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.

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');