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September 26, 2005

The appalling hoax of "intelligent design" moves to the courtroom

Courtroom proceedings begin today in the challenge to a Dover, PA school committee's misguided decision to require that a "disclaimer" (along the lines of "evolution is theory, not fact") be read to students with respect to the teaching of evolution (this requirement applies only to evolution, although it obviously applies to any scientific subject), to alert them to the "alternative" explanation of "intelligent design," and to mention a specific book available in the school library that advocates for "intelligent design."

Ironically, another news story published today reports that the decoding of the chimpanzee genome has allowed scientists to test one of evolution's most important predictions - the rate at which harmful genetic mutations appear.  Evolution passed with flying colors: the actual rate of harmful mutations in the chimpanzee matched what evolutionary theory predicted.  Another testable prediction made and confirmed.

As I've said several times before, what is so frustrating about this whole debate is that it's a debate at all.  "Intelligent design" does not make any testable predictions.  It therefore cannot be proven or disproven.  And it is therefore not a scientific theory.  Yet, the WaPo reports, ID's proponents have the gall to say that "it is up to Darwinists to prove ID wrong."  Nope - that is not how science works.  It is up to ID proponents to prove that there is at least somewhere a shred of evidence tending to show that their "theory" might actually be true.  Otherwise, their explanation is no better than this one, which hypothesizes that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created all life on earth.  So far, ID has utterly failed the most basic test of the scientific method.  The "Darwinists," on the other hand, have been doing it right: devising a coherent theory that makes testable predictions, and then testing them.  So far, it's doing quite well, which must have the ID crowd pretty scared.

Let us hope that the Pennsylvania judge hearing the Dover case cuts through the crap being spewed by the ID crowd and sends a strong message to them: put up or shut up.  It's time the conversation got a bit ruder on this subject.

Posted by David at 11:39 AM in National | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 24, 2005

"Internet advantage"?

In which my bloggy navel-gazing meets the Boston Globe... from the Globe's article on the challenges of the Deval Patrick campaign, I found this comment interesting:

''If our opponents think they can continue to cherry-pick short-term data as some kind of old-school evidence that they can beat us, we can't wait for the day when we are only seeing them in our rearview mirror," Byrd said. ''Our evidence is our grass-roots advantage, our Internet advantage, our million dollars raised since April, and our issue focus."

OK... so that internet advantage? That's us, and his pretty decent site. The question is whether he'll be able to leverage that, and his doubtless enthusiastic volunteer base, into getting wider name recognition and support. While I would love to toot the horn of this site and all the other MA lefty blogs, my impression is that our readership is small, deep, dedicated and possibly influential -- but not broad.

sco has a good breakdown of where the polls are for the Dem candidates, and Patrick is still pretty much unknown. Right now, frankly I don't see that many Deval Patrick bumper stickers, name tags, (neckties, samplers, stained-glass windows, tattoos, anything ), i.e. things that bump up his name recognition. So perhaps right now his campaign is based on depth, but lacks breadth. Is this a problem that needs to be instantly addressed, or is it by design?

Here's a future-tense variant on my null-hypothesis explanation of recent progressive victories in the lege: The Deval Patrick campaign will be the most significant test of whether the "progressive" elements are able to broaden their influence to something beyond low-turnout local races, which leverage high  levels of organization of a handful of mobilizable constituencies.

In other words, the progs are deep, but can they be broad? They've got a heck of a candidate, but he's leaning pretty hard on them. I'd love to know the strategy.

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 09:34 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink | Comments (52) | TrackBack

Stories from the Health Care front: #1

Here's the first of a hopefully longer series of stories about negotiating the treacherous waters of health care in MA. We've gotten some personal stories in some of the comment threads -- I'll put them on the front page as well.

I've "promoted" this story from the extended entry of this post to give it greater prominence: "Kerry" is a woman I know -- here's her story:

In 2002 I was a controller at a public relations firm.  During that year I decided to take a sabbatical, volunteer for organizations and causes important to me.  I started independent consulting, becoming self-employed, while volunteering and have earned a decent living.  I had access to health insurance through COBRA.  However, a few months after I left my previous employer, it stopped operating, each partner going off on their own and the health insurance contract which covered COBRA was cancelled.  I was offered an individual policy at a cost of $1,100 per month versus $250 per month which was far more than I could afford.  So I am without health insurance.

Early last March, after an ice storm here in Boston, I slipped and fell down the steps outside my home.  I tore and severely bruised muscles and had some internal injuries.  The resulting medical bills equaled close to $9,000 when all was done.

I discovered something when I received those medical bills.  I was required to pay into a fund to provide services to the uninsured even though I was uninsured.  And the fees I was charged were far higher than those the HMOs, insurance companies and large employers pay.  When I asked about it I was told by a senior manager in the billing department that the discounts negotiated by the HMOs and insurance companies had to be recouped somewhere and the only group without the negotiating power to get a discount was the uninsured.

I support the Health Care Initiative for the health of all communities and neighborhoods and for the nearly 600,000 who are just like me - uninsured in Massachusetts.

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 10:14 AM in Health Care, Massachusetts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2005

Welcome back, Ben!

It would appear that the mysterious Ben has decided to reactivate his extremely enjoyable blog, "Romney Is A Fraud."  He's got two recent posts up: the first - a must-read - recalls that Mitt Romney, reportedly under consideration by the Bush administration as the "flood czar" to supervise the rebuilding of New Orleans, actually vetoed millions of dollars in state aid in 2004 that was supposed to help the flood-stricken town of Peabody recover from a devastating rainstorm and to help it prevent future similar occurrences. 

The second post is about the Newton firefighters' recent, incredibly stupid, decision to protest their lack of a contract by blocking traffic at Newton Corner, thereby causing a massive traffic jam that backed up the Turnpike for miles.  Romney responded, correctly, by harshly criticizing the firefighters' actions.  What Romney did not mention, but what Ben reminds us of, is Romney's similar, incredibly stupid, decision to block traffic on Storrow Drive to take down the famous "Reverse the Curse" sign after the Red Sox won the World Series, thereby causing a massive traffic jam that backed up Storrow Drive.

What's particularly galling about Romney's pious hypocrisy on the firefighters' protest is his comment, quoted in the Globe, that "people standing in the middle of a roadway and inconveniencing thousands upon thousands of people, potentially putting lives at risk and causing accidents in the backup that occurs, [is] unacceptable."  Quite right.  Of course, that's EXACTLY what he did in the Red Sox stunt - through which, of course, he caused a traffic jam at the Government Center exit from Storrow Drive, a ramp routinely used by ambulances on their way to MGH or Mass. Eye & Ear.  I would also note that his description applies with remarkable precision to his administration's apparent intention to continue allowing concert-goers on the Esplanade to park on Storrow Drive, thereby causing ghastly traffic jams and blocking that same ramp.  I guess it's only when a union blockades a road and stops traffic for miles that it's a bad thing.

Welcome back to the blogosphere, Ben - we missed you.  Here's hoping you'll stick around!

Posted by David at 02:17 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Uninsured in Massachusetts": We need your story.

(UPDATE: The first story is up. Send in your own!)

Remember last October? No, not that small matter of an election, I mean the Red Sox winning the World Series. The Sox fan site Sons of Sam Horn had a thread last year, urging the Sox to win it for friends who suffered through '78 and '86; for the 80-year-old Grandpa who's never seen a championship; for Ted Williams and Pesky and Yaz... you get the idea. It was very personal and touching. The thread is gone, but it's now a book.

Strange as it may seem, there are things more important than baseball. As a joint project of several of the MA Lefty Blogs and MassACT, we're getting personal stories about dealing with the health care system in MA.

If you've had experience dealing with our mess of a health care system, or know someone who has, we really need your story.

  • If you've ever gone without insurance;
  • if you've been underinsured;
  • if you work full-time and don't get health benefits;
  • if you own a small business and can't afford to insure your valuable employees;
  • if you're self-employed and can't afford insurance, or find it's breaking your budget;
  • if high deductibles or co-pays have forced you to forgo care; etc.

... We need your story.

It doesn't have to be long -- a few paragraphs is fine. You can be anonymous or attributed. (The only rules: It can't be libelous or otherwise obscene.)  You can comment on this thread, or email me (remove "REMOVE" from the email address). We'll keep the stories posted prominently here, but if we get enough, we'll start a new blog especially for that purpose.

Here's the first story, from a woman I know through activist stuff, who prefers to remain anonymous:

In 2002 I was a controller at a public relations firm.  During that year I decided to take a sabbatical, volunteer for organizations and causes important to me.  I started independent consulting, becoming self-employed, while volunteering and have earned a decent living.  I had access to health insurance through COBRA.  However, a few months after I left my previous employer, it stopped operating, each partner going off on their own and the health insurance contract which covered COBRA was cancelled.  I was offered an individual policy at a cost of $1,100 per month versus $250 per month which was far more than I could afford.  So I am without health insurance.

Early last March, after an ice storm here in Boston, I slipped and fell down the steps outside my home.  I tore and severely bruised muscles and had some internal injuries.  The resulting medical bills equaled close to $9,000 when all was done.

I discovered something when I received those medical bills.  I was required to pay into a fund to provide services to the uninsured even though I was uninsured.  And the fees I was charged were far higher than those the HMOs, insurance companies and large employers pay.  When I asked about it I was told by a senior manager in the billing department that the discounts negotiated by the HMOs and insurance companies had to be recouped somewhere and the only group without the negotiating power to get a discount was the uninsured.

I support the Health Care Initiative for the health of all communities and neighborhoods and for the nearly 600,000 who are just like me - uninsured in Massachusetts.

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 09:00 AM in Health Care, Massachusetts | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 22, 2005

Judiciary Committee approves Roberts 13-5

John Roberts picked up the votes of three Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee - Leahy (Vt.), Kohl (Wis.), and Feingold (Wis.), along with all of the Republicans, in the Committee's 13-5 vote to send his nomination to the Senate floor.  It seems very likely that the Committee's vote will mirror what will happen on the Senate floor - slight more than half the Dems voting against, but a substantial minority voting for.  Like I said, this strikes me as the worst possible strategy, one that seems calculated to send no message whatsoever, and to stake out no ground for the coming battle over Justice O'Connor's seat.

In related news, there is a palpable sense of desperation among some of those who have been heatedly urging the Senate Dems to do everything they can (including a filibuster) to prevent Roberts from becoming Chief Justice.  Armando at Daily Kos has declared himself a failure and the Democratic party unsalvageable; People For the American Way declares the vote a "defeat for the Constitution and the country" and lambastes the Democrats who voted "yes"; and we can expect more of the same from NARAL and other loud anti-Roberts voices as the news of the Judiciary Committee's vote and the "defection" of three well-respected Democrats sinks in.  (Interestingly, Kos himself disagrees with Armando.)

With all due respect to those who were pushing it, however, I don't think the "Roberts must be defeated by any means possible" strategy was ever a viable one.  He's just too good a candidate - too smart, too accomplished, too polished, too non-threatening, too convincing in his advocacy of judicial restraint (which he may actually believe in).  And it was never realistic to have insisted on the kinds of commitments on specific issues that PFAW et al. wanted - that would have meant asking Bush to nominate a Justice who would move the Court markedly to the left.  That was never, ever going to happen. 

As I've said before, I am disappointed that the Senate Democrats are apparently not going to take some sort of stand on this nomination, either by all voting "yes" with conditions explaining their position on the O'Connor replacement, or all voting "present" to protest the withholding of documents (PFAW's assertion that the Dems who voted "no" have sent a "message" to other Senators and to the President that nominees have an "obligation" to make commitments on certain issues is, of course, utterly laughable, since Roberts will be easily confirmed without making exactly the commitments that PFAW wanted).  This unfortunate situation is, I think, partly the fault of those who loudly opposed Roberts.  By never taking seriously the notion that Roberts was as good as we can expect from this President, and by insisting on unrealistic conditions such as a specific commitment to abortion rights, the "no on Roberts" crowd made it very easy for others to paint them as extremists who would be unwilling to accept any Bush nominee, and left Democratic Senators in the impossible position of being seen as "traitors to the cause" if they vote "yes," or as "puppets of the unreasonable special interests" if they vote no.  It was, in my view, a huge strategic blunder, and we can only hope that it will not prove significant enough to weaken the Democrats in the coming, much more important, fight over Justice O'Connor's seat.

UPDATE (9/23): Scot Lehigh gets it.

Posted by David at 02:13 PM in Law and Lawyers | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Interview with John McDonough of Health Care For All

We're very pleased to present the following lengthy interview with John McDonough, Executive Director of Health Care For All.  John probably knows more about the issues involved in the ongoing health care debate than anyone in the Commonwealth.  Here is his bio, cribbed from HCFA's site:

John E. McDonough has been the Executive Director of Health Care for All, Massachusetts’ leading consumer health advocacy organization, since May 2003.  From 1998 through 2003, he was an Associate Professor at the Heller School of Brandeis University and a Senior Associate at its Schneider Institute for Health Policy.  From 1985 to 1997, he served as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives where he co-chaired the Joint Committee on Health Care.  In 1996, he led the successful campaign for passage of health access legislation to cover uninsured children, funded by new tobacco taxes, legislation which served as a model for the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program.

He currently teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Boston University School of Public Health.  His articles have appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine, Health Affairs and other journals.  He has written two books, Experiencing Politics: A Legislator’s Stories of Government and Health Care by the University of California Press and the Milbank Fund in 2000, and Interests, Ideas, and Deregulation: The Fate of Hospital Rate Setting by the University of Michigan Press in 1997.  He received a doctorate in public health from the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan in 1996 and a master’s in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in 1990.

The full interview appears below.  Unless you're already a health care superstar, you will learn a lot by reading it.  I know I did.

1. Many people are calling a constitutional amendment for universal health care. Why is the approach of HCFA/MassACT different?

Passage of the proposed constitutional amendment is one route to pursuing expanded coverage.  If approved by the Constitutional Convention and approved by voters, the General Court would have a constitutional obligation to enact laws/statutes to expand affordable quality coverage and submit them to the voters for their approval or disapproval.  MassACT (Affordable Care Today) proposes a ballot initiative for a law with clear and immediate coverage expansions and sources of funding to pay for them.  MassACT proposes a law/statute as the most immediate way to expand coverage to the greatest number of residents without coverage and to provide insurance premium rate relief.

2. What about Romney's plan? Isn't his plan universal?

The Romney plan proposes: A. Development of private, low-cost insurance plans to be available to all uninsured and other categories of individuals (target premium -- $200 for single adults in their 20s, higher for families and individuals in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s; B. Use of the Commonwealth’s existing health care safety net funding to provide premium support for lower income uninsured to purchase these new private policies; C. Penalties and state-wage withholding for individuals who don’t purchase coverage and for those uninsured who incur hospital bills.  The Governor describes his initiative as universal.

Problems/issues: A. Not one of the state’s private insurers has come forward with a detailed policy meeting the Governor’s target premium, and outlining benefits, costs, and other limitations.  Without such details (we’ve been waiting since last November), we cannot support the assertion that these low-cost plans are viable; B. We do not believe available funding from the existing health care safety net would be sufficient to finance adequate subsidies for lower income persons who cannot afford insurance purchase with their own income; C. We believe depletion of the existing safety net to pay for the Governor’s plan would severely jeopardize hospitals and health centers that provide the bulk of care for the Commonwealth’s uninsured; D. We believe the Governor’s “individual mandate” would create a series of trapdoors for vulnerable uninsured residents which would create long term financial hardship for low income folks whose only offense is getting sick.

3. What about Travaglini's plan? In your perspective, what is he trying to accomplish?

Senate President Travaglini has been the Commonwealth’s most consistent and reliable friend for low-income uninsured and MassHealth clients since he became president in 2003.  Last November, he set the health reform debate into gear by declaring his objective to reduce the number of uninsured by half over two years.  His plan, released in April, seeks to achieve this goal through modifications to the existing small (firms of 50 or fewer workers) and nongroup (individuals) insurance markets; he also proposes increased rates for MassHealth providers and public health funding restorations – all proposals we support.  We believe his proposed insurance market reforms would fall short of his goal to reduce the numbers of uninsured in half, and are disappointed that he did not direct any funds for coverage expansion.  We are hopeful that forthcoming legislation – coming in October – from the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing will address this deficiency.  President Travaglini is an important ally in the push for expanded coverage and we appreciate his sincere commitment to this cause.

4. Is there a difference between the Health Access and Affordability Act(House Bill 2777 and Senate Bill 738) and the Massachusetts QualityAffordable Health Care Act ballot initiative? Why have legislation and a ballot initiative?

The HAAA was filed in December 2004 as legislation for consideration in the 2005-06 session of the General Court – it is supported by the ACT Coalition (Affordable Care Today) and includes about 35 statewide consumer, health, labor, and business organizations.  It was our best effort at the time to define a progressive and pragmatic health care access expansion which also addressed issues of cost and quality. 

The ballot initiative was filed in August 2005 as a potential initiative petition for a law for placement on the November 2006 state ballot – it is support by the MassACT Coalition, a registered ballot committee.  MassACT includes fewer members than ACT – the legislative coalition – and the initiative is shorter and more precise than the original legislation.  MassACT formed for two principal reasons:

First, the history of initiative and referendum in Massachusetts demonstrates that a well framed ballot initiative can act as a significant impetus for the General Court to pass more meaningful and substantive legislation than they would in the absence of an initiative (two examples: 1994 campaign finance reform and the 2000 patients bill of rights); second, if the General Court fails to pass meaningful and substantive health access legislation, the initiative provides an opportunity for voters to weigh in on a serious and substantive plan. 

Right now, we estimate a 100 percent chance that MassACT will collect the necessary signatures and a 50/50 chance that the MassACT initiative will appear on the November 2006 state ballot.  That depends on how the Legislature reacts to the issues advanced by the initiative.

5. Who is helped by the Massachusetts Quality Affordable Health Care Act?

First, individuals and families under 65 will be eligible for MassHealth if their family income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL – about $38,000 for a family of four, $33,000 for a family of three).  Second, individuals and families with incomes between 200 and 400%FPL will be eligible for direct subsidies and/or tax credits to purchase affordable coverage.  Third, small businesses (fewer than 100 workers) and their workers will be eligible for subsidies and support to make insurance purchase affordable.  Fourth, all current private insurance policyholders and employers will receive immediate premium relief of $160 million per year.  Fifth, community health centers, hospitals, and physicians will receive payments from MassHealth at Medicare rates (roughly 95% of costs).

6. What if you have OK health insurance now, but it gets more expensive every year -- does this act affect you?

Right now, everyone with private insurance pays a hidden surcharge of $160 million per year to help finance the Commonwealth’s Uncompensated Care Pool which helps to finance care received by lower income uninsured persons at hospitals and health centers.  Because the initiative’s MassHealth expansion will dramatically reduce the rate of uninsured, and because about 85 percent of state’s uninsured are in families with incomes below 200%FPL, we can eliminate this unfair subsidy without jeopardizing the Commonwealth’s safety net.  Right now, employers who provide insurance – and their workers – are forced to subsidize the Pool and employers who don’t provide insurance for their workers.  Our proposal is the only one that provides immediate, concrete savings to existing health care consumers by ending this unfair cross-subsidy.  We propose other savings initiatives, though this is the most immediate.

7. (a) Does this act do anything to slow the rise of health care costs in general? (b) How do we avoid a situation like Tennessee, where their comprehensive program is being gutted?

A. Our legislation  (HAAA) proposes creation of a Commonwealth Cost and Quality Council to identify and implement health system interventions with the documented ability to improve quality and lower costs.  For example, a major source of patient injury and unnecessary cost is the epidemic of hospital-acquired infections in our acute hospitals.  These infections injure patients and cost many millions.  Some hospitals in Pittsburgh, for example, by focusing on this problem, have reduced the rate of such infections to ZERO.  Beyond this, the driving force behind rampant health inflation, we believe, is our system’s pathological embrace of the free market as the path the system savings – an approach rejected in virtually every other advanced nation on the planet (whether single or multiple payer).  As Will Rogers said, when you find yourself in a hole, first stop digging.  After 15 years of digging in the market competition hole, we still keep digging. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth’s track record with cost control (hospital rate setting: 1975-1991, RIP) ended in significant failure – and there is no serious proven cost control intervention which is politically viable.

B. Massachusetts can take pride in our deep and sophisticated network of health care access advocates who have constructive alliances with health care providers and payers to support and defend existing access programs.  We saw the results of this when the Legislature voted in 2002 to eliminate coverage for 50,000 very low income MassHealth clients.  While coverage was eliminated in April 2003, by July 2003 this alliance convinced the Legislature and Gov. Romney to restore coverage as of October 2003.  This network and alliance has won many other victories in behalf of coverage for our most vulnerable members of society.  It’s not perfect by any means, and we have many goals not yet achieved (i.e.: restoration of dental coverage for about 550,000 poor MassHealth adults); still it gives us confidence we will not see the kind of retrenchments experienced in Tennessee, Missouri and elsewhere.

8. What can be done to manage the costs that the state assumes under the re-insurance plan?

Reinsurance is a way to increase insurance affordability and rate stability by having the state assume a share of insurance costs for high cost cases.  It has been used with success in other states including New York and Arizona.  Because of the potential high cost, we suggest its use in a limited way to provide better affordability and rate stability in the small group and nongroup markets, the two most expensive and unstable portions of our insurance market.

9. Realistically, will we need tax increases to pay for this bill, beyond the cigarette tax increase?

Yes, and the necessary revenues to finance the bill and the initiative are contained in it.  First, we propose a 60 cent cigarette tax increase which will generate $160 million and lead to a significant drop in smoking rates.  Some complain that cigarette taxes fall disproportionately on lower income folks.  While this is true, it is equally true that: a. 100% of the benefits will help lower income families; b. lower income folks will disproportionately benefit from lower rates of disease and death. 

Second, we propose a new payroll assessment which will fall on businesses that do not cover their workers or cover them at inadequate levels (i.e.: Walmart).  The assessment will be 5% of gross payroll for smaller employers and 7% for larger ones (greater than 100 workers).  On average, employers who provide insurance to their workers pay about 15% of payroll.  So this new assessment is less than the cost of providing full coverage, affordable for employers, and adequate to finance all the subsidies and coverage expansions included in the plan.

10. For the state economy, is it better to have somewhat higher taxes and more insured people?

Most people who have coverage now feel they should not have to pay more to cover the uninsured because the cost of coverage is already so high.  We agree.  The MassACT initiative will not cost persons with insurance coverage anything – in fact, it guarantees premium savings.  It fairly spreads the cost of expanding coverage to those without among businesses that don’t cover their workers, government, and newly insured consumers.  We think that’s a formula the people of the Commonwealth can embrace.

11. (a) With the MQAHCA, employers will be mandated to provide a certain level of coverage. Is that going to be tough on small business? (b) What effect will the employer mandate have on companies considering locating in Massachusetts?

The MassACT initiative is not an “employer mandate.”  Hawaii is the only US state with such a mandate (employers must provide insurance to any employee who works more than 20 hours per week); federal law now prevents any other state from instituting such a mandate.  Further, the initiative is different from the “pay or play” universal health care law passed in Massachusetts in 1988, never implemented, and repealed in 1996.  I consider our initiative akin to a “health care minimum wage.”  In the same way there’s a wage floor below which no employer can pay a worker, we provide a health benefit floor or minimum each employer should contribute for their worker’s health security if they fail to provide coverage.   

Our proposed assessment is affordable for small employers and mitigates a significant unfairness in the current system where employers who provide insurance coverage directly and indirectly subsidize coverage for workers in firms that don’t offer coverage.  We are also confident the assessment will not affect companies’ decisions to locate in Massachusetts.  The companies which are mobile (have the ability to move from one state to another) all provide insurance coverage to their workers.  The companies that don’t offer coverage are overwhelmingly service, retail, and food service establishments (i.e.: Walmart, Dunkin Donuts) which lose their customers when they leave a geographic area.

12. What haven't I asked that you wish I had?

Two things:
First, many advocates of a taxpayer-financed single payer system criticize our plan because it’s not single payer.  Health Care For All supports single payer as the best solution to our health system problems, yet honestly sees no short term political viability for this proposal.  Back in 1996, when Sen. Mark Montigny and I led the fight for health reform which expanded the MassHealth program to more than 300,000 lower income uninsured families and individuals, we were constantly criticized for the same reason by single payer advocates.  Single payer was meritorious then as now, and still has zero political viability.  We need to find a way to support incremental measures which will help in immediate ways folks in desperate need today as we continue to educate and press for broader systemic change. 

Second, the questions presented by Blue Mass. Group to me are the most substantive and serious of any we have been asked by any media in the past 12 months.  As the mainstream media becomes increasingly shallow, uninformed, and disconnected from real policy conversations, the value of the Massachusetts blogging community becomes increasingly important.  Congratulations to you and the entire MA blogosphere – you folks are the best hope out there now for informed and meaningful political dialogue (and don’t forget to check out HCFA’s blog at www.hcfama.org/blog).

Posted by David at 07:00 AM in Health Care, Massachusetts | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The new Inquisition

It's (almost) official: Pope Benedict XVI is expected to sign a new rule prohibiting any homosexual, even a celibate one, from becoming a priest.  The new rule supposedly will apply only to candidates, not to already-ordained priests.  Also, the Vatican will be sending hundreds of "investigators" to American seminaries to ensure that there is no "evidence of homosexuality" at these institutions.  Those "investigations" ought to be lots of fun for everyone involved.  ["Cardinal Fang!  Fetch ... the comfy chair!!"]  And it ought to do wonders for the priest shortage.

I'm afraid I don't see the logic of this new policy - and I will readily admit that I know little about church doctrine, so perhaps readers who know more than I do can enlighten me.  My question is this: let's assume we have two individuals, both with straight A's in their seminary classes, both fully willing and able to take a vow of chastity and to lead an entirely celibate life, one attracted to men, the other to women.  Let's further assume that neither has any sexual experience, since both have been determined to become priests since the age of 10.  Since by hypothesis they will both successfully swear off the whole subject of sex anyway, what difference does it make who they're attracted to?  Isn't this kind of like a no-smoking restaurant that will admit ex-smokers who used to smoke Marlboros, but not ex-smokers who used to smoke Camels?

Posted by David at 02:18 AM in National | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

September 21, 2005

The worst possible strategy on Roberts

OK, so it's not looking like the Dems are going to adopt my "everyone vote yes, but with a warning" strategy.  Nor does it look like there will be united front of "no" votes, though there will certainly be some.  So far, what I've heard is that Kennedy, Kerry, and Reid have announced they will vote "no"; Leahy (D-Vt.) and Baucus (D-Mt.) have said they'll vote "yes," and everyone else is thinking about it.

Another possible strategy, and I think quite an interesting one, would be for Democrats to vote "present" on this nomination, as a way of indicating that the administration's appalling refusal to provide highly relevant documents has left them unable to evaluate Roberts adequately.  A vote of 55-0 would be a strong message that better behavior will be required next time.  The first time I saw this idea was in the comments to this post in my Kos diary - thanks to all that mentioned it there.

The WORST POSSIBLE STRATEGY for the Democrats, in my view, is the one that they appear to be pursuing: everyone does what they feel like, with the result that, let's say, about 20 Democrats vote "no," about 25 vote "yes," Roberts is comfortably confirmed, and the Democrats have failed to stake out any ground whatsoever for the next nomination.  Look, we cannot, and probably (in my view) should not, prevent John Roberts from becoming the next Chief Justice of the United States.  But we CAN, and we SHOULD, send a powerful message of some sort to President Bush and the Senate Republicans that Justice O'Connor's replacement is a different kettle of fish because of her unique role on the Court.  If we fail to do that, we really suck.

Posted by David at 05:43 PM in Law and Lawyers, National | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hack Attack

GywometooLittle Bush has appointed a member of his inner coterie to investigate the blunders of his inner coterie during the Katrina disaster. Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend, a lawyer with no disaster relief experience, will lead the probe. The move is a desperate attempt to preempt Congressional demands for an independent inquiry.

Townsend's last investigative job, Bill Fisher reports, was to prepare an incisive review of the White House-commissioned "slam dunk" report on pre-Iraq intelligence failures. "You will begin to see action in a matter of weeks," Townsend said after she was appointed, according to the April Fool's Day edition of the Washington Post. We’re still waiting, Fisher notes. Some joke. [Cartoon Credit: Get Your War On]

Posted by Bob at 03:55 PM in National | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack