Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best/Worst of 2009 Awards

Based on no greater authority than my own and to relieve me of the time of finishing my course syllabi for next semester, I have compiled (without reason or order) the best/worst of list for 2009. Enjoy.

1. Best Firing of 2009. Mike Leach. Mike is the ex-football coach of Texas Tech. Outside of being an arrogant pain, reminding everyone of how much smarter he is than everyone else for having gone to law school, and before getting himself canned for taking a concussion case to the woodshed, the good coach decided to offer this opine after a recent loss for why his team did not win.

No, it was not the game plan, bad coaching, lack of execution that doomed them in their game against Texas A&M, but the fat girlfriends, as if a man who looks to be pushing 230 pounds has any business complaining about overweight women. Congratulations, Mike. You have earned it.

2. Greatest Political Coup of 2009. US Senate. Yes, Honduras actually had a military coup, overthrowing its democratically elected president, and is now on the road back to an "elected" government, which will no doubt represent the interests of stockholders everywhere (until they start to breathe in the general direction of poor people, necessitating another coup by its supporters from the Committee on the Present Danger), but the real coup was the open hijacking of the Senate and the political process in the health care debate. Since January 2009, health care industry groups have poured in over $600 million to politicians and campaign coffers, as well as lobbying firms, to make sure we do not get real universal health coverage, and not surprisingly the folks in big business won, as they usually do in the US. By any other standard, the Blue Dogs in the Senate would be prosecuted under DC's prostitution laws, but of course in our system we just call it free enterprise. Congratulations, Senator Lieberman. You won. The 60 million people without health care lost.

By the way, just in case you are wondering, Honduras's GDP is $14 billion, only 1/130th of the amount of money we spend on our private health care system.

3. Best Movie of 2009. Up. I should state that I have not seen too many movies in 2009. I do not normally watch movies at the theater anymore because I do not want to surrender the arm and leg it costs for the tickets and popcorn. But I did get to watch a few and saw a few more on t.v. after their release. Granted, I have not seen Avatar, Inglorious Besterds (or however Quetin Tarantino decided to butcher the spelling on the title), so I am hardly the grade A expert critic these days. Nevertheless, I have been watching movies since I was a kid, and consider myself a decent enough judge of cinematic talent. For me, the best movie was Up. Yes, it is Pixar (what in the world am I doing watching this?). True, Wall-E was better. And it did not have the anti-globalization, leftish themes of Wall-E, The Informant, or Avatar, but it was heartwarming, rejoicing, and hokey in a good way (i.e., the kind that does not make you wonder why Jack Nicholson has yet to materialize and stick an ax into all of the characters).

4. The Best Political News Site of 2009. It is hard for me to read the 'mainstream' news without wanting to convert to violent anarchism (Fox is but the more blunt version of what CNN, MSNBC, and the NBC/CBS/ABC "news" has transformed into over the years). The phony Walter Cronkitism of CNN is undermined by its front page human interest fluff that rivals that of Good Morning America. When there is a dissident that disappears in El Salvador, or a cop being prosecuted for murdering Oscar Grant, indymedia is almost always there to oversee and give coverage to those stories you will never see on CNN, NBC/CBS/ABC (never mind Fox). There is no one go-to site for anything, but indymedia is about the closest go-to site that I know of for alternative media stories on culture and politics in this country.

5. The Worst 'Person of the Year Award' of 2009. Time magazine. Where do I begin to list the crimes and calumnies of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke? He has as chief financier of this country overseen the largest collapse of our economy in over 70 years. And not only did he not predict it, he defended the very financial practices of banking institutions which precipitated the mess.

Here is Mr. Bernanke, two years ago at a Federal Reserve bank structure conference, on the subprime mortgage loan market.
"All that said, given the fundamental factors in place that should support the demand for housing, we believe the effect of the troubles in the subprime sector on the broader housing market will likely be limited, and we do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy or to the financial system."
Declaring Ben Bernanke as 'person of the year' (and having the gall to claim he 'saved' our economy) is not unlike naming the architect of the Titanic person of the year for 1912.

6. Best Immolation of 2009. Jon Stewart Shreds CNBC. When it comes to debunking the corporate mentality that put us in the greatest economic collapse since our grand and great grandparents were sleeping on floors, it is sadly ironic that it requires a fake news show to illustrate the kleptocracy of our economic system.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
CNBC Financial Advice
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

7. Best Political Science Book of 2009. Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet. Yes, I am a political scientist. And it is true that I have little to no life. I read dozens of books every year, mostly given to me by publishers, looking for me to include their texts in my courses, and so most of what I read is from within my discipline. And I concede that about 90% of the material written in my discipline is rubbish (beaten down by a generation of quantitative math geeks with a Napoleonic complex, who live the Sisyphean illusion that you can turn human political behavior into an actual science on par with physics). Outside of John Mearsheimer and Martha Finnemore, there are few political scientists whose books I look forward to reading these days. I should correct myself because I read a most notable text this year that should be required reading for all political science and economics majors--Michael Klare's Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy.

Klare's text reifies much of my own research on international political economy in southeast Asia, and for Americans it is not a pretty picture. Basically, we are going to be replaced before the end of this century, and we will be displaced because of the rising energy consumption of China and India. What that will mean for us is higher prices for oil and basic energy needs, although the author offers some alternative scenarios to avoid this catastrophe (remedies that I do not entirely agree with, particularly as it relates to coal). Nevertheless, this book is a warning of sorts for our future and for that matter the possible environmental impact of development on the People's Republic of China. I suppose in the end, we shall see how it all turns out.

8. Best Act of Anti-Imperialism of 2009. The act of shoeing. Yes, the seekers of 72 virgins have their own way of doing things, even if it is only so they can rule over their own citizenry in a manner as awful as ours, but there is something serene and beautiful about someone throwing shoes at George Bush. My only regret is that he missed. Thus ensued numerous subsequent copycat shoeing attacks on other odious leaders, most interestingly the director of the IMF this last October.

But in all seriousness, these throwers need to work on their aim.

9. Best Song of 2009. Baby I'm a Fool. Like with everything on the list, I suppose this needs to be qualified. In spite of the fact I am in my 30s and considered mummified by my students, I do try to listen to contemporary music now and then. Unfortunately, I find most of it to be a terrible waste of my time and abuse to my ear drums. Rap music has become a succession of stripper songs. Rock is so dead that Green Day is considered a rock band. Country is not even a form of music, but a celebration of the negation of the properties of music (and what little culture it possessed has been turned into pop music). So, that does not leave me with much. I do like Alicia Keys and some R&B, and I am a devotee of jazz. My favorite newer singer to arrive on the scene is Melody Gardot, and her 2009 album, My One and Only Thrill, should be on the listening list of anyone with an appreciation of music. Her signature song from that album and her short career is Baby I'm a Fool.

In an industry occupied by no-talent hacks (Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, et al.) or overaged hanger-ons with a foot in the grave (U2, Bruce Springsteen [yes, I said it, The Boss's vocals are almost completely gone in his late 50s]), Gardot's voice is a relief, a wonderful singer with a soulful and distinct sound.

10. Best Blog of 2009. Mercury Rising. I do not read that many blog sites. I know it is heretical to write this, since I have my own and I am currently in the act of writing a post that includes the best blog site of 2009, but I work and read, work, read, research, work (did I mention working and research?), which means that I spend most of my non-academic reading time going over the news. I will skim over blog postings from other sites, just to catch up, but there are not too many that I really like to read. Mercury Rising is one of them. Started up by a lady from Minnesota, with a likeness for cats and Phoenix, there is a team of three regular posters on this site, and they do a much better job of providing information and details on progressive politics and culture than I could ever hope to in the time I allot for my blog. It is an excellent site and one that I have taken to reading on a regular basis over the past year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Hazards of High Fructose Corn Syrup

I should state upfront that I am not an avid supporter of alternative medicine (if it was really an alternative, it would already be a medicine), so I do not want to seem like an advocate of the person who posted this video. In addition, I am even less of a fan of good health advocacy, which so often becomes an excuse for the worst kind of throat-slitting behavior you see in the insurance industry (targeting those who are overweight, underweight, people with contrived pre-existing conditions, etc.). All of the aforementioned notwithstanding, this does not mean they are always wrong, and on the issue of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, the doctor delivering this presentation is on to something.

It is a long presentation, nine total videos, but very educational. I am posting the first one in the series, but the third video (at the 3:33 mark) delves into how and why this is taking place. Without further ado, Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, on the sad and bitter truth about sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

I can attest to the switchover to high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks. As a kid, I remember when Coca Cola in this country tasted the way it does outside of the US, with sugar. After the New Coke campaign in the mid-80s, which was a disaster (and in my view, purposely so), the company brought back 'old Coke,' but with a different taste than the real old Coke. It contained high fructose corn syrup, the nicotine of soft drinks and foods over the past three decades. And I cannot preach because I am a full fledged Mountain Dew addict in the mornings of my workdays. This is where the health debate on soft drinks and food should occur, not wholesale taxing all of them to subsidize a delivery of health care, the lack of which was caused by the behavior of those who created high fructose corn syrup to begin with.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Coming Screw Job of 2011: Death of Free TV

There might have been a time when some of you remember when broadcast companies had to give laudatory platitudes about a feigned belief in the public trust, that airwaves were meant to be applied for a 'public good.' The days of Robert Putnam's Potemkin village are officially over. Within the next few years, your cable bill is going up, drastically, and for that you can thank the same fellow who gave the world Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire and Hitler's Diaries.

Broadcasters' woes could spell trouble for free TV

NEW YORK – For more than 60 years, TV stations have broadcast news, sports and entertainment for free and made their money by showing commercials. That might not work much longer.

The business model is unraveling at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox and the local stations that carry the networks' programming. Cable TV and the Web have fractured the audience for free TV and siphoned its ad dollars. The recession has squeezed advertising further, forcing broadcasters to accelerate their push for new revenue to pay for programming.

That will play out in living rooms across the country. The changes could mean higher cable or satellite TV bills, as the networks and local stations squeeze more fees from pay-TV providers such as Comcast and DirecTV for the right to show broadcast TV channels in their lineups. The networks might even ditch free broadcast signals in the next few years. Instead, they could operate as cable channels — a move that could spell the end of free TV as Americans have known it since the 1940s.

"Good programing is expensive," Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns Fox, told a shareholder meeting this fall. "It can no longer be supported solely by advertising revenues."

Fox is pursuing its strategy in public, warning that its broadcasts — including college football bowl games — could go dark Friday for subscribers of Time Warner Cable, unless the pay-TV operator gives Fox higher fees. For its part, Time Warner Cable is asking customers whether it should "roll over" or "get tough" in negotiations.

The future of free TV also could be altered as the biggest pay-TV provider, Comcast Corp., prepares to take control of NBC. Comcast has not signaled plans to end NBC's free broadcasts. But Jeff Zucker, who runs NBC and its sister cable channels such as CNBC and Bravo, told investors this month that "the cable model is just superior to the broadcast model."

The traditional broadcast model works like this: CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox distribute shows through a network of local stations. The networks own a few stations in big markets, but most are "affiliates," owned by separate companies.

Traditionally the networks paid affiliates to broadcast their shows, though those fees have dwindled to near nothing as local stations have seen their audience shrink. What hasn't changed is where the money mainly comes from: advertising.

Cable channels make most of their money by charging pay-TV providers a monthly fee per subscriber for their programing. On average, the pay-TV providers pay about 26 cents for each channel they carry, according to research firm SNL Kagan. A channel as highly rated as ESPN can get close to $4, while some, such as MTV2, go for just a few pennies.

With both advertising and fees, ESPN has seen its revenue grow to $6.3 billion this year from $1.8 billion a decade ago, according to SNL Kagan estimates. It has been able to bid for premium events that networks had traditionally aired, such as football games. Cable channels also have been able to fund high-quality shows, such as AMC's "Mad Men," rather than recycling movies and TV series.

That, plus a growing number of channels, has given cable a bigger share of the ad pie. In 1998, cable channels drew roughly $9.1 billion, or 24 percent of total TV ad spending, according to the Television Bureau of Advertising. By 2008, they were getting $21.6 billion, or 39 percent.

Having two revenue streams — advertising and fees from pay-TV providers — has insulated cable channels from the recession. In contrast, over-the-air stations have been forced to cut staff, and at least two broadcast groups sought bankruptcy protection this year.

Fox illustrates the trend: Its broadcast operations reported a 54 percent drop in operating income for the quarter that ended in September. Its cable channels, which include Fox News and FX, grew their operating income 41 percent.

Analyst Tom Love of ZenithOptimedia said he expects the big networks will end the year with a 9 percent drop in ad revenue, followed by an 8 percent drop in 2010 and zero growth in 2011.

A small chunk of the ad revenue is being recouped online, where the networks sell episodes for a few dollars each or run ads alongside shows on sites such as Hulu. Media economist Jack Myers projects online video advertising will grow into a $2 billion business by 2012, from just $350 million to $400 million this year.

But that is not significant enough to make up for the lost ad revenue on the airwaves. Advertisers spent $34 billion on broadcast commercials in 2008, down by $2.4 billion from two years earlier, according to the Television Bureau of Advertising.

So rather than wait for the Internet to become a bigger source of income, the networks and local stations are mimicking what cable channels do: They're charging pay-TV companies a monthly fee per subscriber to carry their programming.

Since 1994, the Federal Communications Commission has let networks and their affiliates seek payments for including their programming in the pay-TV lineup. Not everyone demanded payments at first. Instead they relied on the broader audience that cable and satellite gave them to increase what they could charge advertisers.

The big networks also were content to let their broadcast stations essentially be subsidized by higher fees for the cable channels that fell under the same corporate umbrella. A pay-TV company negotiating with the Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, is likely paying more for the ABC Family channel than it otherwise would, with the extra assumed to help Disney cover its costs for the ABC network broadcasts.

But over time — such contracts generally run about three years — more networks began demanding payments for the stations they own. And affiliates already receiving the fees have bargained for more money.

Some talks have been tense. In 2007, Sinclair Broadcast Group, which operates 32 network-affiliated stations around the country, pulled its signals for nearly a month from Mediacom Communications Corp., which provides cable TV to about 1.3 million subscribers, mainly in small cities.

The American Cable Association says its members — mainly small cable TV providers — have seen their costs for carrying local TV stations more than triple over the past three years. The group's head, Matt Polka, says those fees have gone "straight to consumers' pocketbooks" in the form of higher cable bills.

Gannett Co., for instance, which operates 23 stations, has taken in $56 million in fees from pay-TV operators this year after negotiating a new batch of agreements, up from $18 million in 2008. Dave Lougee, president of Gannett's broadcast arm, defends the fees, saying "broadcasters were late to the game in really starting to go after the fair market value of their signals."

Analysts estimate CBS managed to get as much as 50 cents per subscriber in its most recent talks with pay-TV providers that carry CBS-owned stations. CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves said such fees should add "hundreds of millions of dollars to revenues annually."

That could be just the beginning. CBS and Fox are also asking for a portion of the fees that their affiliates get, arguing that the networks' shows are what give local stations the leverage to ask for fees.

Over time, the networks might be able to get even more money by abandoning the affiliate structure and undoing a key element of free TV.

Here's why: Pay-TV providers are paying the networks only for the stations the networks own. That amounts to a little less than a third of the TV audience, which means local affiliates recoup two-thirds of the fees. If a network operated purely as a cable channel and cut the affiliates out, the network could get the fees for the entire pay-TV audience.

If forced to go independent, affiliates would have to air their own programming, including local news and syndicated shows.

Fitch Ratings analyst Jamie Rizzo predicts that at least one of the four broadcast networks "could explore" becoming a cable channel as early as 2011.

Any shift would take years, as the networks untangle complicated affiliate contracts. At an analyst conference last year, CBS's Moonves called the idea an "a very interesting proposition." But he added that it "would really change the universe that we're in."

This has been a long time coming and not all too surprising. Murdoch's outfit has been talking about charging subscriptions for Hulu, access to Fox "news" material, and complaining bitterly about the plight of the poor investigative reporter (a common tactic of shareholders who underpaid them when they worked for newspapers and think just as kindly of them today, if their honest preferences were known). This has served as a cover for the other free stations that will be following suit. In this sense, Murdoch is simply being a more honest thief.

Imagine President Obama bragging about increasing taxes 20%. Notice the silence from the anti-tax teabaggers when an increasingly monopolistic owner over an entire medium in the private sector is talking in these terms. Naturally, the laws of the market reign supreme. It is the new freedom, to get fleeced by t.v. channels that show fake reality, as a means to dodge paying the bills for the society they do not support or care for anyway.

What kind of impact is this going to have on us, the consumer? Over 90% of the information the average person in this country receives about candidates, and nearly 100% of their knowledge of government comes from the news. Most people receive their news by watching it, online or on t.v. The tollboothization of t.v. and with it everything else you consume is going to restrict access, knowledge, and with the corporatized dumbing down of news presentation guarantees a less informed citizenry.

This return to information and entertainment monasticism, where only the elites and those who are a part of the institutions will have access or be privy to what happens in our society has the desired effect of making sure you do not get involved in the process. And what little that they will allow will be populated with screaming snake oil salesmen like Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann (the liberal version of Beck and O'Reilly). At the end of the day, Fox does mean business, and you will pay one way or the other. The sad irony is, instead of valuable information, this is what you will be ultimately shelling out an extra $30-40 a month to watch.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Viva Argentina

A great victory has been scored in Argentina. It is the first country in Latin America to allow gay marriage, and the first couple to exercise this right are Jose Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre. This is not something to underscore. Latin America, since the rebirth of the left in the late '90s (following the collapse of neo-liberalism and shock therapy capitalism), has been undergoing a cultural shift and revolution of sorts. It is one that is heartening to see. If only our fellow citizens in this country were as tolerant as the government of Argentina.


Gay marriage in Argentina is 1st in Latin America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Two Argentine men were joined Monday in Latin America's first same-sex marriage, traveling to the southernmost tip of the Americas to find a welcoming spot to wed.

Gay rights activists Jose Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre were married in Ushuaia, the capital of Argentina's Tierra del Fuego state, exchanging rings at an informal ceremony witnessed by state and federal officials.

"My knees didn't stop shaking," said the 41-year-old Di Bello. "We are the first gay couple in Latin America to marry."

The slim, dark-haired couple previously tried to marry in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires but were thwarted by city officials citing conflicting judicial rulings. Argentina's Constitution is silent on whether marriage must be between a man and a woman, effectively leaving the matter to state and city officials.

This time around, they traveled to a remote seaside fishing village at the end of South America that is closer to Antarctica than Buenos Aires. The ceremony took place during the region's brief summer thaw.

Tierra del Fuego Gov. Fabiana Rios said in a statement that gay marriage "is an important advance in human rights and social inclusion and we are very happy that this has happened in our state."

An official representing the federal government's antidiscrimination agency, Claudio Morgado, attended the wedding in the city of Ushuaia and called the occasion "historic."

Many in Argentina and throughout Latin America remain opposed to gay marriage, particularly the Roman Catholic Church.

"The decision took me by surprise and I'm concerned," Bishop Juan Carlos, of the southern city Rio Gallegos, told the Argentine news agency DyN. He called the marriage "an attack against the survival of the human species."

But same-sex civil unions have been legalized in Uruguay, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and some states in Mexico and Brazil. Marriage generally carries more exclusive rights such as adopting children, inheriting wealth and enabling a partner to gain citizenship.

Di Bello, an executive at the Argentine Red Cross, met Freyre, 39, executive director of the Buenos Aires AIDS Foundation, at an HIV awareness conference. Both are HIV-positive.

At Monday's indoor civil ceremony, the grooms wore sport coats without ties, and had large red ribbons draped around their necks in solidarity with other people living with HIV.

Di Bello said the city of Ushuaia initially declined to authorize the marriage but went ahead after the couple received backing from the state of Tierra del Fuego.

"We filed an administrative appeal to the government of Tierra del Fuego, which finally authorized the wedding."

Legal analyst Andres Gil Dominguez said the Tierra del Fuego government appeared to base its authorization of a broad interpretation of the Argentine Constitution and obligations under international treaties.

Gov. Rios said the state's approval was based on a ruling by a Buenos Aires judge who declared two provisions of the constitution discriminatory and gave the go-ahead for the Dec. 1 marriage, which was then blocked by another judge's ruling based on civil law.

Individual state's may not have final say over same-sex marriages for long.

A bill that would legalize gay marriage was introduced in Argentina's Congress in October but it has stalled without a vote.

Argentina's Supreme Court currently is analyzing appeals by same-sex couples whose marriages were rejected. A Supreme Court justice said on Monday that the high court would likely rule on issues of same-sex marriage sometime in 2010, but could defer to Congress if legislation moves forward.

Only seven countries in the world allow gay marriages: Canada, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium. U.S. states that permit same-sex marriage are Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Earlier this month, lawmakers in Mexico City made it the city the first in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage. Leftist Mayor Marcelo Ebrard was widely expected to sign the measure into law.

Congratulations, Jose and Alex. Here is to hoping they are only two of many millions more who will be exercising their rights as full citizens of their country, and ultimately the region and one day the world over.

Not to be outdone, our brethern in Mexico City are soon to follow the lead of Argentina.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Phoniness of Reform

If the 'new' health care bill remains as the final version, we are about to have a private insurance-subsidized behemoth, which will force our population onto the payrolls of Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, et al. To Republicans, this is what constitutes a "government takeover" of health care.

Here is but one example of this libertarian lunacy.

"Medicine is the keystone in the arch of Socialism"

by EaBo Clipper

"Medicine is the keystone in the arch of socialism" - Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Lenin knew that in order to control the masses you needed to control their very being, their very body. That is why socialized medicine is so fraught with danger. Socialized medicine is the ability of the state, not private citizens, to control the health and well being of its citizens. The very basis of freedom is freedom of self.

Which brings us to last night. Our mothers always told us that "nothing good happens after midnight". They were never more right than last night. At around 1:00 a.m., when the vast marjority of Americans were in bed, the United States Senate voted 60-40 to end cloture on Health Care legislation. This means that by the end of this week, most probably on Christmas Day the Senate will vote to pass a form of healthcare legislation.

After the Senate passes this legislation it then goes to conference committee. In conference committee the "bill" will again be completely rewritten. The rewritten conference committee bill will then be voted on up or down by both houses of congress sometime in January.

Therein lies the problem.

The conference committee can rewrite a completely new bill. It could have triggers to "universal" coverage in it it. It could enact the law in 2010 and not 2014 as currently written. Anything can, and probably will happen. That was why it was so important to kill that bill last night, and that is why it was so important to Barack Obama that the Massachusetts legislature ignore the rule of law to allow Deval Patrick the ability to appoint Paul Kirk as the 60th vote.

Last nights vote was not about healthcare, it was about "transforming America", to be Barack Obama's America, to be Wayne Rathke, his mentor's, America, to be Bill Ayres' America. The vote last night was to start us on the road to universal healthcare and state control of our lives.

2010 may be our last chance to turn the tide against the ever increasing march of socialism in this country. I can think of no better way to start turning that tide than by electing Scott Brown as the 41st Senator. Have you helped Scott in any way yet? Please do so today, you can start by donating to him now.


Of course, Congressional Republican leaders like Senator Mitch McConnell thought nothing of voting for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, which was a pure deficit-spending bill, and supported the Medicare drug benefit law and No Child Left Behind Act, which increased deficit spending by over a trillion dollars in the next decade. Or the stimulus money that Governor Palin took, after claiming to be opposed to its inclusion in the state budget, while supporting the 'bridge to nowhere' project that she exclaimed before a cheering throng at the GOP convention to be originally opposed to, as well. Or the manner in which Rep. Bachmann, who thinks the US is becoming a Stalinist dictatorship, took over a $250,000 of our tax dollars for her farm. That is the beauty of being a Republican. Spending money in the name of Christ and country means never having to hold yourself accountable to your own standards.

To get around the nonsensical language that surrounds this legislation, as I have spent the entire semester reading the House and Senate versions of the bills, to keep up with them for my students (none of whom apparently have read any of them), this is what the bills "accomplish," as they currently stand (courtesy of the Boston Globe).

* Who is Covered?

The House bill
About 96 percent of legal residents under age 65 – compared with 83 percent now. Government subsidies to help buy coverage start in 2013.

The Senate bill
About 94 percent of legal residents under age 65 – compared with 83 percent now. Government subsidies to help buy coverage start in 2014.

* Cost

The House bill
Coverage provisions cost $1.055 trillion over 10 years. But other provisions, including increased prescription drug coverage for seniors under Medicare, would bring total cost to about $1.2 trillion.

The Senate bill
Coverage provisions cost $871 billion over 10 years.

* How It’s Paid For

The House bill
$460 billion over the next decade from new income taxes on single people making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million. More than $400 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid; a new $20 billion fee on medical device makers; $13 billion from limiting contributions to flexible spending accounts; sizable penalties paid by individuals and employers who don't obtain coverage; and a mix of other corporate taxes and fees.

The Senate bill
Fees on insurance companies, drugmakers, medical device manufacturers. Medicare payroll tax increased to 2.35 percent on income over $200,000 a year for individuals, $250,000 for couples. A 10 percent sales tax on tanning salons, to be paid by customer. Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Excise tax of 40 percent on insurance companies, keyed to premiums paid on health care plans costing more than $8,500 annually for individuals and $23,000 for families. Fees for employers whose workers receive government subsidies to help them pay premiums. Fines on people who fail to purchase coverage.

* Requirements for Individuals

The House bill
Individuals must have insurance, enforced through a tax penalty of 2.5 percent of income. People can apply for hardship waivers if coverage is unaffordable.

The Senate bill
Almost everyone must get coverage through an employer, on their own or through a government plan. Exemptions for economic hardship. Those who are obligated to buy coverage and refuse to do so would pay a fine starting at $95 in 2014 and rising to $750.

* Requirements for Employers

The House bill
Employers must provide insurance to their employees or pay a penalty of 8 percent of payroll, with companies with payrolls under $500,000 annually exempt. Small businesses – those with 10 or fewer workers – get tax credits to help them provide coverage.

The Senate bill
Not required to offer coverage, but companies with more than 50 employees would pay a fee of $750 per employee if the government ends up subsidizing employees' coverage.

* Subsidies

The House bill
Individuals and families with annual income up to 400 percent of poverty level, or $88,000 for a family of four, would get sliding-scale subsidies to help them buy coverage. The subsidies would begin in 2013.

The Senate bill
Tax credits for individuals and families likely making up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $88,200 for a family of four. Tax credits for small employers.

* Benefits package

The House bill
A committee would recommend a so-called essential benefits package including preventive services. Out-of-pocket costs would be capped.

The Senate bill
All plans sold to individuals and small businesses would have to cover basic benefits. The government would set four levels of coverage with the least generous paying 60 percent of costs per year and the most generous covering 90 percent.

* Restrictions on Insurers

The House bill
Starting in 2013, no denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions. No higher premiums allowed for pre-existing conditions or gender. Limits on higher premiums based on age.

The Senate bill
Starting in 2014: no denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions. No higher premiums allowed for pre-existing conditions or gender. Limits on higher premiums based on age and family size. Starting upon enactment of legislation: children up to age 26 can stay on parents insurance; no lifetime limits on coverage.

* Government-run plan

The House bill
A new public plan available through the insurance exchanges would be set up and run by the health and human services secretary.

The Senate bill
In place of "public option," the estimated 26 million Americans purchasing coverage through new insurance exchanges would have the option of signing up for national plans overseen by the same office that manages health coverage for federal employees and members of Congress. Those plans would be privately owned, but one of them would have to be operated on a nonprofit basis, as many Blue Cross Blue Shield plans are now.

* Prescription Drugs

The House bill
Grants 12 years of market protection to high-tech drugs used to combat cancer, Parkinson's, and other deadly diseases. Phases out the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage by 2019.

The Senate bill
Grants 12 years of market protection to high-tech drugs used to combat cancer, Parkinson's, and other deadly diseases. Drug companies contribute $80 billion over 10 years with the majority of the money used to limit the prescription coverage gap in Medicare.

* Long-Term care

The House bill
New voluntary long-term care insurance program would provide a basic benefit designed to help seniors and disabled people avoid going into nursing homes.

The Senate bill
Same as House bill.

* Anti-Trust Provision

The House bill
Would strip the health insurance industry of a long-standing exemption from antitrust laws covering market allocation, price-fixing, and bid rigging.

The Senate bill
Maintains the health insurance industry's decades-old antitrust exemption.

* Illegal Immigrants

The House bill
Would be barred from receiving government subsidies but permitted to use their own money to buy coverage offered by private companies in the exchange.

The Senate bill
Would be barred from receiving government subsidies or using their own money to buy coverage offered by private companies in the exchanges.

* Abortion Coverage

The House bill
Private companies in the exchange could not offer plans covering abortion if those plans received federal subsidy money. Most plans in the exchange would be affected, because most consumers in the exchange would be using federal subsidy money to buy coverage. The new government plan could not offer abortion coverage. Insurance companies would be permitted to offer supplemental abortion coverage in separate plans that people could buy with their own money. Use of federal money for abortion coverage would be limited to cases of rape, incest, or danger to the woman's life.

The Senate bill
No health plan would be required to offer coverage. In those that do, beneficiaries would have to pay for it separately, and those funds would have to be kept in a separate account from taxpayer money. Moreover, individual states would be able to prohibit abortion coverage in plans offered through the exchange, after passing specific legislation to that effect. Exceptions would be made for cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother.

Naturally, those differences must be worked out in joint committee, so the final version of the bill is going to look slightly different, but there are some commonalities in the legislation. One, neither the House nor Senate bill obtain universal coverage. Both have percentage coverage of 90-plus percent, but that is not universal. Both the House and Senate bill extends pharmaceutical companies' monopoly on new drugs from 7 to 12 years, meaning higher costs for consumers with five more years of gauging you without competition from generic drugs (the drug money donated from the industry to reduce costs is a pittance to the amount of money they will make from the extension of this monopoly). Both the House and Senate versions of the bill extend anti-trust exemption to the health care industry, meaning insurance companies that operate as near monopolies in certain state and/or regional markets will not have to worry about any pesky regulations getting in their way, like the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which was written with these companies in mind.

Both the House and Senate bills also target pregnant women and immigrants, prohibiting abortion coverage, as well as coverage for illegal immigrants. Notice, after the fetus fetishists and Mexican haters won those battles, they still mostly opposed the bill. They knew good and well they opposed the bill anyway, but for that we can thank the Quislings from the Blue Dog coalition, particularly Rep. Stupak and Senator Nelson for those exclusions. Of course, neither of these men have to worry about getting impregnated anytime soon.

And the good ole public option. It is dead. The Senate version puts the uninsured in a private plan, the same one given to federal employees. It is very unlikely that the House version of the bill will survive. That ended when Senate Majority Leader Reid refused to keep the public option by re-inserting on committee and passing the legislation through budget reconciliation (obviating the 5-6 condoms for the insurance lobby), but the senator of Nevada decided to instead drag the process to the new year and give Senator Lieberman, Nelson, et al., and their sponsors from America's Health Insurance Plans a victory.

A Real Reform Plan

If we were truly looking for a reform plan, there has been one in Congress from the beginning of this session, H.R. 676, the U.S. Health Care Act, which would among other things.

  • Expands the Medicare program to provide all individuals residing in the United States and U.S. territories with free health care that includes all medically necessary care, such as primary care and prevention, prescription drugs, emergency care, long-term care, mental health services, dental services, and vision care.
  • Prohibits an institution from participating unless it is a public or nonprofit institution. Allows nonprofit health maintenance organizations (HMOs) that deliver care in their own facilities to participate. Private insurance would be replaced via the Medicare expansion.
  • Gives patients the freedom to choose from participating physicians and institutions.
  • Prohibits a private health insurer from selling health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act. Allows such insurers to sell benefits that are not medically necessary, such as cosmetic surgery benefits.
  • Sets forth methods to pay institutional providers of care and health professionals for services. Prohibits financial incentives between HMOs and physicians based on utilization.
  • Establishes the USNHC Trust Fund to finance the Program with amounts deposited: (1) from existing sources of government revenues for health care; (2) by increasing personal income taxes on the top 5% of income earners; (3) by instituting a progressive excise tax on payroll and self-employment income; and (4) by instituting a small tax on stock and bond transactions. Transfers and appropriates amounts that would have been appropriated for federal public health care programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
  • These taxes would be paid instead of insurance premiums, as the government (instead of private insurance companies) would be paying for the care under this single-payer system.
  • Establishes a program to assist individuals whose jobs are eliminated (e.g., within insurance companies) due to the simplified single-payer administrative process.
  • Requires creation of a confidential electronic patient record system.
  • Establishes a National Board of Universal Quality and Access to provide advice on quality, access, and affordability.
  • Provides for: (1) the eventual integration of the Indian Health Service into the Program; and (2) evaluation of the continued independence of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health programs.
  • The bill covers treatments on or after the first day of the year that begins one full year after passage (January 1, 2011 if the bill is passed in 2009). Compensation continues for 15 years to owners of converting for-profit providers for reasonable financial losses.

This is what President Obama, the Kenyan Muslim socialist to the Fox 'news' watchers out in Red Stateland and our corporate boardrooms, find to be "unreasonable." A bill that makes health care a fundamental right of citizenship, covers everyone, at minimum cost for working people (much cheaper than they are currently paying), and banishes insurance companies, HMOs, and the pharmaceutical industry from parasitically using the profit motive for their stockholders (who they legally are bound to as their first fiduciary responsibility) at the expense of the people whose health needs is to them a cost. That is the kind of reform and socialism that would give Glenn Beck his big one and do in Rush's oxycontin providers. And it is one we will not see, thanks to our president, the Blue Dog Coalition, and the current Congressional leadership.