Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Who is Lying to Seniors?

I'm certain that you've heard that the Medicare Advantage Program is very controversial. If you are young and you are not caring for an elderly relative, the Medicare Advantage Program may mean nothing to you. But if you or a loved one is enrolled in one of the programs, you are likely very concerned about the debate raging in Congress today.

What is Medicare Advantage? Under today's Advantage programs private insurers like United Health Care or Humana take over the administration of Medicare including the interface with the United States Government. They standardize all fees and greatly reduce the paperwork and eliminate virtually all complications for seniors. They often pay more than Medicare for many services, saving seniors substantial amounts of money.

But, they do cost the government about 14% more per senior than standard Medicare enrollment. Many claim this just goes to fatten the bankroll of evil and greedy insurance company executives. And anecdotal horror stories, generally totally unsubstantiated, are flowing through the blogosphere about seniors being denied care. These are almost certainly false because the companies are highly regulated and must, by law, cover any expense Medicare itself would cover.

My mother is enrolled in an Advantage Program through United Health Care. It is stunningly excellent and has saved her a great deal of money and countless headaches. I cannot praise the program enough. So I am biased.

On the other hand, I have several close friends who are doctors and also get to hear their side of the story. While the bookkeepers like the amazing simplicity of Advantage Programs, the doctors and hospitals actually are paid less than they would receive under straight Medicare. You see, Insurance Companies actually negotiate lower prices from health care providers. And, doctors tell me, the payments are often much more logical under Advantage programs, fees are more in line with real world costs. Medicare vastly overpays for certain services.

It is important to note, before I continue, that Advantage programs are primarily used by the very poor who cannot afford traditional Medicare Supplemental Insurance programs. Advantage covers some expenses much more fully than traditional Medicare. And, as I've already mentioned, it's a lot easier to use.

Today's debate revolves around what Insurance Companies are allowed to communicate with their customers. The Obama Administration has DEMANDED that all insurance companies cease and desist all communication with customers about the impending elimination of the Advantage Program. Today, on a nearly straight party line vote, the Senate backed the Administration.

The claim by the Obama Administration was that some communication lied or attempted to frighten seniors. However, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf seemed to back the insurance companies Tuesday testifying under oath that seniors in the private Medicare Advantage plans would likely see substantially reduced benefits under the Senate Finance Committee legislation now under debate.

President Obama and virtually all Congressional Democrats have all PROMISED that despite the massive reductions and other planned cuts to the Medicare program, seniors would not see their benefits reduced under the Obama Health Care Restructuring. That claim is the centerpiece of every Obama speech and his address to the joint session of Congress last week. The only thing is, as Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf testified, that simply isn't true!

In his attack on the insurance companies yesterday, Senator Max Baucus, Finance Committee Chairman, boldly declared, "It is wholly unacceptable to mislead seniors regarding any subject — particularly on a subject as important to them, and to the nation, as health care reform."

I agree completely. It's damned time Senator Baucus and his fellow Democrats STOPPED LYING TO SENIORS AS THEY ATTEMPT TO SECRETLY GUT A SUCCESSFUL AND IMPORTANT PROGRAM.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is the Left's Demonization of Glenn Beck Good for America?

Time Magazine has an excellent analysis of the Glenn Beck phenomena as this week's cover story. Lead writer David Von Drehle and the Time reporters are remarkably "fair and balanced" in their coverage of Glenn Beck and his appeal to a large and largely disaffected portion of America.

The article is hardly a "puff piece" as some on the left have claimed. The magazine cover photo alone portrays Beck as a clown or even a mad man, not a business or political leader or a intellectual icon.

Still, Joseph A. Palermo, writing over at
The Huffington Post is outraged. He calls David Von Drehle's article "a clinic for journalism students who wish to learn about faux balance, false equivalencies, straw men, and omissions of important facts."

While I'm not going to get in between Palermo and Von Drehle, I feel the real story here is the lefts virtually insane obsession over Beck and his fellow conservative talk show and television personalities. This preoccupation that verges on fixation is unhealthy for the critics, the left wing progressives and maybe for all America.

This obsession is so wrong and so misplaced on so many different levels. First, by concentrating their fire on personalities like Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity and (curiously) Bill O'Reilly, they miss huge opportunities every day to focus on issues and ideas and the real personalities that shape today's policies. Some blogs and even television shows devote nearly 100% of their space (or airtime) to demonizing these personalities.

By writing and blogging and talking all day every day about Beck and Limbaugh, progressives actually give them immense power. Beck's popularity and importance and audience size are all fueled by the constant and generally misplaced (and often completely false) attacks by Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and the bevy of Hollywood Glitterati writing over on Huffington.

Indeed the efforts by progressives to get advertisers to stop advertising on the Beck Telecast on Fox have only increased Beck's popularity and viewership. While similar boycotts have, in the past, actually cost personalities their jobs, it has increased Becks popularity and strengthened his position at Fox.

As a side note, President Barack Obama's boneheaded move to exclude Chris Wallace and Fox New Sunday from his Sunday barrage of appearances to promote his Health Care Restructuring is the absolute worst public relations decision ever made. He has done more real damage to his agenda by this lame and schoolyard childish insult than he can possibly gain by his appearance on the other five programs. President Obama seriously needs new advisers!

Back to the topic. By concentrating their fire on Beck, opportunities are missed to actually promote the progressive agenda. While Beck spends his time and ammunition on issues, programs, ideas and philosophies, the (not very) credible personalities on the left spend their time whining about Beck and O'Reilly.

Even the Democrat Party has fallen into this tragic trap.

As Beck observes at the end of this clip, doesn't the DNC realize he's not running for office?

Such attacks only increase Beck's power and popularity. Worse yet, the ad above displays the DNC's complete ignorance of Beck and his stand on the issues. Beck was and is extremely critical of President Bush and especially Bush's use of CZARS. The ad itself ends up promoting Beck and his position!

Worst of all, when progressives demonize a personality, they blind themselves to both his appeal and his position on important issues. If you put on colored glasses, you blind yourself to what's actually happening. Once you've put a Glenn Beck in a corner, you feel safe in ignoring everything he says. This ignorance is always at your own peril!

Rather than simply ridicule Beck, progressives ought to try to understand why his ideas resonate with millions of people. They aren't all nut cases or whack jobs. They have genuine concerns, good ideas, real problems and valid and important points of view. Turning Beck into the enemy won't ever change any one's mind. Posing good, valid and well thought out counter positions on the issues might.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Battles You Cannot Win

I've been reading quite a lot of different blogs over the last week. I've started with the blogs I normally frequent, then followed the links to other blogs many folks provide on their sidebars. I've also read the comments made on blog posts and followed the poster to his or her "home" blog.

To say our nation is divided is an understatement. I've read charges, accusations, attacks, slurs and hate speech. It's really quite ugly in almost all of the politically oriented blogs.

Lots of people are shouting. Nobody is listening.

Generally people do not venture outside of their own political spectrum. So they are free to feed upon one another. Readers seek out blogs with which they already agree. Then each comment plays one-upsmanship on the previous remark. "My hate speech is more hateful that your hate speech."

Often it's a race to see who can mention Hitler first. Charges of racism as sure to follow. Socialist! Communist! Fascist!

Don't get me wrong. These aren't any arguments. There is no opposing point of view.

No conservatives dare visit the progressive dens of hate. Why would they? Why should they? No one is going to listen. And no real issues are being discussed. It's not like there is a discussion of the merits of the public option of health care. Nope, the only discussion is how stupid.... or mean..... or cruel.... or evil.... or racist the opposition really is.

Many right wing blogs traffic is the same vacuous diatribes.

These bloggers are preaching to the choir. They are tilting at windmills, fighting battles they cannot possibly win. They are poisoning themselves in their homemade cesspools of hate.

There is one last unifying factor. Not one of them realize what they are doing. They will read what I've written and never realize I'm talking about them. That's why it's called blind hatred.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering the Reality: 9-11-2001: Sue Kim Hanson

Here is a reprint of the article I wrote three years ago as part of the 2,996 Project. In this project, one blogger was assigned to prepare a remembrance for each of the victims who died during the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001

Today 9/11 seems like a lifetime away. And, for many people it is. There will be a complete moratorium on politicking and all other posts on the WIZARD site for 24 hours.

Please take time to remember just how frail and how fleeting life really is. Read and remember Sue Kim Hanson.

Sue Kim Hanson
September 11, 2006

A short note appears on the Boston University Medical Campus Calendar Website noting that Jonathan W. Yewdell, M.D., Ph.D., Chief, Cellular Biology Section of the Laboratory of Viral Diseases will be speaking tomorrow, September 11, 2006, on the topic of "Gained in Translation: Generating Viral and Cellular Peptide Antigens from DRiPs."

He is speaking at 4:00 pm in Keefer Auditorium and a Reception in the Wilkins Board Room will follow.

What might be missed by a casual observer is perhaps the most important fact of all. Dr. Yewdell is the guest speaker for the
5th Annual Sue Kim Hanson Lecture In Immunology.

If you noticed this, you might simply assume that Sue Kim Hanson is (or was) some generous benefactor to the University. A lecture named for her to repay her gift.

Or perhaps you would guess that she is (or was) a notable scientist who, at one time or another, taught or studied at Boston University. Someone who should be honored for the advancements she made in Immunology.

And, indeed, all of the above is true. Just not in the way you might expect.

Susan Kim Hanson was one of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack that took the lives of
2,996 souls in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the fields of Pennsylvania.

Sue, her husband Peter, and her two year old daughter Christine were on United Airlines Flight 175 that crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Her daughter Christine was the youngest victim of the September 11th attack.

But the Boston University Lecture Series is not named after Sue Kim Hanson because of the way she died, but because of the way she lived.

Sue Kim HansonSue was a great scientist in the making. She was a doctoral candidate in micro-biology immunology at Boston University and working on her final thesis. Her work promised to reveal the workings of a chemical believed to regulate immune responses. She had isolated in lab mice a gene suspected of being involved in asthma sufferers and AIDS patients. Her work had the potential to help millions of people.

Susan Kim was one of those wonderful American success stories. A Korean-American, Sue had lived with her grandmother in Korea until she was 6. Her mother died when she was 15 and she was raised by her strict Korean father. Through hard work and discipline, sacrifice, dedication and sheer will power she neared the goal her mother and father and grandmother had hoped she would achieve, her doctorate degree.

Dr. Hardy Kornfeld, Hanson's thesis adviser, said "She was sort of fearless. Sue just took on tasks that were incredibly challenging, and more often than not she was able to make a go at them."

That she would be attracted to the wild and undisciplined Peter Hanson was a great surprise. Three years younger than Sue Kim, Peter gained his education by following The Grateful Dead. Peter believed that the group and its music would become classics, up there with Beethoven, Bach and company, and he tried to sway the opinion of anyone who would listen. Many of our listeners to Wizard Radio would certainly agree with Peter.

But even if Sue wasn't quite convinced about the Dead, she believed in Peter. And her faith was well placed. Peter was, by all accounts, a brilliant software engineer, a great salesman and a wonderful person.

He was passionate about Sue and Sue fell head over heals in love with Peter. She obviously had a great effect on him. has a reprint of a New York Times article about Sue that tells the story:

    "The relationship spurred Peter Hanson to clip his tangle of brownish-red dreadlocks, trade in tie-dyed T- shirts for suits, go to business school and become one of the best software salesmen his friends and family had ever met. He was vice president of marketing at TimeTrade in Waltham, Mass."

    "Her bond with the Hansons was so strong that they accompanied her to California when she went to inform her father about her engagement. She worried that her father would protest because Peter Hanson was not Korean. But her family embraced the Hansons."

Sue and Peter were married and had a beautiful daughter. Sue continued to pursue her doctoral degree. She was scheduled to defend her thesis in November, 2001.

Sue, Peter and ChristineTaking a last break before finalizing her research and thesis, Sue, Peter and Christine were on their way to visit the Sue's father and grandmother in California, and take Christine to Disneyland, when they boarded United Airlines Flight 175. Peter was one of those who made a final cell phone call to his parents moments before the plane crashed into the south tower.

Sue's friend
Mona Pengree writes, "Sue was awarded her PhD posthumously, as her professor finished her work on her behalf. This is a wonderful picture of her, and she shone every bit as brightly in person. Probably more. Her loss was a loss to all mankind."

Sue gave a great deal to Boston University and she gave a great deal to all of us. Her work in immunology inspired her fellow students, faculty and the University to continue her research and finish her thesis. They awarded her a doctorate degree. And they established the Annual Sue Kim Hanson Lecture In Immunology, not just to honor her memory, but to give full credit to her work and the inspiration, the strength and the courage Sue provides to us all.

God bless you Sue... and Peter and Christine and all those who died so tragically five years ago.

God bless.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, there is a wealth of information, tribute and love scattered throughout the Internet in remembrance of Sue Kim Hanson. I owe every contributor who came before me a deep debt of gratitude. Through each of you I have come to know Sue, Peter and Christine. You have touched my heart.

If my Tribute to Susan Kim Hanson here today fell short in any way, I deeply apologize and would love to hear from any of you.

I suggest these following resources from which I have borrowed freely in preparing this tribute:

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 VICTIMS: Sue Kim Hanson

Remember September 11, 2001

A mother to her son: How could I forget your curiosity and energy? By Eunice Hanson, for The Associated Press

Peter, Sue Kim, and Christine Hanson Memorial Web Site

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Back in 2006, the 2,996 Project asked bloggers to prepare tributes to all who died in the tragic events of September 11th. Many of those blog entries remain on line and many will be reprinted today.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

    I thought President Obama gave a bitterly partisan speech last night on "Health Care System Restructuring," using the very hyperbole and scare tactics he had been accusing the Republicans of using.

    I can't call it "Health Care Reform" because the word reform implies fixing a problem or improving a system and the Obama Plan, as it can finally be called, will do neither. At this point I'm simply saddened that a bill will eventually pass based on counterproductive ideas and mythology.

    But that's not the point of today's entry. Today's subject is one man's self destructive insanity. If we look back a year from now at the exact moment President Obama won the battle for his Health Care System Restructuring it will be the moment that Congressman Joe Wilson lost control of his emotions (or his intellect) and shouted "you lie" at President Obama. At that magical moment the entire nation completely and permanently forgot everything the President was saying. At that magical moment the entire nation was on President Obama's side.

    I was on Twitter as the President spoke. To paraphrase Obi Won Kenobi in Star Wars, it was as if millions of voices cried out all at once. Twitter exploded in shock, horror and anger. Tweets from the 400 or so folks I follow erupted so quickly, my service could not keep up. At that was just a microcosm of what happened nationwide.

    Never mind that President Bush was
    treated much worse by Democrats when he tried to get Medicare and Social Security Reform in a Joint Session of Congress. Bush was wildly unpopular. Nobody cared, although they should have.

    No, Congressman Joe Wilson galvanized a nation. Hell, his opponent,
    Robert Miller, enjoyed a windfall of over $400,000.00 in donations in minutes after Wilson shot off his mouth. Wilson cannot possibly win re-election.

    But the real beneficiary was President Obama and his Health Care Restructuring that is about to be inflicted upon our weary nation. Totally unnecessary, hugely expensive and structurally damaging, our new system will prove to be outrageously expensive and will rather quickly dismantle the greatest Health Care System on earth. Got to give Joe Wilson credit. The man is a political powerhouse. President Obama couldn't have done it without him.

    Wednesday, September 09, 2009

    Wizard Prediction: Barack Obama Will Blow It! Big Time!!!


    I watch Morning Joe on MSNBC every morning after my full dose of National Public Radio. I enjoy Joe and Mika and his entire rotating crew. They make sharp observations, provide reasonable balance of opinions and they are entertaining. While MSNBC lacks any real conservative voices (Joe Scarborough is a weak kneed Libertarian and Pat Buchanan is a radical isolationist), they still try to present all sides of most issues.

    This morning the panel was lamenting the disastrous drop in the polling of both Congress (lowest approval ratings in the 50 years of polling) and President Obama (lowest approval rating of his short Presidency). They discussed that Republicans had solid leads in the races for the governorships of both New Jersey and Virginia

    One of the panel observed that Barack Obama WON THE ELECTION because he promised a new kind of Presidency. He promised he would embrace bipartisanship and end the gridlock.

    The Morning Joe Crew all agreed. It was Obama's absolute FAILURE to even attempt bipartisanship along with Nancy Pelosi's refusal to work with Republicans that had so infuriated the American public.

    I couldn't agree more. As I've written several times in this space, had President Obama merely picked up the telephone and TOLD NANCY PELOSI to sit down and genuinely listen to Republicans and to make an effort to forge a bipartisan bill, he could have already had a new Health Care Plan. He would have made his summer goal and basked in a major victory.

    Instead he allow Pelosi and her team of reactionary progressives to build plans that were weird, complicated, convoluted and generally unworkable. A thousand pages of nonsense. I've read them.

    Pelosi insured every single Republican amendment was handily defeated. She even went so far as to write into the bill provisions that directly contradicted promises the President was publicly making on funding of abortion, taxation, and deficit spending.

    Barack Obama then had a chance to take a second bite at the apple and convene a bipartisan panel on health care during the summer recess. He failed to do that, instead going out and campaigning on a group of bills he hadn't even read.

    Now for my prediction. President Obama has now given himself one more chance to embrace bipartisanship and build a great health care plan. All Republicans and all insurance companies are on board for universal health care. Victory is in his grasp. He can still emerge a winner! But he won't!

    Instead Obama will engage in the absolute worst kind on partisanship. He will absolutely FAIL to acknowledge the concerns of the American Public. He WILL NOT call for bipartisan action. He WILL NOT convene a new panel to develop a real health care solution. He WILL absolutely enrage the American Public. He won't listen. He WILL lecture.

    President Obama's speech to the Joint Session of Congress will go down as the death of his Presidency.

    Let's all hope I'm wrong.

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009

    They Shouldn't Call Them Parties, Because Nobody's Having Any Fun

    Rather than principles, we Americans have mostly put all our thought, faith and loyalties into political parties, or often worse, cults of personalities.

    That's why it's so damned easy to be accused of hypocrisy or to accuse others of hypocrisy. When we abdicate our principles, leave them on the sidelines, we have nothing to actually stand upon. We cast out random accusations at our supposed opponents that have little or no merit or worse, actually betray our stated goals.

    We hit an all time low this weekend on two fronts: 1.) President Obama's address to school children today and 2.) Van Jones belated resignation as President Obama's Green Jobs CZAR, a position he should have never held.

    President Obama is a superb role model. Here is a man our children should emulate. He is a model of intelligence, hard work, honor and success. You don't need to agree with his politics to admire and respect the man. None-the-less people who have long held that we should always respect and support the President of the United States, decided he shouldn't ever be allowed to actually talk to school children.

    The position of certain right wing zealots is simple incomprehensible. Fortunately most credible Republican leaders from Laura Bush to Newt Gingrich have lambasted these folks and supported the President's address to our children.

    Does the speech have political overtones? Yes, of course. It is unavoidable. And yet President Obama's speech hits the perfect notes and sets the ideal tone.

    But wait, the nut jobs don't just sit on the right side of the table. When George H.W. Bush made virtually the same speech in 1991, the attackers were all Democrats. And they went way overboard, even going so far as to hold hearings "investigating" the President's gross misuse of funds to make a speech indoctrinating our students.

    This was one scary attack led by none other than Speaker of the House Dick Gephardt: "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students. And the president should be doing more about education than saying, 'Lights, camera, action.'"

    Here is, of course, the obvious problem for Democrats. If was actually wrong for the first President Bush to make such a speech, then today's Speaker of the House ought to be investigating and condemning President Obama. Nope! Bush was investigated only because he was a Republican and Obama is defended only because he is a Democrat.

    Now on to problem #2. Over on the left some real zealots are trying to defend the indefensible Van Jones, just because a much hated right wing television commentator, Glenn Beck, made the discoveries into Van Jones' past that Obama's own people should have found.

    It is absurd to "blame" Glenn Beck for Van Jone's own mistakes and misjudgements. Beck got lucky on this one. Don't worry, it will probably never happen again.

    As a liberal or progressive would you tolerate for one second having David Duke in the White House, advising the President? Of course not. Well Van Jones is nothing less that a left wing David Duke. If you stand on principles, Van Jones cannot be defended.

    Principled liberals are asking the important question: How did President Obama's team let this happen?

    Friday, September 04, 2009

    Out of Touch, Out of Control

    This is a really short blog entry to simply suggest you read the insightful article in this week's TIME MAGAZINE by Tim Padgett: Florida Exodus: Rising Taxes Drive Out Residents.

    This is a real case study in what happens when government officials forget they are public servants, instead acting like they are royalty. And, on a state level, this is a tragic example of exactly what is happening in Washington. Politicians completely out of touch with citizens.

    Both Padgett's thesis and his examples are compelling.

    "Homeowners, especially in Broward and Miami-Dade, have been falling out of their flip-flops in recent days as they open their preliminary property-tax notices to find increases of 15% or more. That's sizable in a low-income region where the median property-tax bill is already some $3,000, and it's doubly frustrating given that property values have slid by some 25% during Florida's housing bust."

    "Residents have barely digested the recent news that their hurricane-insurance premiums, which can top $5,000 a year for most South Florida homes, will rise 10% a year for the next three years (vital, officials claim, for handling claims from the next big storm)."

    "And their public utility, Florida Power & Light (FPL), is lobbying the state for a 30% rate hike."

    " 'It all seems out of control to people here at the time when they can least absorb it,' says Dr. Jose Valladares, president of the conservative Fair Property Tax for All in Miami-Dade."

    This is all eerily similar to the event that have devastated Detroit and left it a mere shadow of its former greatness. Will the same scenario destroy Miami?

    More importantly, will our officials in Washington, including President Obama, realize they are doing the exact same things to all Americans?