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Christopher Hayes

Christopher Hayes

Nation editor-at-large and host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.

Wade Rathke Speaks Out

This comes from Nation DC intern Eric Naing:

Just a few weeks ago, a book talk by ACORN founder Wade Rathke wouldn't have drawn much press attention, but the organization's recent notoriety as a conservative boogeyman has thrust Rathke back in the spotlight.

At an event on Tuesday to promote his book Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign to Save Working Families, Rathke drew the attention of major media outlets ranging from The Washington Post to National Review. Notably, a reporter from biggovernment.com, the Web site that brought us the infamous pimp and prostitute videos, was there with a cameraman to get another bite at the proverbial, um, ACORN.

Rathke, who resigned as ACORN's chief organizer last year after news that his brother embezzled nearly $1 million from the organization surfaced, chose not to criticize the current leadership of ACORN but acknowledged that the group "didn't do right."

When pushed about his decision not to fully disclose his brother's actions, Rathke said his brother was reprimanded, he stepped down and the money had been paid back. He also defended his secrecy saying the group worried the news would be "weaponized" to hurt ACORN."

Any misstep within the organization might become a threat to its very survival," he said. "That's what's happening now."

Rahke believes much of the vitriol aimed at ACORN stems from opposition to the group's mission to give a voice to lower income people (the pimp in the original video admits his stunt was motivated by his anger over ACORN's attempt to help a foreclosed-on homeowner break into her own house) and he worries that mission is being jeopardized by "a rising neo-McCarthyism" coming from the right."

After the election, ACORN announced it wasn't going to register voters in the future. Now it's announced that it's not going to help people who are poor do taxes. Now it's announcing it's not going to help people buy houses," said Rathke. "Those are huge voids."

Rohrabacher to Iraqis: Be More Grateful!

This dispatch comes from brand new crack DC intern Eric Naing

The House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight met today to discuss issues of sovereignty and stability in Iraq ranging from the country's longstanding financial obligation to neighboring Kuwait to its even longer-standing issues with the Kurdish people. But Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) seemed mostly interested in berating the Iraqis for their lack of gratitude 

At the hearing, Saleh al Mutlaq and former Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, both members of Iraq's Council of Representatives, spoke about Iraq's future and the importance of the country's upcoming elections. 

Mutlaq called for a "moral and responsible" withdrawal of U.S. troops saying that the invasion of his country was "irresponsible." 

Worried that violence and intimidation from Iraq's ruling party could distort the outcome of the January election, Allawi stressed the need for election monitoring from institutions such as the United Nations, the Arab League and other NGOs along with the United States. 

Then Rohrabacher opened his mouth. 

"I have never heard one word of gratitude from the Iraqi people about the 4,300 Americans who lost their lives," he exclaimed. 

"We went to Iraq to try and free your people and now we're being blamed for sectarian violence," he said. "Don't blame us because that type of bloodlust exists in your society." 

A defiant Mutlaq responded, "You were the ones who pushed your troops. We did not invite you." 

It was at this point that an exasperated Rohrabacher threw up his hands and stormed out of the room. 

It was only in the aftermath of Rohrabacher's tantrum that Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA) quietly stated that weapons of mass destruction, and not Iraqi freedom, were the reason the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Does Joe Wilson Believe the President Was Actually Lying?

First of all: I'm back! Somewhere in the Bible it decrees that blogs must be left fallow in August, which explains my absence.

Like everyone else I watched the speech last night. (Quick review: deft explanation of the policy, a few unnecessary political concessions, extremely aggravating lefty-bashing, and genuinely fantastic inspirational finish). And like everyone else I've been following the Joe Wilson "You Lie!" flap.

Now here's what I think is most fascinating about the incident: It's pretty clear to me that Wilson's outburst wasn't calculated grandstanding but a genuine moment of rage and frustration. Just look at the photo. That's a genuinely pissed off dude.

But the thing is: Obama wasn't lying. Illegal immigrants are explicitly barred from the provisions of the legislation.

Here's what I find fascinating. There's been a ton of viral emails floating around the right-wing making the claim that the bill covers illegal immigrants, and talk radio has been whipping up the fervor as well. Wilson clearly thinks that is, indeed, the case. But he's a sitting member of Congress! One would imagine he gets his information about pending legislation from reading it itself or being briefed by his staff, not from viral emails in his inbox.

But that sums up the House GOP caucus. By and large it's made up of absolute and total wingnuts, people who are in ideology disposition and even function much more like talk show hosts or RedState commenters than they are legislators.

Your Questions About Health Care Reform Answered

Ok, so there's been a lot of misinformation about proposals to reform the health insurance industry and provide (near) universal coverage. Understandable! It's complicated stuff. Herewith, I'll try to answer some questions

1) Is it true that all of the bills currently proposed would end the practice of "rescission," whereby health insurance providers refuse to treat customers who've paid their premiums simply because they've become ill?

No! That's a common misunderstanding. Actually, all of the bills would ban incisions, that is, they would legally bar surgeons from performing surgery until a panel of twelve gay illegal immigrant government bureaucrats unanimously signed off on the procedure.

2) Is it true that health care reform would ban insurers from refusing to insure people because of pre-existing conditions?

Wrong again. To get rid of health inequality, the bills actually mandate that every American be given a pre-existing condition. A National Illness Commission, with academics appointed from Harvard, Reed College and Berkeley, will evaluate each citizen, and based on their demographic profile, choose their malady. Each disease or syndrome is scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most severe. White christian men will receive pre-existing conditions of 8 or higher. Black people, "wise latinas," and ACORN members will be exempted.

3) I heard the proposals currently under consideration provide seniors with option of free counseling sessions under Medicare, where they can discuss a living will and end-of-life care.

That's a huge misconception. The bills require all senior citizens (who are non union members) be euthanized on their 70th birthday. Under section 278(c)ii all last rites will be performed by Jeremiah Wright using a Q'uran.

4) I've heard the bills being proposed would require insurers to provide preventative care, like mammograms, free of charge.

No, but all lactating mothers will be forced to breast-feed poor children.

5) Will the current bills plug the "donut hole" in the Medicare prescription drug benefit so seniors don't have to pay exorbitant out of pocket expenses for their medication?

Absolutely not. The legislation will ban donuts.

 

Healthcare Disinformation: A Case Study

Ezra Klein links to some interesting polling today that shows a (slim) plurality saying Obama's health care reform proposals are a "bad idea," but a strong majority supporting the actual content of the bill when "when the interviewer read an accurate, neutrally phrased description of the main features of the plan."

The reason for the difference, of course, is the tremendous amount of lies, distortions and misinformation being thrown up by opponents of reform, the most extreme of which would be funny if they weren't so macabre: the government is going kill off the elderly! They'll mandate you give up your organs when you turn 67! You'll have to pay for gay married couples' abortions!

I recently got to see first-hand how this happens. A few weeks ago I was on Al Jazeera English debating health care reform with a conservative named Josh Trevino. Josh was a nice enough guy, genuine and polite, if extremely conservative. We went back and forth about the degree to which the current system is broken, whether healthcare is a right, and why it is that the US spends so much more per capita on healthcare than any other industrialized nation. When I noted that this year the US will spends more than 17% of GDP on healthcare, Josh shot back with a pretty amazing statistic. He said that, sure we spend a lot on healthcare, but 5.6% of GDP, or a third of all healthcare spending, is spent on pharmaceutical research. That's way more than any other country he said, and in fact, our research dollars find the drugs the rest of the world uses. If you take away all that high-minded spending on research, then US healthcare costs are totally in line with the rest of the world.

At the time I heard this I was surprised I'd never encountered the stat before. It certainly didn't sound right: one out of every twenty dollars in the US economy is spent on drug research? So I tweeted Josh and asked for a citation. To his great credit, Josh went looking and realized he'd made an error. Actually, biomedical research accounts for 5.6% of all healthcare spending. That means it's less than 1% of GDP. Josh was off by a factor of six.

Now, Josh made the error in good faith and he had the integrity to fess up and post a correction on his blog. And we were talking on Al Jazeera which, ahem, doesn't exactly have a wide domestic audience. But it goes to show just how easy it is for misinformation, particularly about a technical and complicated subject like healthcare, to get out to the public. Presumably I could just go on TV and start saying that Republicans want to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 85 or that health care premiums will go up 30-fold in the next year, and however many readers there at conservative blogs that call me out for my falsehoods, it will be a tiny fraction of the TV audience that saw me utter it in the first place.

How the Tea-Baggers are Like ACT-UP

There's been some very interesting back and forth about the right-wing disruptions of health care town halls in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere (oh God, did I just type those two words back-to-back?). One of the fascinating aspects of a political culture in which governmental control has flipped, in a relatively short period of time, from the right to the left, is that each side now finds itself making arguments the other side was making only a little while earlier. The Left accused (rightly!) Bush of using fear-mongering to push the nation into pre-emptive war. During the stimulus debate, the Right turned around and used the same talking points, accusing Obama of using fear-mongering to push through $770 bn in public spending.

I don't want to create a false equivalence here. There are very real differences between the rhetoric and approach of left and right, but it's certainly the case that we often use formal arguments (so and so is fear-mongering) as a way to widen the possible appeal for our substantive, ideological pre-commitments. In the case of the Iraq war, it was a terrible idea no matter how it was sold, and I think the right-wing would say the same about the stimulus.

I'm on a team in American politics: I'm proudly, vigorously on the left. So there's no need to bend over backwards to be formally consistent. That said, intellectual honesty requires one to separate out one's formal objections from substantive ones and I've been given pause by the remarks of some right-wing activists like Jon Henke. He and others have been saying: wait a sec, when the left shows up and makes noise somewhere it's activism, but when the right does it it's thuggery and mob rule?

So after discussing the issue on Maddow last night, I've been asking myself, aside from the deep substantive opposition I have to the tea-baggers' ideological agenda (and the insane hypocrisy of people on Medicare screaming about the dangers of government-run health care), what, exactly, my beef is?

I don't think there's anything "wrong" with the tactics of those people who, with the facilitation of large monied interests, are organizing and shouting down their opponents at town hall meetings. But one thing should be clear: these are the tactics of a small, motivated, enraged and engaged minority. The footage of recent town hall scrums remind me, actually, of ACT-UP actions back in NYC when I was growing up. ACT-UP, the AIDS and gay rights group that flourished in the 1980s and 1990s, was impassioned and angry and used dramatic confrontational action to great public effect. They were a vanguard. They were a small, tightly coordinated impassioned minority. And they were fundamentally on the right side of history.

What frustrates me, however, is that no one in the press confused ACT-UP with broader public opinion. No pundits said "the public is clearly feeling rising unease about government inaction on AIDS, as evidenced by the latest ACT-UP protest." Why? Because they were gay, and they had AIDS and they didn't look like "average citizens" or "heartland" voters.

At their root, the town hall protests are a very similar phenomenon. I think these people, unlike ACT-UP, are wrong. Deeply wrong. (They're also not literally fighting for their lives because of a homophobic and indifferent government, but that's neither here nor there). But they're a small, tightly coordinated, enraged minority. They want to scream and fuss, it's a free country, as they say.

The problem is the overwhelming instinct on the part of pundits and the MSM to look, and see old white men in overalls and Legionnaire hats and think they are watching someone give voice to the sentiments of broad swaths of the electorate. And it's just not true. What we're seeing at these events are the voices of radicals, extremists and zealots.

If We Want Health Care We Have to Fight For It

I come from a family of organizers (my dad and my brother), so I'm intimately familiar with just how much work good organizing is. I also have a lot of guilt about the fact I'm not one. As hard as writing can sometimes be, it's orders of magnitudes easier (not to mention confers a lot more recognition and praise) than the unglamorous job of calling through lists, finding suitable meeting places, negotiating personalities, motivating busy and harried volunteers, etc...

For that reason, I'm always reluctant to use my writing platform to urge other people to organize. It feels cheap and easy. But with that disclaimed out of the way, I have to echo what Josh Marshall says here.

If you want health care, then do something about it. We are now in the middle of a fight. Fights are good. Democracy is fundamentally about the non-violent resolution of conflict, and we've got conflict. There is a small but very mobilized constituency of people and interests that want to kill health care reform. They have the advantage of being on the attack, or tearing down and criticizing and expressing their outrage. The job of advocates of reform is trickier, but unless there is a mobilization and concerted organized attempt to push elected representatives in a progressive direction they will succumb to the braying and bullying of tea-baggers. Find out if your congressman is having a town hall, and go. Find others to go with you. Let them know you will punish them if they don't support real reform. Call their offices. Show up at their offices.

It's on.

This Week On The Hill

The House has already hit the road -- gone until September -- so the Senate has the joint to itself. I asked one Senate staffer what the rationale is behind the House taking off a week earlier?

"What is this thing you call a 'rationale?'" he replied.

The Senate will vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor -- the only mystery there is how many deadbeat Republican votes she will pick up along the way.

Today there is debate on the $23.7 billion FY10 Agriculture Appropriations bill-- $2.3 billion more than FY09. CongressDaily reports that the bill provides $124 billion when mandatory spending is taken into account, including $61.4 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). That funding is desperately needed. In April nearly 39 million people received food stamps -- more than 1 in 9 Americans.

The Senate will also take up the Cash for Clunkers program which exhausted its first $1 billion in less than a week. The House voted to extend the program with $2 billion taken from previously approved renewable energy loan guarantees in the stimulus bill. The GOP will (surprise) attempt to filibuster.

Max Baucus and his five friends on the Senate Finance Committee say they need more time to come up with their uninspired and underwhelming health care bill. His Herculean effort to please Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, and Olympia Snowe has successfully alienated Democrats on the committee who have been relegated to the sidelines during negotations. (That's good news, maybe the Baucus bill will be scrapped since 3 House committees and the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee are in general agreement on a public option…. Has Baucus made Olbermann's Worst Person in the World list yet?)

Hearings this week…. Senate Banking hears from FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair tomorrow when it looks at streamlining bank supervision. On Wednesday the Committee holds a hearing on proposals for regulation of credit card agencies…. Sheila E. will be in town tomorrow, testifying in support of legislation which would end the royalty exemption for AM and FM radio. Here's hoping for a drum solo…. This morning, Senator Ben Cardin looks at protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay -- the nation's largest estuary….

President Obama will travel to Elkhart, Indiana on Wednesday to talk health care. Hopefully he'll modify his pitch -- less jargon, more urgency.

 

Democrats Go to Bat for Big Pharma

Sebastian Jones catches some under-the-radar shenanigans from two house Democrats and a Republican on behalf of Big Pharma:

At a North Carolina town hall yesterday, the President went out of his way to mention a brewing legislative battle on Capitol Hill: the fight over how long to grant drug manufacturers monopolies on a new class of drugs called biologics and when to allow cheaper, generic alternatives.

The current proposed legislation--HR 1427 introduced by Representatives Waxman (D-CA) and Deal (R-GA)-- would grant biologics the same 5-year period of exclusivity traditional pharmaceuticals receive now and would limit a manufacturer's ability to get an extension of that monopoly, requiring, for example, a "significant therapeutic advance."

However, Representatives Eshoo (D-CA), Inslee (D-WA) and Barton (R-TX) are planning to introduce an amendment which tows the brand-name industry line that a 12-year monopoly is needed and waters down the criteria for a given biologic's period of exclusivity to be extended. The practice of getting extensions for small tweaks to the original product--things like shifting the delivery method from a pill to an injection or changing the dosage from twice a day to once a day--has been labeled "evergreening" by consumer groups. This month, the European Union's antitrust regulator said she would begin to monitor the practice closely.

In a copy of the amendment obtained by The Nation, the conditions under which a drug's exclusivity may be renewed are numerous and strikingly vague:

"A change…that results in a new indication, route of administration, dosing schedule, dosage form, delivery system, delivery device or strength; or a modification to the structure of the biological product that does not result in a change in safety, purity, or potency."

This essentially grants big drug manufacturers the ability to wait until the 11th hour to make slight adjustments and receive a substantial extension.

These prolonged monopolies, preventing the production of generics and keeping drug prices high in a healthcare system fraught with increasing costs, might explain why the President has expressed concern about the issue.

--

Full text of the Eshoo, Inslee and Barton Amendment is below. Also, for more information on the biologics issue, check out this recent editorial from the Post.

Conservatives Should Propose Medicare Elimination

Today's the 44th anniversary of Medicare, the single payer health insurance program that provides care for millions of senior citizens. It is the nightmare come true! Forty-three million of our citizens groaning under the yoke of socialism! I kid of course. The program, while not without its flaws, has displayed significantly less cost inflation than private insurance, has lower administrative costs and very high satisfaction among its participants. It's so politically popular that when red-state elected representatives go to town halls they hear things like: "keep your government hands off my Medicare" (!) from angry constituents. Yes.

This has got me thinking: Republicans opposed Medicare when it was created. They hate socialized medicine, government-run health care and the public option now. So why don't they put their money with their mouths are and propose scrapping Medicare? Any bills like this been introduced? If not, why not? I seriously think every single conservative and Republican caught railing against government run healthcare needs to be asked if they support disbanding Medicare.

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