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grantcart

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Member since: Sat Jan 5, 2008, 07:45 PM
Number of posts: 41,778

Journal Archives

On health care the US is no longer a moral outlier

I was asked to give a presentation as part of a panel discussion on the PPACA. Pretty much old hat for people at DU. What I find interesting is the extreme curiosity that people have about it. There were several stories that were similar to mine and a number of people in the audience were having verification problems, which I hope visiting the local signup locations will help. People who want to find a local physical location to sign up can go here:

https://localhelp.healthcare.gov/



Anyway here are my notes, again nothing really new for DUers who are the best informed people you will meet:



Before getting in the details of what I have found in applying for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act I would like to spend a moment on the larger issue of what happened on October1st, 2013. It is something I have been talking with people in different countries about for the last 34 years.

Exactly 34 years ago today I was on a remote border island in Indonesia and after work my colleagues and I were talking about American health insurance. I was Chief of Operations of refugee resettlement for ICEM the agency that would resettle more than a million people from South East Asia.

It was as close to MASH as you could imagine including a rather unconventional corp of bored and zany doctors. We worked 14 hours a day on Tanjung Penang Island trying to accelerate the out processing of 100,000 boat people. Then we would go over to the tables in the town square eat noodles, drink beer and amuse ourselves. With no radio or TV we were left to our own devices.

In the group there were doctors from Australia, Canada, Switzerland and the Nordic countries. One of the games we played was when there would be an American staffer or official visiting I would set up the evening by asking “How is Congress doing on reforming health care”. The ‘Mark’ would make some comment that would always end with “ well we have the best health care system in the world”.

The rest of the night would be spent watching these doctors refute every myth about socialized medicine and socialized health insurance and dissect the unwitting American before your eyes. Now these doctors were from all different political backgrounds and most of them quite conservative but they all liked their system. They were smart and would slowly and skillfully disembowel the hapless traveler.

The Coup de Grace would come when one of the doctors would say “Bob lets put all of the myths and misinformation aside and please answer this one question, ‘ Bob how can any wealthy developed country advance the proposition that only those with money should be able to access health care from a moral perspective. How do you justify it morally Bob?.” Que the Australian doctor “Right get your hand off it Bob, don’t be a bongo you are a few Kangaroos loose in the top paddock”.

The most important thing that happened on October 1st, 2013 is that the US crossed a moral line and joined all of the other developed countries saying that everyone in the US deserved affordable access to health care.

That is the headline and it is a big deal.

Up until 14 years ago I was able to use the best plans in the market. I made a transition and now was self employed and because of an obscure ear condition that had no treatment costs was still considered uninsurable, defying all logic.

When President Obama introduced the PPACA I was disappointed because I was hoping that I would be getting a single payer universal plan like the ones my colleagues talked about 34 years ago. The more I read, including things like a ceiling on the medical loss ratio and evolving away from ‘fee for services’ the more I liked it.

I was uplifted last year when nearly 13 million Americans received more than a billion dollars in refunds because their insurance companies were found to have exceeded the 20% Medical Loss Ratio. I was amused that Texas was the largest recipient of refunds and wondered if those Texas politicians who rail against Obamacare want their citizens to return those overpayments back to the insurance companies.

When Oct 1st came I felt that it was finally my turn and I got on the healthcare.gov website.

My wife and I simply wanted some basic coverage that would save us from a catastrophic event. I simply wanted to end the day thinking “if my wife or I get cancer or have a heart attack please give us a chance to fight and not live the rest of our life in staggering debt.”

In 1999 we faced one of those moments when my wife had stomach aches and we went into the doctor who said “you will need to stay the night and tomorrow you are going to have a hysterectomy. You have multiple large ovarian cysts and we are worried that if any of them become transient they will cause a cardiac event”.

We were glad that we had been paying for the most expensive medical plans in the market and we asked the doctor what would happen while we waited for the paperwork to be finished. A clerk came in and said that we were denied. My wife and I were now shocked and the Doctor said “I will handle it”.

He had the clerk return the call to the insurance adjuster. He started in a small voice “I am curious what medical school you went to. Oh? Because I went to Harvard and did post graduate work at John Hopkins and sit on the National Board for Board Certified Gynecologists and I found your reasoning completely devoid of any medical reasoning whatsoever. (now in a booming voice) “what city do you live in, because I am going to discharge this woman now and if a cyst breaks off and she has a heart attack I am going to fly to that city and make a deposition with the prosecuting attorney charging you with manslaughter. Oh its approved, thank you”.

He told me he had to threaten Manslaughter about 3 times a month to get something approved.

Now we just wanted to make sure that if we had one of those events we wouldn’t spend the rest of our lives in debt.

To make matters worse two years ago I picked up a new hobby: diabetes, not as much fun as advertised.

It took me two days to finally get my account opened. In the beginning the site was down a lot or not working properly. It took me 45 minutes to get somebody to answer my call or respond to the live chat function.

But late at night on the third day I got through. The pages are well constructed and don’t require much information. When I got through to the third page we had a problem with my wife’s verification. We know why, they have added an additional letter to her name on her green card so it didn’t surprise us.

We couldn’t call through to Experian as it was past office hours.

The next day we got in and the verification issue had been resolved.

They asked if we wanted to go directly to the Market Place or see if we qualified for a subsidy. I never have qualified for any government benefit and wasn’t going to waste my time but I decided ‘what the hell’ and pushed the button.

They had warned me that I may need to provide them with all kinds of W2s, 1099s and tax figures. When I pushed the button, none of that happened.

It instantly came back with a $ 3600 subsidy. Last year was a little unusual for me, I spent part of the year moving to Tucson so I had lower than average income and a lot of write offs.

But I was stunned. Even though I had read everything I could about the Act including the Senate bill I had no idea that we would qualify with an adjust gross income of about $ 40,000.

That took us to a page that showed us the range for the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum plans. We had expected to just get the cheapest Bronze plan.

Instead we went for a Gold plan that has the following:

1) Free preventative
2) Low copays, Dr. visit $ 17.
3) Covers 80% of all costs
4) Maximum out of pocket $ 10,000
5) No deductible.

Hundreds of doctors are on the plan. The cost is $ 750 but after the subsidy we only pay $ 444.

For a couple approaching 60 with diabetes in the family this was stunning.

There have been a lot of distractions because of the mechanics and legitimate stories about the gliches. I also understand that others may not get the benefit I did or may need even more assistance. Here is what I see as being lost in the media:

1) The US is no longer the moral outlier among developed countries when it comes to our health insurance system. It is the policy of the government that everyone have access to affordable health care.

2) For the first time people can apply for a government benefit or subsidy and (when the system is working) get an instant statement of what that benefit is. You don’t wait for someone to process your application and get back to you in 3 months, an instant answer comes back in seconds.

3) The structure and nature of the subsidies are much larger than anything I have seen in the media.

I know that a lot of people are frustrated and concerned and I simply would like to encourage you to stick with it, use the call center and the live talk option and all the resources to get the maximum benefit.

Matt Taibbi: Its up to the Democrats to save the Republicans from Ted Cruz

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/democrats-must-stop-ted-cruzs-hollywood-ending-20131011

Taibbi is smarter than the average reporter but he also maintains a "Democrats are only marginally different than Republicans" patronizing tone which drives him to some particularly unfortunate points.

If you really don't think that there is difference between the two then it isn't the least important that one strategy is absolutely defeated.

So as we approach a completely manufactured crises between one party that wants to govern and one party that wants to perpetually renegotiate and institute policy through the prospect of financial collapse he thinks it is up to the Democrats to find some way (and he just hopes we find it) to save the Republicans the way out.



But the Democrats have to be big enough to resist the temptation to let the Republicans destroy themselves. They should be bringing every conceivable kind of pressure to save Cruz from himself and educate the public about the dramatic consequences of a default.

. . .

But Cruz and his people are something we never see in Washington – believers. His caucus is not doing this for Redskins tickets and PAC money. They're going for the Thelma and Louise ending. One last tender moment, holding hands and all. I have no idea what the Democrats can do to stop them, but we better hope they're trying everything, and not seeing a huge future political win as their ace card.



How about this Taibbi, why not lay the blame and the responsibility at the feet of those that are the ones that are most responsible, Tea Party Radicals, whimpy Republican moderates, Wall Street leaders watching from the bleachers and all of the hand maidens in the media who, like yourself minimize the real differences between two completely different political philosophies.

No compromise, no negotiations and no fig leaves.

If we do 'help' the Republicans, Mr. Taibbi, only one thing for certain is known for sure:

They will do it again, and again, and again.

If a mentally unstable person has a gun you don't take the gun and take out some of the ammunition. You take away the gun.

Chumming for sharks, the media turns on the GOP

Chumming (American English from Powhatan) is the practice of luring animals, usually fish such as sharks, by throwing "chum" into the water. Chum often consists of fish parts and blood, which attract fish, particularly sharks owing to their keen sense of smell.


The President has been dicing and slicing the Republican idiocy and leaving the parts in the water. Now the media sees the "jaw dropping" change in the polls.

For those of us watching it hour by hour you will have just noticed that the media has now turned. It now feels almost Watergate like (for the old folks).

You will see the media growing more and more hostile, especially with these silly little pressers where they answer only one question and then run away after going over their talking points with shaky voices.

Boehner is about to face a shitstorm, including open hostility from Wall Street.

You can feel the change. Democrats are united AND relaxed. The media senses a wounded animal and now with the peoples anger quantified have started hunting the bastards down.

US Bankers to Rand Paul: You are an idiot.

Rand Paul went on MTP and stated that as the income of the federal government was greater each month than the scheduled bond payments that there was no possibility of a default and that the President was "irresponsible" to suggest that was the case:



http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/10/06/rand-paul-its-irresponsible-of-obama-to-talk-about-default/

"I think it's irresponsible of the president and his men to even talk about default. There's no reason for us to default. We bring in $250 billion in taxes every month. Our interest payment is $20 billion. Tell me why we would ever default," Paul said on NBC's "Meet The Press." "We have legislation called the Full Faith and Credit Act, and it tells the president you must pay the interest on the debt. So this is a game."



Reuters is carrying this report from the banking industry that would appear to a) answer Mr. Paul directly on point and b) consider that point beyond idiocy:



http://finance.yahoo.com/news/top-u-bankers-warn-against-085655481.html

(Reuters) - Top U.S. bankers have warned the Obama administration and Republican lawmakers that any move to pay interest on debt before obligations such as Social Security and payments to veterans would pose severe risks to financial markets and the economy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Some lawmakers think prioritizing interest payments would placate bond investors if the government breaches its borrowing limit, the Journal said.

However, heads of the nation's largest financial institutions told the officials in meetings that prioritizing some payments would create insurmountable uncertainty for investors, drive up borrowing costs and disrupt markets, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the meetings.




How far have Republican legislators fallen in the moral matrix?

If you go down to the lowest rung of amoral bankers you would then have to look downward into a cavern the size of the Grand Canyon and then in a little speck way down there, you would find House Republicans.

Not only should these people not be in any position to legislate or offer an opinion on anything more substantial than the likelihood of rain, I don't think they should be given driver's licenses.

Top U.S. bankers warn against prioritizing interest payments: WSJ

Source: Reuters

(Reuters) - Top U.S. bankers have warned the Obama administration and Republican lawmakers that any move to pay interest on debt before obligations such as Social Security and payments to veterans would pose severe risks to financial markets and the economy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Some lawmakers think prioritizing interest payments would placate bond investors if the government breaches its borrowing limit, the Journal said.

However, heads of the nation's largest financial institutions told the officials in meetings that prioritizing some payments would create insurmountable uncertainty for investors, drive up borrowing costs and disrupt markets, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the meetings.


Read more: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/top-u-bankers-warn-against-085655481.html



This is the US banking industry calling Rand Paul an idiot:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/10/06/rand-paul-its-irresponsible-of-obama-to-talk-about-default/

"I think it's irresponsible of the president and his men to even talk about default. There's no reason for us to default. We bring in $250 billion in taxes every month. Our interest payment is $20 billion. Tell me why we would ever default," Paul said on NBC's "Meet The Press." "We have legislation called the Full Faith and Credit Act, and it tells the president you must pay the interest on the debt. So this is a game."

To "The Reviewer"

My fingers moved, alas too slow but I wanted to plead mercy in your review



Oh dear reviewer when you return to the dimly lit balcony of your cavernous abode snuggled in the remote forests of the region where schools have prayer and text books with detailed illustrations proving creationism to promiscuous square dancing 'abstaining' teenagers prey speak not poorly of us.

We found your link astonishing, your banter refreshing, your literary references uplifting, and your fecal contributions non odious.

Should we be blessed with your continued contributions I can assure you that they will bring forth a multitude of interlocutors, for more reasons than you will be able to contribute.

In your reviews please do not blame other DUers for any mistreatment you received here. Please lay all the blame at my door and find the other 200,000 contributors blameless.

In your reviews be thorough, unflinching and objective. Of course you must include all of the instances where DUers found themselves amused without reason and snarky without remorse. Tell them that you were given no quarter and you received no mercy. No one offered to break mythological bread and there appeared to be no areas of metaphysics that we could reflect together with.

Tell them the hard truth. We do not like Olive Garden, even those of us who have never partaken of "endless pasta".

But, and this we really must insist on. you must tell them that the people who inhabit DU seem to be experts in Speleology, and no my Roger Ebert of political forums that has absolutely nothing to do with correct spelling.

And when you have finished this review be so kind to send us a link so that we can be enlightened and fill our day with mirth.

Finally got my Health Insurance. The Affordable Care Act isn't that good.

It is fucking unbelievable.

No wonder they are scared.

1) Application Process
I am 'beached' with nothing to do because of the shutdown so I have a lot of time and once it is settled will have nonstop work until December so I was highly motivated to get it done fast.

I made several calls, used the chat operation and finally found that 3 AM was the time when I could get on.

Once in the system the actual sign up process is amazingly well done. It is easy, approachable and if you have problems you can use the chat or the phone to talk to somebody. The phone wait time dropped from 45 minutes to immediate pick up right now.

The phone counselors don't have a lot of options at their end but I was able to get information to fix some hiccups. It was obvious that the entire site is straining and the people answering questions also are having problems using the site.

I finished all but the last page which sets up payment options and then the site froze again. When I talked with the operator I was shocked when he said that I was the first person he had talked to that was able to get that far in the process. Of course some people managed to get all the way through and wouldn't need to call.

What is interesting is that they have been able to ramp up the call center so that there is no wait at all but that the traffic on the site is staggering.

2) Subsidy

I think that most of us have had the experience of making too much to qualify for government support except in some exceptional times. I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that the subsidies wouldn't be that great.

I was shocked to find that the ACA is paying 40% of my premium.

Last year was something of an unusual year for me. I am self employed and moved states so my gross income was lower and I had a lot of business expenses so my adjusted gross income was in the low 40s to low 50s (not sure which income they used because I recently filed an amended return). I never expected that level of subsidy, hell I didn't expect a dime.

3) Plans

I intended to search and pick out the lowest non profit plan I could find. Because of the subsidy though I decided to go to get a gold plan.

It had low co pays, zero deductible and maximum $ 10,000.

It is 'for profit' but the HMO is ranked #1 in my state and I have 1000 primary doctors in the system.

Total Cost $ 765 per month, my monthly premium is $ 444 for my wife and I.

For a 59 year old diabetic that is a stunning, revolutionary change.

4) Glitches

There were several glitches along the way. Among them:

1) People who you call in to really don't have any 'super power' at this time to over ride the system.
2) Lots of little things aren't working for example I had a lot of problems logging in so I tried 'forgot my password' option and a message came up saying they sent an email to my account but none came.
3) Another glitch at one point I had a verification problem for my wife and had to upload immigration documentation but it wouldn't upload.

But the biggest problem we had was verifying my wife, a permanent resident. As part of the process they are using IRS and Immigration databases to verify and there is a typo in my wife's name on her green card.

They have a "live" human option to assist with verification. If you have a verification problem then you will need your ID# and phone in and tell them that you need to set up a "Verification conference call with Experian" to verify the disputed person.

Now here is the interesting part: We had the problem last night at 3:00 am "Experian" wasn't open so we had to get back in line this morning and try again but when we logged on the verification was settled. That means that either they began waving all of the people with similar problems (one of the phone counselors said they were getting a number of people with verification problems) or that they automatically flagged my application for review and did it individually. Either case that shows a pretty high level of course correction in the middle of a unbelievable traffic.



Some here have health insurance and don't realize what it is like to go a decade without access to good care when you have a serious problem (and this was after I had very high level PPO plans for 20 years but lost it when I got sick).

I know that there will still be some for who this plan isn't going to deliver as much help as they need.

But, at least in my case, it was a much much better plan than I think even the more optimistic of us thought. If the shutdown is concluded and I can get back to work I will be able to finish the year at a level that may make them take back the subsidy and that would make me very happy but I was stunned to see how big the subsidy was based on last year's numbers.

This is going to be a major improvement in a lot of peoples lives and that is why the Republicans are trying so hard to sabotage it.



There is going to be one economic boom related to the ACA early next year. There are going to be millions of people like me who have "pent up demand" for medical services who are going to rush in for medical care in January. In the beginning the insurance companies are going to have to write big checks for a lot of people who have been putting off medical care. I predict that the final irony of the initial stage of the ACA will be that it will be a minor stimulus event on its own during the first quarter of 2014.

This isn't the end but the first step until we get universal single payer. In my opinion its a much bigger first step than we thought it was.

The one thing they could and should still do is to restrict people applying on a particular day by limiting those to certain letters of the alphabet. For example first day Last Names starting in A-D and so on. That would solve a lot of problems and reduce wait time.

The Republican strategy explained for the politically naive

We all have friends or meet people who really have a hard time understanding national politics and throw up their hands with a sigh and "both sides are bad" exclamation. I have found the following analogy to be useful:



Imagine a person who is a diabetic and has been involved in an accident is bleeding profusely.

Upon being taken to the emergency room the Republican doctor immediately starts treating the diabetes (long term debt) and ignoring the bleeding (unemployment and collapsing economy).

The administrators put the young talented intern on the case and he stops the bleeding and the patient has a remarkable recovery.

On further investigation it turns out that the Republican doctor was the driver that ran a red light and crashed into the patient before arriving at the hospital. Moreover it turns out that it wasn't diabetes (long term debt) that was the original condition but an iron deficiency (insufficient revenue) and the young intern, now a doctor has already been treating the iron deficiency.

Meanwhile the Republican doctor has taken to going to the homes of the aging benefactors of the hospital begging to close the hospital and open up clinics in the suburbs where people aren't sick nearly so often. In order to make his case the doctor gives foot rubs to the aging benefactors thinking that this is somehow an argument.

With the bleeding and the iron deficiency now resolved the doctor not only argues that the expansion plan proposed by the new young doctor not be accepted but that hospital services be reduced because no one is really fond of hospitals anyway. If he doesn't get his way the doctor has announced that he will soon be parking his car in front of the emergency room so that it cannot be used at all and the hospital will have to be shut down unless they accept his demands.


Kerry announces agreement for resuming Mideast peace talks

Source: CNN

CNN) -- The long-dormant Middle East peace efforts got new life on Friday.

An agreement has been reached that "establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between" Palestinians and Israel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Amman, Jordan.

"This is a significant and welcome step forward," Kerry said.

This came as Kerry visited the Middle East this week and came up with a formula for reanimating peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian territories, a source close to the talks said.

He has been working intensely with the Palestinian side to get them on board.

Earlier Friday, in a meeting in Amman, Jordan, Kerry presented the plan to Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erakat in hopes that it will entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Kerry arrived in Ramallah in the West Bank on Friday afternoon and began a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas for the third time during his current trip to the Middle East.


Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/19/world/meast/mideast-kerry-visit/index.html

An alternative view from a “lackey butt-kissing shit”

DU is, obviously, in one of its high octane civil discussions and you can tell how heated it has become by how uncivil the discussion has become. If you are surprised by any of this then you haven’t been here very long or haven’t been paying attention.

There are dozens of threads bashing the President and his supporters here but this one is my favorite: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10023030629
and it launched a vigorous discussion among GD hosts because I was fairly certain that it was whining about DU but a few said that as the particular “lackey butt-kissing shit” wasn’t identified it couldn’t be classified as whining about DU.


Now I found that to be rather tendentious sophistry because I think it was quite clear who the OP was referring to, they were referring to me.



It seems obvious that they are referring to DU supporters of the President, that on DU the most ardent supporters of the President visit the BOG. As the longest serving host at BOG if you were compiling a list of “lackey butt-kissing shit” you would have to put my name at the top of the list.

I don’t complain about being on that list, I embrace it. But alas, I am not whining about it I embrace it. And while I prefer Solidarity Democrats I will take cheerleader, kool aid drinker, fan boi, or lackey butt-kissing shit, with a smile as long as it is clear that I still support the President 100%.

Please refer to me as LBKS #1.

Its not the first nor I am sure the last time I am at the end of a vulgar epitaph. In the past when I was on the receiving end of such vulgar histrionics I turned the absurdity of it to expose the weakness of the attack. My favorites were being called a communist when I publicly denounced Agnew’s upcoming visit in 1972 in a meeting before WA Governor Dan Evans (he laughed) and called a Nazi by an Auschwitz survivor whose department in the IOM I was charged with evaluating and reforming.

While DU remains a unique place for a great deal of insightful discussion (see the well informed threads by some DUers who are following the Martin murder trial) sometimes elements of the discussion become so white hot that positions harden and little actual discussion results and there is no persuasion.

No one is going to be persuaded by this thread.

If you are reading it then there is a 99% likelihood that your mind has not simply been made up but set in concrete on the NSA related warrants. It happens on DU. I post this because I continue to hold DU in deep affection and want some people who are President Obama supporters to understand that you can continue to participate here without succumbing to the bashing and without returning the vitriol.

So I have been giving a pass to most of the NSA related threads but have now noticed a number of threads now have commented that the absence of threads supporting the administration is evidence that there is no argument and that the only possible position for a DU member is to consider the Obama administration as a major violator of the 4th Amendment and that it is one of the following: authoritarian, totalitarian, surveillance state, Stalinist, and a whole list of other completely absurd adjectives.

Before getting into the details lets establish that:

1) The government has for decades established various data bases for investigative purposes, some more benign than others. Voicing concern about those data bases doesn’t make you anti-Obama, paranoid, or ‘hair on fire’.

2) On January 20th 2017 President Obama will no longer be President and so even if you are a 100% supporter of the President, which I am, then it is still reasonable to be concerned about how those data bases are used and oversight maintained.

Now for the points that I consider relevant:

A) The Fourth Amendment and government data bases.


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The government has, for some time, accumulated or has access to various elements of meta data that is used for law enforcement. Some are more benign than others.

If you make a cash transfer of even $ 100 through a bank it is now recorded and added to a financial data base. If you drive within 100 miles of the Southern US border you will pass through check points and your cars details will enter a data base. If you cross a US border your movements are added to a data base, and so on.

The government doesn’t use these data bases for surveillance, and they are not opening up a personal file on you. If they find a person of interest in a money laundering investigations they go through the data base and see if there is evidence that can add to the investigation and develop other leads.

Driving along the Southern Border you will approach various Border Patrol Checkpoints. Prior to reaching the checkpoints you will pass a set of cameras that are obvious and not hidden:



There is nothing secret about these operations and you can ask the Border Patrol Agent about them. They are creating a data base and use it as an investigative tool, which is different than surveillance or spying. For example if they receive a report of a vehicle that was involved in drug activity in Ohio they might, for example, go back and find that particular vehicle crossed the border and moved north of Laredo on 14 occasions and on each of those occasions there were two other vehicles that passed the same check point within 20 minutes of each other. That would provide a lead that could result in probable cause to search those other vehicles.

If you find the meta data base that the NSA is building to be intrusive and a violation of privacy then I wonder what you are thinking about the other data bases that the government is building without warrants or Congressional scrutiny on a daily basis. Last month my daughter sent me $ 100 cash gift by Western Union and because I passed a BP checkpoint I entered two data bases on the same trip. One of them had my license plate and kept track of my physical travel and the other had my social security number and kept track of my cash movements.

B) The government and the telephone.

As soon as the phone was invented wiretapping soon followed. You can find a time line of legal cases regarding wiretapping here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5061834
There is nothing illegal about a government agent listening to a public conversation in a restaurant, but listening in on that conversation through a wiretap without a warrant would be illegal. The phone has always triggered special concerns.

And here is the irony of the whole situation:

Wiretapping or listening to conversations per se must have become mostly useless for the government, for the simple reason that throw away phones are, as Tony Sopranao showed all of us a decade ago, ubiquitous.

A couple of years ago a business acquaintance came to me telling me about his new business and tried to recruit me. I told him that I considered the financial instruments highly unethical and almost certainly illegal and tried to persuade him not to proceed. He ignored my advice and I tried to avoid him as much as possible. Last year he called me and told me he had been arrested and wanted my advice on his legal strategy. I told him to end the call and met him for lunch and gave him a number to one of my ‘throwaway’ phones that I use because I do business in a number of area codes and have found it easier to contact clients when they see that it is the same area code. I told him that if he wanted to talk to me about legal issues as his case progressed he should buy a throw away phone and call me on one of mine. (He did later call me and was frustrated with his counsel who wanted an additional $ 50,000 but told him that not only was he going to walk but that the government was going to have to refund all of his legal fees. Based on what he had told me I told him that my advice was to do the right thing and tell his attorney to strike a deal with the prosecutor so that he could avoid prison and also help some of the victims recover some of their lost assets, which he eventually did. It was revealed that he did have a wire tap on his regular phone but none on his throw away)

My point is that anyone who knows that the government is actively after them should at this point in time have the common sense not to use their regular phone but one that is untraceable, and the same is true with throw away email accounts.

Obviously anyone connected to Al Queda has been trained not to have any substantial conversations on a phone line that they could be identified with.

So on a practical level what is the NSA doing?

Here is the case against the Administration:



http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/06/white-house-spying-on-us-citizens-critical-tool-for-fighting-terror/#p3
We learned yesterday that the National Security Agency (NSA) obtained a top-secret court order that forces Verizon to hand telephone records of millions of US customers over to the government. Today, the Obama administration is defending the practice as a critical tool for preventing terrorist attacks.

The Guardian, which uncovered and published the secret court order, today detailed the White House's response.

The Guardian wrote:

The White House has sought to justify its surveillance of millions of Americans' phone records as anger grows over revelations that a secret court order gives the National Security Agency blanket authority to collect call data from a major phone carrier.
Politicians and civil liberties campaigners described the disclosures, revealed by the Guardian on Wednesday, as the most sweeping intrusion into private data they had ever seen by the US government.

But the Obama administration, while declining to comment on the specific order, said the practice was "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States."


The phone record collection doesn't target only suspected terrorists. The court order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forces Verizon to give the NSA "all call detail records or 'telephony' meta data created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls." The order, which covers a three-month period ending July 19, means the government is receiving data such as "phone numbers of both parties, the duration of the conversation, the time of the conversation, location data, telephone calling card numbers, and unique identifiers pertaining to the phones," as we noted yesterday.

Such call detail collection also occurred during the Bush administration. US officials say it is allowed under the Patriot Act passed in 2001.

An unnamed Obama administration official quoted by the Associated Press said that "n its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone's telephone calls." Call meta data can help the government identify the people making the phone calls, however.

"It allows counter-terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States," the administration official quoted by The Guardian said.



So what is the value of these meta data records?

I believe that it is pretty similar to my example of the use of car movement data bases by the Border Patrol described above. Once they capture or identify a throwaway phone they want to be able to reverse the network and unravel all of the other throw away phones that were ever used and in doing so identify other people connected.

One of my problems with those that are raising concerns (and some of the concerns are, as noted, valid) is the outrageous hyperbole involved.

“the most sweeping intrusion into private data they had ever seen by the US government”

Really?

This isn’t even the most intrusive action they have into my private data in the last week.

Here would be my ranking:

1) Keeping track of my financial transactions.
2) Keeping track of my car movements
3) Keeping track of the same information that is on my phone bill.

C) Government abuses of the constitution including the 4th and 14th Amendments.

The strongest case for those that are concerned about the NSA data bases is to point to how this has been abused in the past.
It has been abused in the past. When the government abuses its authority it eventually leads to a ‘knock on the door’ and either your liberty or your property is taken or the government is used for corruption or to hide illegal deeds.

We have seen this time and again in Republican administrations. Under Nixon the government was caught out in a massive campaign of bugging and intimidation. Under Bush the administration was caught red handed trying to influence federal prosecutors and there were millions who lived in fear of the ‘knock on the door’ when the Bush administration had ICE go into Hispanic neighborhoods and arrest and deport thousands of law abiding undocumented workers.

As the soon to be Father-in-law of an undocumented worker we celebrate that these abuses have ended, even for undocumented workers. My future son-in-law was able to report to the government and the Obama administration provided a card authorizing him to work legally in the US even though the President cannot unilaterally regularize his immigration status. We not only don’t worry about the ‘knock on the door’ we can proceed through a Border Patrol check point without worry because we know that this administration will not abuse the law and the Constitution.

D) Authoritarian, Totalitarianism etc etc

The hyperbole referred to above has found a welcoming home at DU where a legitimate discussion of government data bases, oversight and efficacy has given way to an unbridled assault on language and history. We have all seen the comparisons to Stalinism, Authoritarianism, Totalitarianism and so on.

As pointed out when a government abuses its power there is a ‘knock on the door’.

I know. I have seen it. The federal government once ‘knocked on my door’. I was traveling back and forth between Thailand and the US in the ‘80s and when I was boarding a flight back to Thailand federal officers pulled me aside and asked where and why I was going. They were obviously profiling drug smugglers from travel data and being in my ‘20s fit a profile. I didn't consider it much of an
attack on my civil liberties because I was working with hundreds of thousands of people who were fleeing real totalitarian states and real attacks on civil liberties.

I also lived in countries where there were degrees of Authoritarian governments and you could get a ‘knock on the door’. All of them with less safe guards than we have:

Indonesia – too many ways to describe here but to suffice it to say that being labeled a communist after the attempted coup would get you in trouble.

Singapore – nothing really sinister but if you made comments about the Prime Minister that were not 100% based on fact then you would be buried in lawsuits and ruined.

Malaysia – Not a great deal but they famously ruined one Islamic reformer by arresting him on a trumped up Sodomy charges.

Thailand – Generally a more relaxed place except for Lesse Majeste charges. (By the way in Thailand the police are forbidden from executing search warrants except when there is sunlight.

I also visited Totalitarian countries like the People’s Republic of Vietnam where there was really no effort to conceal their action and when tens of thousands were forced from their homes to live in ‘new economic zones’.

China does a very effective job of intimidating its population by landing hard on a few high profile cases.

Russia, well Putin’s opponents and media critics just have a nasty habit of being murdered, rather like KGB opponents suffered when Putin was in the KGB.

So again while it might be useful to have a constructive discussion about limits and oversight it becomes more difficult when the terminology has reached such epic heights where this President is labeled with histrionic associations that aren’t even within the same universe.

I am still waiting for the first evidence of Obama’s government misusing the Constitution to ‘knock on the door’ and take someone’s liberty or property.

E) The embarrassing double standard at DU.

Some have taken to criticizing ‘cheerleaders’. ‘kool aid drinkers’, ‘fanbois’, or the above cited “lackey butt-kissing shit” based on the premise that we have one standard for Bush and another for Obama. These equivalencies remain way off base up until the moment that Obama is found to actually order agents to round up people accused of no crime or using federal agencies for political prosecutions.

There does exist a rather embarrassing double standard at DU however. This President is judged against a set of criteria that is not applied to others, especially when it comes to issues regarding respecting the constitution.

It is not uncommon, for example to see a poster proclaim,

“I am an FDR Democrat”

And then in the next phrase talk of

“Obama’s war on Civil Rights”

(Disclaimer on my support of FDR: He wasn’t simply the best President ever elected he was the best politician ever elected anywhere. He didn’t simply restore our government but he had to restore an entire economic system. In doing so he made a turn in shared benefit that Marx never predicted. If this were not enough he was a great Commander in Chief and he was right about Normandy when Churchill, who gets more press on military issues was 100% wrong.)

Now while I agree that Roosevelt was the best, there is no metric where you can embrace FDR and lambaste Obama on civil rights.

The reason is that under FDR there were ‘knocks on the door’. More than 140,000 legally established citizens and residents were taken from their homes and lost all of their property when FDR signed and executed Executive Order 9066.

These are not theoretical ‘invasions of privacy’ but real loss.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_Order_9066

One of the ladies at my high school study hall, Mrs. Saki, went into one of these camps. It wasn’t just confinement they lost their farms, businesses and property.

It wasn’t simply a complete trashing of the Constitution, it was a particularly stupid one. The place where it was known to have a Japanese Spy ring (Hawaii) was not touched while those living in Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona. If you were living in Yakima Washington you were picked up, if you lived in Spokane you were safe.

This isn’t meant to disparage FDR (see disclaimer above) but simply to state an obvious fact; If your praising FDR as the greatest and have unbridled vitriol for Obama and give any weight to civil liberties then its pretty obvious that you are using two different standards.

So what accounts for the level of unrestrained vitriol against President Obama when it is such an obvious double standard? I do not think that any long term DUers would have such a double standard based on racial bias of any kind. That kind of bias would have seeped out long ago. I think that some DUers have an image of a combative partisan FDR based on a few partisan speeches and find President Obama’s patient persistent approach infuriating. The irony is that FDR also was a seducer. He wanted to start immediately with arming the allies, especially Great Britain. But he was patient and instead started with Lend/Lease rather than make waves. On almost all contentious issues he patiently waited until he was 100% sure he would be successful.

And then there is the rather banal “I must be a racist . . . “ construct (“I must be a racist because I care for the Constitution” etc).

This construct is a Republican/Reactionary construct that I have been hearing for decades “I must be a sexist if I believe that women make better mothers””I must be a racist because I don’t want to go to an Affirmative Action Doctor”. It is meant to mock serious charges of racism, sexism, homophobia and so on. Since when did it become acceptable to mock racism to make your case on DU?

Let’s just hope that never reoccurs.

F) Proudly continuing to support the President.

Rather than reproduce a familiar list of achievements I prefer to see his impact in the broad issues.

For the first time in modern history we have a President who campaigned as a candidate on raising taxes and increasing revenues to the Federal Government. Most of the expansion of the Federal Government in US history has occurred during or immediately after large military actions (Civil War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam). During these times it was possible to expand the functions of government at the same time there was popular support for military action. This President has successfully achieved an expansion when winding down military action. He established, after 80 years, a federal mandate for the Federal Government to control the health care system AND got it passed by the court.

It is clear that some support the President but have serious concerns about the NSA warrants, which of course is a completely natural and common situation among progressives. It is also clear that for some there is an unbridled vitriol against this President and his supporters and the NSA issue has simply given license to express it, frequently in hyperbole and sometimes in crude vulgarities.

No President has delivered more real life benefit to my family. In fact this President has delivered more than all of the Presidents combined, here are some:

1) My cousins in the reserves are no longer facing deployments.
2) My friends and family that have an undocumented status no longer face a “knock on the door”.
3) People, like me, who have pre-existing conditions (diabetes) will soon be able to buy health insurance.
4) And many other smaller improvements like the savings of several hundreds of dollars a month because the banks can no longer charge bogus fees.

On the other side we have a party that is determined to:

1) Keep health care a privilege for the healthy and wealthy.
2) Try to prevent my AA relatives from voting.
3) Undermine my daughters reproductive rights and access to planned parenthood.

At the same time there are much more serious issues, in fact I would argue there are much more important privacy issues. I am much more concerned about how creepy the internet is (Google something and watch the ads follow you for months) becoming and how private companies with no oversight are accumulating info not into a meta data base but into a personal file.

But frankly there are 50 issues that I would put above that. There are the economic issues that millions of people who are struggling with and there are environmental issues that the whole world is facing. Many of these issues are discussed with passion and intelligence at DU, but there are dozens of others that never reach here: the millions in refugee camps, the increasing threat of Asian Brown Cloud which now covers vast areas of Asia, millions who die needlessly from Malaria. These are real people facing real loss of life and quality of life.

Where is the list of real people who have gotten a knock on the door as a result of use of the telephone meta data? None exist. It is a discussion about a hypothetical future abuse and future knock on the door. Fine. It is a legitimate discussion to have and the President has said so and he has invited a broader review as well



http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2013/06/18/obama_on_nsa_spying_ive_set_up_a_privacy_and_civil_liberties_oversight_board.html

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Number two. I've stood up a privacy and civil liberties oversight board, made up of independent citizens including some fierce civil libertarians. I'll be meeting with them. And what I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation, not only about these two programs, but also the general problem of data, big data sets, because this is not going to be restricted to government entities. (Charlie Rose Show, June 17, 2013)



So pick your vulgarity, and epitaph I continue to support, with pride the President. Call me a cheerleader, fanboi, kool aid drinker or a lackey butt-kissing shit just as long as everyone understands that means I support the President.

Put me at the head of the list. Just you don't dare call me a God Damned Flemish

Right under me please put people like Sen Al Franken





http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/11/al-franken-nsa_n_3423413.html

Liberal Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) emerged as a vocal defender of the National Security Agency on Tuesday, telling Minneapolis-based CBS affiliate WCCO that he was convinced the agency's actions did not constitute spying.
Last week, The Guardian published a bombshell report detailing how the U.S. government has been secretly collecting phone and Internet data. Edward Snowden, who came out as the NSA whistleblower responsible for the explosive leaks, is currently in hiding.
"I can assure you that this isn't about spying on the American people," said Franken, who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I have a high level of confidence that this is used ... to protect us, and I know that it has been successful in preventing terrorism."



G) DU’s 'Renaissance'

Some people have argued that this division has led to a “Renaissance at DU”. I disagree. I think it has lead to more hardened positions and less collegial discussion and Sunday’s proxy war in the form of a “shout out” competition was to me a nadir rather than a pinnacle of quality DU discussion.

The trend line at Alexa doesn’t support the Renaissance theory as generally the number of people visiting appears to be lower. For me I have never believed in addition by subtraction. I think you add to your numbers by actually adding to your numbers:
http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/democraticunderground.com

The fact remains that if we were at a cocktail party long enough the people who post at this site from both sides would end up in the corner and be in about 95% agreement. Even in the issue of the role of the NSA there is likely wide agreement that we need better oversight, there are probable issues of efficacy, questions of budget and waste the need for transparency. The only way that the reactionary forces win is if we are divided.

And the final bottom line that every DUer agrees on is that if you want the President to sign more liberal friendly legislation there is only one way to get that done:

Elect a more liberal legislature.


If you think that opposition to the President is an open and shut case for liberals/Democrats that position isn't consistent with Gallup showing very little movement with 72% of those identifying themselves as Liberals supporting the President and 82% of Democrats doing the same.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/124922/Presidential-Approval-Center.aspx

If you believe it to be an issue that needs to be engaged in then I will make a suggestion:

Perhaps a less vitriolic and more substantive line of argument would be more effective.
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