Friday, March 25, 2011

Last Call

Finally this evening your read is yet another example of how the single most crooked Republican governor out there is Florida's Rick Scott.  This time, he's looking to line his own pockets with "Medicare reform" and drive Florida's poor, elderly, and even state employees to the chain of urgent care clinics he founded.

Republican governor Rick Scott's push to privatize Medicaid in Florida is highly controversial—not least because the health care business Scott handed over to his wife when he took office could reap a major profit if the legislation becomes law.

Scott and Florida Republicans are currently trying to enact a sweeping Medicaid reform bill that would give HMOs and other private health care companies unprecedented control over the government health care program for the poor. Among the companies that stand to benefit from the bill is Solantic, a chain of urgent-care clinics aimed at providing emergency services to walk-in customers.

The Florida governor founded Solantic in 2001, only a few years after he resigned as the CEO of hospital giant Columbia/HCA amid a massive Medicare fraud scandal. In January, he transferred his $62 million stake in Solantic to his wife, Ann Scott, a homemaker involved in various charitable organizations.

Florida Democrats and independent legal experts say this handover hardly absolves Scott of a major conflict of interest. As part of a federally approved pilot program that began in 2005, certain Medicaid patients in Florida were allowed to start using their Medicaid dollars at private clinics like Solantic. The Medicaid bill that Scott is now pushing would expand the pilot privatization program to the entire state of Florida, offering Solantic a huge new business opportunity.

"This is a conflict of interest that raises a serious ethical issue," says Marc Rodwin, a medical ethics professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. "The public should be thinking and worrying about this."

With Scott's blessing, the Florida statehouse is currently hammering out the final details of the Medicaid bill, with a vote expected in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, Scott has moved forward on another front that could also bring new business to Solantic. On Tuesday, he signed an executive order requiring random drug testing of many state employees and applicants for state jobs. He's also urged state legislators to pass a similar bill that would require drug testing of poor Floridians applying for welfare.

Among the services that Solantic offers: drug testing.

Yep, that's right:  the whole point of Rick Scott's push to privatize health care that the state of Florida provides is to push business to urgent care clinic chains like the one he founded and that his wife now owns.  

Just like his plans to privatize state hospitals and the Florida school system, his plans to force Florida's unemployed to do unpaid community service to keep benefits while killing tens of thousands of high speed rail jobs, his plans to eliminate corporate taxes and slash funding for everything else,  and his plans to disenfranchise felons who have served their time, everything Rick Scott does is designed to take Florida taxpayer money and political power and put it in the pockets of the state's business elite, starting with Rick Scott...

...and it's only been two months.

The guy is a cartoon evildoer, and yet Florida is stuck with his completely transparent efforts to raid the state's billions and make himself near dictator.

Under a provision added to a rulemaking bill that cleared a House panel Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott and members of the state cabinet may soon be able to bypass normal procedures and repeal hundreds of state agency rules currently under review by using an expedited “summary process.”

Patricia Nelson, of the governor’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform, told the House rulemaking committee Wednesday that the review period will come to an end on April 4, and that the proposed changes will allow the executive branch to eliminate hundreds of unnecessary and obsolete rules, a process that would be costly and burdensome under the existing procedures.

And of course those "unnecessary and obsolete rules" are anything that Rick Scott doesn't agree with, and any rules that Florida's business elite don't want.

Scott's set up to pillage the entire state and leave it a smoking wreck in his wake...and he won't care, because he'll have his billions.  The rest of the state can go screw itself.

Dude's about as vile as it gets.

The Kroog Versus The Urge To Say I Told You So

Hey guess what, austerity hysterics?  Add Portugal to Britain, Ireland and Greece on the list of countries where steep cuts in government spending have completely failed to turn the economy around.  Paul Krugman:

Just ask the Irish, whose government — having taken on an unsustainable debt burden by trying to bail out runaway banks — tried to reassure markets by imposing savage austerity measures on ordinary citizens. The same people urging spending cuts on America cheered. “Ireland offers an admirable lesson in fiscal responsibility,” declared Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute, who said that the spending cuts had removed fears over Irish solvency and predicted rapid economic recovery.

That was in June 2009. Since then, the interest rate on Irish debt has doubled; Ireland’s unemployment rate now stands at 13.5 percent.

And then there’s the British experience. Like America, Britain is still perceived as solvent by financial markets, giving it room to pursue a strategy of jobs first, deficits later. But the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government’s pullback. As I like to put it, the Cameron plan was based on belief that the confidence fairy would make everything all right.

But she hasn’t: British growth has stalled, and the government has marked up its deficit projections as a result.

Which brings me back to what passes for budget debate in Washington these days.

A serious fiscal plan for America would address the long-run drivers of spending, above all health care costs, and it would almost certainly include some kind of tax increase. But we’re not serious: any talk of using Medicare funds effectively is met with shrieks of “death panels,” and the official G.O.P. position — barely challenged by Democrats — appears to be that nobody should ever pay higher taxes. Instead, all the talk is about short-run spending cuts.

In short, we have a political climate in which self-styled deficit hawks want to punish the unemployed even as they oppose any action that would address our long-run budget problems. And here’s what we know from experience abroad: The confidence fairy won’t save us from the consequences of our folly. 

We have proof that drastic government spending cuts, the kind we're seeing now in Europe, have failed miserably.  Ireland is facing even worse problems now and will need hundreds of billions more in help.  Britain is back in recession and will be for years.  Greece is a hopeless mess.  Now, Portugal is falling off the cliff.  Spain and Austria will be next.

And it will only be worse as energy and food prices continue to skyrocket.

Republicans want America to go down this same broken road.

Served With Canadian Fakin'

As Canada's PM Stephen Harper's government gets fried up like back bacon this afternoon, it's important to note why Harper is really getting the axe, and the answer is that Canada's budget woes are directly the result of the fact that Canada did not escape the housing crisis like so many have been led to believe.

Meet Canada's Fannie and Freddie, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

David LePoidevin isn’t the first person to suggest Canada’s roaring housing market is headed for a U.S.-style crash. But he is a rare breed of money manager for daring to point a finger at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the country’s biggest mortgage insurer. In a fall 2009 note to his clients, LePoidevin questioned what was underpinning the country’s skyrocketing home prices, aside from rock-bottom interest rates. “The stock market was sure not providing huge capital gains to the masses,” he wrote. “Did the banks all of a sudden open up the lending spigots? In fact banks have actually reduced the number of their mortgages held from the peak of third quarter of 2008. The smoking gun is the CMHC and its securitization policies.”

As mainstream economic commentary in Canada goes, it was damning stuff. And it provided ammunition to critics who argue the Crown corporation’s policies have inflated a housing bubble. The CMHC is arguably the most influential player in Canada’s $1-trillion housing market. Its main function is to provide mortgage insurance for prospective homeowners who put less than 20 per cent down on their houses, protecting the banks in the event of defaults. The CMHC also helps to spread risk by finding investors to buy CMHC-insured mortgages that have been pooled together into so-called mortgage-backed securities. All of this is guaranteed by the government.

Almost immediately, LePoidevin’s bosses at National Bank leapt to the CMHC’s defence. In a letter to an Ottawa newspaper that had referred to the commentary, co-chief executive Ricardo Pascoe said the Vancouver portfolio manager’s views were “personal” and “do not reflect the views of National Bank Financial Group.” When reached by Maclean’s, LePoidevin declined to talk about the public rebuke or the CMHC in general. A National Bank spokesperson justiļ¬ed its actions, saying the company “felt that the commentary was treading on social and political issues.”

The apparent unwillingness of the country’s sixth-largest bank to challenge the CMHC is curious given the role similar U.S. institutions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—quasi-government agencies that securitized mortgages—played in the U.S. housing crash. But it’s far from unusual. Several other critics, including economists, realtors, lawyers and analysts contacted by Maclean’s, say they have also been the target of attack. One bank economist who once publicly raised fears about a housing bubble says he didn’t dare openly criticize the CMHC because of the agency’s reputation for snuffing out dissent—an allegation the CMHC denies. The economist spoke on the condition his name not be used.

Even worse, the public knows next to nothing about what lurks inside the CMHC’s books, aside from the smattering of details it releases in its annual report. And, unlike every other major insurance provider in the country, the CMHC doesn’t answer to Canada’s top financial services regulator. It falls under an amalgam of government acts and departments, including Finance and Human Resources, while also working with the Bank of Canada. Yet on specific decisions that dramatically loosened mortgage lending rules last decade, CMHC officials have testified they did so on their own with the approval and oversight of the CMHC’s board of directors—a board that includes a political consultant, real estate developers, a small-town lawyer and even the owner of a plumbing company—though not one single economist or recognizable financial services professional.

It all raises troubling questions about the agency, its oversight and, ultimately, the health of the country’s frothy housing market, a key driver of the Canadian economy. And, as LePoidevin found out the hard way, asking hard questions seldom yields satisfactory answers.

If you want to know why Harper's government is making cuts Canadians consider to be draconian, cuts deep enough to cost Harper his job today, this is the elephant in the room to the north of here.  When the CMHC blows up and takes Canada's economy with it, Harper will get the blame.

Exciting New Horizons In Obama Derangement Syndrome

The more I see articles from the winger right about Obama and Libya like this (titled "Obama Fails To Grasp The Gravity Of Going To War"):

Say what you will about the Bush White House. It knew something about preparing Congress and the public for war, having done so before invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. A president needs to lay the foundation for military action by holding extensive briefings for Congress and also by explaining to the American people why action is needed and what it will involve.

That's why veterans of the Bush White House can't quite believe what they are seeing from the supposedly communications-savvy Obama administration.

...the more that I throw my hands up and say "Yes, America, Republicans are counting on you being stupid enough to forget that Bush prepared the country for war in Iraq by lying to you straight-faced for months."

1 In 4 Need Not Apply

Sixty-five million Americans—or one in four adults—have a criminal record. But employers—including major companies like Bank of America, Omni Hotel, and Domino's Pizza—routinely post job ads on Craigslist that explicitly exclude such applicants, according to a new report conducted by the National Employment Law Center (NELP), a labor-affiliated advocacy group.
The practice appears in some cases to be against the law, and at a time of record long-term joblessness, advocates for the poor say it places yet another obstacle in front of people like Magee, who are working to get their life back on track. In addition, there's widespread agreement that helping those with criminal records to find stable employment is crucial for preventing recidivism and preventing future crime. Indeed, that's the reason that the government runs programs designed to make it easier for ex-offenders to find work.

Perhaps most important, effectively making more than one quarter of the American workforce unemployable may be an unsustainable policy for the economy as whole.
What I want to know, and I'm sure Zandar can chime in here and explain, is how these people may also be throwing off our estimates on unemployment rates.  It's also time for states to unite and declare some universal employer practices to bring this issue and others to a place where we can start working towards a resolution.  It's mind-boggling to me that one in four Americans could be removed from consideration for a job before their qualifications and experience comes into play.

What are your thoughts?

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Rules

WASHINGTON – After being criticized for providing Miranda warnings in terrorism cases, the FBI has reminded its agents that in some instances they can question terrorist suspects without immediately reading them their rights.

The Justice Department said Thursday the FBI guidance told investigators they can delay telling suspects of their rights to an attorney and to remain silent when there is immediate concern for the safety of the public.
Wh-wh-what? Since when do we get to circumvent the Constitution and decide when the rules apply? The Miranda warnings take less than a minute. This is inexcusable.

Reflections On The Term "Thug"

When you hear Republicans and conservatives refer to unionized employees in Wisconsin as "thugs", consider the behavior of Republican officials in Wisconsin as a sort of benchmark for what being a "thug" truly means.

Bill Cronon -- or William Cronon, as I think of him -- is a Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin. A few days ago he wrote an oped in the Times critical of Gov. Walker and his push to abolish collective bargaining rights for public employees in Wisconsin. About a week before that, he wrote a blog post -- the first in a new blog called Scholar as Citizen -- examining just who's behind this big anti-union push. He focused on a group called ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council).

Now, so far, nothing particularly controversial about any of this. But then it took a dark turn. Or perhaps better to say, then the story got into gear with everything else we've seen out of the Walker administration over the last three months.

Less than two days after Cronon published the blog post, the Wisconsin Republican Party filed a state open records request to gain access to Cronon's personal emails to get a look at what communications or discussions or sources or anything else went into writing it.

Now, 'personal' is up for some reasonable debate here. This is his university email. And he's a Professor at the University of Wisconsin, the state university. So he's a state employee. Still, he's not an elected official or someone doing public business in the sense you'd ordinarily understand the term. Nor are they looking at anything tied to the administration of the University, which is legitimately a public matter. In the ordinary sense we tend to understand the word it's his personal email. And the range of requested documents leave no doubt about what they're after. 

What they want is an emails Prof. Cronon has written about the following subjects:

Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon's state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.

They want this under FOIA laws, which is a nice touch.  And this is the state Republican party requesting this from the university.  This is pure intimidation, bullying, and hey, thuggery.  This is going after a guy for being a state employee that has a political opinion that differs from the Powers That Be.  This is a message to other Wisconsin state employees:  keep your mouth shut or we will ruin your life.

This is what Republicans in 2011 do to their political "enemies".

Thuggery at its finest.

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

At some point Republicans stop being self-parodying numbskulls and cross over into the realm of being truly frightening in their ignorance of what rule of law in a representative democracy actually means, to whit:  meet Alaska's Don Haase.

Gov. Sean Parnell's appointee for the panel that nominates state judges testified Wednesday that he would like to see Alaskans prosecuted for having sex outside of marriage.

The candidate, Don Haase of Valdez, also admitted under questioning by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that his official resume failed to disclose his leadership role in Eagle Forum Alaska, which advocates for social conservative issues. He most recently was president of the organization, but resigned when he learned of his nomination, he said.

Yes, why should any one involved in nominating state judges be versed in legal matters or follow the rules?  Gov. Sean "I Took Over For Moose Lady When She Quit" Parnell's choice here is truly inspired in its ineptness.  Here's Don in action:

His resume listed such extracurricular activities as his roles in producing and starring in local plays for tourists and being a member of the Valdez Snowmachine Club. But it made no reference to the Eagle Forum Alaska. In response to questions from Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, Haase said he became active in the organization about 2005, eventually taking on responsibility for its blog. "I was only president for a couple of months. I resigned as soon as I got the call that this came up," Haase said.
He said he didn't think it was important enough to merit mention in his resume. He didn't list his church membership either, he said.

One blog post on the Eagle Forum Alaska site praised efforts at criminalizing adultery in Michigan, and Paskvan asked Haase if he thought it should be a felony in Alaska.

"I don't see that that would rise to the level of a felony," Haase said.

Paskvan: "Do you believe it should be a crime?"

Haase: "Yeah, I think it's very harmful to have extramarital affairs. It's harmful to children, it's harmful to the spouse who entered a legally binding agreement to marry the person that's cheating on them."

Paskvan: "What about premarital affairs -- should that be a crime?"

Haase: "I think that would be up to the voters certainly. If it came before (the state) as a vote, I probably would vote for it ... I can see where it would be a matter for the state to be involved with because of the spread of disease and the likelihood that it would cause violence. I can see legitimate reasons to push that as a crime."
Haase then asked why those questions were relevant.

Good night folks, enjoy your meal and please tip your server on the way out, they work hard.

Seriously, I'm not a lawyer, but if I'm assessing whether or not somebody should be on a panel to nominate judges and I see their beliefs on the subject of the law includes "I think we should be able to criminalize non-marital sex" then I am putting that dude's resume in the "no" pile.

Preferably after setting it on fire and stomping on the ashes, then incorporating the ashes into a clay target I then would shoot for sport, then gathering up the clay pieces and run over them with construction equipment.  Large construction equipment.  The kind they make Discovery channel specials about.

You can't make this level of idiocy up, folks.  But remember, Republican "patriots" want a smaller, less intrusive government.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 15

While Japanese officials continue to debate over whether or not Fukushima Daiichi reactor 3 has suffered a containment breach or not, the real problem continues to be long-term damage to Japan's power grid.  With summer coming and power use rising as a result, the loss of the entire Fukushima Daiichi plant means a significant of Japan's total power production is offline for months, if not years.

And that means Japan's rolling blackouts will continue for a long, long time.  The stoic Japanese are already adjusting.

The blackouts have already disrupted production at factories and offices of major Japanese electronics vendors. An expansion could further delay the return of such companies to normal operations.

The amount of electricity available to east Japan is slowly increasing as power stations come back online, but it could be months before some of the power stations recover. The stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was generating 2 GW when the quake hit, is likely to never produce electricity again.

As the weather gets warmer and evenings get longer, demand should fall because less heat and light is needed, but that decline is only expected to continue up to a point. When the summer begins and temperatures start climbing, Tokyoites typically switch on air conditioners.

Demand this summer is expected to be between 55 GW and 60 GW, but TEPCO predicts it will only be able to generate 45 GW of electricity.

The government said Friday it plans to work out a number of measures that would help reduce power demand. They could include increases in the price of electricity, offering longer holidays to workers and the introduction of daylight saving time. Japan last used daylight saving time when it was under U.S. occupation after World War II.

Homes and businesses across Tokyo have already implemented a number of energy-saving measures. Tokyo's famous neon signs and public displays have been switched off, shops are closing early, movie theaters are closed and the frequency of train services has been reduced. Japan's professional baseball league said it would halt night games through April.

Welcome to the "New Nippon Normal".

[UPDATE]  The presumptive reactor #3 breach evidence is pretty bloody scary, folks.


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