Monday, August 31, 2009

School Prejudice

John Stevens does us all a great service, by taking an important stand against prejudice and racism as a member of the School Board.
The fact is that a sweeping statement about "Sterling Park Schools" is pure prejudice. Sterling Park is served by seven schools. One High, one Middle and five Elementaries. Each is unique. "THOSE schools" doesn't mean "THOSE teachers" or "THOSE principals," or even "THOSE buildings." "THOSE schools" is just code for "THOSE kids," meaning "the poor ones with brown skin." - Our Loudoun Schools
Go read the entire post. It's important.

Health Reform's Impact In VA-10

The current health reform bill in the House of Representatives is HR 3200, America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has done an analysis of how the bill will impact every district in the U.S. Here's their analysis for VA-10, our district, currently represented by Frank Wolf.
America’s Affordable Health Choices Act would provide significant benefits in the 10th Congressional District of Virginia: Up to 18,800 small businesses could receive tax credits to provide coverage to their employees; 5,100 seniors would avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D; 1,500 families could escape bankruptcy each year due to unaffordable health care costs; health care providers would receive payment for $55 million in uncompensated care each year; and 41,000 uninsured individuals would gain access to high-quality, affordable health insurance. - The House Energy and Commerce Committee
Just something to keep in mind when it comes up for a vote in September.

"Kill The Bill"

Listening to C-SPAN Radio today (yes, I know, I am that odd), I heard an interesting chant behind a Republican health care town hall in Louisiana. The audience was chanting "Kill The Bill." Shortly thereafter, one of the elected representatives there told an anecdote about how evil England's socialized medicine system is. For the record, the attendees included Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), Rep. John Fleming (R-Louisiana), Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisana), and Rep.Rodney Alexander (R-Louisiana), which is why I characterized this as a "Republican" health care town hall.

The reason this chant surprised me is that there isn't yet a "bill" to "kill." As has been widely reported, there are three or four different bills currently under consideration, with as many alternatives waiting in the wings but not actively being considered. This is the reason that "Kill The Bill," like so many slogans opposing health reform, is both illogical and misinformed. People are screaming opposition to things that are not there and fearing outcomes that are not rational.

Much of the health reform news today is about the people advocating for a "do over." Republicans like Orrin Hatch have been trying to define Sen. Kennedy's legacy as one of compromise, rather than combative effectiveness. (Sen. Kennedy can define his own legacy, thank you very much.) Under this theory, Democrats, who are on the verge of success, should now step back and reaffirm their faith in bipartisanship by turning over the reins of legislation to people like Mike Enzi, who counts delaying compromise his greatest accomplishment. We should call a "do over" of this process because it's not bipartisan. That's like saying the Yankees should restart a game from the beginning even though they're winning 10-1 because the Red Sox refuse to take the field in the bottom of the 9th.

Furthermore, we are told to heed the words of former Senator Bob Dole, who tells the Democrats to start over. Nevermind the fact that Bob Dole was one of the architects of health care obstructionism during the 1994 debates, and personally benefitted from that obstruction, becoming Majority Leader in 1995 and then the Republican nominee for President. His own experience shows the benefits Republicans gain from delay and obstruction, and we're supposed to listen to his advice as if it were given from the goodness of his heart. Maybe if he had won the 1996 election, he would have some standing to give advice to a man who won the 2008 election. As things stand, I hope President Obama keeps his own counsel.

It is interesting to see the mainline criticisms from the Republicans shift from "death panels" to "do overs." It means we are winning. In the Senate, we have 45 declared "yes" votes for the public option, and quite probably 5-10 more "yes" votes who won't declare until it is clear there is a bill for the voting. Remember, as yet there is no one bill for Senators to support or oppose unless they are themselves on one of the committees looking at bills. In the past six weeks, the debate has shifted and we have gained the momentum. Most people want the public option, and it is increasingly clear that there will be health care reform this year.

The Republican leadership may be wrong, but they're not stupid. They know the only way to derail reform now is to "start over." The paeans to "bipartisanship" and "starting from scratch" we hear are simply dilution and obstruction in newer, even more desperate language. The other side knows that if the Democrats win this fight we will secure a legacy for our party and our President. They know that it is their constituents who will benefit the most for true health care reform, and that is frightening because those voters might notice that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who got it done. This is not President Obama's Waterloo, it is theirs.

We must keep up the energy, keep up the effort, and keep up the pressure. We are in the final lap of a long race, a race begun by Harry Truman sixty-four years ago and ran by liberals, progressives and the Democratic party since then. The baton has been passed from generation to generation, from Medicare and Medicaid to SCHIP to the public option. It is up to us to run our leg and advance our cause. Do not confuse the Republican hand as one put out to help, it is there to pull us back, lest we achieve that which they would not. The finish line is in sight. It is ours if we will but chase it.

P.S. There's a link in there to a Newsweek article, "The Death Of Conservatism" that is really worth the read if you click through nothing else.

Two Discussions Of Marriage

With thanks to my colleague Adam, here are two really fantastic and different perspectives on sexuality, marriage, logic and history.

First, a Catholic historian's overview of the history of marriage and the truly grey and undefined reality of that "history."

A History of Marriage

Here are a few excerpts:
Maybe the most frustrating thing I have heard in the recent debate is this claim that has become a mantra: that we are in the processing of changing some allegedly unchanging 3,000-year-old institution called "marriage." Of course, the decision to grant marriage licenses would be a "change" in marriage practice, but "marriage," whatever that is, is always in the process of being changed. To pretend that its alteration is somehow a rupture in what is otherwise a three-thousand year continuity is just silly.
Today's concept of marriage, in which a conservative figure of a 40% divorce rate is part of the package, would have been unthinkable a century ago. On the other hand, statistics seem to show that the average longevity of today's marriage is identical to those a century ago. The difference is that a century ago people (mostly women) died, i.e., often died from childbirth, too many pregnancies, or dangerous deliveries. Thus, whereas the people of the mid-19th century could not have imagined 21st-c. marriage/divorce rates, likewise, we cannot really imagine the marriage/death rates of the mid- 19th century. Antibiotics have fundamentally altered our expectations of reality.
In fact, it seems more correct to say that the idea of a "civil marriage" between anyone whomsoever was the genuine modern innovation in marriage practice, and that its transformation from a Christian sacrament (or at least a church ceremony, since many Protestants recognize only Baptism and Eucharist as "sacraments") to a civil union has been incomplete, messy, and perhaps incoherent. (Cf. all the talk about the "sanctity of marriage" in the civic sphere.) American practice blurs these boundaries between Church and State: a Catholic priest simultaneously serve as the State's "marriage" authority. Generally speaking, European practice separates these functions and maintains clearer boundaries between Church and State. - Stephen Schloesser, S.J. - Assistant Professor of History - Boston College
And from a completely different perspective, the logic around understanding marriage as a category to be tracked by a system.

Gay Marriage: The database engineering perspective

Here's an excerpt from that:
- `id`
- `forename`
- `surname`
- `birthdate`
- `sex` ("male" or "female")

- `id`
- `husband_id` (foreign key references a male in column `humans`.`id`)
- `wife_id` (foreign key references a female in column `humans`.`id`)
- `marriage_date`
- `divorce_date` (NULL if marriage not ended)

Finally we are reaching something which is non-stupid and non-sexist enough that it might actually exist somewhere in reality. This schema is reasonably sensible assuming you live in a fairly God-fearing administrative district. There is actually a slight disadvantage from the previous schema in that to enforce a one-man-one-woman marriage, you would have to have some application logic to ensure that each `husband_id` doesn't point to a female and that each `wife_id` doesn't point to a male.

(And, I guess, you would also need to ensure that no married male changes to female, and that no married female changes to male. Or, if you were feeling nasty, that nobody ever changes sex at all. More on this later.)

Up until this point, implementing gay marriage in your schema has been remarkably difficult. But what we now have is different. To allow men and women to marry men and women respectively, all you actually have to do is remove those application-layer checks. For the sake of politeness you would most likely rename the database columns, too.
Just a couple of things I'm reading on the side this morning.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bob McDonnell's Plans

Bob McDonnell's campaign for governor of Virginia is the culmination of cultural and political plans he put in place more than twenty years ago, plans which he has been following since then.
At age 34, two years before his first election and two decades before he would run for governor of Virginia, Robert F. McDonnell submitted a master's thesis to the evangelical school he was attending in Virginia Beach in which he described working women and feminists as "detrimental" to the family. He said government policy should favor married couples over "cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators." He described as "illogical" a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples.
During his 14 years in the General Assembly, McDonnell pursued at least 10 of the policy goals he laid out in that research paper, including abortion restrictions, covenant marriage, school vouchers and tax policies to favor his view of the traditional family. In 2001, he voted against a resolution in support of ending wage discrimination between men and women. - The Washington Post
This article in the Washington Post is not the result of some kind of witch hunt. Bob McDonnell himself made reference to his graduate thesis in recent campaign comments, which led to the Post to go find a copy and read it.
The Washington Post learned of the thesis in a recent interview with McDonnell, who mentioned it in answering a question about his political roots. McDonnell brought up the paper in reference to a pair of Republican congressmen whom he interviewed as part of his research. McDonnell then offered: "I wrote my thesis on welfare policy." - The Washington Post
Others have already analyzed the article, including Blue Virginia.
Look, let's face it, Bob McDonnell's not just outside the mainstream of American politics generally, he's even outside the mainstream of the Republican Party. Women shouldn't work? Contraception should be illegal? The government should micromanage our private lives? Heck, even Sarah Palin probably doesn't agree with all this crap. I mean, this is not just bonkers, it's "Sideshow Bob" Marshall bonkers (now THAT is bonkers!). - Blue Virginia
I don't have anything to add, other than to recommend reading the article. It's worth your time.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

An Interlude: Buying A Car

I'll be in the market to buy a car sometime in the next year. Thankfully, Markos is in the market today, and shared this rescued diary with us, containing wonderful nuggets of advice.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sen. Warner And The Public Option

Our junior Senator certainly likes blazing his own path. He ran against the unbeatable John Warner in 1996, when most people thought it was a fool's errand. Though he lost, he did a lot better than people expected, and set himself up for his governor's race in 2001. In that race, he defied expectations by gathering a lot of Republican support for his candidacy. He ended his term defying expectations further by helping his Lt. Governor ascend to the office after him, when most national pundits had written Virginia off as as Republican as any state in the union.

Sen. Warner is now defying expecations on health care reform, and specifically, the public insurance option. His corporate supporters have generally been against the idea, setting the expectation he would oppose it. His activist supporters (myself included) have been bombarding his office telling him to support it. Sen. Warner has Solomonically split the difference.
Last night, at John Bell's fundraiser, Senator Warner said to a group of people that, in the end, he would not vote against health care reform containing the public option. I didn't report that immediately for two reasons: 1) I wasn't there when he said it, but heard it secondhand; and 2) I wasn't sure if it was on or off the record. Well now, after just getting off the phone with Senator Warner's office, I can confirm that this is correct information - in the end, the public option is not a "make or break" for Warner one way or the other and he WILL vote for a health care reform bill with a public option in there. Good news. - Blue Virginia
First, great kudos to Lowell for this pretty significant scoop. Second, greater kudos to everyone who has written letters, made phone calls, written emails, and voted for resolutions asking Sen. Warner to speak out in favor of the Public Option.

This statement from Sen. Warner does some interesting things to the political calculus in the Senate. Chris Bowers at OpenLeft explains.
As originally reported by Blue Virginia, Senator Mark Warner has confirmed that he will not vote against a public option, and will vote in favor of a public option that holds down the cost of premiums. While this is not equal to a full statement of triggerless public option support that we had been seeking, as I discussed last night, during our final push to 50, it is good enough to remove Warner from the "maybe" column, and place him in a new category ("won't vote against") that is equivalent to "yes." Let me explain why.

First, a public option will keep down costs, as even opponents of the plan admit. In fact, that is the main argument against a public option--it would offer such low cost health insurance that people would leave private insurers in droves. Second, saying you will not vote against a health care bill with a public option means either that you will vote "yes" when presented with such a bill, or not vote at all. However, not voting on legislation of this historic magnitude is, at best, an extremely remote possibility for any Senator. - Chris Bowers, OpenLeft
Thank you, Senator Warner, for listening and going on the record with your current thoughts on the public option. Please come all the way over to full support for the public option. America needs it now.

By the way, as Lowell reported, Sen. Warner made the critical statement at a fundraiser for local candidate, John Bell, who is taking on the paleoconservative Bob Marshall. Go give John some love, it's because of him and his event that we are one small step closer to real health reform.

Health Care Vigil In Leesburg is putting together a health care vigil here in Leesburg.
Americans are struggling because of the high cost of coverage or denial of care. Every day, 14,000 people lose healthcare coverage, and thousands face bankruptcy each month because of medical bills.

At the vigils, from coast to coast, we'll read the names and hear stories of real Americans who are suffering under our broken system and can't afford to wait for real reform. It'll be a powerful reminder to Congress and the media why every American needs reform that includes the choice of a public option.

And with the tragic passing of Senator Kennedy just days ago, for many, these vigils will take on new meaning. Senator Kennedy was a true leader for healthcare reform and we can honor his legacy by sending Congress back to work with a message to deliver on the cause of his life.

I signed up to attend the Leesburg Vigil on September 2nd at 7pm. I hope you can join us too.
Public Option Now
Leesburg Courthouse @ King and Market Streets
Wednesday, 2 Sep 2009, 7:00 PM
Vigil for Health Care At the Historic Leesburg Courthouse

Message from host:

Status: Public, open for RSVP, 15 attendees (max. 500)
1 King St
Leesburg, VA 20175
Senator Warner remains one of the critical votes in the Senate on the fence. Contact him today and ask him to support the Public Option and get health care reform done now.

Steve Shannon in Leesburg

Every weekend, Democrats in Loudoun canvass for our candidates. This Saturday the local canvassing here in Leesburg will be kicked off with a speech by our AG Candidate, Steve Shannon.
Steve Shannon Meet, Greet, and Canvass!
9:30 AM Ida Lee Park
60 Ida Lee Dr NW Leesburg, VA
Meet in front of the Library


Saturday 8/29 Coordinated Campaign Canvass
Ida Lee Park Recreation Center
10 AM
12 PM

Sunday 8/30 Coordinated Campaign Canvass
Ida Lee Park Recreation Center
12 PM
As we've learned in the past three years, knocking doors matters. It is neighbor-to-neighbor efforts like this that have turned Loudoun into fertile ground for Democrats. If you can, please come out on Saturday to support our team!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

HCA Returns To Loudoun

For the past four or five years, the battles over development in Loudoun have been fierce and political. Perhaps none was so contentious as the battle over the proposed HCA Broadlands Regional Medical Center. At the time, Leesburg Tomorrow proposed that Loudoun would benefit regardless of the eventual disposition of BRMC, because either way, we'd be getting a new hospital. It was just a question of who, where and when.
Regardless of the Supervisors' decision, someone's ox will get gored in the short-term and there will some anger and frustration expressed. However, ten years from now, Loudoun's citizens will be benefiting from more available medical care, be it in the form of the Broadlands Regional Medical Center or the proposed facilities on Rt. 50. And that is, quite simply, a good thing. - Leesburg Tomorrow, March 13, 2008
When the Board made its final decision in February of this year, denying the application for BRMC, HCA threatened to pull out of Loudoun altogether, and maybe even sue (again).
“While today’s decision is certainly disappointing to us, the real blow is to Loudon County [sic - HCA may want to learn how to spell the localities it's trying to do business in correctly. It helps with the perception that you're actually going to care about us -P13], whose hospital resources are inadequate to meet current community needs, and will remain so,” said Margaret Lewis, President of HCA’s Capital Division. “Loudoun loses not only the hospital beds and services it needs, but also the tax revenues, new jobs, and charity care this facility would have generated – and it does so at a time when the county’s financial health is fragile at best.” - HCA
Here's what Leesburg Today reported at the time about HCA's future plans.
Before the vote, Margaret Lewis, head of HCA's Capital Division, said the company had no immediate plans to build a full-service hospital on Rt. 50 because the area could not support such a facility. Tuesday, Foust reaffirmed that position, saying the vote against Broadlands did not change those plans.

"Rt. 50 is not an option for us to build a hospital," he said, adding that the HCA-owned Glascock site is "clearly an inferior site" when compared with the Broadlands location or Inova's property on Rt. 50.

Foust would not comment about whether Tuesday's actions would send HCA back to court with the county, saying only that they "were not going to eliminate any options from our list." - Leesburg Today
Well, a funny thing happened on the way out of town.
On Aug. 19, HCA applied to the state to move its already approved hospital beds 7 miles south from the Broadlands property to a site HCA owns at the corner of Gum Spring Road and the future Stone Spring Boulevard.

The change came, Foust said, because “Loudoun needs another hospital and needs another hospital system. We changed our plans to best serve Loudoun’s interests.” - Loudoun Times-Mirror
The Board of Supervisors was correct to believe that HCA's threat to pull out of Loudoun if BRMC was not approved was only so much posturing. Market competition has a funny way of yielding beneficial outcomes when properly framed by governments. In this case, the County plan called for a hospital on Rt. 50, and the actions of the Supervisors, combined with some healthy competition between Inova and HCA, are leading to the fulfillment of those plans.
HCA’s 24 acres [A person with connections to HCA tells me the site is actually 50 acres -P13] on U.S. 50 are adjacent to a 95-acre parcel owned by Inova Loudoun Hospital. When HCA earlier this year insisted the population in the U.S. 50 corridor will not support a hospital – its land was for a third hospital in the far future – Inova applied to the state to build an 80-bed hospital on its land. - Loudoun Times-Mirror
It is funny how the Rt. 50 location was totally untenable for HCA right up until the point that Inova decided to build something there. HCA was always going to look for a way to get into the Loudoun hospital market. We are one of the wealthiest localities in America, and HCA is a for-profit company. They want a piece of our rich pie, and our Board of Supervisors has done their job well in making sure the County's residents are served by HCA's motives. That is the story of HCA and Loudoun, not the contentious sniping of the past four years.

It will be interesting to see how the approval process for this newly proposed facility, Stone Spring Medical Center, differs from the saga of BRMC.

Vivian Paige Talks With Sen. Warner

Vivian Paige had a conversation with Sen. Warner which is worth catching up on.
I remain concerned that with all the efforts we are spending on health care (this conversation, which, despite my best efforts, still ended up being about health care), we have lost sight of some other pretty important stuff. The re-regulation of the banking system is a critical piece that has dropped off the radar. The Senator says that the committee that is working on this is expected to come out with something after the recess. He said that he thinks there are going to be some significant reforms in the bill, including some consumer protection. I asked about the separation of the various financial institutions – banks from brokerages, from insurance companies, etc – that we used to have. He said he didn’t think we would see “an unscrambling of the egg” but we would be some significant oversight. - Vivian Paige
I think it is wonderful that the Senator took the time to call Vivian and talk with her about the important issues he is seeing in the Senate. Take a trip over to her blog and give the entire conversation a read.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Email Sen. Warner Today

In case you haven't yet contacted Sen. Warner to ask for his support for the public option, Democracy For America makes it very easy.
Ask Senator Warner about the public healthcare option

Where does Mark Warner stand on the public healthcare option?

Does he support a national public healthcare option that’s available on day one and able to establish rates with big drug companies and hospitals?

Does he support the public healthcare option as passed by the HELP committee in the Senate?

Over the last few months, thousands of people have asked Senator Warner this question, but he has not yet answered.

Click “Continue” to send Senator Warner a fax and ask him to answer these questions and tell us where he stands.
Go on, click through, you know you want to. Do it today, for Sen. Kennedy. After all, this was the fight of his life.

Remember, they work for us. We sweated through thousands of doors and phone calls for fights just like this, and it's time Sen. Warner heard from us.

(With a tip-o-the-hat to OpenLeft.)

[update] If you want an understanding of how efforts like this will get this done for us, go read Mike Lux.
Above all, don't panic. There will be some rough days ahead. Certain Senators will keep saying we can't get this done, and pundits will continue to shed the worst possible light on each day's events. But we just need to hang tough, hold strong, and keep working. - OpenLeft

[update 2] Because Jen Sorensen is a fellow Wahoo and is so awesome at this.

A Life Fighting For Change

Sen. Ted Kennedy spent his life embracing, and fighting for change. That's not a simple or easy thing. Much of American history has been defined by the fight between those promoting and those opposing titanic forces of change sweeping across the nation. The fights have often been violent and bloody, and have always left scars. It is a courageous man who can stand up and speak out in favor of change for the better for forty-seven years, but that is exactly what Sen. Kennedy did. He fought to change laws that stood in the way of equality and progress throughout his career. He fought to change perceptions about what could be, and should be, in the hearts and minds of his colleagues.

That is his legacy, and one which we will all do well to honor. Change is coming, change is constant, and change is something we should embrace.

Edward Kennedy did.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Health Insurance Reform Explained

If you still need help explaining or understanding the current health reform being proposed in Congress, here's a handy chart which makes it very clear.

Health Reform Flowchart

Share and enjoy. Note that the "millions" referenced is the number of people covered that way.

(With a tip-o-the-hat to DailyKos.)

"Delayed" Clunker Rebates

I listen to "The Morning Briefing" on XM each morning as I drive to work. This morning, they were interviewing Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, and he was complaining about how long it was taking to get dealers their CARS (i.e. "Cash for Clunkers") rebate checks. Now, leaving aside for the moment that this complaint was probably so much posturing for next year's governor's race in Michigan, and also leaving aside the fact that Rep. Hoekstra appears to be both against spending, and against delays in spending, I would like to ask this question: How long does it take to pay a bill?

Most companies I work with pay on a "net-30" or even "net-60" basis. One major corporation actually has a "net-90" policy. That means they do not pay the bill until 90 days after they get it. The CARS program was put into place on July 31. It's now August 25th. That means the longest a bill could possibly be outstanding is about three weeks. I guarantee the dealerships involved have "net-30" payment policies for invoices, maybe more. The government has hired more people to process claims and is extending the deadline for rebate submission in response to problems with the website dealerships are to use to submit claims. All of this has been done within the first few weeks of the program.

Rather than being an example of inefficiency and ineffectiveness, the CARS program has been a model of government action and solutions. Each issue that has been reported is a manifestation of a lesson learned, not a new and persistent problem.
  • Too Much Paperwork - The reason the government requires a lot of paperwork is to prevent the fraud and lack of accountability perceived to be present in other stimulus measures. I guarantee you that without these strict reporting requirements, Republican Congresspersons would be out in front of the camera with numerous examples of fraudulent CARS claims, as proof-positive that the government is bad. Of course, when requirements are put in place to prevent fraud and abuse, it's "too much paperwork." The Republicans in Congress aren't looking for a solution, they're just looking for something to criticize. It should be noted that we have yet to see a dealership claim that the paperwork was too difficult and therefore they will not be participating in the program, clearly, the rebates are worth the paperwork to them.

  • It Worked Too Well - Remember the brief debate over expanding and extending the program from a few weeks ago? The argument the Republicans raised at that time was that the program must be a failure because it ran out of money. The program was too successful. Think about that for a moment, the criticism was that it worked. Of course, that's a problem for anti-government Republicans.

  • Payment Delays - This is the most unreasonable of criticisms, as I note above. You and I sometimes wait a few weeks to pay our bills, just to make sure they're accurate and we have the money in our accounts. It's perfectly reasonable to expect the government to verify all the paperwork to avoid fraud before cutting a check, and it's reasonable to give the government more than three weeks to do that, considering the scope, size, and criticality of this program.
The reason that many Republicans have been grasping at straws to find something wrong with the CARS program is that the CARS program is, and has been, a wild success. It proves the power and efficacy of the government when focused and managed by a party that actually cares about making Government work.

If the CARS program is successful (and it is), it proves the government can create a new program from scratch, run it nationwide, and do it well, in a matter of weeks. If the government can do that, why not a public health insurance program?

Why not indeed?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Remember: Most People Want A Public Option

It has been a summer of misinformation and vituperation over health care, and given that, it is important to note and remember that the public option retains the support of a majority of Americans, in spite of all the ink and hot air on the subject.

Perhaps most tellingly, the public option is popular in Max Baucus' home state. That matters considering the stranglehold Sen. Baucus currently has over perceptions about the public option's fate. In a recent call with Democratic leaders in Montana, he even said that he "wants" a public option. The only question is whether he will act on that desire.

This morning, we enter perhaps the most delicate period of this entire struggle for health care reform. The public option has become the ground on which the battle will be decided (in spite of some attempts to move it). Even as the public option gains momentum in the debate, important players are temporarily leaving the field.

We all know that President Obama is on vacation. While he will certainly continue his advocacy for reform, it will not have the same punch it does during his time in the White House. This is significant because the President has been an important factor in keeping the public option in the discussion, even if only by questioning whether it should be.

The other factor which I think is important, but which most will probably overlook is the perhaps more significant vacations being taken by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. For the next three weeks, we will be without these most popular and influential critics of the status quo (and Republican obstructionism). During this period, the nightly debunking of lies and misinformation they provide will be absent, even as the bill comes back into focus in the Senate.

It is during this period immediately before and after Labor Day that our calls, letters and passionate advocacy is most needed. As Chris Bowers has said, there is no backup.
As exciting as this is, it is also extremely nerve-wracking to realize that, right now, those of us involved in the fight are the last line of defense for the public option. A few netroots organizations, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and a dedicated corps of netroots activists are the only ones holding the key section of the line in this fight. While there are other people engaged in the fight, there is no back-up for us in the position we are occupying. - Chris Bowers
In order to hold this ground, and pass a public option for health insurance that will rationalize the market there as public options have rationalized other markets, we need to spend the next two weeks calling and writing, and keeping the fact that a majority want this in the faces of the public officials who will make it happen.
Dear Senator Warner,

A majority of Americans want the public option for health insurance. This has been shown in poll after poll by the organizations as diverse as Quinnipiac, the Kaiser Foundation and A majority of Democrats want it, and now, a unanimous vote of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee has asked for your support for it.

You are a man who is both a Democrat and a democrat, and it would be a testament to both principles to join with these majorities in supporting and fighting for a strong, national and fully-funded public health insurance option, available on day one.

Please sir, assume the mantle of leadership so clearly awaiting your words. Come out strongly in favor of the public option. Show Virginia and America what truly pragmatic leadership in the interests of the people can be.


Senator Mark Warner
Phone: 202-224-2023
Fax: 202-224-6295

Take the time to call and write today.

[Update] And another poll, this one from the AARP, showing overwhelming support for national insurance.

An Interlude: Apocalypse Pony

With thanks to Adam.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Local Mom's Work Of Truth

Misleading and false email forwards are the bane of much serious political dialog. Most, if not all, of us have that relative who forwards the most incredulous claims by email, and expects that to be the end of the debate. As if random unsubstantiated emails were the highest source of factual truth.

And so, it is always nice to have the hundreds of unsung online volunteers who spend their time debunking such false claims. We're lucky to have one such citizen here in Loudoun, a mom who blogs at Sew Creative. She has spent thousands of words, and more hours than I care to consider, systematically deconstructing the falsehoods of the biggest "health care reform 'facts'" email I've yet seen.

Take a trip over to Sew Creative and see what a work of truth looks like.

Alan Dershowitz Calls Out Scalia

What is in the water up in Massachusetts? First, Barney Frank steps up and smacks down a ridiculous deather at a town hall, and then Alan Dershowitz calls out Antonin Scalia on the finer points of Catholic doctrine and his own writings.

Here's what Justice Scalia said recently about the death penalty and the law.
“This court has never held,” Justice Scalia wrote, “that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” - The New York Times, quoting Scalia's dissent in the Troy Davis case
And here's what the Catholic Church teaches about the death penalty.
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. - The Catechism of the Catholic Church
It is important to note that the Catechism specifies a two-part test for a justified execution in the eyes of the faith. First, the guilty party's identity and responsibility must have been fully determined. If new evidence, which exonerates the suspected party comes to light, then it is clear the identity of the guilty party has not been fully determined. Second, it must be the "only possible" mechanism for preventing the guilty party from doing further harm. Any case which fails the first test, must fail the second. If a person is not actually guilty, they cannot be an "unjust aggressor" for whom execution is the only possible defense for the community.

Now, here's what Justice Scalia said about Catholic judges who discover their faith and the law differ.
Last year, Scalia chastised Catholic judges who balk at imposing the death penalty -- another immoral act according to the church: "The choice for a judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted constitutional laws and sabotaging the death penalty." - The LA Times
Now, Scalia is a conservative Catholic (as well as a conservative jurist). Traditionally, that means he accepts the Catholic church's teachings on morality as absolute. The Catechism is a critical source of moral truth for Catholics. The catechism teaches that executions are only moral if they pass a two part test. Scalia's dissent ignores that test in its entirety. Scalia's dissent holds that an innocent person may be put to death if all the processes provided in law were executed correctly.

Which brings us to Dershowitz.
Let us be clear precisely what this means. If a defendant were convicted, after a constitutionally unflawed trial, of murdering his wife, and then came to the Supreme Court with his very much alive wife at his side, and sought a new trial based on newly discovered evidence (namely that his wife was alive), these two justices would tell him, in effect: “Look, your wife may be alive as a matter of fact, but as a matter of constitutional law, she’s dead, and as for you, Mr. Innocent Defendant, you’re dead, too, since there is no constitutional right not to be executed merely because you’re innocent.”
But whatever the view of the church is on executing the guilty, surely it is among the worst sins, under Catholic teaching, to kill an innocent human being intentionally. Yet that is precisely what Scalia would authorize under his skewed view of the United States Constitution. How could he possibly consider that not immoral under Catholic teachings? If it is immoral to kill an innocent fetus, how could it not be immoral to execute an innocent person?
I hereby challenge Justice Scalia to a debate on whether Catholic doctrine permits the execution of a factually innocent person who has been tried, without constitutional flaw, but whose innocence is clearly established by new and indisputable evidence. Justice Scalia is always willing to debate issues involving religious teachings. He has done so, for example, with the great Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and with others as well. He also has debated me at the Harvard Law School. - Alan Dershowitz
You have to love the Jewish scholar calling out the Catholic Justice on the intersection between law, moral teaching and the responsibility of those entrusted with public office. (I mean, there's a South Park script in there somewhere it's so good. Either that, or a bunch of Plato's Dialogs.)

In my opinion, Justice Scalia has elevated the law itself above the teachings of his church, or the interests of justice itself. For Justice Scalia, the law is justice, rather than just a means of justice. It is up to Justice Scalia whether the law or the church's teachings should be superior (even though he's said and written that the faith should be the highest teaching), but it is the business of all Americans whether an innocent man (or woman) should be executed.

I will leave you with this scene from The West Wing, which makes the same point, with more eloquence than I could ever summon.

(With a tip-o-the-hat to David. Oh, and this was fun, too.)

"Health Care Myths"

The Post had a great article about some of the myths being circulated about health care in the US and the rest of the world. Here's an excerpt:
In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really "foreign" to America, because our crazy-quilt health-care system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we're Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we're Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals. For people over 65, we're Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we're Burundi or Burma: In the world's poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care; those who can't pay stay sick or die.

This fragmentation is another reason that we spend more than anybody else and still leave millions without coverage. All the other developed countries have settled on one model for health-care delivery and finance; we've blended them all into a costly, confusing bureaucratic mess.

Which, in turn, punctures the most persistent myth of all: that America has "the finest health care" in the world. We don't. In terms of results, almost all advanced countries have better national health statistics than the United States does. In terms of finance, we force 700,000 Americans into bankruptcy each year because of medical bills. In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero. - The Washington Post
Read the whole thing to get a feeling for just how out of whack the debate over healthcare reform is.

(With a tip-o-the-hat and thanks to my wife's boss for the link.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

An Interlude: LOL Mixed

If you like LOL Cats.

Another Piece of Battlefield Parkway Opening

The Town of Leesburg and VDOT will be opening the Battlefield Parkway extension between Rt. 7 and Kincaid boulevard on September 3rd.

VDOT Battlefield Parkway Announcement

Battlefield Parkway is the critical collector road around Leesburg whose completion will be a major improvement to local traffic. It has taken a while, but kudos to VDOT and Leesburg for getting this done. Now, to finish the link between Ft. Evans Road and Edwards Ferry and really make a difference.

LCDC Resolution On The Public Option

At last night's Loudoun County Democratic Committee meeting, the following resolution was passed, by a unanimous voice vote:
Whereas, the U.S. Senate is now debating and writing legislation that will overhaul the nation’s healthcare system;

And Whereas, the system currently creates incentives for health insurers to drop coverage and deny services, rather than incentives for providing more and better healthcare, as noted by the testimony of Wendell Potter before the Commerce Committee;

And Whereas, a national, public health insurance option, available on day one, will create a competitive alternative to existing health plans, and thus promote competition on the basis of service quality and expanded coverage;

BE IT RESOLVED that the Loudoun County Democratic Committee asks our Senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, to strongly advocate for, and promote only legislation that includes a fully-funded, national, public option, available on day one.
Our colleagues in Fairfax County voted similar support for the public option in July.

Senator Webb is on the record supporting the public option, which is great, and he deserves our thanks, but Senator Warner has been opposed to a public option for some time. Many friends have exchanged letters on this issue with the Senator, but he has yet to have his mind changed. Hopefully, the unanimous voice of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee will be influential in his evolving thinking.

I strongly encourage other local Committees to take similar action, and you should feel free to steal the language of the resolution above.

And as individuals, we should all be calling and writing our Senators. Saying thanks to Sen. Webb, and asking Sen. Warner to rethink his position.

Senator Jim Webb
Phone: 202-224-4024
Fax: 202-228-6363

Senator Mark Warner
Phone: 202-224-2023
Fax: 202-224-6295

[Update] If you're not a Virginian, you can still help fight for the public option! Do your part and join this fight!

Help Creigh Win, Pass Healthcare Reform

Last night was the monthly LCDC meeting, and as usual, it was a good, fun meeting full of discussion and advocacy. One recurring theme from the campaign staff who spoke before us was the need for energy and action on the part of those of us with the experience and record of knocking doors and making phone calls. The room was unusually subdued during these exhortations from our hard-working colleagues whose only mission is to ensure that the Democratic resurgence in the commonwealth of Virginia continues.

The other parts of the meeting were largely taken up with discussion - lively, emotional discussion - about the current healthcare debate. The energy in the room during the healthcare discussion was in sharp contrast to the more passive response to the statewide and Delegate campaign updates.

So it occurs to me, the single best thing that our Democratic leaders could do to help the Democrats win in Virginia in November is pass rational, national healthcare reform in September.

Many of us, myself included, are dividing our limited reserves of political energy between Virginia's election and the healthcare fight. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, we did not have the same division of energy, as all of our focus could be on the candidates we needed to win in order to even have the right policy fights. This division of energy means that our 2009 candidates are fighting with one arm tied behind their backs. Meanwhile, our opponents are rested and fighting with all their strength, energized by their desperate need for a win and a candidate whose social views fit so neatly with the paleoconservative, birther activists of the Virginia Republican party.

There is an argument that we Democrats should leave the health care reform to those already elected and focus all our energy on the November goal for Deeds, Wagner and Shannon. That would be all well and good if we were shown that we could trust our elected Democrats to get the health care job done without our help, but when OFA starts asking for office visits to help convince Democrats to vote for health care reform that includes a public option (not a litmus test, but the only real option for controlling costs left on the table), it is clear we cannot leave reform to those already elected. We must energize for health care reform in order for our identification as "Democrats" to even have meaning. Being a Democrat isn't about electing Democrats, it's about expanding equality and opportunity for all. Electing Democrats is simply a means to that end.

I want to be able to focus on electing Democrats in Virginia in November. It is critically important. But so is the future of my health care. Our President and Senators have an opportunity to give Sen. Deeds and his ticketmates an incredible boost in enthusiasm and volunteers, by passing health care reform that inspires volunteers to have a reason to fight for Democrats in November. Passing healthcare reform now will remove our division of focus, and remind us why we pound the pavement in the first place.

Let's get this done, if not for the 50 million uninsured Americans, than simply for our electoral prospects in November 2009.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Evidence Based Journalism

My wife is a scientist. In order for anything she writes to be published, it must be peer-reviewed and slathered with citations. This helps insure that what she's saying is both reasonable and based on previously established facts. Given recent revelations about what the American people believe to be true about the health reform being debated, I think we might want to consider applying the same rules to journalism.
I wonder if the media has any sense that they might have gone wrong someplace here? This same phenomenon occurred during the post 9/11 period, but I think many of us attributed it to a unique set of circumstances. This proves otherwise. The right has once again proven that their orchestrated smear operations work on policies just as well as it works on politicians. The politics of personal destruction are now the politics of policy destruction. - Digby
There has been a long, recent history of journalism looking for stories that match preferred narratives. It gets worse when you discover journalists sometimes go hunting for quotes that justify stories they've already written, the definition of narrative-based journalism.

Personally, I don't think it's a coincidence that traditional media is facing an existential crisis even as they seem to abandon their ability to actually inform the American people about what is and is not true.

It would be fascinating to see what would happen if a newspaper were to be published, or perhaps a weekly newsmagazine, the entire contents of which were peer-reviewed and required citations. You want to assert that "a majority of Americans believe" something? Well, provide the citation to the poll or research. You want to say "the Democrats are collapsing," get that passed through a peer-review panel of pundits and journalists with a track-record of being correct more than they are incorrect. (Nate Silver should probably be the chair, on that basis.)

I'd love to see some enterprising organization give that a try. Hell, I'd spend my money and subscribe to the thing.

Maybe then we'd see a headline like this:

Congress Is Twice As Popular Today As It Was In 2007

It's funny, because that happens to be true.

And yet, not a single news outlet has picked up on it. Pity. It might make Americans have a bit more faith in their government.

My Friends And I Picked The Public Option

I have a friend on the west coast who I enjoy debating politically, over Facebook. He takes umbrage at the possibility of a publicly funded and sponsored health insurance option that could compete within the private market, but have the weight and benefit of the government behind it. In his opinion, such an option in the market would crowd out private offerings, since who in their right mind (no pun intended) would pick a private option when a public option is available.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether private options in the marketplace have a right to exist without competition from public options, let's examine the fundamental criticism - The existence of a public option will crowd out private options.

The experience of the American economy proves the lie of this criticism. There are many examples of public options co-existing with, and competing with, private products and services. In most of these markets, the existence of the public option actually provides incentives for the private providers to do more and better:

Finance - The very backbone of the global financial system is a public option: U.S. Treasuries. Treasuries provide a safe haven and a baseline for comparison for all other financial investments. The presence of Treasuries provides the market with stability and standardization. And yet, there is plenty of investment in other, private, investment options.

K-12 Education - Private schools in America, including private charter schools with public funding in DC, seem to be doing just fine in competition with universally available public school. Indeed, private schools have a reputation for being better than public schools, for the people who pick them as an option. Similar to the Treasuries in the example above, public school provides the standards and baselines for the market to compete within, because the public schools are in the market. A regulator from on-high does not do as good a job as entities actually participating in the market itself.

Higher Education - Perhaps the best single example is the public options available in higher education. There are hundreds of public colleges and universities in lively competition with thousands of private colleges and universities. And all of them are better for that competition. You don't hear about private colleges being driven out of business by public universities. And once again, large public universities set the standards for the marketplace to compete on.

Transportation - I know all of us have given up our private option of cars in favor of the public option of public transit. Wait, we haven't? Public transit has helped the private transportation market greatly. Publicly funded roads created the private market for cars. Public buses and trains compete with private taxis and shuttles on price, quality and on-time reputation. Some public transportation entities do poorly, and fail, while some private transportation entities do poorly and fail. Similarly, some of both do well, and succeed. It's a market, that happens.

And those are just four public options competing with private companies I could think of this afternoon. I'm sure there are others.

Returning to my friend and I and our Facebook debate, the irony is that my private option friend picked a public option on what was, perhaps, the most significant decision in his life. He, like me and most of our friends, chose the public option of UVA over alternative private options for college. And the higher education system has yet to collapse in spite of the fact that we graduated a decade ago having taken advantage of that public option. Similarly, I have chosen some public options (municipal bonds) for my investments, to go along with many private options. And the day is not too far off that I will have to choose between a public and a private option for my child's education.

I like having the choice.

In the end, perhaps Jon Stewart said it best in his critique of the Colorado college student asking the President a question at a recent town hall. The relevant part starts at 3:10.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Heal or No Heal - Medicine Brawl
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

Jon: "Yeah, private institutions can never compete with strong public options! Right, guy who goes to publicly-funded state-college talking to person who went to still-flourishing not-out-of-business private college?"

If you live in Virginia, now is the time to call and write our Senators, as I did today. They need to hear from us, now. Call today, and tell them we need a strong public option in the health care market, just like we have one in so many other markets that deeply impact our lives.

Senator Jim Webb
Phone: 202-224-4024
Fax: 202-228-6363

Senator Mark Warner
Phone: 202-224-2023
Fax: 202-224-6295

[Update] Another Virginian who chose the public options in her life.

The End of LoudounExtra

The Washington Post is scrapping LoudounExtra. will be shut down as an independent Web site this Friday, with some features moving to The site was focused on Loudoun County, Va. — an area located about 25 miles from Washington, D.C.

The decision announced Tuesday comes as Washington Post Co. is trying to cut losses in its slumping newspaper division. Although the company remains profitable as whole, its newspaper operations lost $143 million through the first half of this year. - The Associated Press
With the bankruptcy of Leesburg Today, it's clear that the collapse of the housing market, and the real estate advertising that went with it, has significantly impacted the local newspaper business.

What does this mean for us who live here? It means that in-depth coverage of local issues, which can have impacts on debates and policy here, will be reduced significantly. As an example, it was the Washington Post (and through it LoudounExtra) that helped bring allegations of corruption and collusion between developers and the previous Board of Supervisors to light. Those issues were front and center in 2007, and helped elect a new Board into office.

It is difficult for bloggers to serve the role of investigators and reporters of first facts. It's not impossible, but at the local level, most of us have jobs, and lives, that pay the bills and allow us to blog. We rely on local papers for the primary data we use to form our commentary and discussion.

On a personal note, I found LoudounExtra to be a great online resource for news and information about where I lived when I first moved here in 2006. I'm very sorry to see it go.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The 100MPG Car Can Be Here

I'm as involved as the next person with the current fight over health care reform, but climate change is coming on fast as an issue too. Earlier this year, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over very minor improvements to MPG of cars and trucks being mandated by the government.

Meanwhile, two guys in Maryland built a 78MPG car out of a Honda Insight and a readily available engine.

Don't tell me we can't improve our vehicular efficiency. Don't tell me Americans cannot innovate.

And don't tell me major corporations aren't standing in the way of progress, either.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Pearlstein on Health Reform

I'm not sure I could say it better than Stephen Pearlstein did in the Post, so just go read him.
Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society -- whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off. Republican leaders are eager to see us fail that test. We need to show them that no matter how many lies they tell or how many scare tactics they concoct, Americans will come together and get this done.

If health reform is to be anyone's Waterloo, let it be theirs. - Stephen Pearlstein
Seriously, go read it.

Then make some phone calls.

Senator Jim Webb
Phone: 202-224-4024
Fax: 202-228-6363

Senator Mark Warner
Phone: 202-224-2023
Fax: 202-224-6295

President Barack Obama
Comments: 202-456-1111
Fax: 202-456-2461