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On Open-Source Entertainment, Or, Today, Jon Kyl Meets Twitter April 14, 2011

So Arizona Senator Jon Kyl went and did a stupid thing the other day by claiming on the floor of the Senate that 90% of what Planned Parenthood does is related to abortions, and that, by God, we need to cut that Federal funding for abortions, and we need to cut all Federal funding for Planned Parenthood—and we need to do it today.

Of course, that 90% claim was total hooey; it turns out that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s work relates to abortions. (The Federal funding for abortions part is, too; the Hyde Amendment made such funding illegal decades ago.)

When confronted, Kyl’s office released a statement claiming the Senator’s comments were “not intended to be a factual statement”.

Sir Rev. Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, decided to have a bit of fun with Kyl, and he challenged his audience to Tweet their own “Not Intended To Be A Factual Statement” about Kyl.

I decided to compose a Tweet of my own…and then another…and before I knew it I had an entire story’s worth; that’s why, today, we’ll be taking a taking a short break from the daily grind to have a bit of fun with a man who truly deserves it: Jon Kyl.

…I decided to celebrate Jon Kyl’s ground-breaking excystplanation last night by tweeting round-the-clock nonfacts about him:

“For the past ten years Jon Kyl has been two children in a very convincing Jon Kyl suit” and “Jon Kyl calls all Asians ‘Neil’ no matter what their name is”.

Both of which would be libelous if I hadn’t added the hashtag notintendedtobeafactualstatement.

Well, Nation, you picked this up and ran with it, using my hashtag to tweet your own nonfacts as an uprece-tweeted rate of 46 per minute!

Which, incidentally, is the rate at which Jon Kyl catapults puppies into the sea.

–Stephen Colbert, speaking on the Colbert Report, Wednesday, Apr 13, 2011

So I did a bit of math, and if Colbert is correct about that “46 a minute” thing then about 65,000 tweets went up in the 24 hours following his announcement, and they’re still going up fast; check out #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement at Twitter to get a feel for what I’m talking about.

Two Tweets by other writers sort of “bookmark” the types of missives that have been presented; Ben Cobb, writing as @MoltenPanther, Tweeted…

Jon Kyl started a squirrel farm to form a massive squirrel army in preparation for the coming apocalypse.

…and John Q, writing as @PencilName, wrote:

During an emergency, Jon Kyl can be used as a flotation device.

So with that in mind, here’s a few of my #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement submissions:

Jon Kyl’s head once served as a landing light for Senator James Inhofe at the Eufala, Alabama airport.

Jon Kyl listens to Radio Disney–and doesn’t know those are cover songs.

Jon Kyl likes KFC better than Popeye’s.

It used to be John Kyl…but he lost the “h” in 1979 after a night of drinking, and now he can’t find it.

“The KylBot AZ Mark II v.3.6505 is experiencing software malfunctions. Please try again later…”

Kyl’s head brushed against Trump’s hair on an airport runway last night. 450 passengers aboard, 0 injured.

On Saturday nights, John Kyl likes to dress up as a giant pretzel and get “stuffed in an M&M”

Why is Kyl so crazy? He gets 5 cents per page view every time he’s in The Onion–and he needs the money.

Jon Kyl once caught Larry Craig eating Cheeze Whiz right out of the can.

Jon Kyl once impersonated Flip Wilson so he could appear in the movie “Uptown Saturday Night”.

The most popular strain of medicinal marijuana in the United States today is “Jon Kyl”.

Jon Kyl can see Russia from his house.

Jon Kyl’s Malcolm X poster is covered by a Robert Mapplethorpe poster…so that no one will ever know…

Jon Kyl once snorted coke, but the bubbles really hurt his nose.

215,856 of Jon Kyl’s constituents signed a petition asking him to start smoking.

Jon Kyl’s iPhone has a dial.

Joe Arpaio is blackmailing Kyl with whatever’s on his original birth certificate.

I know where Lemmywinks is tonight–and so does Jon Kyl’s colon.

If Jon Kyl was a chicken-fried steak at Denny’s he would give you diarrhea the next morning.

Jon Kyl’s skull recently committed suicide. It was leading an empty life.

Jon Kyl never got that “Mulva” joke.

Powdered Toast Man once told Jon Kyl to go butter himself.

Jon Kyl once tried phone sex, but he didn’t have enough lube, so he had to quit.

Jon Kyl’s favorite kink is to dress up like a fence and play “Border Crossing”.

From 1977 to 1981, Jon Kyl appeared onstage as Tommy Chong. Cheech Marin was never told of the deception.

Jon Kyl used whiffleball bats for his entire Major League Baseball career.

On his days off, Kyl plays Carl on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”.

Jon Kyl provides sanctuary for up to 800 illegal immigrants at a time in his at-home underground bunkers.

Wendy Williams’ wig head Shakeetha has a restraining order out on Jon Kyl.

Jon Kyl once had Hansen’s Disease–but then he got his “Mmm Bop” removed.

If Jon Kyl was in “Star Wars” he’d be known as Luke NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement-Walker.

Jon Kyl’s Danny has never met its Dingo.

Jon Kyl once tried to Baskin his Robbins.

Jon Kyl’s brain has seen the news reports, and now it doesn’t want to come back from vacation.

Every defibrillator in Arizona recently signed a letter refusing to revive Jon Kyl.

If John Boehner’s tears ever touch Jon Kyl, he’ll dissolve.

So there you go: now that we’ve started the day out with a bit of fun, why not waste a bit of your boss’ time and direct a few Tweets of your own to Kyl?

And don’t forget: be smart, be funny, and be sure to add #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement to those Tweets—because after all, you don’t want to be out committing libel now, do you?

 

On Assigning Blame, Or, “So, You Think I’m Retarded?” March 1, 2010

LANGUAGE WARNING: Today’s story is uncharacteristically blunt, and from this moment forward we will be using lots of inappropriate language in making our points.

Gentle Reader, you have been officially…warned.

With that in mind, if you take offense when confronted with language strong enough to knock a fuckin’ buzzard off a shitwagon, please stop reading now.

It is by now fairly well known that Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, had a bit of a blow-up with liberals who were ready to start running ads against “blue dog” Democrats who were working very hard to shut down the health care reform effort.

Now we’re not gonna get in the middle of that argument today; instead, since we’re finally getting a chance to talk, I figured me and Rahm could get a few other things out of the way that have been on everyone’s mind for the past year or so.

“…What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.

Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.

He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy…”

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War

So…Rahm, buddy…here’s the thing:

In January of 2009 you came into the White House having just beaten down both the Republicans and Hillary Clinton, and baby, y’all were on a roll.

Reforming health care was the top priority of 59% of the population, you had a 75+ seat majority in the House…and of course, to quote your boss, there was that “largest Senate majority in a generation”.

Y’all were appointing smart people to take over agencies, and the President gave that speech in Cairo—and even though people had their misgivings about the way the bailout and the stimulus came together, we were still right there with you.

And then, in May…remember when y’all promised to get a heath care vote done by August? If I recall correctly (and I do), the President said:

“…We’ve got to get it done this year. Both in the House and the Senate. We don’t have any excuses. The stars are aligned.”

And then for some reason, you decided it would be a smart idea to spend a couple of months letting Ben Nelson and Charles Grassley, who were both happy to let you know they were against this thing from the beginning, run the show.

“…When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare…”

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War

“…and then the C.H.U.D.S. came at me…”

Homer Simpson

And then came the Tea Parties. For a solid month we were bombarded with images of uninformed people carrying signs demanding we protect Medicare while at the same time demanding Government stay out of health care, people who see Obama as the new Hitler, and people who apparently think Socialism, Fascism, Communism, and Vegetarianism are all different flavors of the same political junk food.

In other words, fuckin’ retards.

And just to make things perfect, the Republicans couldn’t wait to jump on the retard train: Sarah Palin quit being a Governor so she could turn her interest in “Death Panels” (and her desire to never be a quitter…) into a gig at Fox—and Rick “Goodhair” Perry, the Governor of what might be the most “Rah Rah America!” state in the Nation, suggested that making Texas into its own country might be the smartest way to save these United States.

I loved it.

I knew what was about to happen: the classic “pincer move”, where you let the enemy race into the trap, and then slam the door behind them, locking them in a box from which they cannot escape.

And the best part was, they had made it so easy that a politician with even a moderately high degree of mental acuity could spring the trap. All the President had to do was to go to the States where these politicians live, stand up on a platform, with cameras running, preferably in the early part of the daily news cycle, and do one of these two things:

–Either put his arm around [insert politician’s name here]’s shoulders and tell the giant crowd how the President and [again, insert name] are going to fight the insane Republicans and the evil insurance companies together, “No matter how much they try to stand in our way…”

–Or go to the same podium and give this speech: “I’m going to fight for you, all the way, and I want you to call [insert name here] and demand that they join the fight, too.”

For extra effect, you could have sent him to one of those free clinics the viewers of Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” were paying for.

Repeat this process a dozen times or so, and the next thing you know you own the news cycle, and the enemy is crushed and disorganized.

This is Politics 101, and it’s just as effective at moving along reluctant Democrats as it is reluctant Republicans.

But that never happened, Rahm, did it?

Instead, as far as I can tell, you let the fuckin’ retards kick your ass for the past eight months.

You didn’t even really try to organize your friends: for example, where was the coalition-building process while all of this was going on? Did it ever occur to you to try to get gay activists and youth activists and healthcare activists together to help move this process along?

Had you been on the ball here you could have organized a “Counter Tea-Party” for every single one of those stupid “patriotfests”…and now, when you need support to move issues that matter to the gay community, you haven’t built up the kind of trust that would have been enormously helpful in keeping the GaYTM open and available, as it was in 2008.

Only in the past ten days or so have y’all finally figured out what Alan Grayson seems to have known all along: an aggressive, in-your-face Democrat will not only survive, but thrive—even in Florida.

And that’s the part I don’t get: you came in here enormously popular, with every advantage, with Republicans who were falling all over themselves to make your life easy, with the facts on your side, and a public who wanted to go along with the program.

And despite that, you let yourself get beaten down by idiots, you failed to spring the obvious trap, you never tried to really engage with your friends at critical times, and now you find yourselves in a tough election environment having to play catch-up, when it’s the Rs who should be running for cover while your guy is pulling a 65% approval rating, or something similar, and Democrats expand that Senate majority to 63 or 64 seats.

And if all that wasn’t enough, now you have to sit here and listen to people like me, the proverbial “overfed, long-haired, leaping gnomes” of politics, tell you something you should have known all along.

Which finally brings me to the part I really don’t understand: how did our situation get so turned upside down that you are viewed as the big-time highly-paid political genius…and somehow, the people who thought you would easily digest the pre-chewed political snack food that was being served up to you on a silver platter became the fuckin’ retards?

It’s a question I can’t answer, Rahm…but you better figure it out, and fix it—quickly—or the next three years are going to suck a lot more than this one did.

 

On Health Care, Vegas-Style, Or, Figure It Out In The Ambulance, Chump February 10, 2010

I was supposed to begin the long-delayed series of PTSD stories I’ve been planning, but before we begin, I need to tell y’all about something that just happened in my house.

For us it wasn’t a matter of life or death, but it is the kind of story that explains, perfectly, why we need to reform the health care system we have today—and for that matter, it’s also a great explanation of why a single-payer system would be a giant step forward for everyone in this country, whether you’re insured today or not.

It’s also hilarious and sad and frustrating, all at the same time—which makes today’s story a pretty good allegory for the current American way of doing health care.

So follow along, have a good laugh…and at the same time, take a minute to consider what could be, and how much less irritating things should be.

“There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuence of time hath not been corrupted.”

–Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, Concerning the Service of the Church

Several things have been happening over the past couple of months to prevent me from writing as much as I would like; among those a series of quite painful medical events that caused The Girlfriend to have to visit the emergency room three times.

Nothing life-threatening, as I mentioned above, but painful nonetheless.

She is a State employee, so she has insurance; the emergency room benefit calls for a $50 co-pay for an ER visit.

The bill has now come in…and much to our surprise, the “patient responsibility” is a bit over $300…for only one of the three visits.

As you can imagine, a phone call to the insurer followed…and this is where the story gets weird.

The customer service rep told us that the emergency room cost is, indeed $50, as we expected—but the services of the ER doctors are not paid at all.

How is this possible, you might wonder?

The customer service rep explained that while the ER itself is “part of the network”…the physicians who work in that ER are not a part of the network.

It takes a minute to make sense of that, so if you want to pause to allow the whole thing to sink in, I’ll understand.

Ready to move on?

The Girlfriend asked the obvious next question: how are you supposed to know, on your way to the emergency room, exactly who might be in the network and who might not?

The customer service rep came back with the obvious answer: there is no way to know…you just wait for the bill, and then you find out.

Our reaction, as you might expect, was something like this:

As of this moment we do not know how this is all going to turn out, but here’s the point:

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Canada manages to get patients in the front door and through the billing process with far fewer administrators, far less hassle, and at far lower cost than the system we have here—and that was the big attraction of a “near single-payer” approach before it was driven out of the reform discussion. (To be technical, a “Medicare for all” system could accomplish the same thing.)

Of course, it’s not just our family that would benefit from reform.

Think about what a hassle keeping track of all of this is for employers.

The State of Washington has an entire corps of workers who do nothing but manage the insurance coverage for State workers…and I suspect your State does as well.

In a time when every State is trying to put as many dollars as possible into maintaining basic services (such as keeping the State Patrol fully operational), wouldn’t it be nice to redeploy some of that money to someplace like the Office of Support Enforcement or Adult Protective Services?

Private employers would obviously benefit as well, as their own no-longer-required health insurance administrators could also convert to jobs that are “bringing revenue in the door”—just as they have done in Canada and the UK and…well, everywhere else in the developed world, more or less.

And that’s today’s story: a moderately serious problem has led to the kind of absurd situation that causes wolves’ eyes to nearly explode; in the process, however, we’ve had a chance to think about how health care reform could make things much better, not just for those who have no insurance, but also for everyone who has insurance, for every one of our employers…and, on a larger scale, for the Nation as a whole.

Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to have the mythical health insurer whose approach to business truly incorporates the motto “the customer is always right”, in which case you may go ahead and ignore all of this and return to your normal low-altitude recreational hang gliding over the cactus fields.

 

On Paying For Immoral Things, Or, Is Stupak On To Something? November 10, 2009

There has been a great wailing and gnashing of teeth over the past day or so as those who follow the healthcare debate react to the Stupak/Some Creepy Republican Guy Amendment.

The Amendment, which is apparently intended to respond to conservative Democrats’ concerns that too many women were voting for the Party in recent elections, was attached to the House’s version of healthcare reform legislation that was voted out of the House this weekend.

The goal is to limit women’s access to reproductive medicine services, particularly abortions; this based on the concept that citizens of good conscience shouldn’t have their tax dollars used to fund activities they find morally repugnant.

At first blush, I was on the mild end of the wailing and gnashing spectrum myself…but having taken a day to mull the thing over, I’m starting to think that maybe we should take a look at the thinking behind this…and I’m also starting to think that, properly applied, Stupak’s logic deserves a more important place in our own vision of how a progressive government might work.

It’s Political Judo Day today, Gentle Reader, and by the time we’re done here it’s entirely possible that you’ll see Stupak’s logic in a whole new light.

So let’s go back a moment and reconsider what Stupak wants: his religious beliefs are offended by the concept of abortion, and he is taking steps to ensure that the government is not using his taxpayer dollars to pay for the procedure.

This precedent is fascinating—and what I’m inviting you to do today is to consider, for a moment, what our government might look like if we take his logic and…extend it a bit.

“…In the game of life, the house edge is called Time. In whatever we do, Nature charges us for doing it in the currency of time…”

–Bob Stupak, Yes, You Can Win!

I always try to find common ground with those I oppose, and the most logical place to start would be to consider the fact that Stupak and I are both morally offended by the idea that we use taxpayer dollars to go around killing people.

So where do we differ?

For starters, I find it morally offensive that my taxpayer dollars are used, on a daily basis, to fund the actual killing of actual, living, people by my Government…so, Congressman Stupak, in the name of finding common ground, how about if the same day your Amendment goes into effect we also stop funding any military activities that might reasonably be expected to, as I hear people say, “stop a beating heart”, so as to prevent offending my religious sensibilities?

John Allen Muhammad, the so-called “Washington Sniper”, is scheduled to be executed today. Are you prepared to support legislation, Congressman Stupak, which will prevent his “post-term abortion” and the potential abortions of all those other human lives on Death Rows around this country if those state-sponsored abortions are as much of an affront to my religious beliefs as they should be to yours?

During the more or less four months worth of slow-walking and stalling that we have seen so far in this process 15,000 Americans have died…or, if you prefer, five 9/11s…simply because they have no health insurance—and unless your religion is a lot more bloodthirsty than mine, the abortions of 15,000 people because of the…what’s the word I’m looking for here…let’s see…could it be…sloth…of your colleagues should be an act as reprehensible as the greatest of blasphemies ever recorded in The Bible.

With that in mind, are you prepared to join me in cutting off the use of my taxpayer dollars to fund the salaries, the “public option” health care, and the office operations of those legislators who are behind these killings?

What else do we do that’s aborting lives on a daily basis that I’m sure Congressman Stupak would be glad to allow me, as a result of the offense to my conscience (and, presumably, his), to “negatively fund with extreme prejudice”?

There’s that Drug War, of course, and whatever we’re doing in those secret prisons—and public ones—and subsidies for those who clear mountains and poison lands…not to mention the tax dollars I’ve been providing for a company who did electrical work that’s aborting soldiers.

So whaddaya think, Congressman Stupak?

Since you’re so proud of your pro-life credentials, are you ready to stand up with me and defend the principle that all human lives deserve to be protected, and that we have the right to withhold funding for all those activities that are morally repugnant…or are you just another one of those “enablers” who helped kill 15,000 people this past few months?

Enquiring minds want to know.

 

On Using Mr. Bullhorn, Or, DC Health Summit Thursday: Come Say Hi…Loudly October 21, 2009

It was a long hot August for those who would like to see health care reform, as rabid “Town Hall” protesters proffered visions of public options that would lead to death panels and socialism and government tax collectors with special alien mind control powers that would use sex education and child indoctrination and black helicopters as the means for gay people to impose their dangerous agenda on the innocent, God-fearing citizens of someplace in Mississippi that I’m not likely to ever visit.

Part of the reason that opposition was so rabid was because health care interests were spending millions upon millions of dollars doing…well, doing whatever the opposite of giving a distemper shot to the angry mob might be, anyway.

So wouldn’t it be great if all the CEOs of all those health care interests were to gather at one time and place so you could, shall we say, gently express your own thoughts regarding the issues of reform and public options?

By an amazing coincidence, that’s exactly what’s going to happen Thursday in Washington, DC, as the Patient Centered Primary Care Cooperative (PCPCC) holds its Annual Summit.

Follow along, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.

The Who, The What

There are two important bits of setting up that are required to make this story work; and the first is to explain who the PCPCC is, exactly. To quote their website:

“The Patient Centered Primary Care Collaborative is a coalition of major employers, consumer groups, patient quality organizations, health plans, labor unions, hospitals, clinicians and many others who have joined together to develop and advance the patient centered medical home. The Collaborative has well over 500 members.

The Collaborative believes that, if implemented, the patient centered medical home will improve the health of patients and the viability of the health care delivery system. In order to accomplish our goal, employers, consumers, patients, clinicians and payers have agreed that it is essential to support a better model of compensating clinicians.”

The “patient centered medical home”?

Is that anything like “precious bodily fluids“?

Actually, the original idea was to create a “home” where a patient’s scattered medical records could be gathered. Forty years later, the concept has evolved to a “home doctor” who coordinates all your health and wellness care from all your providers.

This is a huge shift in how care is delivered (and how healthcare dollars would be distributed), which is why the Collaborative has so many members…including seven of the top ten health insurers in the country.

The Why

I’ve been getting emails that tell me CEOs such as Stephen Helmsley of UnitedHealth and Angela Braly of WellPoint (insert booing and hissing here) will be present–and these are the exact people that you should be giving a “Town Hall-like” welcome of their own when they hit Washington.

Groups such as Democracy for America and TrueMajority will be working together to bring people who have been personally affected by the insurance crisis to the meeting–even though we’re not invited inside to support something like, oh, I don’t know…maybe a public option?

They want you to attend as well, to make lots of noise, and to send the message that we won’t be ignored. It’s a critical time in the debate, as there are Democrats yet to be convinced, and if you can be at this meeting it will capture media attention that could help move those Democrats to our positions.

The Where, The When

The event takes place in Washington DC all day Thursday (from 9-4:30) at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, conveniently located at 801 Mount Vernon Place NW; just six blocks from the Executive Office Building and the White House complex…and, on its south side, just 50 feet from K Street, the “Glitter Gulch” of lobbying.

There’s a handy Metro station, and if you walk to the south end of the Convention Center (the Mt. Vernon Square end of the building) you’ll find that the American Federation of Labor occupies a building across the street from the Square on the west side–and National Public Radio occupies a building diagonally across the Square on the east side.

So if you’re planning to be in Washington Thursday–or you’ve been looking for an excuse to visit–make a day of it: stroll by the White House, see lobbyists and unions and National Public Radio at work…and most importantly of all, make sure the CEOs of the health insurers in attendance get the same kind of rousing “Town Hall” welcome at the Convention Center that they spent millions of dollars to create in our own home towns.

In other words, bring Mr. Bullhorn–and the extra batteries.

Of course, I don’t want to make this too much of a hard sell.

After all, it’s not as if your life depends on you attending some–hey, wait a minute…actually, I guess it kind of does.

 

On Learning To Love Homegrown, Or, Baucus’ Fundraising Considered October 9, 2009

So we are now finding out the answers to some of our questions about which members of Congress actually represent We, the People…and which ones represent, Them, the Corporate Masters.

We have seen a Democratic Senator propose a policy that would put people in jail for not buying health insurance and a Democratic President who has taken numerous public beatings from those on the left side of the fence for his inability to ram something through a group of people…and yes, folks, the entendre was intentional.

But most of all, we’ve been asking ourselves: “why would Democratic Members of Congress who will eventually want us to vote for them vote against something that nearly all voting Democrats are inclined to vote for?”

Today’s conversation attempts to answer that question by looking at exactly how money and influence flow through a key politician, Montana’s Senator Max Baucus—and in doing so, we examine some ugly political realities that have to be resolved before we can hope to convince certain Members of Congress to vote for what their constituents actually want when it really counts.

“The idea of covering even the early stages of the cynical and increasingly retrograde campaign has already plunged me into a condition bordering on terminal despair, and if I thought I might have to stay with these people all the way to November I would change my name and seek work as a professional alligator poacher in the swamps around Lake Okeechobee.”

–Hunter S. Thompson, Jimmy Carter and the Great Leap of Faith

Now any normal person trying to analyze last year’s election would have said something like “the fact that Obama was promoting a new type of politics—and that a large majority of the public liked what they were seeing—should have meant that politicians would finally do what the public wanted”…and if you’re as cynical as I am, you might have thought that the fact that Obama is the most successful fundraiser in the history of politics would have made other candidates figure that supporting Obama, politically, would be the easy way to put more cheddar in their own pockets.

But here’s the thing: Senator Baucus has been in Washington, in the same job, since 1978, which is about three years short of half of his entire life (and he spent those three years in the House), and unless he wakes up dead one morning or Montana secedes from the Union he’s pretty much guaranteed to be there until at least January 2015.

In those three decades he’s been able to create, and then “outsource”, his own independent fundraising operation—and he’s been so good at doing this that he can donate money from his own Political Action Committee (Glacier PAC) to other Democrats, which is the Congressional version of acquiring really cool “Magic: The Gathering” cards now in an effort to both control votes today and become a more powerful player later on.

He did it by cultivating people in his own office who later went on to become lobbyists. At least 24 of ‘em. Since Baucus now runs the Senate Finance Committee and every bill in the Senate that needs money has to pass through his Committee for approval, all those hard working lobbyists now lobby…wait for it…their former boss.

This creates a fundraising “virtuous circle”: “Baucus-affiliated” lobbyists sell access to Baucus…and part of the price of that access is donating to Baucus…which, since “the fix is in”, creates legislative successes that lead to more people wanting more access for bigger favors…which makes the prices all go up, creating more power and influence for Baucus and his orbiting constellation of homegrown lobbyists.

And now that the enterprise has reached the point where the entourage has gone on to have their own entourages, Obama’s vision of “change you can believe in” is sounding more like a promise to screw up a perfectly good hustle than it is a way to run a country.

So how does all this influence the healthcare debate?

At the moment, Baucus could literally coach a basketball team of former staff members who now lobby Baucus on behalf of health care clients:

David Castagnetti of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Inc. is the vertically integrated busy beaver of the group, representing drug powerhouses Abbot, AstraZeneca, and Biogen, device manufacturers like GE Medical, service providers like Humana and the American Clinical Lab Association, and AHIP, the trade association of health insurers, among others.

Jeff Forbes, who is currently self-employed, is representing drug maker Roche Group, Manor Care (who provides long-term care services in nursing homes and other environments), and the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), a group which includes many of the big players in the medical business.

–Roger Blauwet (he of DC’s Canfield and Associates), is representing Wyeth and Pfizer (two more major drug manufacturers), the Association of Financial Guaranty Insurers, who are the “reinsurers” who help carry risk for other insurers (in return for a piece of the action), and the Rx Benefits Coalition, which reports that it represents companies that support “market solutions” to make prescription drugs available.

Some clients feel that their needs require more than one “Baucus alumnus” on the payroll, which is why Scott Olsen and Jeff Forbes are working for biotech giant Amgen (along with about 150 other lobbyists), David Castagnetti and Angela Hofmann are slogging it out for Wal-Mart, and Roger Blauwet and Castagnetti are both hoofing it for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), who is, literally, the “Big PhRMA” that everyone talks about.

Drug manufacturer Merck hired three of the anointed: Forbes, Blauwet and Castagnetti.

All of this effort is working—and working well. According to OpenSecrets.org, somewhere in the range of $4.5 million has been donated to Baucus during his career by insurance and healthcare interests.

It isn’t just health care, either. Because somewhere around two dozen former Baucus staffers turned lobbyists are “home on the Washington range”, no matter what is being debated in Congress, Baucus gets paid (two quick examples of his Committee’s jurisdiction: changes in tax policy and financial industry regulation—or the lack of it).

In truth, “Baucus gets paid” is probably a bit too cynical.

What I really should say is that Baucus has been exceptionally successful in listening to all points of view when considering ways to make the lives of every American all they can be, that the people who get listened to are exceptionally grateful for this attention, that millions and millions of dollars worth of gratitude have been funneled to Baucus over the years because he’s such a good listener, and that, from now until at least 2015, if you need a Senator to support “status quo you can believe in” you might want to try launching a great big brick of cheddar into the Senator’s constellation.

So the next time someone asks you how “change you can believe in” could have possibly morphed into “buy insurance or we’ll put you in jail”…well, now you know—and given the choice, wouldn’t you rather watch someone make sausage?

 

On Life In The Modern World, Or, What If Jesus Was An HMO? September 30, 2009

Those among us who are familiar with the Bible will recall that Jesus Christ himself was an active member of the health care community as he travelled about the Holy Land.

It is reported that he practiced within multiple medical specialties, and his works as both an ophthalmologist and a neurologist are recounted within the verses of the Gospels.

But what if Jesus had been practicing medicine in the therapeutic environment we’re familiar with today?

In today’s conversation we’ll be tagging along with Jesus as he takes a few calls at his HMO’s Customer Care Center—and by the time we get done you should be able to bring a whole new take to those discussions you‘ve been having about why reform matters.

“…a blind man, Bartimaeus…was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

…Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”

Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight…”

Mark 10:45-52

“Thank you for calling Customer Care. This is Jesus. How may I help you?”

“Hi, I was recently treated by you in Jericho for blindness—“

“Can I get your account number, sir?”

“J32-21515”

“Oh, yes. Is this Bartimaeus?”

“Yes it is.”

“So what can I do for you today?”

“Well, I went to check my mail, and I found a bill from you for 42,554 shekels for the eye treatment, and I don’t understand why you want me to pay this bill.”

“Well, give me a second while I look that up…ahhh, OK, I understand what happened. You see, I did perform the eye treatment, but your policy requires you to be referred by your Primary Care Physician for any specialist treatment and pre-approved by someone here at Customer Care before we can be liable for any costs of care, and the computer says that you didn’t do any of that first…so, I apologize, but we won’t be able to make any adjustments to this account.

Is there anything else I can do for you today, Bartimaeus?”

“Well, how am I supposed to pay this bill? I don’t have this kind of money. Can’t you perform a miracle or something to help me out here?”

“Well, sir, I can’t do that, but what I can do is transfer you to our Collections Department, who can help you make payment arrangements…”

Needless to say, the call went downhill from there.

“Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed…

One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked…”

John 5:3-8

“…so you say you were lame and I made you walk, and now you’re getting calls from a collections agency that wants to garnish your ass?”

“Yes, Jesus, that’s correct.”

“Well, it says here that that back in Tishri of 12 AD you had severe boils and lesions, which is a preexisting condition. Now when I asked you if you wanted to get well you never disclosed any of this, and I don’t see it anywhere in your application packet, either.

Your policy requires you to inform us of any medical treatments you received before you became a policyholder, and because you failed to make a true and complete statement in your application we have to reject this claim.

I really do apologize, but we won’t be able to make any adjustments to this account.”

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

1 Peter 5:1-4

“We didn’t know what to expect when he came here, but in just a few months Jesus has shown us what can happen when the Son of God is a Customer Care Representative.

His average call volumes are more than double those of any other rep, and when you listen to him take calls…well, when you hear him tell someone that they won’t be getting their benefits…it’s almost like he has some divine power over the customers or something, and that’s why today I’ve gathered you together to announce that Jesus is going to be transferred from the call center to the Executive Training Program.

Additionally, because Jesus did not adjust a single claim in favor of a customer for the last three months we’re also giving him the “Employee of the Quarter” award, which means he gets three days off with pay that he can take anytime he wants, a check for $500, and, of course, Jesus gets to use the parking space right by the front door for his Hummer.

We expect really great things from Jesus in the future, and while we will miss Him here at Customer Care I think we can safely say that with Jesus running the show this company is going to remain profitable for decades to come.”