on November 20, Fournier made sure to provide himself with an escape hatch, though, noting that Healthcare.gov isn’t the same in terms of the actual events during and after Katrina, or throughout the Iraq War. Instead, Fournier wrote, the similarities had more to do with incompetence in the execution of a major policy initiative.
Yeah, so incompetence that lasted literally for years in both Iraq and New Orleans, leading to massive body counts on both fronts, is the same as a glitchy website launch. Okeedokee. Roger that. In reality, yes, both administrations made mistakes, but those mistakes were vastly different in terms of magnitude — not to mention that the Bush administration’s response to its mistakes was to, well, make even more mistakes. Again, foryears.
On the other hand, the Obama administration realized there were problems with the website and rushed to address those errors. Within two months most of those problems have been resolved, and, bonus, no one died.
For more rational perspective, read the rest of the post at the link.
I particularly like this uncharacteristically long post by TBogg at Raw Story: Are-We-There-Yet?-American [sic] just wants to go home because we aren’t there yet. Here’s just a taste:
You may remember that about a month ago, which is four score and seven years ago to the iPhone generation for whom a Japandroids download that takes over 20 seconds is an eternity times infinity, that the Great Socialism Project That Will Stomp America Flat (aka Obamacareor Communism) had some internet user problems which is why there are absolutely no healthcare services available in America right now so you should just rub some dirt on your burst appendix, suck it up, and quit yer bellyaching. In an effort to fix what wasn’t working, the Obama White House brought in some better quality nerds who, fortified with 5 Hour Energy IV drips, promised to get it up and working by Dec 1 or GTFO.
Please go read the rest.
Charles Pierce also had a few choice words for Ron Fournier and the rest of the Obama-hating press.
Ace reporter Ron Fournier of the Associated Press has another scoop for y’all. There is absolutely no fking way on god’s green and pleasant earth that this Obama fellow will be elected president again. He has blown his chance for that third term, and probably the fourth and fifth as well. Ron would like the Pulitzer committee to leave the medallion on the doorstep. Watch out, Obama. The Horsemen ride at daybreak! [….]
I heard my friend Eric Boehlert on the radio this morning, warning us that the traditional end-of-the-year retrospectives are likely to sing in close harmony on the theme of the collapsing Obama administration, even though his poll numbers are pretty much where they’ve been for a couple of years now, and even though the Republicans in Congress continue to have the approval ratings of skin disease. I think he’s right, and I think Fournier, who’s been a tool so long they ought to sell him at Home Depot, is just trying to get a jump on things here.
More hilarity at the link.
And what’s with the efforts to deny that racism exists? From Raw Story: Black female professor reprimanded for pointing out existence of structural racism to white male students.
A faculty member at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Shannon Gibney, received a formal reprimand for her handling of a discussion about structural racism in her Introduction to Mass Communication course.
According to Gibney in an interview with City College News, a white male student asked her, “Why do we have to talk about this in every class? Why do we have to talk about this?”
She claims she was shocked, because “[h]is whole demeanor was very defensive. He was taking it personally. I tried to explain, of course, in a reasonable manner — as reasonable as I could given the fact that I was being interrupted and put on the spot in the middle of class — that this is unfortunately the context of 21st century America.”
Gibney says another white male student followed the first, saying “Yeah, I don’t get this either. It’s like people are trying to say that white men are always the villains, the bad guys. Why do we have to say this?”
When Gibney attempted, again, to inform the students that they were mistaking a systemic critique for a personal attack, the students continued to argue. Eventually, she told them that “if you’re really upset, feel free to go down to legal affairs and file a racial harassment discrimination complaint.” This is exactly what they did.
This probably has something to do with our f’d up education system too . . . . As far as I can tell, critical thinking has been banned.
Okay, I’ve ranted long enough. What interesting news have you been reading? Let us know in the comment thread.
I’ve been browsing around the internet this morning, and all I can find is really surreal news. The Obamacare “fumble” or “botch” or “mess” or whatever else the pundits decide to call it is still the top story today; and it looks like President Obama could be in for an even worse day than yesterday. He must be glad it’s Friday. All the usual suspects are weighing in on the “problem” and of course Republicans are gloating.
Reuters summarizes Obama’s very bad Thursday: An apologetic Obama unveils fix on health law.
President Barack Obama on Thursday tried to ease the biggest crisis of his presidency, acknowledging missteps with his signature healthcare law and announcing a plan to help those seeing their current health plans canceled because of it.
Obama, trying to limit the political damage to his presidency and fellow Democrats, said health insurers could extend by at least one year policies due to be canceled because they do not comply with new minimum requirements under the law.
With insurers complaining the fix could create new problems and lead to higher premiums, it was not clear whether Obama’s plan would actually work, or soothe his party’s concerns that the botched rollout has undercut Democrats facing tough re-election fights in 2014.
A chastened Obama said he had “fumbled” the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, his biggest domestic policy achievement, and said he would have to work to regain his credibility and the public’s trust.
Also from Reuters: Obama to meet with insurers Friday on Obamacare fix.
The meeting comes a day after the president, under fire for the botched rollout of his top domestic policy achievement, announced he would allow individuals to keep insurance policies that were being canceled under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare….
Insurers and state regulators say that Obama’s fix for policies canceled under the law will create new problems for the industry and could lead to an increase in premiums.
The change, which Obama announced under growing pressure from lawmakers from his Democratic Party, would allow policies that do not meet Obamacare’s standards to be renewed anyway.
From WaPo’s The Fix: ‘Keep Your Health Plan Act’ spells trouble for dozens of Democrats.
Intense focus on the early troubles of the Affordable Care Act already makes this a no good, very bad week for congressional Democrats, who are torn between supporting the signature domestic achievement of the Obama administration, but eager to be seen doing something to address significant concerns with the law….
At issue is the “Keep Your Health Plan Act,” a proposal by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) that supporters believe would fulfill President Obama’s now-broken promise to let people keep their current health insurance plan if they like it.
Under the Upton proposal, anyone opting to keep their current plan wouldn’t face financial penalties established by the law. And the measure would allow insurers to sell their minimal plans to new customers. The bill is expected to pass easily in the GOP-controlled House.
Most Democrats believe that the Upton bill would fundamentally gut the ACA by allowing plans not compliant with the new law to continue. They believe that the administrative fixes announced by Obama Thursday will work, or are supporting a proposal by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would let people keep their current health-care plans for the next year and require insurers to provide information on new plans that meet the law’s stricter requirements.
It is true that public support for many of the law’s crucial components — a ban on lifetime limits on health coverage; an end to discrimination based on pre-existing conditions; extended coverage for dependent children; improvements to Medicare — have always exceeded support for the law itself. White House officials take pains to note that those provisions are now beginning to take effect — on time, as planned.
Most state-run insurance exchanges are working far better than the federal website — which the administration was forced to make as big as it is only because some three dozen states with recalcitrant Republican governors declined to create their own exchanges as envisioned. And lest anyone forget, the old health insurance system was not so hot.
Of course Chuck Todd is thrilled, and he went on Morning Joe this morning to dance on Obama’s grave. From Mediaite:
NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd told the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday that the problematic roll-out of the Affordable Care Act represents an all-time political low for President Barack Obama. He said that the president’s press conference on Thursday was aimed more at Democrats in an attempt to keep them from abandoning him or his signature achievement.
“It seemed like he was trying to offer his party – the Democratic Party – and, basically, all the panicked Democrats on Capitol Hill a pound of flesh so that they don’t vote for these other bills,” Todd said of the bills circulating in the House and Senate that would allow those who have lost their health plans to keep them indefinitely….
“I talked to one of the old guard in Obama-land who said they’ve never seen that in private from him,” Todd added. “This is a moment that he hasn’t experienced in national politics before, is the impression that I was being given.”
“This clearly is the low of his presidency politically right now,” the NBC News reporter continues. “We obviously see it in the polls, but just the way he feels, his ability to lead the party, or, frankly, hope that the party doesn’t abandon him right now in this moment.”
I’ll spare you excerpts from those columns and refer you to Jonthan Chait: Conservatives Confident America Rejecting Obamacare, Ready for Every-Man-for-Himself Care.
The keep-your-plan fiasco, in addition to flummoxing Democrats, has not only held out to Republicans the tantalizing prospect that they can discredit and defeat Obamacare, but also drawn into sympathetic focus their own alternative vision.
Here is the basic ideological division. Obama wants the health-care system to do more to pool risk — which is to say, to shift the burden of covering the sick onto the healthy. Republicans want it to do less to pool risk, so that healthy people can be free of the burden of subsidizing the costs of those less medically fortunate.
The small portion of the populace that lies outside of either employer-based or direct government coverage provides the closest existing model for the health-care system conservatives favor. The minority within this market who have insurance, and are losing their plans as a result of regulations preventing insurers from excluding the sick, have dominated public attention and formed what conservatives imagine will be a constituency for their own brand of counter-reform: a deregulated market where healthy people can buy cheap, bare-bones plans, and sicker people have to pay large out-of-pocket costs. Obamacare’s torturous birth pangs have convinced giddy conservatives that they are on the cusp of a great ideological victory.
Read the rest at the New York Magazine link above.
I’ll wrap up this section of my post with the most surreal Obamacare story I could find: Michele Bachmann: I lost my insurance:
Rep. Michele Bachmann says she is one of the people who lost their health insurance because of Obamacare and she won’t go shopping on a health exchange until it’s fixed.
“Are you kidding? I’m not going to waste an hour on that thing,” the Minnesota Republican said when Wolf Blitzer asked her on CNN on Thursday if she’d signed up on the exchange website. “I lost my health insurance under Obamacare. And so now I’m forced to go into the D.C. health exchange. I’m waiting until they fix this thing. I’m not going to sit there and frustrate myself for hours and hours.”
Don’t members of House have their own insurance plan? Did the rest of the House get their plans cancelled too?
Bachmann did not explain what about Obamacare caused her to lose her health insurance. The health law technically requires congressional staff go on the D.C. exchange, but it’s up to the individual congressional office to determine who qualifies as “official office” staff, so many Republicans have placed their aides on the exchange while Democrats have been split.
At the Daily Banter, Bob Cesca explains to Bachmann how to sign up for health insurance at the DC exchange, which is running quite smoothly, thank you very much.
I’ve run on way too long about the Obamacare story, but I haven’t been paying close attention to it and I needed to bring myself up to speed. I hope I didn’t bore the rest of you!
Now let’s look at someone who really has a health care problem. Gawker reports on a woman with stage 4 breast cancer and the vile treatment she has been getting from her daughter’s school because of it (emphasis added).
An Albuquerque mother says her daughter’s elementary school principal banned her from school grounds for the way she smells. Kerri Mascareno was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in August, and while she’s undergoing chemotherapy to shrink her tumor, she’s also struggling with the administration at Tierra Antigua Elementary.
According to Mascareno, the school’s principal, Robert Abney, told her last week that she could no longer visit the school:
“He just said he knows this is going to hurt my feelings and he understands where I’m coming from because his mother had breast cancer and she had the same exact smell and I can no longer be in the school and that with me being in the school that I made his employees ill,” she said.
She claims that when she moved outside, the principal went to his window and told her to move farther away. “He just said that he would have to ask me to sit in my car because he could smell me through the window,” Mascareno said.
Calling Dr. Freud! Robert Abney needs psychological treatment STAT! Men with Oedipal complexes should not be in charge of running schools. I hope Kerri Mascareno sues and gets a million-dollar payday so she can leave the money to her children.
Yesterday I wrote about two Secret Service agents who have been removed from President Obama’s security detail. Today the WaPo reports that there have been complaints about misconduct by Secret Service agents in 17 countries!
Secret Service agents and managers have engaged in sexual misconduct and other improprieties across a span of 17 countries in recent years, according to accounts given by whistleblowers to the Senate committee that oversees the department.
Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), ranking Republican on a Homeland Security subcommittee, said Thursday that the accounts directly contradict repeated assertions by Secret Service leaders that the elite agency does not foster or tolerate sexually improper behavior.
And get this:
Johnson said that one of those disciplined supervisors, Ignacio Zamora Jr., had helped lead the internal investigation into the April 2012 incident in Cartagena, where more than a dozen agents engaged in a night of heavy drinking and carousing with prostitutes ahead of a presidential visit.
One person involved in security in Cartagena said Zamora was chosen for the review because he served as the “second supervisor” on the trip, and was among the managers responsible for the security effort in advance of Obama’s arrival for an international summit.
Zamora is the agent who was disciplined for trying to break into a woman’s hotel room to retrieve a bullet he had left there.
Finally, once again I want to call your attention to a McClatchy article that RalphB linked to yesterday: Questions about ‘60 Minutes’ Benghazi story go beyond Dylan Davies interview; CBS conducting ‘journalistic review’. It’s long, but it is a must read. The writer, Nancy A. Youseff, goes through Lara Logan’s “60 Minutes” report line by line and finds numerous outright lies and distortions. Logan and anyone else involved with the story should be fired immediately and Logan should apply for a job at Fox News.
So . . . what are you reading and blogging about today? Please share your links on any topic in the comment thread.
Dakinikat has arrived safely in Seattle, where she’ll be visiting with her father, her sister, and her elder daughter Jean. I’m going to fill in for her tomorrow morning, but she’ll be back to her regular blogging schedule soon.
I have no idea what’s happening in the news, because I spent last night watching two PBS shows on the JFK assassination. I’ve still been plowing through JFK books too. But RalphB posted a very interesting link last night that I want to highlight. From Jonathan Cohn, via Bob Cesca, Jonathan Cohn explains How to Interpret Obamacare’s Low Enrollment Numbers for October.
According to HHS calculations, 846,852 people have used the site to complete applications. That means they have created accounts and submitted information to see whether they are eligible for federal programs or tax credits. Those applications include people applying for households with multiple members. In total, it represents 1,509,883 people. The federal government has processed applications for the vast majority of them—98 percent, or 1,477,853 people. Of those, about a third have actually selected a health plan or been deemed eligible for a program like Medicaid. That’s 502,466.
How does that half million break down? About four out of five (396,261) are in Medicaid. The rest (106,185) of them have picked private insurance plans. These numbers include both those who enrolled through the website that the federal government is maintaining (healthcare.gov) and those who enrolled through sites that states like California, Kentucky, and Connecticut are running on their own. The majority (three-fourths) of the people getting private insurance have done so through state sites. Just a quarter, or 26,794, have enrolled through the federal site.
But because the media narrative is that the the Obamacare rollout is “failed,” “botched,” and “worse than expected,” all we’re hearing is the 106,185 figure–as if getting people covered by Medicaid doesn’t count. Tell that to the previously uninsured families who will now be able to take their sick kids to a doctor! By the way, in the first month of the Massachusetts health care exchanges, only 123 people signed up. As Bob Cesca puts it,
because there’s an “Obamacare is a Failed Policy” script that must be serviced, the lowest number of the batch has to be quoted. That’s why you’ve been reading about 106,000 rather than 1.5 million.
Have I told you lately how much I think the corporate media sucks?
At a time when many Americans are remembering the JFK assassination and the lax security that contributed to his death, we’re learning about another scandal in the Secret Service. From The Washington Post: Two Secret Service agents cut from Obama’s detail after alleged misconduct.
A call from the Hay-Adams hotel this past spring reporting that a Secret Service agent was trying to force his way into a woman’s room set in motion an internal investigation that has sent tremors through an agency still trying to restore its elite reputation.
The incident came a year after the agency was roiled by a prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, prompting vows from senior officials to curb a male-dominated culture of hard partying and other excesses….
The disruption at the Hay-Adams in May involved Ignacio Zamora Jr., a senior supervisor who oversaw about two dozen agents in the Secret Service’s most elite assignment — the president’s security detail. Zamora was allegedly discovered attempting to reenter a woman’s room after accidentally leaving behind a bullet from his service weapon. The incident has not been previously reported.
In a follow-up investigation, agency officials also found that Zamora and another supervisor, Timothy Barraclough, had sent sexually suggestive e-mails to a female subordinate, according to those with knowledge of the case. Officials have removed Zamora from his position and moved Barraclough off the detail to a separate part of the division, people familiar with the case said.
The misconduct wasn’t reported to the inspector general until the end of October after the WaPo had started investigating the incident, but
According to the Secret Service’s internal findings, Zamora was off duty when he met a woman at the hotel’s Off the Record bar and later joined her in her room.
The review found that Zamora had removed ammunition from the chamber of his government-issued handgun during his stay in the room and then left behind a single bullet. He returned to the room when he realized his mistake. The guest refused to let him back in. Zamora identified himself to hotel security as a Secret Service agent.
The report apparently didn’t explain why Zamora took a bullet out of this gun or why the woman refused to let him back into her room. We’ll all have to draw our own conclusions.
Janet Yellen, Obama’s nominee to head the Federal Reserve, will be appearing before the Senate Banking Committee today for her confirmation hearing.
US News and World Report lists “three things to expect” from the hearing: 1.) Republicans talking about inflation, 2) “measured reassurances” to nervous Republicans about nonexisitant inflation from Yellen, and 3) “a jumpy stock market.”
USA Today offers “five things to watch for”: 1) “can she handle a national stage,” 2) “Will she sound like Greenspan or Bernanke?” 3) “How will Yellen reconcile the Fed’s dual mandate to boost employment while keeping inflation low with her own economic philosophy?” 4) “Will she drop clues on tapering?” 5) “How will she handle questions about “too big to fail” banks?”
If Yellen were a man, would USA Today be asking if she can “handle a national stage?” As for question 2, she’ll sound like Bernanke obviously. Read USA today’s speculations at the link.
On the stock question, markets are responding favorably so far. From the WSJ: U.S. Stock Futures Inch Higher.
U.S. stock futures held steady near record levels, as dovish comments from Federal Reserve chairwoman nominee Janet Yellen helped offset disappointing results from some blue-chip companies.
European markets rose as sluggish euro-zone growth figures suggested accommodative monetary policies would remain in place for some time….
Investors will be keenly focused on Ms. Yellen’s confirmation hearing before the Senate banking committee, starting at 10 a.m. In her planned opening statement, released late Wednesday, Ms. Yellen said that because unemployment is still too high, and inflation is running below target levels, the Fed is using its monetary-policy tools, even unconventional ones like asset purchases, to promote a more robust recovery.
“I believe that supporting the recovery today is the surest path to returning to a more normal approach to monetary policy,” Ms. Yellen said.
Investors will be listening to the question-and-answer period for any clues on when she might expect to start winding down, or tapering, the $85-billion-a-month bond purchase program.
From Bloomberg Businessweek: Yellen Says U.S. Performing ‘Far Short’ of Potential.
“A strong recovery will ultimately enable the Fed to reduce its monetary accommodation and reliance on unconventional policy tools such as asset purchases,” Yellen said in testimony prepared for her nomination hearing before the Senate Banking Committee today in Washington. “Supporting the recovery today is the surest path to returning to a more normal approach to monetary policy.”
Yellen, the Fed’s vice chairman, voiced her commitment to using bond purchases known as quantitative easing to boost growth and lower unemployment that remains above 7 percent more than four years after the economy began to recover from the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
“Her approach is, ‘Let’s do more QE now to get the job done faster,’ ” said Laura Rosner, a U.S. economist at BNP Paribas SA in New York and a former researcher at the New York Fed. “Yellen is repeating her commitment to getting the job done.”
In three pages of prepared remarks for the 10 a.m. hearing, released yesterday, Yellen, 67, said unemployment is “still too high, reflecting a labor market and economy performing far short of their potential,” and that inflation is expected to remain below the Fed’s 2 percent goal. She also highlighted areas where the economy has improved, saying housing “seems to have turned a corner” and the auto industry has made an “impressive comeback.”
The situation in the Philippines is still desperate, according to the NYT: Traumatized City in the Philippines Begins to Bury Its Dead.
TACLOBAN, the Philippines — Pausing occasionally to dodge driving rains by hiding under loose scraps of plywood, a group of firefighters lowered unidentified bodies into a mass grave here Thursday, six days after the city was largely destroyed in Typhoon Haiyan.
For days, the bodies had sat in public. First they were uncovered on roadsides; then they were placed in body bags. After that, they were collected, and nearly 200 were stored at the biggest site, a government office. In the nearby City Hall, the center of local government relief efforts, the stench from the bodies could be powerful when the wind blew off the harbor….
The official death toll for Tacloban City rose to 2,000 on Thursday, but that covers only bodies that have been collected or visually confirmed by authorized officials. The visually confirmed bodies are those readily visible from roadsides, as relief crews have yet to start digging through towering piles of debris, much of it studded with nails.
There are also 3,000 injured, by the official tally, and 194 people for whom the paperwork has been completed for them to be declared missing.
Up in Canada, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is still refusing to step down:
It’s clear now, amid more damning allegations and public embarrassment, that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has no intentions of relinquishing his post.
City council must decide how to continue operating after Wednesday’sdramatic pleas from councillors for the mayor to seek treatment for alleged substance abuse.
He faces yet another challenging day at City Hall on Thursday following the release of more police documents alleging disturbing details about the mayor’s erratic behaviour.
Ford, however, has repeatedly refused to step aside, even after admitting last week that he had smoked crack cocaine about a year ago possibly while drunk..
“I can’t change the past,” he said in council Wednesday. “All I can do is move on and that’s what I’m doing.”
It’s like a family intervention played out in public; but the target of the intervention is in control of a large city. “He continues to be the chief magistrate of the city; he continues to have signing powers,” says city councilman Anthony Perruzza.
I’ll end with some feel-good news. I’ve been following the Ryan Ferguson story for a few years now. Ferguson is a young Missouri man who has been in prison for 10 years for a murder he didn’t commit. Yesterday he was finally freed. If you aren’t familiar with the case, here is some background from CBS News and a timeline of the case from KDSK.com.
Ferguson — who was serving 40 years for the 2001 murder and robbery of Kent Heitholt, an editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune — said he was still dealing with the shock of walking out of the clink.
“When I finally realized it was actually over, it was incredible relief because I was afraid,” he told the news station. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. They don’t really tell you a whole lot. It was a sensation like no other, and seeing my family right there and hugging them, and knowing that we were going to go home together — it was amazing.”
A state appeals court vacated Ferguson’s conviction after the panel found he did not receive a fair trial.The panel found that prosecutors withheld evidence from defense attorneys and managed to get a conviction from two witnesses who later recanted their testimony.
Ferguson was arrested after his friend, Chuck Erickson, told cops in 2003 that the pair attacked Heitholt during a night of drinking. A night janitor, Jerry Trump, also said during the trial that he saw the two teens near the parking lot where the editor was killed.
Erickson later admitted that he lied about what happened the night Heitholt was killed and Trump told a courtroom years later that he was coached by prosecutors before he testified. Trump could face perjury charges.
So…. those are my picks for today. What stories are you following? Please post your links in the comment thread and have a great day.
(Uh, this post is full of the word shit…those with fragile sensibilities have been warned.)
Last week Boston Boomer mentioned the repetition of political news stories, that it is difficult to even find something to write about that really isn’t a re-hash of something we have said before.
It really has been the SSDD, same shit different day, and I am sick and tired of it.
So this post will highlight the usual crap, and touch on a few items that are just interesting…and have nothing to do with all the bullshit that is being spread around these days.
There is a group of states who have said no to Obamacare, 26 states who now will have their insurance one stop shop marketplaces set up and run by the Feds. (Sounds ironic doesn’t it.)
A total of 26 Republican-led or Republican-leaning states have declined to establish insurance exchanges, a centerpiece of the reforms ushered in by the Affordable Care Act, ceding control of a critical element of their health care system to the federal government.
The ACA requires the creation of the one-stop marketplaces called exchanges to connect buyers and sellers of health insurance — the vehicle through which the law would expand coverage and protect consumers. The law encourages states to build their own exchanges under the guidelines. If they refuse, the federal government will take on the task.
By last Friday’s deadline, just 17 states and Washington, D.C., submitted their plans for exchanges. Just four of them are governed by Republicans — Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. An additional seven states intend to build their exchanges in partnership with the federal government. The exchanges are scheduled to go live on Jan. 1, 2014.
Of the remaining 26, twenty-four have Republican governors. The other two, Montana and Missouri, have decidedly conservatives electorates and Republican-controlled legislatures.
Kaiser Health News has a chart of where the states stand:
Personally, I think this story is a prime example of the political machine dishing the same old shit once again.
When the ACA created this structure, it seemed like a no-brainer that states would be on board. Why would any of them, especially the ones hostile to the law, willingly give up control of their health care systems to Washington?
Ironically the answer, by and large, is politics. Conservatives activists detest “Obamacare” and argue that any governor who agrees to build an exchange is abetting the law, even though the consequence of not doing to is to surrender more control to Washington. There is a substantive gripe, too: conservatives contend that the law offers too little flexibility for states to craft the exchanges in accordance with their needs.
I still wish like hell this Obamacare would magically morph into a single payer option, which would be the best way to get healthcare coverage to the masses. But that wish of mine is itself bullshit because it will never happen.
More crap is expected next month as the GOP right-wing nuts (CPAC) get together to discuss the topics they love. Maddow has a contest going on at her blog: TRMS writing challenge: The missing CPAC panels
Seriously, here are some of the actual titles of scheduled events:
CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, hits Washington March 14-16. In addition to speeches by Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Steve King, Michele Bachmann, Jim DeMint, Phyllis Schlafly, Sarah Palin, Brent Bozell, Rick Santorum and the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, CPAC is proud to present these panels (all real, BTW):
- Should We Shoot All the Consultants Now?
- The Future of the Movement: Winning with Generation X/Y
- Stop THIS: Threats, Harrassment, Intimidation, Slander and Bullying from the Obama Administration
- How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Plastic Water Bottles, Fracking, Genetically Modified Food, & Big Gulp Sodas
- Is America Coming Apart?
- The Fight for Religious Libery(sic): 40 years After Roe V. Wade
- Getting Hollywood Right
- Free at Last: When the Right to Work Came Back to the Midwest
Good grief! Now if that is not a list of the same old shit, I don’t know what is!
There was some surprising news last night, I expected to have to write about the latest controversial execution in my home state of Georgia, but check it out…a last minute stay of execution was granted to Warren Hill, a man that has learning disability. Warren Hill granted stay of execution
Warren Hill, 53, has been granted a stay of execution from the federal appeals court for the 11th circuit. Photograph: Ho/AFP/Getty Images
Warren Hill, an intellectually disabled prisoner, has been spared the death chamber just 30 minutes before he was due to die by lethal injection in Georgia despite a US supreme court ban on executions of people with learning difficulties.
Hill, 53, had already taken an oral sedative of Ativan to help calm himself for the gurney before he learned of the stay of execution from the federal appeals court for the 11th circuit. The court agreed to consider the issue of his intellectual disabilities in the light of a 2002 US supreme court ruling that prohibits executions of “mentally retarded” prisoners as a breach of the constitutional safeguard against cruel and unusual punishment.
Georgia is the only state in the union that insists prisoners must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that they have learning difficulties – a standard that experts say is almost impossible to achieve.
Hill had been scheduled to be executed at 7pm at the same prison where Troy Davis was put to death in September 2011 amid massive international outcry. Davis’s death, despite substantial evidence of his innocence, prompted dramatic scenes at the prison where hundreds of protesters were confronted by armed Swat police armed with a police helicopter flying overhead.
This article from the Guardian makes a point to mention there were fewer protesters this time around.
Hill’s scheduled execution attracted a comparatively small response, with few protesters and campaigners present in the prison grounds as the appointed hour approached. This was the second time in seven months that Hill has come close to the death chamber: last July he was spared by just 90 minutes and the experience was repeated on Tuesday night with just 30 minutes to go.
I guess many people are feeling the apathy that SSDD brings to those who deal with the same shit every day, you know what I am talking about…that feeling of why even bother, things are never going to change. Shit always trickles downward…and it is invariably the same folks getting shit on, over and over again.
One more political link: GOP lawmakers propose $30 million a year to fund Cops in Schools program
Freshman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and six other House Republicans have proposed legislation that would spend $30 million a year on federal grants to help put police officers in schools across the country.
The Protect America’s Schools Act is a reaction to the December shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children dead. After that shooting, National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre suggested that children in schools be protected by armed guards, and Meadows’s bill would appear to be a step in that direction.
“According to a recent Gallup poll, 53 percent of Americans believe that increasing police presence at schools would be very effective in preventing future tragedies,” Meadows said last week. “After speaking to local law enforcement, superintendents and principals in my district, I believe this is the best path forward.”
His bill, H.R. 751, would fund the Cops in Schools grant program, which has not been funded since 2005. Up to $30 million per year could be distributed in grants to help states afford the placement of police in schools.
Meadows said this spending would be offset with unspent funds from the operations budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The winners and runners-up in the second annual Shit London photography awards, celebrating the city’s ugliest buildings, worst shop names and most depressing views…