It is beginning to look like the swamp won’t be sufficiently drained to allow for some good old fashioned fact based blogging until about December 1, so thank you for your patience and I’ll be back as soon as possible.
Category Archives: Politics
Busy Busy again, and posting will be a little sporadic. Thank you for your patience, DB will be back soon
The Republican Party really shouldn’t get anywhere near this distraction, not with their record on making mental health care available to American citizens. [AmerBlg] It doesn’t do to blather on about Guns and Mental Health in one breath and then take 50+ votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the next.
Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act about 1/3rd of those who did have health insurance in the individual market had no coverage for substance use disorder to services, and 1/5th had no coverage for mental health services, including outpatient therapy, and inpatient crisis intervention and stabilization. Additionally, even when a person did have coverage there was no guarantee mental health services would be covered comparably to medical and surgical care. The situation in the small group market was a bit better, coverage for substance abuse and mental health services was more common, but many states did not have “parity” laws requiring comparable coverage with medical and surgical treatment. Then, there were those 47.5 million Americans who didn’t have any health insurance, and the 25% of uninsured adults who have a mental health condition, a substance abuse problem, or both. [ASPE]
After the passage of the Affordable Care Act mental health and substance abuse are categories covered as part of the package of Essential Health Benefits. With the finalization of rules as of January 1, 2014 consumers buying health insurance policies can be confident that the health plan will cover mental health services, and importantly, that there will be parity for mental health and substance abuse treatment coverage. [ASPE]
And what was the Republican reaction? “Repeal.. Repeal.. Repeal…” at least 50+ times. [WaPo]
January 8, 2011: There was a mass shooting in Tucson, AZ six were killed, eleven others wounded including a member of Congress, Rep. Gabby Giffords. January 19, 2011: The House votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. On February 19, 2011 the House passed an FY 2011 continuing appropriations bill with several amendments to “severely limit” the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The measure passed with no Democratic support. Further votes were taken to carve up and diminish the provisions of the Affordable Care Act on March 3, 2011, April 13, 2011, and April 14, 2011. On April 14, 2011 a House resolution advised the Senate to defund all mandatory and discretionary spending associated with the Affordable Care Act. April 15, 2011 the Republican controlled House passed its version of the budget repealing and defunding the Affordable Care Act. During the four months after the Tucson Shooting the Republican controlled Congress spent much of its time trying to defund, limit, or outright repeal the law requiring health insurance companies to include mental health services as an “Essential Benefit” and on par with coverage for medical and surgical treatment. And, they weren’t finished. Republicans tried to gut the Affordable Care Act provisions on May 3, 2011; May 4, 2011; May 24, 2011; and on August 1, 2011 the Budget Control Act cut some mandatory and discretionary funding tied to the Affordable Care Act.
October 12, 2011: Eight people were killed and another critically wounded by a shooter in Seal Beach, California. Ironically, on October 13, 2011 the House passed the “Protect Life Act” preventing any funding from be applied to abortion procedures. More Congressional incursions were made on the Affordable Care Act on November 16, 2011, December 13, 2011, and December 16, 2011. On February 1, 2012 Congress voted to repeal a long term care insurance program (CLASS). February 17, 2012 the House voted to cut funding for Louisiana’s Medicaid program by $2.5 billion, and cut $11.6 billion including $5 billion from the Public Prevention and Health Fund. The cut to the Medicaid program was significant because Medicaid is the insurance provider for low income people, some of whom might be in need of substance abuse or mental health care treatment. On March 29, 2012 the House version of the FY 2013 budget called for repealing and defunding the Affordable Care Act.
April 2, 2012: A former student at Oakland’s Oikos University opened fire in a classroom, seven were killed and three wounded. The House attacked the Affordable Care Act again on April 27, 2012, and more significantly voted on May 10, 2012 to replace the automatic budget cuts to the Defense Department by defunding and repealing portions of the Affordable Care Act. June 7, 2012 the House voted to repeal the medical device tax, and limit the reimbursements for over the counter medications. On July 11, 2012 the House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
July 20, 2012: 12 people were killed and another 58 were injured in the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Yet again, opponents of gun safety regulations noted that the shooting was the result of mental illness.
August 8, 2012: A shooter gunned down six people and injured three others at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI.
September 28, 2012: Six were killed and two injured in a workplace shooting in Minneapolis, MN.
October 21, 2012: Three died and four were injured in a shooting in Brookfield, WI.
December 14, 2012: Newtown, CT; 27 died including 20 first grade children. On December 20, 2012 the House voted once more to replace discretionary spending cuts enacted as part of sequestration by defunding and repealing several provisions of the Affordable Care Act. On January 1, 2013 the “fiscal cliff deal” passed the House including the repeal of the CLASS Act and cutting funds for the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan.
On May 16, 2013 the House voted to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act.
June 7, 2013: Five people were killed in a shooting incident in Santa Monica, CA which ended on the campus of Santa Monica College. On July 17, 2013 the House voted to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for employers by one year. Also on July 17, 2013, the House voted to delay the implementation of the individual mandate. On August 2, 2013 the House voted to prevent the IRS from implementing or enforcing any portion of the Affordable Care Act.
September 16, 2013: 12 were killed and 3 injured in a shooting at the Washington, DC Naval Yard. On September 20, 2013 the House voted to approve a short term FY 2014 continuing resolution in which the Affordable Care Act was fully defunded, including the prohibition of all discretionary and mandatory spending, and rescinding all of its unobligated balances. On September 29, 2013 the House voted again to repeal the medical device tax, and to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by another year. September 30, 2013, the House voted to delay the individual mandate, an action which would effectively render the law inoperable.
Votes were taken in the House on October 17, 2013; November 15, 2013; January 10, 2014; January 16, 2014, March 5, 2014 to weaken the enforcement of the Affordable Care Act. More such votes were taken on March 11, 2014; March 12, 2014; and, March 14, 2014. [LAT]
April 2, 2014: Three were killed, sixteen injured in Fort Hood, TX, scene of a previous shooting in 2009.
On January 28, 2015 Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) introduced H.R 596, a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The measure passed the House on February 3, 2015. [RC 58]*
May 23, 2015: Six dead, seven wounded in Isla Vista, CA. June 18, 2015: Nine dead at the Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC. October 1, 2015: Nine dead, nine injured in Roseburg, OR. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post asked Senators what might be done about the carnage:
“If there’s one issue that these senators wanted to talk about when asked about gun violence, it was the mental health component. Nearly all of those who were interviewed said their attention is on that aspect of the problem, instead of on gun laws.
“What I’ve been focused on, and I think it very much relates to, unfortunately, too many of these mass shootings, is improving our early intervention mental health system,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). “Hopefully we can take some immediate action and find common ground.” [HuffPo]
Improving our “early intervention mental health system?” What appears to be more than slightly inane (if not outright insane) is to believe that repealing the Affordable Care Act — such that we cannot assure health insurance coverage for substance abuse and mental health problems, on par with coverage for medical and surgical treatment – is going to augment our attempts at “early intervention,” – or for that matter, for intervention at any stage.
Unless, and until, the Republicans are willing to stop trying to repeal the law that requires mental health treatment coverage as part of an Essential Benefit package, and stop attempting to repeal the provisions saying that the coverage must be on par with other medical and surgical treatment benefits, the noise about “doing something about mental health” is just that – a distracting noise.
Unless, and until, the Republicans are willing to put legislation into the hopper (and bring it to the floor for a vote) increasing (1) federal support for mental health care services, and (2) increasing the number of low income people in the Medicaid program who have access to expanded coverage, then they’ll have to pardon those who say the “mental health” rhetoric is a hollow, shallow, attempt to distract the nation from any serious and substantive discussion of gun violence as a public health issue.
References: Congressional Research Service, “Legislative Actions to Repeal, Defund, or Delay the Affordable Care Act, July 8, 2015. (pdf) Los Angeles Times, Deadliest Shooting Rampages, October 1, 2015. Washington Post, House has voted 54 times in four years on Obamacare,” March 21, 2014. AmericaBlog, “Republicans are using mental health as an excuse to do nothing about gun violence.” October 6, 2015. International Business Times, “Republicans’ Mass Shooting Response Focuses Not On Gun Control But On Mental Health Reform,: October 5, 2015. Huffington Post, “Despite Mass shootings, Republicans won’t touch gun laws,” October 6, 2015.
*Nevada Representatives Amodei, Hardy, and Heck, voted in favor of H.R. 596. Representative Titus voted no.
Nevada Republican Party Chair, Michael McDonald, was pleased to post that Carly Fiorina won the National Federation of Republican Women’s straw poll at their convention in Phoenix, AZ last month. [NVGOP] Gathering 27% to the Hair-Do’s 20% – if that’s to be called a ‘win’ in the sorting of the occupants in the GOP 2016 Clown Car. There’s another way to sort the candidates, especially those who claim that business acumen is an automatic qualifier for political office.
Those pundits who have labeled Fiorina “Snarly Failure-ina” are usually referring to her unfortunate tenure – and subsequent Golden Parachuted Escape therefrom – at Hewlett Packard. However, it’s instructive to go back a bit and start with AT&T.
Twenty years ago AT&T began the process of selling off one of its core assets, the equipment manufacturing division, including Bell Labs the originator of the transistor and a ‘preeminent research outfit.’ The idea was that as a separate entity the equipment division could compete with AT&T competitors and sell its products to flashy outfits like Sprint, Winstar, and PathNet telecom networks. Fiorina’s star ascended as the head of the group selling gear to “service provider networks.” [Fortune]
The Big Deal in which AT&T spun off Lucent was not without some chickens which would come home to roost later. There were several clues at the time which projected problems: (1) Lucent was valued at $15 billion at the time of the IPO, but a $21 billion value had been bruited about only a week earlier; (2) its major competitors were Siemens (Germany), Alcatel (France), and Motorola. (3) AT&T loaded the company with $3.8 billion in debt; (4) there were restructuring costs tied to planned major layoffs and Lucent reported a loss of $867 million for 1995 on revenue of $21.4 billion, down from a profit of $482 million and revenue of $19.7 billion for the year before. [LATimes] And then there was this warning:
Lucent also faces a maturing U.S. market for telecommunications switches. It is making an aggressive push into faster-growing markets in Asia and elsewhere, but it faces tough competition from companies like Alcatel that have long had a powerful international presence. [LATimes]
A bit of history is in order:
“At that time, telecommunications equipment companies had entered a period of unprecedented — and as it would later emerge, unsustainable — growth. Congress had passed a law making it easier for new companies to compete with local phone companies, which had long been de facto monopolies. Households and businesses first connecting to the new-fangled Internet added phone lines and equipment and services, creating a gold rush to build up new network capacity around the world.” [Recode]
For “gold rush” read “financing” for the Qwests and WorldComs and other providers which had laid far more fiber optic cable and installed way too much capacity, well beyond the needs of the potential customers. What to do in the service of selling telecommunication switches in a “mature” market – one which was at least saturated if not in the flood zone?
Fiorina administered the practice of “vendor financing” to keep revenues up. There’s nothing necessarily nefarious about this – it was a standard business practice in which Lucent required suppliers to arrange or provide “long term financing for them as a condition to obtaining or bidding on infrastructure projects.” [recode] When the deals were good, such as the $2.3 billion extended to Sprint, they were very good. But then… there were others of much more questionable obligations.
It was reported in October 1998 that Lucent and WinStar entered into a $2 billion five year “network pact.” That $2 billion from Lucent was supposed to allow WinStar to expand on an international basis. [IntNews] The deal didn’t last any five years, it only lasted until WinStar declared bankruptcy in 2001, and sued Lucent for $10 billion claiming that the firm broke its vendor financing agreement. [CompW] By the time WinStar went under, Fiorina was ensconced at Hewlett-Packard. WinStar wasn’t the only disaster.
There was also PathNet, a vendor financing deal which made even less sense. PathNet at least had the sense to notice that first tier cities were all but awash in telecommunications equipment in 1999, so they were going to focus on second and third tier cities for their networks. To this end they secured $2.1 billion from Lucent in vendor financing in February 1999. [FOonline] This amount to a company which reported less than $2 million in annual revenue. [recode] Even using the most generous estimates the company had barely $100 million in equity; it was juggling $385 million in junk bonds at 12.25% interest, and the added $440 million in loans from Lucent only served to jack up the company’s leverage to 8:1. Even higher as they drew more of the loan? [Fortune]
Fiorina has pushed back on the notion she was happy with these short term, dubious deals, however, there’s another side: Lucent at one point predicted annual growth of 17%-22% annually. (1997) [Fortune] Now, what’s not for Wall Street to love about a 17% annual growth rate? Fiorina may not have been over the moon about the vendor financing deals, but she was determined to rack up big sales. [Fortune] PathNet filed for bankruptcy in April 2001.
An SEC filing just after Fiorina left Lucent revealed a $7 billion in loan commitments to customers, Lucent dispensing some $1.6 billion. [Fortune] Why would this be important? For starters, think Bubble. What the highly questionable home mortgages were to the Housing Bubble, those vendor loans were to the Tech Bubble. At one point Lucent shares dropped to >$1, and in 2006 the company merged with Alcatel. [Fortune]
So, what do we know? Fiorina’s tenure at AT&T/Lucent wasn’t much more than that of the Super-Saleswoman who predicted high growth rates and revenues based on vendor financing deals, deals which collapsed as the saturated market finally emerged from behind the curtain of financial manipulation. This isn’t business vision, it isn’t even lucidity – it is merely chasing a fast buck.
References and Recommended Reading: Linda Rosencrance, “Winstar files for bankruptcy, sues Lucent for $10 billion, Computerworld, April 18, 2001. Staff Report, “AT&T Spinoff Lucent Makes Historic IPO,” Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1996. Scott Woolley, “Carly Fiorina’s troubling telecom past,” Fortune, October 15, 2010. Arik Hesseldahl, “Time to revisit Carly Fiorina’s business record before HP?…” Recode, August 30, 2015. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, “Why I still think Fiorina was a terrible CEO,” Politico, September 20, 2015. Glenn Kessler, “Carly Fiorina’s misleading claims about her business record, Washington Post, May 8, 2015. Andrew Ross Sorkin, “The influence of Fiorina at Lucent, in hindsight,” New York Times, September 21, 2015. Julie Bort, “Yale Professor on Carly Fiorina’s business record: She destroyed half the wealth of her investors yet still earned almost $100 million,” Business Insider, September 16, 2015.
Once again, Nevada junior Senator Dean Heller gets stretched out into Immoderate territory in Senate votes this week. On September 22, 2015 Senator Heller voted in favor of the unscientific and pretty thoroughly politicized “Pain Capable…” forced birth bill (H.R. 36) [roll call 268]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) explained the opposition to the bill by noting it is (1) unconstitutional because it bans abortion procedures before a fetus is medically considered viable and it does not include exceptions for a situation in which a woman’s health in endangered – both elements contradict Roe v. Wade and other precedents. [RealityCK]
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) added: “Do we really want to make a criminal out of a physician who is trying to prevent a woman with preeclampsia from suffering damage to her kidneys or liver, or having a stroke or seizures?” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). “Do we want the threat of prison for a doctor who knows that his pregnant patient needs chemotherapy or radiation treatments?” [RealityCK]
For those unfamiliar with lady parts and how they function (which unfortunately seems to include a majority of Republican men in Congress) let’s note that preeclampsia generally occurs after 20 weeks, and one of the first signs is an increase in the woman’s blood pressure. There is one and only one cure for preeclampsia – the delivery of the fetus. [MayoClinic] The decisions made by the woman and her physician are going to be really tough at this point.
The delivery has to happen before damage to the kidneys or liver becomes permanent – or fatal. What happens to the fetus is problematic. The usual assumption of viability in the U.S. is 24 weeks of gestational age. Less than that gestational age and the fetus will likely not be physically mature enough to survive into the neo-natal period and achieve the capacity to be an independent human being. [NCBI] However, there is another factor which isn’t biological. The technology must be available to sustain the fetus delivered this early. For example, even in developed western European countries such as Portugal the age of assumed viability is higher than in the U.S. [NIH]
What makes Senator Heller’s position so radical is his vote to criminalize the efforts of a physician who is confronted with preeclampsia in a pregnant woman after 20 weeks into the pregnancy – when the condition most often appears – and his assumption that all pregnant women and their physicians have access to the kind of neo-natal technology associated with a neo-natal intensive care unit. And, not just any neo-natal care unit, in cases of extremely pre-mature infants we’re talking about Level III care capacity.
Now scroll through the Nursing Institute of Nevada list of hospitals and their technical and staff capabilities. Two list Level II nursery care, six list Level III facilities – and they are all located in either the Las Vegas or Reno area. Treating preeclampsia outside one of Nevada’s two metropolitan areas requires all the emergency training and equipment for the most extreme emergencies.
As if the situation weren’t complicated enough, preeclampsia’s early symptoms – headaches, nausea, plus aches and pains are all things that happen in a normal pregnancy. However, when the headaches are severe, there’s blurred vision. severe abdominal pain, and shortness of breath – it’s time for the emergency room. [MayoClinic] The condition occurs in about 5%-8% of all pregnancies, and can appear at any time during pregnancy, delivery, and up to six weeks post-partum, although it most frequently happens in the final trimester. [PreecOrg]
It would be very useful if more Republican men knew that a pregnancy involves more than having a wife who reacts to certain smells, and has trouble with shoe laces, in addition to the general knowledge that it’s a good idea to keep the gas tank filled in the family wagon.
The radical forced-birth crowd in the U.S. Senate seems not to understand that their anti-abortion grandstanding has implications in the real world in which not all pregnancies are trouble free, not all women and infants have immediate access to the very latest technology and medical expertise, and not all complications in pregnancies take place conveniently before some artificially established gestational age. It’s too bad Senator Heller has joined this herd.
Recommended reading for Republican men: “Frequently Asked Questions,” Preeclampsia Foundation. “Familial Occurrence of Preeclampsia,” National Institutes of Health, NCBI. “Late Pregnancy Complications,” Patient.Info. “Preeclampsia,” Mayo Clinic. “Medline Plus: Preeclampsia,” NLM, NIH. “Preeclampsia,” WebMD.
Understatement of the Week: On the resignation of John Boehner (R-OH): “Boehner has faced constant pressure from conservatives who believed he was too willing to compromise with President Barack Obama and too likely to rely on Democratic votes to pass crucial legislation. The approaching confrontation over government spending had raised the prospect of another possible challenge to his speakership by conservatives, something Boehner has beaten back several times before.” [LVRJ]
Word salad from times past: Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) on his vote for Rep. Boehner for the speakership: “
“So we ‘fire Boehner’ and start a month-long or longer election for his successor at a time when we should be dismantling the Affordable Care Act, taking care of our veterans, reducing the deficit, navigating foreign affairs and solving Nevada’s federal issues? That’s a great plan, if you want to continue the dig on Congress as a place where nothing gets done.
“I am perfectly fine with differing views. Not everyone is going to agree all the time. But it is a bit discouraging to get lit up on an issue where in some cases a person has taken a thought or two from one source and treated it like the complete and final word.”
Present Palaver: Representative Amodei’s right on one score – the Congress has a 14% approval rating. [Gallup] And, he may be correct on another. When Amodei spoke to the previous “fire Boehner” attempt and predicted a squabble for the Speakership, the comments might have been predictive, this round could see yet another scramble between supporters of Rep. McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Hensarling (R-TX), Rep. Roskam (R-IL) and perhaps others. [TheHill] And then there’s the comment from Rep. Peter King (R-NY) – “this is a victory for the crazies.” [TheHill]
Possibly very true words: The extension of Representative King’s remark — “You can’t appease these people.” [TheHill]
More words: There are two ways to see compromise, and Winston Churchill expressed both. On one hand he said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last;” while on another occasion he said, “The English have never drawn a line without blurring it.” [FQ] There are situations in which either or both might be true. However, the current manifestation of the American GOP seems to have glommed on to the former without consideration of when the latter might be more appropriate.
The Republicans have become more conservative, and thereby less likely to appreciate Churchill’s second comment on compromise. The Poole-Rosenthal study emphasized this point:
“The short version would be since the late 1970s starting with the 1976 election in the House the Republican caucus has steadily moved to the right ever since. It’s been a little more uneven in the Senate. The Senate caucuses have also moved to the right. Republicans are now furtherest (sic) to the right that they’ve been in 100 years.” [NPR]
Perhaps Rep. King’s ‘crazies’ have adopted the line attributed to the script writers of the 1949 oater “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” in which John Wayne’s character said, “Never apologize and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.” [AskMeta] There are some interesting pieces covering this general topic. See, for example, Paul Rosenberg’s “They’ll always move further right: Why every defeat only makes Republicans more extreme,” in Salon, June 24, 2015. Or, Ryan Dennison’s post in Addicting Info, “As Democrats move left, Republicans have moved dangerously to the extreme right,” June 28, 2015. Or, Bill Schneider’s article, “How far right can Republicans go?” written for Reuters, May 21, 2014.
The current flap involving the Republican Congressional leadership illustrates another pattern that may be afflicting the GOP as it moves inexorably to the extreme right – the “reinterpretation of evidence in order to prevent the refutation of one’s position.” AKA The No True Scotsman Fallacy. [LF.info]
The fallacy is a form of circular argument which substantiates an existing belief by dismissing any counter-examples to it. Such as the classic form:
(1) “Angus puts sugar on his porridge,” (2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge; therefore (3) Angus is not a (true) Scotsman.” Therefore, Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
By changing the characters, we could create another example. (1) Economist A demonstrates that lowering taxes doesn’t create more tax revenue. (2) No true Economist would argue that lowering taxes doesn’t increase revenue; (3) therefore Economist A is not a true economist; and therefore Economist A is not providing counter-examples to the claim that no true economist would claim otherwise.
Or we could say: (1) There are instances in which the circumstances of a pregnancy call for abortion to be provided as a medical procedure; (2) No true conservative would ever countenance an abortion; (3) Therefore no one advocating abortions under these circumstances is a true conservative; therefore there is no counter-example to the claim that there are circumstances in which abortion is an appropriate medical procedure.
Playing the pseudo-patriot card is easy in the creation of a foreign policy example of the No True Scotsman Fallacy. (1) Diplomat B drafts a treaty with a nation not recognized as an ally. (2) No true American would ever agree to a treaty with ____; therefore (3) Diplomat B is not a true American; and therefore, the fact of the treaty doesn’t provide a counter-example to the proposition that no true American would agree to a treaty with ____”
The problem, of course, with the application of the No True Scotsman Fallacy is that the definition of “TRUE” becomes inextricably entangled with the policy proposals under consideration, and the further the illogical thinking extends the more narrow the definition of “TRUE.” Thus, the No True Scotsman Fallacy hinges on a definition of a “true” American or a “true Christian” which serves the advocate’s personal set of ideological beliefs – and only the advocate’s personal set of ideological beliefs.
Hence, no TRUE Republican could compromise with the Democratic side of the aisle in Congress. Speaker Boehner compromised with the Democrats. Ergo Speaker Boehner is not a “true” Republican. And then the Republican Party becomes too extreme for Republicans?