Thursday, December 28, 2023

Going out on a limb

I always thought the idea of barring Tweetie-pie, aka The Great Orange One, from presidential ballots was a long shot. Recent events brought a flicker of hope, but only that.

Okay, the prediction.

I expect SCOTUS to rule that a finding in a case involving access to a primary ballot is not sufficient and lacking an actual criminal trial convicting Tweetie-pie of insurrection, there hasn't been a legally-relevant finding that he did so. Thus the suits must fail.

I have rarely more strongly hoped to be wrong, but I don’t think I am.


Saturday, November 25, 2023

Footnote to the preceding: A not-so-easy question

[Welcome, John Swift Roundup readers! If you want to see the post to which this is a footnote, it's here.]

 There is no way to say this without appearing to endorse or at a minimum condone terrorism, but I will ask it anyway.

Bear in mind first that Palestinians have been and are living under illegal occupation by an apartheid state (Israel has been found to be such by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B'Tselem, among others), their people killed, their land stolen, their right to statehood denied.

Bear in mind second that the Gaza Strip has been described more than once as the world's largest outdoor prison.

And bear in mind third that our nation, the United States, was born on a principle of a right to revolution.

With all that in mind, here is the question: If Israel has a right to self-defense, do the Palestinians?

Put another way, does an oppressed, occupied people have a right to resistance, a right to rebellion?

If not, why not? Why do they lack the right were have declared for ourselves?

And if they do, just what is it you say the Palestinians should have done and should now do to that end? Don't say "stop terrorism," because I didn't ask you what you would have them not do, but what you would have them do. What effectual means of resistance are open to them which you would accept?

End It

Recently, Bernie Sanders released a statement on the war against Gaza followed by an expanded version as a New York Times op-ed a few days later.

On the whole, it was surprisingly good coming from a US politician, even one so avowedly progressive, as it
- included justice for Palestinians an explicit goal,
- called for future aid to Israel to be conditioned on behavior, and
- expressed a commitment to a two-state solution.

I could have wished for a direct and overt call for an immediate end to all military assistance to Israel until an actual agreement is reached, but I'll take what I can get.

While I'm sure there are other area of emphasis or even disagreement I could find by going over the statement in detail, I did see two shortcomings I wanted to note.

First, I was quite disappointed in the parts about how Hamas "must be" removed from power and "new Palestinian leadership will be required," which together endorse the Israeli war while claiming to be calling for an end to it. More to the point, it raises a question which demands an answer: If there is a free election in Gaza (which I assume is how such "new leadership" is to be chosen) and Hamas wins, would Israel and the US accept that? Or would they use that as an excuse to do nothing toward justice for Palestinians "so long as the terrorists remain in power?"

Don't ignore the question. It's based in history. After Yassir Arafat died in November 2004, the US and Israel demanded elections among Palestinians for "new leadership." Those came in January 2006 and resulted in Hamas winning seats, leading to months of conflict between Hamas and Fatah and finally, in early 2007, a painfully worked-out coalition government between the two factions - upon which Israel and the US flatly refused to deal with this "terrorist government." That is, they demanded elections but when they didn't like the result, they rejected them even though they knew, they had to know, the outcome would be continued conflict.

Their rejection resulted in the coalition fracturing and renewed civil war, leading in short order to the present situation where Hamas controls Gaza and Fatah controls the West Bank.

So the question stands: Will the US and Israel pledge to support the outcome of any elections for "new leadership" even if they don't like the outcome? Any answer other than "Yes" translates to "You will choose the government we tell you to" and marks such "new leadership" as a mask for continued oppression.

The second shortcoming was a matter of let's call it incomplete comparisons. Sanders writes that Hamas killed about 1200 Israelis, adding that "On a per-capita basis, if Israel had the same population as the United States, that attack would have been the equivalent of nearly 40,000 deaths, more than 10 times the fatalities that we suffered on 9/11."

Which is absolutely true.

However, while he notes the estimate of 12,000 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military, he fails to make the same comparison as before. So let's do that here:

Population of Israel: 9,812,480.
Israelis killed: 1200
That is .012% of the population.

Population of Gaza: 2,375,259
Palestinians killed: 12,000
That is .50% of the population.

Population of US: 334,233,854
.012% of US population: 40,110
.50% of US population: 1,671,000

So by the per capita basis Sanders used, the Israeli military has killed FORTY-TWO TIMES as many Palestinians as Palestinian militants killed Israelis.

Forty. Two. Times.

We can properly call what what Hamas did  "slaughter." But then what description can we apply to 42 times as many killed by those who have sworn to continue killing more? Who forced half the population of Gaza to abandon their homes, demanded they run to the south, and then began bombing the very area to which they told them to flee?

End all aid to Israel. Now. Immediately and totally. Because while it can be argued that we may not be able to stay the hangman's hand, we can damn well stop paying for the rope.

On Patriotism

I intended to post this over Veterans' Day weekend but obviously I didn't. But late being better than never, I decided to put it up anyway. This is a report of something I wrote in 2013.  It still seems appropriate.


I want to talk about patriotism.

When I've talked or written about this general subject before, I've always noted at the beginning that know that what I say will be misunderstood by some and deliberately twisted by others - and I've never been disappointed in that expectation. So I say it again here. I will try to be clear but I know that no matter how hard I try, for some I will fail.

To start: I am not a patriot.

And right away, I have to amend that. I am not a patriot in the shallow way the term is usually understood. I do not wear a flag pin. I do not put my hand over my heart during the national anthem (which, I’ll note in passing, I was taught as a child was something that some folks did but was not required). I do not sing along with the national anthem. In fact, I don’t even stand up for the national anthem. I will note that I certainly don't intend to give offense that way, so I usually manage to be out of the room at the time.

And I don't celebrate soldiers, nor do I, as candidate Barack Obama called on us to do, "always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform. Period," thus exempting those folks from any and all moral judgment. I can and do celebrate individual soldiers - but not "soldiers" as a category. As I have said and written several times, soldiers are not heroes. They can be heroes, they can act heroically, they can do heroic things - but the act of putting on a uniform does not make you a hero, it does not make you or your life more worthy of honor or respect than anyone else's.

Joseph Darby, the soldier who revealed the abuses at Abu Ghraib, is a hero. The soldiers in his unit who in response threatened him to the point that he had to be shipped out early for his own safety, are not. Bradley [now Chelsea] Manning, the man [sic] who revealed war crimes committed by US troops in Iraq, is a hero. The soldiers who committed those crimes, such as those in the video called "Collateral Murder," are not.

So, I say again, I am not a patriot.

Except that I am.

How? Let me explain.

Patriotism that consists in, that is measured in terms of, wearing flag pins, singing the national anthem, and the like is worthless and even dangerous. It is a shallow, a hollow, “patriotism,” a shell that prefers form to substance and too easily, as we have seen over the last years, slides from “patriotism” into jingoism. If, as someone said a while back, “patriotism requires no apologies,” neither should it require conscious demonstration.

And to try to head off some of that misunderstanding I expect, don’t bother claiming I said wearing a flag pin or whatever is itself “hollow.” I said that a patriotism measured or defined in those terms rather than by a deeper commitment is hollow. And it is.

But that obviously raises the immediate question of "what deeper commitment." What does it consist of - or, more exactly here, what do I think it consists of?

Well first, saying it consists of a commitment to "flag and country" is meaningless, empty, it's the vapid patriotism of bumper stickers and needlepoint homilies. It doesn't mean anything.

Saying it's based on the supposed fact that "this is the greatest country in the world" is nothing short of absurd - unless, that is, you want to tell me which country is the 7th greatest or the 14th greatest or the 63rd greatest. Because to say this is the greatest country means you must have some objective standard by which countries can be judged and ranked. I can't imagine what such a standard could be since on so many social scales - inequality, poverty, child poverty, access to health care, the list goes on - we rank so embarrassingly low and even on some of our proudest achievements, such as the Bill of Rights, we are losing ground.

And a patriotism based on calling out Stephen Decatur's famous line "my country, right or wrong" is downright dangerous. Unless, that is, you want to amend it to the version of then-Senator Carl Schurz, who said in the 1870s "Our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: Our country - when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right."

(BTW, look up Carl Schurz. Interesting guy.)

His quote about "true patriotism" points toward my own convictions.
In addition to embracing the comment I read some years ago that “it is natural to have an abiding affection for the land of one’s birth,” I say being an US patriot means being dedicated to the ideals on which the country was supposed to have been founded and which, at its best moments, it strives to uphold to as full a measure as possible: Ideals such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as the right to rebellion against oppression, as “promot[ing] the general welfare,” as political freedoms, as representative government “of, by, and for the people” - the ideal of, to sum up in a single phrase, an intent to “establish justice,” a justice I say must include the economic and the social as well as the political if it is to have real meaning.

Patriotism means embracing those ideals; it means striving to hold this country to the highest of those ideals instead of the lowest of its prejudices, as committing to a notion of what the US, of what we as a people, can be and have at times approached being.

Patriotism, that is, lies in the devotion to the ideals, not in any symbolic outward expression of it. Further, patriotism thus does not lie in support for or opposition to any particular administration or any particular policy except insofar as that support or opposition is an expression of that internal commitment to those ideals.

Someone who during the Bush administration who opposed the Iraq War and was angered by Bush's usurpation of power was much more patriotic than the war supporters who kept referring to Bush as “the commander-in-chief” as if we were all soldiers expected to obey orders rather than citizens with an obligation held by any free people to “question authority.” And someone during the Obama administration who denounced his unprecedented attacks on whistleblowers and was outraged by his mad claim that he could on his own authority order the assassination of Americans without trial or charge is more patriotic than the Obamabots who stand silent in the face of the drone war and were incapable of seeing the very obvious distance between dissent based on political rejection and dissent based on racism.

So on that basis, on that understanding of patriotism, I submit to you that I am as patriotic as they come. And I have neither patience with nor tolerance for those who would make patriotism a matter of gestures and decorations rather than conviction. And I have even less of either patience with or tolerance for those who would try to prove their patriotism by impugning mine.

I am not a patriot. Except that I am.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

May is not a merry month

May is not a merry month

I'm coming to hate May.

I used to enjoy May; it seemed to me to be the month with the most flowers in bloom. But not anymore.

Next week is three years since my wife, Donna, died. I like to say that she died in "the COVID spring" even though it wasn't from COVID. Instead, it was from a massive bacterial infection that her compromised immune system (diabetes, heart condition) could not fight off. In about 11 hours it went from "I don't feel well" to "I'm sorry, your wife has passed."

And now May, this day in May, has taken Helios.

Helios was 15 years old and some indeterminate mixture of hound and Jack Russell terrier. He was, as were seven of the nine dogs I've had as an adult, a rescue. (The others were puppies gifted from litters.) And he was, by as universal an agreement as such a thing ever is, the sweetest dog people had ever met. Sweet not only with people but with squirrels, deer, cats, and other dogs.

He'd been failing for some time, which was not unexpected considering his age. The usual frailties: couldn't get around as easily, had to occasionally be carried up or down the porch stairs, had to wear doggy diapers, that sort of thing. But to the end he liked being outside and loved attention and as long as he continued to appear to enjoy life I would deal with the hassles.

But today, today, he hit the wall. He could not stand up, he just lay sprawled on his side with his legs out straight. He refused to drink or eat (even his treats) and seemed to drift in and out of awareness of our presence. It was his time. So I called the vet and had the deed done.

"The deed." What do you call that? "Killed," which is literally true, is too harsh for me to deal with. "Put to sleep" is dumb: He's not asleep, he's dead. And I really, really despise "put down." He was a 13-year companion, not a goddam suitcase, some sort of burden I'm glad to be rid of.

Which leaves me with "euthanized," which I use for lack of a better term, even though it seems so coldly clinical.

And now, no more expense for dog food or treats or new collars or whatever, no vet bills, no dealing with wet diapers or messes on floors, no more having to go out in the snow or pouring rain. Like the song says, I really should be glad but, well..,

No. I'm really really not.

I really am coming to hate May.

When Someone Tells You Who They Are, Believe Them The First Time

 When Someone Tells You Who They Are, Believe Them The First Time

The title of this post is a quote from Maya Angelou that seems especially appropriate these days, and I'm reminded of a letter-to-the-editor I wrote some time ago in response to a syndicated column by George Will, at the time regarded as pretty much the definition of a right-wing intellectual.

"Some time ago," indeed: The date of the letter is January 3, 1995. This is the unedited text:

To George Will (Boston Globe, January 2) goes the honor of being called an honest man. Cutting through the nonsense of Newt and company, he opens the heart of his cohorts' agenda: "'Back to 1900,'" he says, "is a serviceable summation of the conservatives' goal."

"Back to 1900." Back to a time before legal labor unions or effective anti-monopoly laws, a time of child labor and twelve-hour work days. Back to a time before consumer or environmental protection laws, before regulations requiring safe working conditions, a time when being killed at work was a major cause of death. A time before Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment or disability insurance.

"Back to 1900." Back to when poor people were considered genetic defectives who deserved their condition. Back before civil or voting rights laws, when wives were chattel, blacks were either "good n*****s" who got called "boy" or "uppity "n*****s" who risked being lynched, when racism (against Irish, Italians, and others as well as blacks) was institutionalized, sexism the norm, and gays and lesbians, as far as "polite society" was concerned, didn't exist.

Back, in short, to a time when the elite were in their mansions and the rest of us were expected to know our places, live lives of servitude without complaint, and then die without making a fuss. "Back to 1900" is indeed "a serviceable summation" of the right-wing's goal, which is to undo a century of progress toward economic and social justice in order to selfishly benefit their morally stunted lives.

And if anyone thinks I'm too harsh, remember that Will's "summation" was offered as a moderate alternative to Christopher DeMuth of the American Enterprise Institute, who proposed we "go back to the Articles of Confederation and start over." One wonders what, given the chance, they'd do with the Bill of Rights.
They told us. Believe them.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

071 The Erickson Report for March 1-14


071 The Erickson Report for March 1-14

Episode 71 of The Erickson Report has -
- some Good News about the death penalty;
- A Longer Look at Jimmy Carter;
- a reminder about Democrats;
- news on more attacks on transgender rights; and
- an update on Gigi Sohn's nomination to the FCC.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

070 The Erickson Report for February 9 to 22


070 The Erickson Report for February 9 to 22

Episode 70 of The Erickson Report covers just two topics, the two we said last time we were going to address:
- guns, and
- attacks on Social Security.

[Sources used to follow shortly]

The Erickson Report is news and informed commentary. It is advocacy journalism, using facts and logic while never denying it has a point of view. We proudly embrace the description "woke" (“aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice" - Merriam-Webster dictionary).

Comments and responses are welcome either here or at whoviating dot blogspot dot com.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

069 The Erickson Report for January 26 to February 8, Page Five: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrage]

Now for the Outrage, which can be summed up in a single word: Florida. There is a lot there, so much that for now I'm going to focus on one aspect.

The College Board has been for several years developing an AP, an advanced placement, course for high school students on African-American studies. An AP course, if you don't know, is an elective students can take in high school that can be used as college credits.

As part of the process, the College Board sends the courses to various places around the country to get input and reactions and then for approval.

Unfortunately for the students there, one of the places they approached was Florida.

The administration of Ron DeSantis, without even seeing the syllabus, rejected the program entirely, saying “the content of this course is contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

Having gotten his "Don't Say Gay" bill and his "Stop Woke Act" through a legislature dominated by drooling, mouth-breathing, acolytes, he and they have gotten to the point where they aren't even pretending any more.

What they want, what they're after, is to totally bury any discussion of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, any discrimination against BIPOC, any discussion of homophobia or transphobia or racism, they want ultimately to make any of it illegal. They want to make it a crime to recognize the existence of bigotry in their fiefdom.

They're not even pretending any more! They'll as much as openly admit it.

The end of December there was a hearing in a suit brought by Hillsborough County Forida State Attorney Andrew Warren. He had been suspended by DeSantis for signing a pledge to not prosecute abortion-related crimes.

Warren's attorney noted that DeSantis, who gleefully declared Florida is where "woke goes to die" after being re-elected, had called Warren "a woke ideologue" in announcing the suspension. So his attorney asked some DeSantis officials what "woke" means.

The answer he got was that "woke" is, quoting the witness,"the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

That's what they're against! By their own words, what they're against is even admitting to, much less doing anything about systemic injustice. That witness even said that DeSantis doesn't believe such systemic injustice exist.

Which means that Ron DeSantis is exactly what you suspected all along: a garden variety ignoramus, racist, and bigot. He's Lester Maddox with a good speechwriter instead of a pickax handle.

(Look it up.)

What's more, he is also a plain old schoolyard bully, something else he has in common with Lester Maddox.

He uses all his powers - including those given him by his legislative minions for just this purpose - to attack and punish anyone who crosses or displeases him. Andrew Warren was one, but hardly the only one. And I have to tell you, one of the reasons bullies get away with as much as they do is because too many people are unwilling to say "Screw you."

As an example, consider the NHL.

The League itself estimates its total full-time workforce is 84 percent non-Hispanic white and a coupe of years ago USA Today said 97 percent of actual players are white.

The league has been making some efforts, seemingly sincere, to have more diversity both on the ice and off it. As part of that, it scheduled what it called a Pathway to Hockey on February 2 in Fort Lauderdale. It sought participants who were, quoting, "female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and/or a person with a disability. Veterans are also welcome and encouraged to attend.”

So Ronnykins, spluttering like a six year-old spoiled brat stamping his feet and whining "Not fair!" issued a statement calling the event "discrimination against a politically unpopular demographic" - that is, white people, who are of course so discriminated against by the National Hockey League - and that the league should "remove and denounce" the announcement.

Within hours, instead of telling him to "buzz off," the league had completely capitulated, deleting the posting, saying it was "not accurate" and that oh my yes, white people, please do come.

That is not going to help them or protect them in the future and they damn well did or should know it and if they don't they are fools.

One last thing on Florida - for now, that is, there's more, but time is fleeting.

When I quoted DeSantis's office as rejecting the College Board AP program because “the content of this course is contrary to Florida law," they didn't quite say that. The actual quote was that it is "inexplicably contrary to Florida law." [Emphasis added.]

What the hell does that mean? What kind of mental gnomes are we dealing with here? "Inexplicable" means "can't be explained." So if that quote means anything at all, it means that "this course is against the law but we are incapable of explaining how or why."

Which doesn't give you a lot of confidence in their intellectual standing to evaluate any academic program.

But, let's be fair, nearly two weeks later, he managed finally to come up with a reason: As part of this avowedly interdisciplinary examination of African-American history and experience, it has a section on Queer Theory - that is, the history and experience of LGBTQ+ American blacks.

And so according to DeSantis himself, any discussion of the experience of those people, any acknowledgement even of their existence, is illegal in Florida schools. There is no other rational interpretation of this.

It is monstrous, it is despicable, it is frightening, it is an Outrage.

But while monstrous, it does accomplish one thing: Those of who were wondering if he is more of an anti-LGBTQ+ bigot or more of a racist now some have reason to think it's the former.

But only by a little.

069 The Erickson Report for January 26 to February 8, Page Four: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

 Next, it's the much-anticipated return of Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages.

We start, as we usually do, with the Clowns, of which we have three.

First up, we have GOPper Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, who has vowed to start an "anti-woke caucus" to fight what he calls a "woke agenda" in Congress.

He said that the move would help crush the "doctrine" of "wokeness," necessary because, he whined in the most unintentionally-revealing remark in quite some time, "we no longer live in normal America."

Jeez, and they call us snowflakes.

He should call it the "Send in the Clowns" caucus. You know, "Don't bother, they're here."


Next, we have a twofer. Two infamous anti-LGBTQ+ preachers, each of who has called for gay people to be executed, want their male followers to give up beer.

Steven Anderson, founder of the New Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement and pastor at the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, and Jonathan Shelley of the Stedfast Baptist Church in Watauga, Texas, posted unhinged rants about how drinking beer is risky for men.

Why? Because beer has hops, of course. Uh, what? Y'see, hops contain a minute quantity of a phytoestrogen mimicker and so, according to our two Clowns, drinking beer will make you effeminate.

Friends, that is champion level Clown. And paranoia.


The third one requires some background. COP, or Conference of Parties, is an annual multinational confab to see who has the best PR campaign claiming to be really really we really mean it committed to staving off climate change. COP28 is to take place in Dubai in late November.

Our clown here is US climate envoy John Kerry, who expressed his approval of the selection of Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil company, to preside over the meeting. Kerry justified his approval of al-Jabar by citing a recent speech al-Jaber gave.

Not very convincing, because in that very speech al-Jaber talked about how COP should “get it done across mitigation, adaptation, finance, and loss and damage” - which is less about preventing climate change than about learning to live with it - and the company he heads plans to increase its output of crude oil.

Activists rightly equated al-Jaber's choice to asking “arms dealers to lead peace talks.”

With John Kerry's approval. The act of a Clown.

069 The Erickson Report for January 26 to February 8, Page Three: Turning Medicare into a corporate piggy bank

I'm going to talk briefly about two programs relating to Medicare, one of which you likely have heard of and one which you may well have not unless it affected you directly.

The first is Medicare Advantage. If you are older, that is, of Medicare age, you may even be on one of these programs. Approaching half of us are. I am, in fact. For me, personally, it seemed the best option I had. And if you're a senior in overall good health, as I am, it may well be for you too.

But it's a scam, a cheat, a rip-off - not necessarily of anyone in the program, but of the taxpayers, of the people as a whole.

Who says so? Among others, Wendell Potter, former vice president for corporate communications at insurance giant Cigna and someone who helped design the PR campaign that convinced Congress to go along with the scheme.

He now says: "Medicare Advantage is a money-making scam. I should know. I helped to sell it."

The first thing to know here is that Medicare Advantage is not Medicare. It is a separate corporate health insurance industry program established under Medicare Part C. And it stands, bluntly, as a step on the road to a total privatization, that is, the destruction, of Medicare.

Here's how Medicare Advantage works: Insurance corporations, unlike real Medicare, don't deal on a person-by-person, procedure-by-procedure basis. Instead, every year, Advantage providers submit a summary to the federal government of the aggregate risk score of all their customers and, essentially, are paid in a massive lump sum based on that figure.

This is all done under the notion that being private capitalist corporations, they'd be more efficient that any government agency could be, and so the whole programs would save taxpayers money. It doesn't, as repeated audits have shown.

Instead it has become an enormous cash cow for insurers, in large part because of the way they have rigged the risk-scoring system to maximize profits.

Your risk score is a measure of how much the company thinks you will cost in benefit payouts. Simply put, the sicker you are, the higher the score. And the higher your score, the bigger the payout to the company from the government. Which creates a clear incentive for the corporations to inflate their risk scores.

Consider how this could happen in my case. Again, I am in overall good health. But I'm getting older, I'm in my 70s, and as folks get older some issues can arise just in the course of ageing.

For example, I've developed a tremor in my left hand. It's something that sometimes happens to older folks. It's an annoyance, especially because I'm left-handed. It can make it difficult to type and I sometimes have trouble when I try to write things down and yes I do still write in cursive sometimes. It's an annoyance.

The point here is that I had a neurological exam and it was negative. It's what's called an essential tremor; it just is. There is no neurological involvement.

But in my medical records, under diagnoses, it says "hand tremor," not "essential hand tremor." An insurance company could look at that and despite the exam say "Ooh, so there is still a risk of neurological involvement. Raise his risk score."

I've had surgery on both shoulders due to osteoarthritis. Even though there has been no other issue before or since, nothing that has required any medical intervention, still the corporation could say "He's got a history, there could be more in the future. Up his score."

I've had in some past some digestive issues. Again, this is a matter of annoyances, not something that impacted my day-to-day life. But under diagnoses, it says Irritable Bowel Syndrome. "Oh my," says the insurance company, "that's serious. Higher score."

The point being that you can take someone in overall pretty good health and make them seem much sicker, with a higher score, depending on how you want to interpret the record.

Which is exactly what has been happening.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimated that “net overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans by unconfirmed medical diagnoses" came to $11.4 billion in fiscal year 2022 alone.

And on top of all that, the program is designed such that once you're on it, you're pretty much stuck. There are significant financial obstacles to switching to real Medicare, making it as a practical matter almost impossible for a lot of people. Which means that over time the portion of Medicare-age people on these so-called Advantage programs grows and the fear is that once that figure is over 50%, which it almost is, that will be used to justify shutting down real Medicare, leaving these programs the only option.

The whole thing is, as Thom Hartmann called it, a Trojan horse to privatize Medicare. The entire program should be shut down - now.

Oh, and if you're on traditional, that is, real, Medicare? You are still being thrown into the clutches of grasping insurance companies.

Which is that other program I mentioned, the one you might night know about. It was set up under Tweetie-pie under the name Direct Contracting Entities as what amounts to a for-profit corporation acting as a benefits manager contracted by Medicare to sit between you and the health care provider. That is, instead of Medicare in that space, dealing with claims in and benefit payments out, there is a private corporation contracted to do that.

These DCEs are paid monthly by the CMS to cover a specified portion of a patient's medical care instead of Medicare dealing with reimbursing providers directly. The issue is, these companies are paid that contracted amount and anything they don't spend on care they keep as profit.

Which clearly gives these corporations an incentive to skimp on Medicare patients, including finding ways to deny claims or only approving the cheapest treatment methods even if a more expensive one is called for.

This began as pilot program and was deliberately designed with the idea of being another step to privatizing Medicare and another way to rip off the public even as it was being sold with the traditional mantra "private enterprise efficiency."

Virtually any company can apply to be a DCE, including investor-backed startups - that is, even with no prior experience in insurance, health care, or medicine - along with other Wall Street types and insurance corporations already doing Medicare Advantage programs.

And if you're on Medicare, you can be assigned to one of these profit-hungry outfits without your approval or even knowledge.

Okay, but that was under Tweetie-pie, right? We have a Democrat in there now, so it's okay, right?

Dream on.

Not only is the Blahden Administration continuing the program, the CMS announced in January a significant expansion of the pilot program with the goal of making it universal - of having everyone on Medicare assigned to one of these outfits - by 2030.

About the only thing Blahden did was re-brand the program as, get this, ACO REACH - Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health. Because turning over administration of our health insurance claims to private corporations whose goal is, never forget, maximizing profit, increases accountability - somehow.

Bear in mind that the $650 million in Medicare Advantage overcharges discovered by federal audit back in 2013 and 2014 still have not been recovered from the corporations that claimed them.

Medicare and Social Security overall are about the most popular, most successful federal programs in US history and the right-wing and reactionaries hate them for precisely that reason and have been trying to shut them down from day one. We cannot let them succeed.

One last thing on this, a question all this raises: If we as a people, through our taxes, can in these programs pay - as is happening - for Medicare and Medicaid plus corporate profit plus the cost of illegal overcharges, how in hell can anyone continue to claim we could not afford a national health care plan?

I intend next time to look at the renewed attacks on Social Security, including the calls for a new version of a cat food commission.

069 The Erickson Report for January 26 to February 8, Page Two: The anniversary of Roe v. Wade

January 22 marked the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade - and the first such anniversary without it.

Years of fanaticism, years of lies about abortion and about the people who get them, and particularly years of lies by Supreme Court nominees swearing that Roe is "settled law" even though they knew damn well SCOTUS has the power to overturn such "settled law," and perhaps most egregiously equal years of failure by Democrats to call those nominees out on those lies and evasions, together have brought us to the point where for the first time in US history a protected, recognized right has been stripped away.

And the fanatics, busily chanting "Onward Christian Soldiers," have no intention of stopping.

So let's mark the day by noting some recent headlines on the topic.

For example, Alabama has a near-total abortion ban which targets abortion providers but exempts the people who get abortions from being prosecuted. That creates a loophole for folks who want an abortion to do a self-administered, chemically-induced one.

Well, State Attorney General Steve Marshall doesn't like the idea that people actually have an option. So two weeks ago his office issued a statement that people who use an abortifacient could be charged with a crime under a chemical endangerment law.

Originally passed to protect children from exposure to chemicals and fumes from home meth labs, this law has been expanded in practice to apply to pregnant people who took any drugs while pregnant or exposed their fetuses to drugs. Now they want the term "drugs," until now referring to illegal drugs, to refer to legal ones that the Alabama official fanatics don't like.

Meanwhile, there's a method of doing an abortion called "dilation and extraction," or D&X, which involves dilating the pregnant person's cervix and drawing the fetus out through the birth canal. In 1995 the fanatics at the National Right to Life Committee dubbed it "partial-birth" abortion, a medically-meaningless and deliberately misleading term used by the fanatics ever since.

In floor debate in the Minnesota legislature on January 11, State Senator Bill Lieske showed the level of actual understanding of the issue so common among his ilk, which is why this is important.

He said "We have born alive individuals and we must protect the born alive. In this case, a partial-birth abortion. The child is in part born alive."

In other words, Lieske thinks the aborted fetus is "partly alive!" He didn't specify which part that was. This would surely deserve a Clown Award for utter stupidity if this level of ignorance wasn't so serious and so common among the men making these laws.

What has even greater potential impact is that some states are even looking to prosecute people simply for providing information on openly-available, entirely legal options for people who want to obtain an abortion but live in a state where such rights are being destroyed. Even just telling someone "You could go to such-and-such a state and get it done legally there" would be a crime, aiding and abetting a crime, and free speech be damned.

This is no joke and no exaggeration. The South Carolina legislature is considering legislation to do exactly that*, based on draft legislation from those fanatics at the National Right to Life Committee. Meanwhile, Mississippi is investigating a group called Mayday Health over a billboard advertising a website providing some of that sort of legal information.

And this doesn't even touch on the intensified campaigns to restrict or even ban birth control. Because as we told you many times, overturning Roe was not the goal - it was just a step in the process of achieving the fanatics' vision of the Republic of Gilead.

And the efforts are not limited to the state level, because despite their decades-long screeching that regulations on abortions should be "returned to the states," now they have that they have it they are looking for federal legislation to ban abortion after 15 weeks and to block states that try to preserve access to reproductive care from doing so. "Return it to the states" was just another lie.

Now, not all the news is bad, of course. I mentioned before suits in Indiana, Kentucky, and three other states arguing that abortion restrictions in those states are a violation of the plaintiffs' religious freedom, taking the fanatics' recent practice of making every attempt to combat bigotry into a First Amendment violation and turning it to a good end.

A new example is a challenge to Missouri's ban, one filed on January 19 by a group of 11 religious leaders of varying faiths. As part of their argument, they note that during debate on the bill, several lawmakers, including the bill's primary sponsor, specifically invoked their religious beliefs while drafting the bill, marking it a clear violation of church-state separation and the Missouri state constitution.

The fact is, we face a moment when every aspect of reproductive health care from birth control to post-natal care is under attack and the fanatics seem ascendant, a moment that arose in part because despite the signs, for too many among us, including those most directly affected, the loss of those rights didn't seem "real" until the Dobbs decision actually came down. Fortunately, the resistance lives and continues and hopefully will grow.
As for our opponents, the fanatics who proclaim their "freedom" but deny it to others, who proclaim "love" for the fetus but deny it to the mother, who claim to pursue "justice" but deny it to your victims, Matthew 23:27-28 has the words for you, you who are the embodiment of the truism that for the right wing and its acolytes, the right to life begins at conception and ends at birth.

Enjoy your time while you have it - because in the long run, we will not let you win.

*At the link, scroll down to Section 44-41-860. But don't stop there. It gets worse.

Friday, January 27, 2023

069 The Erickson Report for January 26 to February 8


Episode 69 of The Erickson Report notes the anniversary of Roe v.Wade with some recent news on abortion rights, goes over how Medicare Advantage programs are actually backdoor ways to privatize Medicare, and reintroduces Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages, with three Clowns and the Outrage that is Florida.

The Erickson Report is news and informed commentary from the radical nonviolent left. It is advocacy journalism, dealing in facts and logic but having a point of view. Sometimes serious, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes even flip but always with the intent to inform and inspire,The Erickson Report strives to be a tool for justice
Reactions and comments are welcome.
Abortion rights analysis/blogs/stateline/2022/05/19/some-states-already-are-targeting-birth-control's_Tale
Medicare Advantage / ACO HEALTH

Saturday, January 14, 2023

068 The Erickson Report for January 12 to 25


Our first show of 2023 looks at two issues we expect to continue to be issues throughout the year:
- the war in Ukraine
- bodily autonomy, including reproductive rights (including abortion) and transgender rights.

We intend to repeat this for the next show or two, giving some attention to other issues that we think will be persistent ones.

We also anticipate the return of our most popular feature, Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrges.

Finally, a head's up: I am in the process of moving to another state. Don't be surprised (or dismayed) if sometime in the next four to six weeks I have to skip a show. I will try to let you know in advance.

067 The Erickson Report for December 21 to January 4


Our traditional holiday show covering just two questions: Why is Christmas on December 25? Why is New Year's Day on January 1?

This is a repeat of last year's episode. The history hasn't changed in that time. :)
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