Tag Archives: Politics

A Public Option and Employer Insurance.

A new poll shows that a majority of the public supports a public option, and it’s time for lawmakers to listen. When Senators like Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch inveigh against a government-provided insurance option, we all know on whose behalf they’re speaking. But the problem is some of their constituents believe the nonsense about a public option limiting choice for Americans. The Republicans argue that when President Barack Obama says you can keep the health insurance you have if you like it, he’s not telling the truth. But the real truth is that nothing guarantees you can keep the insurance you have anyway.

Because of rising costs, employees were losing their employer-based insurance before,which is what helped spark this call to reform. Employers are also forcing their employees to contribute more money to crappier plans that then ask for even more out-of-pocket payments if you ever use them to go to the doctor. That’s why the number of uninsured Americans kept growing year after year. The Kaiser Family Foundation tells us that’s likely to keep happening without reform.

One of those crappy, high-deductible plans for which I still have to contribute a sizable percent of my income is what I’ll be struggling to afford next year. I’m going to change insurance companies for the fourth time in two years. The first change was my “fault;” I changed employers and moved to a different state. The other changes came when my company was sold and bought, and then bought again. Now, my new owner has decided the health care plan I elected is too expensive. If I want to keep my doctors on the new plan and they’re not in the network, there’s a good chance my insurance will only cover 85 percent of “reasonable and customary” costs. Is there a list of what the company considers “reasonable” for different types of treatments or procedures? No. I’m sure whatever I face next year, I can count on a confusing bill to follow.

This is what’s frustrating to me about the right’s claims of personal choice and responsibility in the health care debate. I’m pretty trapped with whatever new plan my new employer wants to implement. And it doesn’t feel like choice.

Angling for the Presidency.

Dick Cheney official photo

Dick Cheney official photo

In his inaugural column for the Times, Ross Douthat argues that Cheney should have run for president so that America could have had a stouter debate on torture during the campaign.  McCain couldn’t hold the pro-torture platform because he didn’t agree with the Bush/Cheney stand, and so the Bush/Cheney stand and the viability of their brand of conservatism could really only have been tested with a Cheney run. He doesn’t argue that Cheney would have been good for the country, but that the debate would have been.

. . .and Obama didn’t see a percentage in harping on the topic.

He wasn’t alone. A large swath of the political class wants to avoid the torture debate. The Obama administration backed into it last week, and obviously wants to back right out again.

But the argument isn’t going away. It will be with us as long as the threat of terrorism endures. And where the Bush administration’s interrogation programs are concerned, we’ve heard too much to just “look forward,” as the president would have us do. We need to hear more: What was done and who approved it, and what intelligence we really gleaned from it. Not so that we can prosecute – unless the Democratic Party has taken leave of its senses – but so that we can learn, and pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus.

Here Dick Cheney, prodded by the ironies of history into demanding greater disclosure about programs he once sought to keep completely secret, has an important role to play. He wants to defend his record; let him defend it. And let the country judge.

It’s an intriguing argument, but I’m not sure I buy it. First, you have to assume that the kind of debate would only have happened during the election, and that people hadn’t made a decision about torture based on what we knew about Abu Ghraib and waterboarding beforehand. You could argue that if the American people didn’t care then, they weren’t going to care during the campaign, when their home and 401(K) values began plunging. Or you could argue that the debate did happen in people’s families, homes and communities, and the Bush/Cheney torture policy was soundly rejected when Barack Obama won in November. Obama didn’t bring out those horrible photos, but he often spoke about the threat to civil liberties and our American ideals under a policy that condoned such activites and wiretapped it’s civilians and had “federal agents poking around in our libraries.” The election wasn’t just a defeat of McCain, but an overall rejection of the Republican party and the last eight years. And, in case you didn’t know, the previous eight years were run by the Cheney administration.

Which makes this a perfect time to tell you to read Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, the book Barton Gellman published after he and Jo Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for their series about Cheney for the Washington Post. Even if you read the series, the book contains revelations so astounding that you wonder if you ever know what’s going on in this country at all.

On giving exclusive authority to the Pentagon to decide which suspected terrorists to try with military tribunals, for example, Cheney, who “liked to remind the White House staff that ‘the president’s most precious commodity is his time,'” arranged a meeting with former Attorney General John Ashcroft and overruled his objections to tell him John Yoo had already recommended the Pentagon could do it.

Three days later, Cheney brought the order to lunch with the president. No one told Colin Powell or Condi Rice. No one told their lawyers. . .

Cheney emerged from lunch with a thumbs-up from the president. . .

In less than an hour, the document traversed a West Wing circuit that gave its words the power of command. It changed hands four times, with emphatic instructions to bypass staff review. Cheney’s days of ‘orderly paper flow,’ of shunning ‘by the way decisions,’ were long behind him.

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A Disquisition on Damon Weaver.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why our collective sweetheart Damon Weaver, who scored some big interviews at the inauguration but not the biggest one, is so compelling. Sure, he’s adorable. But lots of children are cute, and it normally takes an extra something to warm the icy cage around my heart.

I suspect a lot of it has to do with how perfectly Damon fits into this particular moment. Damon’s a ten-year-old who believes he can interview the president. I’m going to gag on my own cheesiness here, but if there is a spirit of hope and possibility in the air, then surely a kid who asks heartbreakingly guileless and relevant questions of important people who lovingly and respectfully give their time to him and his school captures that spirit well. His triumphs, on a smaller scale, mirror the triumph of Barack Obama’s presidency.

And maybe that’s why it’s ok that Obama hasn’t given him an interview yet. Damon would kind of disappear.

Taking Another Crack at Equal Pay.

Fair PayLilly Ledbetter with Barack Obama last year.

Lilly Ledbetter worked in a Goodyear plant in Alabama for nearly two decades. It wasn’t until she was near retiring that she found out that her male co-workers in the same position made more than she did — a lot more. (She earned $3,727.  Men in her position on the low end earned $4,286; on the high end, they made $5,236.) And so she sued Goodyear for discrimination.

Then things got tricky. Title VII, the federal civil rights law that forbids employment discrimination, requires that employees file charges “within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” In court, Goodyear essentially argued that the act of discrimination — passing Ledbetter over for a raise or promotion — happened decades ago, and so the time for her to make a stink about it had passed. The case made it to the Supreme Court, which sided with Goodyear.

It was a head-scratching decision by the Court.* While the time constraints in Title VII makes sense if the discrimination (or retaliation) is overt, what if you don’t know you’re being discriminated against until much later? (Ledbetter, for example, didn’t know she was being shorted until she received an anonymous letter telling her how much the dudes with her title were actually pulling in.)

Now it looks like Obama and the incoming Democratic Congress will introduce legislation that would relax the timeframe in discrimination suits,** as the Supreme Court decision has had far-reaching ramifications.

In the last 19 months, federal judges have cited the Ledbetter decision in more than 300 cases involving not only Title VII, but also the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Fair Housing Act; a law known as Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in schools and colleges; and even the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects prisoners’ rights.

Lower-court judges have been influenced by two particular aspects of the Ledbetter decision. The Supreme Court drew a sharp distinction between “discrete acts” of discrimination and the continuing effects of past violations. Employers, it said, do not necessarily violate the law when their recent actions have no discriminatory purpose, but perpetuate the adverse effects of pay decisions made in the past.

The Ledbetter precedent has stymied a wide range of civil rights plaintiffs.

In March 2007, Judge Paul L. Friedman of the Federal District Court here allowed employees at the Federal Aviation Administration to challenge the agency’s pay scales as biased against older workers.

A year later he reversed himself and ruled for the government, saying, “The import of Ledbetter for this case is clear.”

There’s a lot of crap from the past eight years to undo. Fixing the fallout from Ledbetter is a welcome start.

*…and another sterling example of the Bush administration’s shitty civil rights record. The EEOC actively supported Ledbetter’s case by  arguing that “each paycheck that reflects the initial discrimination is itself a discriminatory act that resets the clock on the 180-day period.” But when the Court agreed to hear the case, the Bush administration filed a brief siding with Goodyear. During the Bush administration, the Civil Rights division at Justice, long the province of career civil servants, was essentially gutted, leaving those positions to be filled with political appointees with little to no civil rights litigation experience. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the division ended up pushing “reverse racism” cases.

**An earlier version of this legislation, co-sponsored by Obama, was killed by Senate Republicans.

More Obama Firsts (Maybe).

Via Politico:

Preeta Bansal, a Harvard-educated litigation partner at Skadden, is rumored to be President-elect Obama’s choice for solicitor general. That person argues the government’s position at the Supreme Court (which will still be dominated by conservatives). “It’s making the rounds in New York’s legal circles, absolutely,” says a former colleague of Bansal’s. She was New York’s solicitor general under Eliot Spitzer and a counselor to then–assistant attorney general Joel Klein in the Clinton administration; she was an adviser to Obama’s campaign and now serves on the transition team. She’d be the first woman and first Indian-American to hold the job. “It wouldn’t surprise me,” says Klein. “She’s a very talented appellate advocate.”

Clinton Weighs In

Salon has a response from Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray to the new Bush rule that states doctors have a right to opt out of procedures (from abortions to prescribing birth control) they object to on religious or moral grounds. Note: They can anyway.

In the final days of his administration, the President is again putting ideology first and attempting to roll back health care protections for women and families. The fact that the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] was never consulted in the drafting of this rule further illustrates that this is purely a political ploy. This HHS rule will threaten patients’ rights, stand in the way of health care professionals, and restrict access to critical health care services for those who need them most. Senator Murray and I are standing up once again to the administration against this rule and will continue to fight for women’s reproductive rights. President Bush is making a last-minute attempt to undermine women’s health care, but our legislation will stop this rule and ensure that women can continue to get needed health care.

Opting Out of Providing Care.

Despite the fact that most Americans might hope that Bush lays low in the final days of his historically unpopular presidency, he’s decided to try to push through at least one last-minute agenda: a plan that would allow health care providers to refuse to perform abortions and other procedures they object to on moral or religious grounds.

The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

It would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to “assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity” financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

But three officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including its legal counsel, whom President Bush appointed, said the proposal would overturn 40 years of civil rights law prohibiting job discrimination based on religion.

The counsel, Reed L. Russell, and two Democratic members of the commission, Stuart J. Ishimaru and Christine M. Griffin, also said that the rule was unnecessary for the protection of employees and potentially confusing to employers.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already prohibits employment discrimination based on religion, Mr. Russell said, and the courts have defined “religion” broadly to include “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong, which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.”

It’s not that anyone wants to force doctors who object to abortions to perform them. They already don’t have to. That’s the point. This is unnecessary and confusing.

But the bigger problem is that it puts something that doesn’t belong between a doctor and his duty to care for a patient to the best of his or her ability. If a woman wants birth control, she should be able to go to her doctor and get it. If a pregnancy endangers her life, she should trust that a doctor would counsel her on abortion. If a patient needed a drug that had been tested on animals to regulate their blood pressure, a doctor who was also a member of PETA wouldn’t be able to refuse to prescribe it.

But all of this goes back to some wonky religious ideas that have nothing to do with religion. It’s part of what I’ve decided is the overall problem with Christianity as its practiced by some in this country. Other religions, like Buddhism and Hinduism, celebrate gods or forces that are both creative and destructive. Destruction clears the way for creativity. As was once put to me by the son of a Pentecostal preacher (whose religion required him to wear pants through unbearable Arkansas summers but did not prevent him from reaching the logical conclusion that evolution was the most likely explanation for how life on earth had changed over time), the existence of good depends upon evil, or it ceased to have any quality at all. Christianity cast out the destructive force when it sent the devil to hell.

The religious right only believe God exists when they decide a life is created. So God enabled doctors to be able to fertilize eggs in a test tube for couples who otherwise couldn’t have children, but he doesn’t allow them to use those cells to save lives that already exist. Likewise, a woman who might die in childbirth can’t abort the baby, though doing so would help perpetuate the human race even more than the risky pregnancy because she could survive and reproduce in the future instead. And God didn’t enable us to regulate our own reproductive lives, thereby giving our offspring a better chance.